Golf equipment truths: Should you fix your swing before or after you get new clubs?

Golf lesson: young coach correcting golfer's swing

Getty Images/RapidEye

We are lucky to have two of the most knowledgable golf gearheads in our office. And they are sharing their golf equipment knowledge with you. Golf Digest's equipment editors, Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson, have covered the golf equipment business for decades, and there are few who know the equipment industry better. We've asked them to answer your questions in a weekly equipment round-up. Tweet them any equipment questions you have, and they might answer your questions next week. (Click here or here to ask them a question.)

My irons are nine years old and my swing is a mess. Should I buy irons THEN take lessons or vice versa? Does it matter? —@fofop05

This is golf’s version of the chicken and the egg. While the answer probably depends on who you ask, we went to one of the leading clubfitters in the country, Nick Sherburne (a perennial Golf Digest Best 100 Clubfitter) to get his thoughts.

“I tell every golfer in this scenario that you should get fit first,” says Sherburne. “That being said, you need to be very clear with your fitter that you plan to take lessons. A good fitter can help the golfer find out if they have equipment that will help their swing changes, or make the swing changes needed nearly impossible.”

That might seem counterintuitive, as most likely feel that their swing should be dialed in before getting new clubs, but the fact is that most golfers tend to adapt their swing to their equipment. So instead of fighting your equipment during a swing change, letting your fitter know what you are trying to accomplish will help them fit you into clubs that can help expedite that process.

Or, as Sherburne says, “Golfers need to understand equipment has a lot to do with the way they swing the club and if they don't have the right equipment, no matter how many lessons they take or range balls they hit, they will struggle.”

What can Kevin Na achieve from having a stiff graphite shaft in his putter? —@s2h2ely

This question brings to mind the wisdom of Harold Hilton, who won four British Amateurs along with a pair of British Opens and a U.S. Amateur. In the book “Modern Golf,” Hilton wrote, “A good shaft is a pearl beyond price.”

Hilton was speaking about all clubs, but the fact is that the shaft of a putter can play a significant role in how well a player performs on the greens. In Na’s case, his switch to LA Golf’s Stability shaft—a very stiff graphite putter shaft—paid immediate dividends as he set a PGA Tour record with 558 feet, 11 inches of putts made in winning the 2019 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. At the time Na said, “It’s a very stiff shaft. It’s stiffer than steel and it’s helped me and given me the consistency of good speed.”

For Na, the stiff putter shaft helped with speed control. But just as golfers are drawn to certain putters, they also are drawn to certain shafts depending on their feel. Corey Pavin, for example, used a Bulls Eye putter with a very soft shaft in it for more than 30 years. “I’ve been putting with it for so long, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to re-shaft it. It just wouldn’t be the same. Not even close,” Pavin said a number of years ago.

The takeaway here is just like flexes in drivers and irons and wedges, there is a putter shaft flex that works best for each golfer. Which is why a putter fitting is every bit as valuable as a driver fitting, maybe more so.

If I shorten the shaft in my driver, do I need to make adjustments to the head to balance the swingweight? —@sigep75

Given that the majority of PGA Tour players are using driver shaft lengths that are at least half-an-inch shorter than the standard length for the same driver models being sold in shops, you can understand why a shortened shaft from the original might be the right thing to do. (Why average golfers are being asked to hit a longer and more difficult to control shaft length than tour pros seems a little goofy.) A proper fitting also should've told you that you’re better with a shorter shaft from the beginning. We’re not sure we’d just unilaterally make this kind of change on my own because, yes, you are right, a change in shaft length changes other stuff. It’s like how a completely different haircut makes you appear smarter, or so I’ve been told.

No, what you at least need to do if you shorten the shaft length on your driver is add mass (like lead tape) to the head so the swingweight stays similar. At the very least, you should experiment with various amounts of lead tape, but if you trim a half-inch off your driver shaft, you’ll need to add a couple inches of lead tape to the head. But it’s probably more complicated than eyeballing it, says Woody Lashen of Pete’s Golf in Mineola, N.Y., a Golf Digest perennial 100 Best Clubfitter. “Good rule of thumb is two grams per swingweight,” he said. “And that ends up being more tape than you’d think. It’s not simple, and some high balance-point shafts don’t change their flex at all when you cut them from the butt. And if you then change the grip you could have another factor.”

In other words, getting with an expert might not only show you how it could be better but how to get each component dialed in properly. A shorter shaft could increase the tendency toward square face angle and on-center impact locations. That could mean straighter shots that more often get the highest energy transfer through those center-hit impacts. Rickie Fowler has tried it and feels confident with a 43.5-inch driver shaft.

“I feel like I have a bit more control,” he said. “The club is out in front of me a lot easier and with it being a little shorter, it is easier to save when it does get a little out of position.” So if a top-ranked pro is looking for ways to better control the driver by shortening the shaft length, what is it that you’re thinking with those stock longer length shafts? That you’ve got more control over the club than a pro? I don’t know, but sounds to me like you need a haircut.