Do shafts matter?
Driver shafts are like blue jeans: If you want to look your best, try on as many pairs as it takes to find the perfect fit. If it happens that the designer Diesel jeans you saw on Fifth Avenue hug you most flatteringly, you're out a small fortune. But if you're the guy who walks in, grabs $30 Wranglers with "close enough" inseam and waist measurements then heads straight to the checkout counter, you're still going to look fine.
About 75 percent of golfers buying new drivers opt for the $30 Wranglers when it comes to shafts. Most major manufacturers work with a top shaft company to produce a model to perform with their specific clubhead (the TaylorMade partnership with Fujikura on the ReAx shaft is one example), so masses, rest assured you're getting something decent.
Stock shafts are designed to accommodate groups of players, so the question is whether such a general flex profile sufficiently matches your swing. Says Bob Dodds, former technical director of the Professional Clubmakers' Society, "Two players with identical swing speeds might need different shafts that still measure at the same overall stiffness. A short swing requires a stiffer tip. A longer swing needs a soft tip with a stiffer butt section."
By experimenting with expensive composites, layering and fiber direction, shaftmakers can tailor things like flex, torsional resistance and feel while minimizing deformation. "The slightest undesirable flexing can magnify inconsistencies in a swing," says Don Rahrig, UST's vice president of engineering.
The problem: The cost of chasing these material consistencies, which likely exceed the golfer's swing consistencies, can be astronomic. OZIK prices one model at $1,200 and uses GMAT heat-resistant fibers to maintain precise specifications during the shaft's rotation in and out of a 240-degree oven. The company also swears by the wonders of 120-count boron.
Do high-grade materials enhance performance significantly? Well, a golf fitting haven such as Hot Stix Golf of Scottsdale rarely recommends the stock shaft when performing a clubfitting. However, others aren't so sure. "Cheaper graphite fibers can obtain the same parameters of weight, torsion and flex," says Tom Wishon, author of Common Sense Clubfitting. "The only difference for the golfer will be feel."
Of course, if an expensive shaft construction translates into a better feel, that harmony could lead you to make better swings more often. Therefore, focus on performance, not fashion. Even Larry Bischmann of MITSUBISHI RAYON (maker of the Diamana shaft used by Tiger Woods) concedes, "If the shaft doesn't fit you, it doesn't matter who's playing it or how much it costs."
5 Signs your shaft is wrong
Fitting experts Tom Wishon and Bob Dodds offer these tips:
DOWNSIZING? Can smaller be better? Blade lengths on Players' irons are about half an inch shorter than Super Game-Improvement irons. But MIURA goes even further with its Limited Edition Blades or "Baby Blades" that are nearly seven-eighths of an inch shorter than an iron such as CALLAWAY's Fusion Wide Sole. A larger head can result in better stability on off-center hits but can be harder to manipulate and have less feel, says Katsuhiro Miura, Miura's legendary designer. "We want to create simple tools. Our small blade is designed to easily return to square at impact."
WHAT ABOUT IRONS? Advanced shaft design isn't only for metal woods. TRUE TEMPER has produced a steel shaft lighter than most graphite shafts, the 75-gram GS75. The blended graphite/steel Players Spec from AEROTECH ascends in mass from long iron to short iron. Also, ALDILA is developing an iron shaft based on its popular VS Proto shaft.