Recently, Golf Digest released the ball portion of their annual Hot List, and as an added bonus, the guys at Bomb and Gouge go further into the ball fitting systems (or lack thereof) at each manufacturer's website (by the way, if you go there now, you can see a little bit of info about Titleist's newest driver, the 910). Upon visiting each of these myself, everything seemed eerily familiar. Then it hit me - most shaft manufacturers' websites have the same sort of wizard driven types of fitting tools. Kind of like the Island in Lost - each answer leads you to another question. With each answer comes more confusion, and next thing you know, you're at your keyboard, pressing "Execute" every 108 minutes in pure frustration!
While I don't doubt that these online fitting systems may come close to answering the ultimate question for you (what should I be playing?), it just seems like something is missing here. Can we not get some sort of standard rating systems for each individual piece of golf equipment?
Here's my big gripe on both the golf shaft and ball industries - there's no exact, published (key word there) way to judge what you should be playing. Or possibly a better way of putting it is that there are no published hard numbers in either of these two arenas. We can't even get a standard on shaft flex! Can someone please do something about that? Maybe the only redeeming factor to the shaft market is that you can find some specs such as torque and weight. I'm a pretty firm believer that with the high level of technology at the disposal of each manufacturer, club heads are all pretty much the same in terms of performance and forgiveness, at least with other comparable club heads in their category (GI, player's etc). It's getting the club/shaft combo fit to you that really makes the noticeable difference.
Now I'm not saying one shaft/manufacturer/model is superior to another, I'm saying that one is better than the other for you. And as many have recently discovered, the same general idea applies to the golf ball as well, though we're going to save the topic of the ball for another week. This week, we're going to take a look at shafts, what resources are out there, and how to narrow your search down.
First, let's start with a few definitions and general concepts, beginning with shaft flex. There is no quantifiable way to measure a shaft's flex, and furthermore, there is no industry standard for it. Just as one manufacturer's stiff flex might be closer to another's x-stiff, there's just no real way of knowing.
Next up is torque, which is quite simply the shaft's resistance to twisting. The higher the torque rating is, the more twisting occurs during the downswing. A lower torque rating means that the shaft is more resistant to twisting. For a stronger player, or one with a quick tempo, a shaft with lower torque is going to work out better, and vice-versa (most of the time).
The shaft's weight also can play a large part in how well a shaft works for you. Don't get this confused with swingweight, I'm talking solely about the static weight of the shaft. It might seem like a few grams can't possibly make a big difference, but I promise you, they do.
Now that's out the way, we can move on to the good stuff. For the purposes of this article, I visited four major shaft makers' websites (UST, Grafalloy, Mitsubishi-Rayon, and Aldila) to see what they offered in terms of available specifications and fitting information.
UST Mamiya's website actually had quite a bit of relevant information. Their SwingFit interactive shaft fitting tool walks through a series of questions, the first asking you how far you hit your driver, as well as the brand, model, loft, and flex. Next it asks for your swing speed, which I would think could be loosely determined from the information entered on the previous page, but whatever, we'll go along with it. Then you're presented with one of the more timeless questions in the game - distance or control. It would be easy to dismiss this question, but as you roll over each option, it actually presents you with the logic being used to further narrow down the proper shaft (control = heavier, 70-85g/ distance = 50-65g, in my case). The final question you're presented with is your desired ball flight. Once that step is complete, you're presented with the shafts (and model numbers) it determined should work best for you. Along the way, each page does offer a brief explanation behind the questions you're being presented with.
Digging further into their site is a wealth of information. UST Mamiya is the only place I found that listed the stiffness profile of the three sections in the shaft (butt, mid, and tip).
The second site I checked out was that of Grafalloy. The cool thing about their ShaftFit tool is that it encompasses Grafalloy graphite shafts as well as all True Temper steel shafts (Rifle and Project X included). It presents you with most of the same basic questions that UST's fitting tool did though maybe not quite as detailed. The same applies for shaft specs listed there. Also available
Mitsubishi unfortunately did not have an online fitting guide, only charts based on swing speed and the shaft flex based on that number. They give quick overviews of their popular shafts, but that's really about it.
Aldila's site had the least amount of info out of all four I visited. One simple graphic with a standard swing speed equals n-flex chart was really all there was in terms of a fitting guide. As far as shaft specs are concerned, the information provided was standard fare. Specifications such as tip and butt diameter, torque, launch angle, and weight were listed for each model.
Across all of the sites, it's important to pay close attention to detail. Going back to the point I mentioned earlier, there is no industry standard for shaft flex. Looking at the Mitsubishi Diamana White Board, R-flex is recommended for swing speeds of 81-90 MPH, while that same swing speed calls for an A-flex Aldila shaft (across the board). So what's the aspiring player to do?
The obvious answer here is to go see a professional club fitter, but not everyone has easy access to one. Luckily, I have a few recommendations for you.
First, you've got an idea of what shaft you want, but you fall into a gray area where your swing speed is near the borderline between two flexes. Unless you know for certain, for whatever reason, that your swing speed is going to magically increase over the next few months, err on the side of the softer flex. Too many times we get stuck trying to outdo someone else, when there's a good chance, if you're smart about it, you'll be longer or more accurate than the other guy because you're playing a shaft that actually fits you. The softer shaft should also command that you keep your swing in control, thus resulting in better contact and longer distances.
If you feel that the softer shaft really is too soft, but you don't know if you're ready to step up to the next flex up, think about trimming both the butt and the tip. By doing that, you're effectively making the shaft play stiffer than it was at its original length. Regardless of what the latest and greatest marketing campaign says, 46.5" drivers are pretty silly, in my humble opinion. Trim it down to 44.5-45" and focus on making contact in the sweet spot every time.
My final tip for today is a little hidden gem I found a little while back, and helps make up for the lack of consistency and information from the manufacturers. Golfsmith has two pretty useful tools that could come in handy when trying to make your decision. The first is their Recommended Swing Speed Range (RSSR). Most all shafts Golfsmith has available has this rating near the bottom of each product page. It definitely helps to take the guesswork out of wondering which shaft flex is right for you. The second is their Shaft Selector page, which lets you enter as much or as little info as you'd like, and it will dump results matching that criteria. For instance, setting the swing speed field to 90 MPH returns a number of shafts, some of which are stiff flex, and others that are R-flex.
Though it's time to wrap it up for this week, check back next week as we'll go into a little more detail about the topics we covered here, including more shaft fitting as well as some ball fitting. Have any other good resources you'd like to share? Let everyone know about them in the comments!