Let’s start our discussion by making one thing clear. There’s a lot to fitting the flex and bend profile of shafts — enough to write a whole book.
In asking me to write about the fitting of each of the key specs of golf clubs, GolfWRX in essence gives me a “1-pound bag” each week to offer information about each fitting spec. Covering everything about shaft flex and bend profile would be like trying to put 100 pounds of stuff into that 1-pound bag!
For those who are really into knowing as much as possible about flex and bend profile fitting in shafts, I recommend you read the three-part series I wrote for GolfWRX some time ago.
For those who may not be that familiar with fitting for FLEX and for BEND PROFILE, fitting for the flex is a matter of finding a shaft with the correct swing speed rating for the golfer’s clubhead speed AND transition/tempo, while fitting the bend profile involves matching the tip stiffness design of the shaft to the golfer’s point of release.
Of all the points that an experienced club fitter has to evaluate to do a good job in the fitting of flex and bend profile, the most important one is to have accurate shaft bend profile measurement and swing speed rating data on the largest possible population of shaft models and flexes. This is because there are no standards for the flex of a shaft in the golf industry. Each golf company and shaft company is free to decide how stiff any of their letter flex codes on their shafts are to be. As such, the R flex from one company can be of the same stiffness as the S flex from another company or the A flex from a third.
Without access to a large data base of actual stiffness and swing speed rating measurements for shafts to be able to clearly know and compare the stiffness design of shafts, fitting for flex and bend profile is a matter of time consuming and frustrating trial and error. Period.
The following bend profile data graph is simply offered as an example of the type of shaft stiffness measurement data required to take shaft flex/bend profile fitting from a trial-and-error process to one of clear, succinct organization. This example graph will also prove the point about the confusion in flex due to a lack of standards in the industry.
Each of the five shafts in this graph are labeled and sold as S-flex shafts. The stiffness measurements represent a range of three full flexes, or stated another way, represent a swing speed rating difference of more than 30 mph.
With such data, the flex and bend profile fitting analysis follows these procedures:
1. Accurately measure the average clubhead speed of the golfer with a driver and a 5- or 6-iron.
2. Observe the golfer’s downswing transition and tempo and evaluate it as either:
A) Smooth/gradual/passive with little sense of acceleration.
B) Average, with some sense of force and acceleration from the transition through the downswing.
C) Forceful and aggressive, as if the golfer cannot wait to pour on the coals to accelerate the club to impact.
In simple terms, the club fitter is observing whether the golfer is more of a swinger (A), a definite hitter (C) or somewhere in between (B) with his downswing transition and tempo.
3. Observe the golfer’s point of release (i.e. the point at which the golfer begins to unhinge the wrist-cock angle on the downswing as either (1) early, (2) midway, (3) later, or (4) very late. Another way to evaluate this is to reference the point of starting the release to the hour numbers on a clock while facing the golfer.
(1) Early: 11 to 9:30
(2) Midway: 9:30 to 8:30
(3 Later: 8:30 to 7:30
(4) Very Late: 7:30 to 6:30
4. Choose shafts of the correct weight (see my story on shaft weight/total weight), which have a swing speed rating that matches to the golfer’s clubhead speed and an adjustment for their transition and tempo evaluation with a tip stiffness design that matches the golfer’s point of release.
We will use an example of a golfer with a 100 mph driver clubhead speed. The up or down adjustment in the swing speed rating and tip stiffness recommendation is the same for all other clubhead speeds.
The above procedures are done to give the club fitter A STARTING POINT for shaft flex and bend profile fitting. Suitable candidate shafts are chosen by the club fitter from which the test club hitting process begins.
Again, because the best club fitters are superb multi-taskers during the test club sessions for flex and bend profile, the club fitter is also testing for shaft weight, swing weight and continually asking the golfer for feedback with each change of head weight or shaft.
Without question, the matter of ADVANCED PLAYER SHAFT FLEX/BEND PROFILE FITTING must also include an evaluation of the golfer’s preference for feel elements and shot shape/performance related to the flex/bend profile. Experienced club fitters will ask the golfer to provide the names of shafts the golfer has used, along with the golfer’s feedback of too high, too low, good flight, too stiff feeling, too flexible feeling, just right feeling, etc.
With this information, the club fitter will access his database of shaft stiffness measurements to study as many of the golfer’s previous shafts and compare the stiffness measurements. Through this process, the club fitter will be able to know what the actual stiffness measurements are for each shaft model feedback opinion from the golfer. From this the club fitter will have a very clear picture of what the stiffness measurements need to be to best satisfy the golfer’s feel and shot shape preferences.
