Are All Irons Shafts the Same?
I spent a fair amount of time in golf retail, and I can tell you there’s one question I was never asked: “What’s the stock shaft on this iron?”
Even among “educated” golfers on the forums, the Want To Buy ads for irons that specify a shaft are vastly outnumbered by those seeking a particular head on any long, round piece of steel.
That’s because all iron shafts are the same, right? Regardless of the brand, weight, or bend profile, as long as you’re a good player, you can make them work…right? Actually, no. If you really care about how your irons perform, you need the right shaft weight, as we found out in this test.
Myth #1 – Shaft weight doesn’t matter for irons
Myth #2 – Lighter shafts always create more distance
Myth #3 – Heavier shafts are always more accurate
How We Tested
For this test, we brought together seven testers. These players ranged in ability from plus handicaps to mid-teens. Each player hit seven shots with each of four different steel shafts – the Nippon NS Pro 850 GH (85 grams), 950 GH (95 grams), 1050 GH (105 grams), and 1150 GH (115 grams) – in the appropriate flex with the same iron head of their choosing. Shafts were tested in a different order by each player. Every shot was captured on Trackman, and no shots were deleted.
All testing was done at Club Champion.
You don’t have to study the data for long to realize that picking the iron shaft with the correct weight has a huge impact on performance. On average, our testers gained 12.8 yards of total distance with their best-fit weight compared to their worst-fit, and one tester gained 21 yards!
The benefits don’t stop at greater distance, either. Every tester showed significant improvements in accuracy with their best-fit iron shaft. Our testers were anywhere from 4 to 26 yards closer to their target, on average, with their best-fit shaft. That can be the difference between a makable birdie putt and a tricky two-putt or the difference between a GIR and a ball in the water.
Finally, playing the shaft with the correct weight improves consistency. Even with our best players, we saw distance dispersions (distance between their shortest and longest shots) of 20 or 30 yards with badly fit shafts. With the correct shaft in hand, the gap between the best and worst shot shrunk to less than 10 yards.
We hear this myth across the industry: “Lighter shafts are the guaranteed path to more distance!” Unfortunately, this isn’t true. While some of our testers did well with lighter shafts, particularly the 95 gram, not one of our testers posted his longest average with the lightest shaft. In fact, 3/7 testers recorded their worst total distance with the 85 gram shaft, and two of our players had their best average with the heaviest shaft.
Make no mistake, light weight shafts are a great choice for many players, but they don’t guarantee longer shots.
The “common sense” counterpoint to the idea that light equals long is that heavy shafts lead to straighter shots. This idea is equally dubious. Over half of our testers posted their best dispersion range (distance between farthest right and farthest left shots) and average distance to target with the 85 gram shaft. To further cement this case, two players had their worst dispersion range with the heaviest shaft, and three had the largest distance to target with it.
Tips from the Master
Are there any rules to fitting shaft weight? None that are set in stone, but, Nick Sherburne, Founder of Club Champion and Master Club Fitter/Builder, offered this:
Golf is a muscle-reactionary sport, so weight plays into how the muscles react and, in turn, how well you hit the ball.1) Over the top players probably should have lighter shafts. They will keep the body from wanting to pull over the top so much.2) If you hit shots thin, try lighter. This keeps the muscles from wanting to pull out of the shot.3) Players who hit shots fat should try heavier shafts to keep the muscles pulling the club up.4) Hitting shots towards the hosel indicates that the shaft is too heavy causing a swing across the ball from pulling too hard from the top.5) Faster transitions probably need heavy shafts, slower transitions probably can go lighter.