QA Finding the Proper Shaft

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Editor'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
 
OK, I love the ads with Vijay Singh hitting that new HiBore driver. Sometimes we get to try that new club at a demo day or we're maybe lucky enough to have demo drivers and irons at our club. But when it comes time to order that new wonderful driver, fairway wood or hybrid, I'm lost when it comes to ordering a shaft to match my game.
 
And let's be honest, most of us 15-handicappers don't know how to judge what the best shaft is. Kick points, flex, and all the rest are beyond us. When I looked at all the possible shafts offered by Cleveland when ordering a HiBore I became confused. We all want to hit the ball 300 yards, but at 62 I'm more interested in hitting it onto the short grass. I think the proper shaft will help me do that.
 
Can you shed some light on what to look for in ordering the proper shaft? -- James Houle

 
James,
I agree that with so many shafts available, most golfers can barely figure out what the differences are, never mind figuring out how to make a decision about them. I think that for the Cleveland Launcher Ti460 driver there are about 17 different types of shafts. Let's be Frank about this: The standard shaft works beautifully for 90% of all golfers, and Cleveland wouldn't offer it if they didn't believe it provides outstanding performance. The other options are for those relatively few golfers who know exactly what they want. The standard shaft is great and I recommend you go for it, and get the R-flex rather the Stiff unless you have a fast swing speed.
 
When you get your handicap down to scratch or better and would like to tweak your flight trajectory, that's the time to start getting fancy with different weights, torques, 'kick points,' etc. It's not that those other shafts aren't good, but it's like choosing between a Honda Accord and a Maserati: unless you're so highly skilled that you're looking for super-high performance, something simple and standard will get you where you want to go just fine. We've had 400 years for golfers to find out what flex and shaft bend pattern is good. Messing with this is not going to help unless we know exactly where on the face we hit the ball time after time after time, and precisely how we would like to work the ball.
 
Frank: I have heard several tour pros, Lee Trevino, and noted instructors talk about how spin is imparted to a golf ball. They talk about the ball 'climbing' up the face of the wedge. I worked with a major golf manufacturer in the 90s and the R & D guys told me that this is not the case, that the ball is on the face for a fraction of a second and does not climb up the face. Who is telling the truth? -- Bill in Dublin OH.
 
Bill,
The ball stays on the face for about .0005 of a second, depending on the speed and the obliqueness of impact. The ball actually starts to slip on first contact, but not for long, and then it sticks to the club's face as its elastic core deforms along with the cover. The amount of deformation depends on the speed of impact. The cover deforms and recovers, and this is what mostly produces spin, especially off the high-lofted irons such as wedges. During the recovery phase, the ball does roll up the face very slightly, though even in ultra-slow-motion it is not obvious because of the deformation. It's probably an exaggeration to say the ball 'climbs.' Hope this resolves the issue.
 
Frank,
l find your answers to the questions sent to you to be understandable and educational. I would like to ask you a question about shaft flex: How do you know what shaft you should have in your set?
 
I have heard people on the Golf Channel mention that you need to feel the head of the club through the swing. With my own set of Top Flites I have a stiff shaft. When I'm swinging these clubs I get great feel from where I hit the ball -- whether it's on the toe, heel or sweet spot -- but I really don't feel the head of the club during the swing. I have tried some of my friends' equipment with regular shafts. When I swing these clubs, the club feels like it's bending in two and the head feels like it's way behind my hands through the swing.
 
My question, I guess, is to ask if this is the feeling I ought to have during the swing, or does this indicate these clubs are too flexible for my shaft loading/swing speed? For some background on my swing speed, I get about 235-245 yards of carry with my driver. -- Rob Marson

 
Rob,
In general, the shaft flex should be such that you aren't fighting the club and having to swing really hard to get it to perform. In selecting a shaft, you should start at the most flexible and move toward the stiff range rather than the other way round. Most of us use shafts that are too stiff.
 
On the other hand, if it's too flexible then you'll lose a little control and the ball flight will tend to turn left on you.
 
Feeling where impact was on the face is not what we mean when we talk about feeling the clubhead throughout the swing. That only tells you what happened at impact, and it tells you long after the ball has left and too late for you to do anything about it. A more flexible shaft will help you time your swing more effectively and provide a little feedback during the swing. The best way to find out which shaft flex suits YOU best is the old-fashioned trial and error method. Only you really know what YOU feel.
 
When I'm advising beginners who don't know what to expect from their swings, I tell them the rule of thumb is to start with a regular flex if you are a male or a L-flex if you are a female. Once they get things going and have a general idea of where the ball is going, then they should start experimenting with different flexes. If you're getting 235-245 yards of carry from your stiff-shafted driver, are hitting the ball reasonably straight, and feel far too much bend when you swing an R flex, I'd say you've probably got the right shaft for your swing.
 
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