A Weighty Subject
In our first two editions of Shafts 101, we discussed shaft flex and torque. Today we’re discussing weight, which is at once a simpler and more complex topic. Everyone knows what weight is, but how does shaft weight affect the swing? Our panel of leading shaft makers and club fitters will explain.
The majority of our panel agreed that shaft weight is very important. Club Champion told us that weight is the first thing they look at when fitting a shaft, and Nippon said, “If a golfer can’t feel a shaft that’s properly weighted, the other factors (flex, torque, bend profile) are moot.” Fujikura and MRC agreed that weight needs to be considered along with those other factors to produce a shaft that will perform well.
One interesting note that Club Champion added is that understanding the weight that a player feels is not always straightforward. “Flex, torque, and bend profile can play into the perceived weight of the shaft,” according to Nick Sherburne, Club Champion’s founder.
Weight Distribution and Counter Balanced Shafts
Though counter balanced shafts like the Fujikura XLR8 series have become very popular in the last couple years, our panel agreed that total weight is more important than weight distribution. However, that does not mean that finding the right weight distribution or balance point is unimportant.
So why are there so many counter balanced shafts these days? The main driver of this trend is the club head. As Fujikura explains, “High balance point shafts can be matched with heavier heads or longer club lengths to facilitate club builds with [“normal”] swing weights without having to change mass properties of the head. They can be used with standard heads at standard lengths to simply reduce swing weight.”
Shaft Weight in Woods vs. Irons
One question that intrigued me is whether shaft weight is more important in woods or the driver versus irons and wedges. Across the board, the consensus was that weight is equally important in all clubs.
Fujikura did raise one interesting counterpoint: the importance of the driver shaft can appear greater because the distance and dispersion is larger with a driver.
Fitting Shaft Weight – Rules of Thumb
As we’ve done in the past, we asked our experts if there are any reliable rules of thumb for fitting shaft weight. We received a wide range of responses that boil down to this: there are general rules and concepts that you can use, but nothing is hard and fast.
One bit of common wisdom is that slower swingers should play lighter shafts and faster swingers should go heavier. This holds up sometimes, but is often wrong. As Fujikura pointed out, a slower swinger will be much better with a heavier shaft if that causes them to have more centered strikes. True Temper suggested that lighter shafts can produce more distance and heavier shafts may be preferable for control.
How Much Weight Can You Lose (or Gain)?
Whether you’ve been fit or not, you have a certain shaft weight in your current clubs. Is there a limit to how much you can change without losing your swing? True Temper gave us a hard number: 20 grams. Most of the others said that it’s hard to know exactly – some can change a lot, other players will be hurt by even small changes.
It should be obvious that we and our expert panel strongly advocate working with a qualified fitter to find the correct shaft weight for you. Nonetheless, we asked how a golfer can know if their shafts are the correct weight without a fitting.
Nippon suggested that a player should be able to tell largely by feel. A shaft that’s too heavy will cause a “labored golf swing.” A shaft that’s too light will hurt your ability to make solid contact. When you find the right shaft weight, you’ll experience a “high energy swing” with uniform contact.
Club Champion emphasized looking for the best numbers – ball speed, launch, spin, angle of attack, club path, and dynamic loft. This is why their fittings all include Trackman launch monitors – so they can see what produces the best and most consistent numbers.