September 2011

SEPTEMBER 2011: Golf Tips From A Pro - Are Your Shafts Giving You THE SHAFT?

Author: Pete Popovich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

In their pursuit of lower scores and more enjoyment of the game, golfers are finding that, next to a truly proficient teacher, technology is playing a greater role than ever before. A too-often-neglected and rarely mentioned aspect of this technology pertains to golf shafts. You could have the best-designed clubhead possible, but if the golf shaft doesn’t fit you properly, allowing the head to function the way it was designed, it is all for naught. Many factors go into getting your shafts fit to your specific needs.

If a golf teacher or club fitter is going to help you lower your scores, it is important that he or she knows how the golf club, and especially the club shaft, works. If these professionals are not aware of different shaft properties, how will they know if your problems are a result of poor swing mechanics or of the wrong shaft? Let me explain.

Your body (meaning hips, shoulders, hands) and the clubhead move in an approximate 2.5:1 ratio. Your hips will turn approximately 1 ft., your shoulders 2.5 ft., your hands/club grip 6-7 ft. and the clubhead (depending on overall club length from wedge to driver) 15-20 ft. Yet each of these separate parts—both body and club head—has to arrive at the top of the swing, at impact, and at finish simultaneously. As the clubhead moves through the swing, it sends feedback through your hands into your brain on when and at what speed to move your body (for an in-depth review of how this happens, read “Muscle Memory: Fact or Fiction, August issue). Now, if the shaft is fit to your natural swing, you will be able to sense the flex or bending of the shaft, which will allow the clubhead to reach the top of the swing as your body completes its rotation; from there you can start your downswing without any loss of power or rhythm. However, if your shaft is too stiff (like most shafts for most golfers), you will not be able to feel the clubhead, and you will keep taking the club back further and further until your brain finally says “Enough! Time to start the forward swing!” By this time, both your timing and your proper body-to-clubhead sequencing are shattered and have no chance of catching up to each other. Result? You hit a poor shot. On the other hand, if the shaft is too flexible, the clubhead gets to the top of your swing too soon and your natural rhythm will start the forward swing before your body has had a chance to complete its rotation, also resulting in poor shots.

What does this too-often overlooked aspect of game improvement mean? Simply, it means the golf shaft must be fitted to each individual’s particular swing type. This includes matching the amount of energy a golfer produces to the amount of energy, i.e. flex, a shaft is able to handle.

Going a step further, even if you are fitted for the proper shaft flex, a real teacher should know if the shafts characteristics fit you properly. This means that shaft characteristics must match a golfer’s swing characteristics. Why? Because each golfer has a particular load value to his or her swing. Load value pertains to how the golfer transitions from the backswing to the forward swing, thus loading the shaft. And load value can vary from golfer to golfer, even if shaft flex is the same. For example, Fred Couples and Ernie Els both play extra stiff shafts, yet each of their shafts is trimmed differently to allow for the difference in their individual load factors. Ernie has a faster transition from the top of the swing to impact, causing him to have a longer wrist lag and requiring a firmer tip to his shaft than Fred. Their shafts are thus trimmed accordingly even though they have similar swing speeds: i.e. one might require a shaft with a firmer butt end and softer tip section, while the other might require a shaft with a softer butt end and firmer tip section. One of these would allow a more fluid feel at impact and one would allow for a more rigid feel, yet each would fit each golfer’s personal swing characteristics. It is safe to bet that if Ernie and Fred used each other’s clubs, neither would play anywhere near their potential. Likewise, if your shaft characteristics do not match your swing characteristics, you will be receiving the wrong feedback from the shaft, and all the teaching professionals in the world could not help you.

As you can see, there is more to shooting lower scores than just taking lessons. “Teaching professionals” can be found anywhere golf is played, including pro-shops. But how many have stressed or even mentioned the importance of having your golf shaft fit to you personally?

We mention it. We also stress it. Why? Because without the proper shaft a teacher may (and too often will) blame your swing problems on you instead of on your equipment. To that end, let me close with this true story:

Once a student who was taking lessons from a well-known teacher came to me and asked that I check his swing. I watched him hit balls then asked him what he thought his problem was. “I think my shafts are too stiff for me,” he said. “You’re right,” I answered. “Did you tell your teacher that?” When the student answered ‘Yes,’ I asked him what his teacher’s response was. “He told me to just swing faster,” the student said. This student switched to the proper shafts and began playing better golf immediately.

This article is detailed but it is not complicated. Read it again. Then ask yourself how many teachers have spoken of these aspects of learning golf? If you would like to know if your shaft is giving you the shaft or if your swing problems are the result of poor mechanics call the The Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head at (843) 338-6737. We make every part of your golf game fit you personally.

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