Again, with the right database of shaft stiffness measurements, the process of flex and bend profile fitting becomes a very organized, very orderly, and very accurate process. Without such information, shaft flex and bend profile fitting will forever be a matter of trial and error.
Sadly, with golf courses getting longer and agronomy improving, gone are the days of golf courses with fairways that play firm and fast. Players prefer to see lush green grass, which requires a high density of grass and a lot of water. That makes firm conditions a rarity.
These changes have made it very important for average golfers to increase their distance off the tee. The issue now becomes choosing between carry and roll.
In order to achieve more distance, should golfers:
Carry the ball farther?
Hit drives with a more penetrating trajectory that will roll out more?
Let’s look at two drives I hit on Trackman — one low-launching, and one high-launching drive.
Height: 46 feet
Carry: 179.7 yards
Total Distance: 218.7 yards
Swing Speed: 92.9 mph
Height: 98 feet
Carry: 205.3 yards
Total Distance: 220.2 yards
Swing Speed: 91.4 yards
For the low shot, I swung the club 92.9 mph. For the higher shot, I actually swung slower (91.4 mph), but I carried the shot 25.6 yards farther. Notice, however, that both shots rolled out to nearly the same distance — roughly 220 yards. Those total distance results are from Trackman, which simulates roll on a PGA Tour fairway.
Most of us don’t play on PGA Tour fairways; our course conditions change from day to day. If that describes you, here are three things for to remember about driver trajectory.
Higher ball flights are best when you wants to CARRY the ball as far as possible.
Medium ball flights are best when you want to carry the ball farther, but still have it roll out nicely.
Low ball flights are never the best option in softer conditions, as they tend to land well short of higher-flying drive and stop quicker.
From my experience, most average players tend to hit the ball TOO LOW, relying on roll to make up for their lack of carry.
Lower ball flights are OK when the conditions are faster, the wind is blowing, or you have a tendency to spin the ball too much with the driver. Most of the time, however, a higher ball flight will provide the best results.
If you want to carry the ball farther, and most golfers do, you MUST contact the ball in the high center of the club face with your driver. If you don’t, your drives will spin too much and that will reduce carry distance.
By contacting your drives high on the face, you are using what is called “Gear Effect” to your advantage. On shots hit above the a club’s sweet spot, gear effect causes the ball to launch higher and with less spin, one of the main keys to hitting longer drives.
I encourage you to experiment with various trajectories until you find the one’e that optimal for the course conditions you play most often.
In a previous article, I discussed the fitting of the shaft weight and mentioned that a discussion about the weight of a golf club should not only include shaft weight, but swing weight as well.
The reason? These two elements are so interrelated, and so important when it comes to helping golfers find clubs that will give them their best tempo, timing, rhythm and of course, their best shots.
Before I dig in any further, let’s clarify two things:
Shaft weight is by far the biggest contributor to the total weight of the club, which is simply a measurement of how heavy a club is.
Swing weight is the measurement of the head-weight feel of a club. A club with a heavier swing weight will feel heavier to a golfer than one with a lighter swing weight, because its balance point is closer to the club head.
As with the fitting of the shaft weight, the club fitter also has to evaluate the golfer’s transition force, tempo, strength and any pre-determined feel preference the golfer may have when making the decision of what the swing weight of the clubs needs to be.
Both elements — shaft weight and swing weight — are influenced by the same golfer swing characteristics, which is why good club fitters will fit for both the shaft weight and the swing weight at the same time in the fitting process.
In the actual fitting process, however, the shaft weight comes first. This is because the test clubs required to focus on the fitting of shaft weight and swing weight together have to first be assembled with a shaft that the club fitter deems suitable from his analysis.
Shaft flex and bend-profile design is also important, and I’ll cover that in my next article. It’s why good club fitters think about weight and flex/bend profile simultaneously in the fitting process — they have to in order to come up with candidate shafts to use in the test club hitting sessions.
Once the club fitter determines a shaft with suitable weight and the best flex/bend profile characteristics for the golfer’s swing characteristics, the matter of fitting for the swing weight is done by having the golfer hit shots with a test club while adding lead tape to the club head. Shot shape, on-center hit results, and certainly the feedback from the golfer are then assessed.
Usually, it goes like this. As the golfer hits shots with the test clubs, the fitter adds lead tape to the clubs heads — about two swing weight points at a time — while observing the ball flight and on-center hit performance.
