Do Putter Shafts Make a Difference? – Golf Myths Unplugged

Placebo, Status Symbol, or Difference Maker?

Over the last few months, we’ve seen an explosion of interest in putter shafts.  This has been caused largely by their use on the PGA Tour.  But does the putter shaft make a difference or is it just a placebo effect?  We did the testing to find out.

The Myths

Myth #1 – Putter shafts can affect distance control

Myth #2 – Putter shafts can change a putter’s feel

Myth #3 – Putter shafts can change a player’s stroke path

Myth #4 – Putter shafts can change a player’s face rotation

Myth #5 – Putter shafts can change a player’s consistency

How We Tested

For this Golf Myth Unplugged, we tested seven putter shafts: traditional steel, Fujikura MC Putter Smooth, Firm, and X-Firm [review HERE], LAGP TPZ 105 and 135 [review HERE], and BGT Stability Tour [review HERE].  Each putter was built to the exact same length and lie angle with identical putter heads and grips.  Thanks to SWAG Golf for providing the Handsome One putter heads for this test.

This edition of Golf Myths Unplugged entailed two layers of testing.  First, we tested every shaft on SAM Puttlab at Club Champion.  Three players hit seven eight-foot putts with each putter shaft.  The second step was testing longer putts.  This was done with seven testers hitting the same thirty foot putt five times with each shaft.

The Results

After tracking over 200 thirty-foot putts, I can confidently say that putter shafts make a substantial difference when it comes to distance control.

Across our test group, the average leave with the best-fit shaft was just over 14 inches.  With the worst-fit shaft, the group average was nearly 30 inches with some testers finishing at over 36 inches.

How significant is that difference?  If we use PGA Tour putting stats, a one-foot putt gets made 99.8% of the time.  At two feet that drops to 98.2%, and the make rate is 92.1% at three feet.  And those are the best players in the world!  Despite what your golf pals may think, a three-footer is no sure thing, so rolling it to 14 inches is a huge advantage.

The data is even stronger when it comes to consistency.  With their best-fit shaft, our testers had very tight dispersions.  Their best putt might be within 6″ and their worst would be within 15″.  It was very common for testers to hit all five putts within 18″ with their best-fit shaft, and a couple hit all their putts within a foot.

When we look at the shafts that were a poor fit, the dispersion got pretty ugly.  They might get one putt within 6″ but another would be outside 36″ and another outside 48″.  That’s the kind of inconsistency that leads to frustrating three-putts.

While we prefer objective metrics in Golf Myths Unplugged, feel can’t be ignored, and the results here were unambiguous.  Every one of our testers, whether they hit short putts or long putts, noted differences among the shafts.

That’s not to say that every shaft was wildly different from every other shaft.  Testers stated that some shafts felt similar, others were unique.

As you would expect, preferences varied substantially among our test panel.  The Fujikura MC Putter Smooth tended to be polarizing – people either loved the active feel or it made them uncomfortable.  Similarly, the shaft with the most counter balancing, the LAGP TPZ 135, tended to provoke strong reactions.

One of the big questions surrounding putter shafts is whether or not they can affect a player’s putting stroke.  We’re breaking that down into three parts: swing path, face rotation, and consistency.  To that first piece, the answer is that putter shafts can absolutely change a player’s path.

Among our three SAM Puttlab testers, we saw changes in path as large as 4.7, 3.3, and 10.7 degrees.  For this final tester, his path went from being almost perfectly straight back and through to moving substantially left through impact.

While the putter shaft is clearly an impactful part of the equation, it should be noted that for each tester, there were several shafts that performed very similarly.  That means that a random putter shaft change may or may not affect your path.

Finally, the changes were not predictable.  That is to say, we did not see Shaft X move every player’s path more left or right.  As with most things we’ve tested, the impact of a given equipment change depended on the individual.

SAM Puttlab creates a variety of metrics around putter face rotation.  Among them are Rotation to Impact, Rotation Relative to Path, and Rotational Speed at Impact.  We looked at each metric and saw the same thing: a significant amount of variation among our seven putter shafts.

