Having spent the last ten years of my life designing and developing golf equipment for the best players in the world, I have come to realize that shaft fitting is the most important and over looked aspect out on tour. I have worked with players on all the US tours - PGA, Nationwide, Champions, LPGA, Japan, European and Euro Asian. And there is one thing they all have in common; the desire to find a product that will bring them victory.
Considering that this is what they do for a living, Touring Professionals are very concerned with the products they put in their bag; much like a surgeon who wants to make sure the instruments will not fail him during his surgery procedures, a life/lively hood depends on it!
Until about ten years ago, I rarely saw a launch monitor at a PGA tour event. The ball development engineers occasionally brought one to the range for ball testing, but that was about it. Then came the advent of the “COR” (Coefficient of Restitution, aka. ball speed) relative to driver heads. What happened between 2000 and 2004 was amazing. PGA players started increasing their driving distances by twenty yards, year over year. This was due in part to better ball and club head designs, but I would submit that the majority of their distance gain came from better fitting.
By June of 2000, I began seeing launch monitors on tour on a weekly basis. Players were looking for speed, “how can I get my balls speed up”; the launch monitors helped tour players identify which OEM had the fastest driver. Coincidentally there was an added benefit that came with the launch monitors - Launch Angle and Spin Rate, which are the other two most important variables in the distance equation. In essence, players were finally being fitted properly for their drivers; optimizing not only ball speed, but also proper spin rate and launch angle for maximum performance.
So what does all this have to do with shafts or shaft DNA™?
No matter what head or ball is selected, the player must have a shaft that will deliver the club head to the ball in a consistent manor according to each individual player’s swing. The player can use the greatest ball or head ever designed, but if he doesn’t have the proper shaft, he will struggle to achieve optimum launch conditions. Just to clarify this statement, If the shaft does not fit the individual’s swing style, he will constantly fight to get the head back to the correct (square) position at impact, which will create optimum launch characteristics.”
Tour players have the opportunity to test different balls, heads and shafts on a weekly basis. They pretty much have their favorite ball figured out, but they will experiment with different drivers and shafts when they start hitting it sideways, “it’s always the club, it’s never the player”! In any case, we spend hours working with players, helping them find “lightning in bottle” when it comes to a head and shaft combination - some work and some don’t.
Weekly, at any given tour event, Monday through Wednesday the driving range is like a circus. Tour vans from shaft, ball and head OEMs pack the range in an effort to get players into their equipment for the Darrell Survey count. The Darrell Survey keeps track of what each player uses in each equipment category. Golf equipment manufacturers use the survey results in their marketing as “bragging rights” touting that their product as number one on tour. In the process, players are confronted with new products every week. If a player wins the previous weeks’ tournament with a new shaft, on Monday morning you can bet that half dozen guys will walk into the tour van asking to try that shaft. A player may have hit his driver fine last weekend, but he’s always looking for that lighting in a bottle, in hopes that a new shaft will bring the magic. Unfortunately, many times, the” hot new magic shaft” is not designed to the specs required by the players swing. This “testing” can often lead to worse results than the player had with his previous driver, which basically puts the player and tour rep into a tail spin.
I conducted an experiment about seven years ago with one of the top ten players in the world. Having experienced the stated scenario - as an engineer, my goal was to put some data behind this “tour fitting voodoo”. For about a year, I tracked every shaft the player tested and recorded how long it stayed in his bag. During the year I measured the specs on each shaft and documented the results. A pattern began to surface as to the shafts he liked and those he didn’t. Basically, the shafts he preferred had similar, if not identical specs. By specs I mean Torque, Butt Stiffness, Mid Stiffness, Tip Stiffness, Weight and Balance Point. Although there are many different shaft manufacturers, they often develop shafts that have similar specs, i.e.: a shaft from company Y may be almost identical to a shaft from company X - and this is done by design. If a particular shaft is having success on tour, you can bet the competition will dissect it to see what makes it special, and then create another version with similar specs. The two versions won’t be identical, as shaft manufacturers mostly use different carbon fiber materials (for example woven prepreg rather than simply stacked, alternating layers) to achieve similar shaft profiles, often making the shaft better than their competitor’s design. Ultimately the specs tell the story and the player confirms the design relative to performance and feel.
So why are there so many shaft designs?
Just stand at the end of any driving range and look down the line; you’ll see just about every swing type imaginable. Yes, that’s right - DNA! We are all different because of DNA. It gives us our individual identity, and yes - DNA also gives us our swing style. Every swing coach will show you the perfect model of a golf swing, but not many people in the world will ever achieve that criterion; even the guys on the PGA tour.
My favorite is the Champions tour because you see just about every move imaginable in a golf swing. But at the end of the day, these guys can go out and shoot 65 at the drop of a dime. Why? Because they have talent and they have been fitted with shafts that meet their particular demands. If all players used the same shaft (as they did 50 years ago) only a few players would benefit - those that had swings which complimented the equipment available at that time. Today we have technology on our side. We can design and develop hundreds of different shaft combinations to fit your specific swing DNA, which is one of the reasons you see so many different players in the winner’s circle today. It gives players a better chance using their natural talent to excel, when they are fitted properly. This is no different than Olympic sprinters. If one guy has shoes that are too big or too small, do you think he’ll perform up to his maximum potential?
Many of you have experienced nirvana with certain golf shafts but were never given the opportunity to understand why or how to find it again. Custom shaft fitting is critically important if you want to maximize your golf game. It’s not just about swing speed as there are several swing variables that must be taken into consideration when being properly fit. Just as with tour professionals, you should be fit by a professional club-fitter who understands shaft specs and how the shaft profile relates to your golf swing.
But the most important factor is that you don’t change your swing to compensate for the wrong shaft or bad fitting. The proper golf shaft must compliment your action. And there is a caveat here - if you never practice, and don’t have a somewhat repeatable swing, then you will always be fighting an uphill battle in trying to get the club-head square at impact. But if you play golf often enough, practice a little and have a swing motion that is somewhat repeatable - there is a perfect shaft out there made just for you.
At UST Mamiya we understand both swing profiles and shaft DNA™
Over the past twenty years, we have designed and produced over 6,000 different golf shafts and have conducted countless player tests and fittings on and off the tour. We understand shaft performance and how it translates to different swing types. We have done innumerable experiments to understand the player and shaft relationship and we offer a complete matrix of shaft models to fit every swing profile. At UST Mamiya, we can help you find your shaft DNA™.