The fitter is also asking the golfer questions such as:
How does your swing tempo/timing feel?
Do you sense that you are fighting any tendency to be too quick with your tempo?
Do you sense that you have to make more of an effort to swing the club?
Do you feel the presence of the club head during the swing enough?
Do you feel that the head feels a little too light, too heavy, about right?
The club fitter has to find that point at which the golfer begins to sense either a little better feelor begin to feel that his swing tempo and timing is better for the weight feel of the test clubs. That really is the key of a successful total weight/swing weight fitting — when the golfer does not have to consciously think about his swing tempo and timing.
It just happens.
And because the swing weight fitting process has to also include the flex/bend profile and weight of the shaft, the fitter knows that he will be switching between the different shafts he has evaluated as suitable for the golfer while he is also performing the “add a little weight at a time to the club head” evaluation to determine the best head weight feel for the golfer.
This is a perfect example of how experienced club fitters will “multi-task” to evaluate separate, but related specs in the fitting process, all at the same time. It’s why good club fitters are good and others are not when it comes to simultaneously evaluating each of these separate but very much related fitting elements.
The goal in the swing weight fitting is to get the golfer to a point where he reports that the club head is starting to feel a little bit too heavy, or the club is starting to require a little more effort to swing than the golfer would prefer. At that point, the club fitter removes a little of the head weight. Then a few more shots are hit to determine if the golfer still senses the head weight feel to be too much, or just right.
It is possible that the golfer never indicates a distinct, positive feel preference for the weight feel of the test club even when the head weight is brought back from a point of feeling too heavy for the golfer. When this happens, the good club fitters know that they need to test the golfer with a different weight shaft and go through the head weight fitting process all over again.
In my previous story, I offered some basic shaft weight fitting guidelines:
These are guidelines that work for most golfers, but are not 100 percent set in stone for all golfers.
It is not uncommon for strong/aggressive transition/faster tempo golfers to end up being better fit into lighter shafts, but with a higher swing weight. While it certainly is less common for weaker/smooth transition/smooth tempo golfers to do better with a heavier shaft, it is not impossible.
This is why a very experienced club fitter can be worth his weight in gold. With experience come more situations in which the fitter encounters golfers who deviate from the guidelines.
Good clubfitters also realize that the interaction of shaft weight and swing weight is such that it is always possible to find strong/aggressive transition/faster tempo golfers who achieve their best tempo consistency with a lighter shaft, but with a higher swing weight to prevent the light shaft from making the clubs feel too light in some manner.
After all, there are a lot of tour players who play well with 60-to-65-gram shafts in their drivers and fairway woods. And a heavier head weight feel is how this can happen, even though logic may say that the player is too strong and forceful to be fit into such a lightweight shaft.
Sidebar: MOI Matching as an Alternative to Swing Weight Matched Clubs
Matching all clubs in a set to their MOI has become a viable alternative to swing weight matching for many golfers. MOI matching may also be thought of roughly as building the clubs in a set to progressively increase swing weights from long to short irons in the set.
Candidates for MOI matching over swing weight matching can be golfers who:
Go in and out of consistency issues with the irons
Suffer from occasional-to-frequent bouts of pulling short iron shots offline
Sense less comfort and consistency with the short irons vs other irons in the set
Sidebar: Don’t Get Trapped by a Specific Swing Weight
Remember, swing weight is NOT an actual measurement of weight as are grams, ounces or pounds. Swing weight is an arbitrary measurement of the relationship of weight in a golf club about the 14-inch fulcrum point on a swing weight scale.
When fitting swing weight, good club fitters really know that they are instead fitting for the head weight feel of the golf club. They are trying to find what head weight feel is going to bring about the best swing tempo and shot consistency for the golfer based on the length, shaft weight and grip weight of the clubs.Once that best head weight feel is found for the golfer, then the club fitter can perform a swing weight measurement to have as a guideline for the other clubs in the set, or as a baseline for taking the golfer into an MOI matched set.
In short, the head weight feel of D2 in a club that is 45 inches with a 60-gram shaft and a 50-gram grip is not going to be the same head weight feel as D2 in a club that is 43.5 inches with an 80-gram shaft and 40-gram grip.Thus, golfers should not get locked into a particular swing weight when changing length, shaft weight, or grip weight but rather go through a new investigation into what head weight will bring about the best tempo and timing in the swing.
Good club fitters know this, so once they choose the best length, shaft weight and grip preferred by the golfer, they fit for the best head weight feel and do not get locked into a specific swing weight.