Knowing that the putter shaft affected our testers’ swing path, it makes sense that the face rotation changed too.  If a player’s path moves, the face angle necessary to make the putt changes also.

This myth gets us back into the realm of eye-popping results.  Looking at SAM Puttlab’s Overall Consistency metric, we saw variations of 10%, 18%, and a stunning 42%!

Consistency is a magic word in golf, so the idea that a putter shaft can boost (or cut) it by almost half is jaw-dropping.  In the case of our third tester, this dropped him from putting that would be considered Tour-caliber to…well below that.

Additional Findings

Something that’s often ignored in putting is the ability to consistently strike the center of the club face, and we saw the putter shafts have an impact there, too.  Though PuttLab does not put numbers to it, it does create a graphic showing the impact location of each putt.  Looking at each player’s seven reports, we saw substantially varied impact patterns.  With one shaft a player might be consistently on center, another shaft moved their whole pattern toward the toe, and a third might cause them to be very inconsistent.

Finally, we observed that, based on feel, players were reasonably accurate in finding their best fit or at least eliminating the worst options.  If a player identified one or two shafts as feeling bad, those shafts were consistently among their worst performers.  Of our ten testers, three correctly “guessed” their best fit and the other seven preferred a shaft that performed in the top half.

The Takeaway

Our testing clearly shows that putter shafts can have a huge impact on your putting.  What you need to keep in mind is that this impact can be positive or negative.  As always, the key is getting fit and trying before you buy.  Whether you prefer heavier, lighter, softer, or stiffer, test a variety of shafts, get some data, and don’t be afraid to trust your feel.

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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12 Comments

  1. Paid a hundred bucks to Club Champion for a putter fitting and no one ever talked about shafts

    • Matt Saternus

      Bruce,

      When was your fitting?
      One problem right now is that fitters are still catching up to the interest in putter shafts, so they may not have a full array of demos yet. If they can’t offer the shaft to you to try, there’s not much sense in trying to sell one to you.

      Best,

      Matt

  2. Thanks for the analysis, Matt. I guess I have to read this with mixed emotions. While I am willing to spend $$ to improve my game, I have to admit to some “disappointment” in your findings owing to the premium, if not absurd prices of some of these putter shafts. By adding one of these shafts to an already premium priced putter, I am pushing the price of the club to beyond $ 600 or $700. No matter how much I want to shave strokes off my game, that is a bridge too far, at least for now.

  3. Really wish you’d supply the data sets for things like this. Plus there’s already an inherent bias (confidence boost) in testers knowing a putter and shaft combo was deemed optimal for them prior to rolling it for testing (ie not a blind test).

    ‘Feel’ can change from from varying any portion of the club, from grip to putter head to shaft, and IMO putters don’t need a $400+ shaft to ‘feel better’. Pros use it cause they can, either its given to them or of course readily affordable.

    • Matt Saternus

      Who determined that a particular shaft was optimal before testing? I agree the test isn’t blind – not sure how it could be – but I’m not sure where you’re getting this idea that people were matched to shafts prior to testing.

      -Matt

  4. Will Skeat

    Why no identification of the best and worst performers among the group of shafts tested?

    • Matt Saternus

      Will,

      Because no shaft consistently outperformed any other. As I stated in the post, it’s all about finding the right fit.

      -Matt

  5. Great article Matt!

    For any of the testers, was the steel shaft the best fit? In general how did the steel shaft compare? Always in the top half? Never in the top half? Did it correlate with any of the individual graphite shafts? (E.g. if a player did well with the fujikura smooth shaft did they typically also do well with steel?)

    • Matt Saternus

      Al,

      Thank you.
      Yes, we had testers where steel was among the top choices. I don’t think it was ever a clear winner, but it was very good for several testers.

      Best,

      Matt

  6. What are the so called advantages of these expensive putter shafts. If it is all about finding the right fit where does one start, especially if he has a putter that works sometime and doesn’t the other times(like most equipment golfer’s have).

  7. As someone who started using a Stroke Lab shaft a few months ago, I am not surprised with the test results.

    Wish you guys would have included a Stroke Lab shaft in the testing though. Much cheaper for the common golfer to afford.

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