Why Shafts Arent Under the Hot Lamp

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If youve ever seen one of those ultra-fast, stop-motion photographs of a golfer swinging, youve probably noticed the shaft of the club can deform almost into a J before the club reaches the impact area. Its not just with graphite, either. Steel shafts are so advanced nowadays that theyre much more flexible than their ancestors.
 
One has to wonder, what with the violent force with which that shaft comes through the hitting area: Why all this hoopla about clubheads and face thickness? If the U.S. Golf Association is worried about extra distance without the application of greater golfer skill or conditioning, shouldnt it be looking at the shaft?
 
The shaft has already done its flexing when the clubhead reaches the ball, said Dick Rugge, technical director of the USGA. Its not as if the shafts transfer so much stored-up power to the ball that the ball becomes a rocket, he said.
 
And it appears hes right. If you look at the next stop-motion photo in the series, the shaft has deformed into a kind of reverse J when the clubhead is on the ball.
 
Thats not to say the USGA will always be comfortable with the way things are with shafts. But dont hold your breath for a change.
 
One of the reasons we do research here is to recommend new rules if necessary, Rugge says. We dont find it necessary very often.
 
The best reason to not worry about shafts is that theyre about as good as theyre going to get, according to Frank Thomas, Rugges predecessor at the USGA and now chief of Frankly Consulting of Chester, N.J. Thomas was involved in the development of graphite shafts in the late 1960s, when he worked at fishing rod maker Shakespeare.
 
Yes, graphite shafts can be made to change launch conditions. One may generate a higher ball than another, Thomas says. But the effects are general. The more flexible a shaft is, the more careful you have to be [to avoid losing control of the shot].
 
The same principle applies to long shafts, which have become popular as one way for shorter hitters to get more distance off the tee, Thomas maintains. Whatever strokes those players made up with distance, they often gave back in the form of balls hit out of play. Most pros have settled on 44 inches in drivers now, Thomas said.
 
The decreasing weight of graphite shafts ' from nearly 100 grams just five years ago to models as light as 45 grams now ' has undoubtedly helped increase clubhead speed, Thomas said. But its hard to know by how much. Even within the same model, graphite shafts can perform inconsistently.
 
But the USGA is sure that a ball hit on the sweet spot of a nonconforming driver will benefit from that drivers effect at impact of a spring, as Appendix II(5)(a) of the Rules of Golf puts it. As we know well by now, the USGA has developed a test limits how springy a club can be. Essentially, a ball fired at 100 miles per hour at a clubhead must rebound no faster than 83 mph if the head is to conform to the Rules of Golf.
 
There is no such rule for shafts. Appendix II(2) simply requires that a shaft be straight, that is be attached to the clubhead a certain way, that it twist the same amount in both directions, and that it bend the same manner and to the same extent all along its longitudinal axis. Doesnt matter how much it twists or bends.
 
No point enforcing laws that dont exist, right? But in Rugges view, theres more to it than that.
 
Graphite shafts can fit different peoples swings. The rules have nothing against fitting people with the right kinds of clubs, Rugge said. Thats not the same as a panacea for gaining more distance.
 
That distinction defines the clubhead battle, and at least for this generation, leaves shafts in the clear.