By Eric Hambleton
We all know the addictive feeling of a perfectly struck golf shot. In the words of Hall & Oates, when it’s not so perfect, we often feel like we’ve “lost that lovin’ feeling.” Seeking to improve and make perfection more frequent, we venture to demo days and golf stores to buy the perfect club. More often than not, we do not see much improvement between the old and the new. Whether you’re a scratch golfer or a high-handicap player, a professional club fitter can help you navigate the countless array of club and shaft options. The main factors influencing the feel and performance of a club are the shaft and swing weight.
The important factors in a shaft’s feel are weight, flex, and butt profile. Shaft weight can have a dramatic effect on distance and dispersion. In controlled TrackMan testing, studies have shown distance increases up to 10 yards using the same shaft model of various weights. For drivers, the same testing has shown distance increases up to 26 yards. Shafts can range from 30 grams up to 130 grams. You could be losing serious yardage simply by playing the wrong shaft weight.
Flex is another key variable in feel. We’ve all likely hit our buddy’s new driver, only to have it feel much too stiff, or maybe whippy and out of control. A shaft that is too flexible can cause a club to feel wild or hard to hit squarely. A shaft that is too stiff can feel like you are working hard to hit the ball well. What most of us do not know is that shaft manufacturers all vary in their definition of flex! One company’s “regular flex” might be another company’s “stiff flex”. This is one of the most important reasons to find a skilled club fitter to guide you through the proper flex choice.
Once you have the optimal weight and flex, the next piece of the puzzle is butt profile. Shafts have three main sections: tip, mid, and butt section. When a golfer transitions from backswing to downswing, energy is loaded into the shaft through the butt. How the butt profile is loaded triggers a domino effect through the mid and tip sections, transmitting that energy to the golf ball. That energy is reflected in the ball speed and smash factor. A butt profile that is too stiff might feel rigid or “boardy”, resulting in poor contact or swing faults such as flipping or casting. A butt profile that is too soft might feel like the clubface cannot square consistently, resulting in a player trying to manipulate shots. A knowledgeable fitter should be able to dial in the correct sequence of weight, flex, and butt profile to help you deliver better shots.
The last piece of the puzzle for great feel and more consistent shots is swing weight. Swing weight is the balance point of the club, measured in an alpha-numeric scale (D2 is a commonly stated “standard”). This is the weight of the club head, relative to the total weight, measured at a 14” fulcrum. To better understand swing weight, imagine adding lead tape to the head of your 8-iron. It will feel heavier at the bottom, reflecting the increased swing weight. Now if you move the lead tape to the grip, the swing weight would feel lighter.
A common complaint I hear is that the balance of a club feels completely off after re-gripping. Grips have a wide weight range, usually between 25 and 70 grams, which has a huge influence on swing weight. There is no one correct swing weight for every golfer, but it is a performance benefit that allows golfers to make their best contact. Working with your fitter to find the swing weight is crucial to hitting longer, more consistent shots that feel great!
Take the time to find the right shaft and swing weight for your clubs. Understanding the right combination for you and your swing will help minimize those flat shots. An experienced fitter can help you take the guesswork out of finding the perfect club and make it a reality.
Eric Hambleton is the General Manager of Club Champion in Bellevue, WA. Recognized by his peers as an expert in club fitting, Eric is a three time Mizuno Top 100 club fitter and inaugural member of the National Equipment Committee for GolfTEC. Custom Fitting.