Q A Ins Outs of Shaft Flex


Frankly GolfEditor's Note: This is the latest in a weekly Q&A feature from The Golf Channel's Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas. To submit a question for possible use in this column, email letsbefrank@thegolfchannel.com
Dear Mr. Thomas,
I am a reasonably good player (10-12 handicap depending on the time of the year) but at age 65 I don't have the swing speed I once had. It's probably somewhere between 80 and 85 and when I shorten my swing for more control, it's less. I've been considering going from a regular flex shaft in my driver to a light, softer 'senior' shaft at 54 g weight. Do you think this might be appropriate? Perhaps you would be kind enough to address in general the importance of the right shaft flex based on swing speed. -- Christopher Gaul, Baltimore, MD

This is probably the most asked question and the least understood. Even the manufacturers who make the shafts are unable to dial in a swing speed and handicap as well as your height and weight and come up with the correct shaft flex for you. The general guideline used is if you have a fast swing speed (about 100 +mph) then you will need a stiff or even X-stiff shaft. At the average swing speeds of about 75 to 90 mph you should consider from an A-shaft (senior) to an R-shaft.
Most of us believe we hit the ball father and harder than we actually do and therefore are inclined to select a shaft which is on the stiff side of what we actually need or this flex is what we had in our previous set and so choose it again. Your club head speed is not dependent on the shaft flex as much as it is on the timing of your swing. So the shaft which will allow you to develop and maintain a good tempo is what you should be looking for. At 85mph head speed you should start with an R-shaft and only change to a more flexible shaft if you feel you are fighting the club to get it to perform.
If you don't feel comfortable with the flex you are not going to make a good swing or get your optimum distance. Don't chase distance -- chase comfort and tempo. For more on shafts visit http://www.franklygolf.com/tgc/shafts.asp
At age 70, when I reviewed my game I found my major problem was not being able to consistently hit a green from 150 yards away even if I were in the middle of the fairway. I decided since I hit my woods a lot better than my irons I would go to almost all woods (wedges being the exception), which I have done with great success. However, my number 13 and 15 woods have lady's shafts in them (got them by mistake but tried them and liked them) and I am hitting them much better than I ever hit my 8 & 9 irons. Now I am wondering if I should have lady shafts in all my woods, even though according to my Speed Stik gage I can still muster 85 mph with a driver. ' W.R. Curran

Sometimes it takes a mistake to discover something. Mistakes are the basis of many wonderful inventions. Yes, I think you should try the L-shaft in your other woods. Try the 3-wood to begin with then if this works get the rest of your wood set re-shafted. There is nothing wrong with a more flexible shaft as long as it works for you. Be careful not to be influenced by what a 'Speed stick' suggests your head speed is and what shaft flex you should use. These devices are best used for comparative purposes regarding swing technique and may be used as a guide only for swing speed. Good luck and keep swinging for another decade or so and get back in touch with me then to see what we need next.
The mantra seems to be 'play with the softest shaft that you can control'. What penalty is paid for using a stiffer shaft? Can the 'penalty' be quantified in an easily understood manner? -- Robert

The answer is it can not be quantified. There are, however, certain guidelines which have been used successfully for a long time and a very good place to start. These guidelines are; if you have a fast swing speed you will be loading the shaft more than a slower swing speed and as a result need a stiffer shaft.
Swing tempo is probably the most important part of a golf swing. To obtain a good tempo you must be able to feel the shaft loading and unloading. This is difficult to describe but it will become obvious when you try an XX-stiff shaft with a swing speed of 85 mph. This will feel like a broom stick and you will have no feel of the club head position during the swing. The shaft must bend during the swing and you must feel this. If you are fighting the club to get it to perform and it only works when you swing it hard and at full speed then the shaft is far too stiff. This will lead to bad timing and inconsistent results.
Unfortunately most of us overestimate how far we hit the ball and also how fast we should be swinging the club for optimum results. Generally, most of us who have been using a stiff shaft should be using an R-shaft which allows us to improve our tempo and as a result increase club head speed. This is really a very personal thing as nobody can tell you what you are feeling.
You have to experiment and the 'Mantra' to go to a softer shaft should not be overdone but rather a word to suggest that if you don't try a more flexible shaft you may never know what you are missing.
My handicap index is a 10.4 and feel I'm really on the verge of becoming a more consistent single digit handicap golfer. In order to continue to improve I really need to improve on greens in regulation. I have a bad habit of pulling my iron shots left, especially the wedges, leaving myself a chip and putt for par instead of two putts. I believe I let the club head get too far behind my hands on the back swing leading to a flat back swing and causing me to come over the top and/or hood the face at impact; at least that what it feels like but I cannot stop it. I suspect that is why I pull my irons but I've never had a pro like you validate that theory. What causes pulled left iron shots and can you suggest any drills to help prevent pulled shots especially with wedges? -- Mike Rushing, Rock Hill, SC

My area of expertise is not in swing correction other than my own! I too am trying to get my handicap down from 4.8 to somewhere where I feel I know where the ball is going... not just hoping!
I do think that you need to check the lie-angles of your irons and especially your wedges. It is hard to pull or draw a wedge and the reason for doing this unintentionally is very probably because the lie angle is wrong. It sounds like these should be flatter by a couple of degrees. I strongly suggest that check your lies angles and then get a good teacher to look at your swing if the lie angle correction doesn't do it for you.
Dear Mr. Thomas,
A friend of mine plays with a set of old Wilson FG blades. I noticed that the lie angle, which he says he never had altered, was quite flat (I'm guessing it was at least 2 degrees flat). I play with a set of Mizuno MS-11 blades that are about half a degree flat. Similarly, my father has a set of old Powerbilt Citation blades that are about one degree flat. Is it just a coincidence that all of these sets of old blades have flatter lie angles?
If not, why is it that newer sets tend to be more upright? -- BJ Abe, Lewis & Clark College Portland, OR

There is no reason for these flat lie angles you are finding. All clubs can be adjusted and the standard has not changed much over the years. In fact because the lengths have change to be a little longer the lie angle should be flatter on the newer clubs. I think that some manufacturers are making the lie angle a little more upright which will make the ball go a little left which is something most of us find difficulty in doing. So this is a built in 'Draw bias' if that's what you want to call it for irons.
Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf, a company dedicated to Helping Golfers. Frank is Chief Technical Advisor to The Golf Channel and Golf Digest. He served as Technical Director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN System and introduced the Stimpmeter to the world of golf. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@thegolfchannel.com