I played an evening round with a few friends last night and as always it was an enjoyable few hours. We played in one of the most enjoyable formats that I know, a scramble matchplay. It lets you try shots that you wouldn’t perhaps take on in a competitive round. It also gave us the opportunity to hit each others clubs a little bit and got me thinking about flex, especially in irons and particularly the old “is my iron flex too soft or stiff question.
Trying Different Iron Shafts
The last hole on the course last night is a longish par four (just over 170m or around 190 yards) over water but with a big landing area. The match was already done (yes, we did win!) and so I took the opportunity to hit a club or two from my friends’ bags. Without going too much into clubhead design, the contrast in shafts couldn’t have been any greater. I hit five iron in my own club (with a project x 6.5 one inch over length steel shaft), and then two other five irons, one with recoil f4 graphite shaft and the other with the manufacturer’s stock graphite in a lightweight regular. Any guesses as to what happened?
You might be thinking that I would have three radically different results. Actually, this wasn’t the case at all. I hit all three clubs right out of the middle, in fact as well as I hit anything all day. I hit the recoil first of all and the distance was around flag high, the ball flight very high (as usual for me) and it over drew quite a bit into the left rough. I then hit my own five iron which hit and stopped about 5 yards short of the flag but with the same high ball flight. finally, I hit the other graphite shaft which again went high and a bit left but I expected this and aimed right so no real harm.
Now without a doubt, I wouldn’t get fit for these other two shafts. In all honesty, I wouldn’t get fit for my own shafts anymore either with my aging body! In theory though, it is closer to what I “need”. The reality though is that the results weren’t ridiculously different.
Is Shaft Flex Important?
That tells me something that I already new. I am terrible at many parts of the game of golf, but I have always been quite good at hitting irons and adapting too different shafts. If I change shaft in a driver, I am very quickly in trouble but it wouldn’t worry me about hitting virtually anything in my irons. So how can I tell if a shaft is too soft? Generally, a shaft that is too soft is going to result in a lot more dispersion for most golfers and usually a much higher ball flight, often with too much spin.
I tend to hit the ball too high anyway because of my swing mechanics and size. I would guess that if you shot my in super slo-mo, there would be lovely flip at the ball too! My swing has become far less violent over the years and although I do generate a reasonable amount of speed, certainly enough to load most shafts at least from mid(ions on down, I don’t think I overpower a shaft anymore. Depending on your swing, this may vary.
This brings me to the key point here. I believe that shaft weight is going to be more important for most golfers compared to flex, which is a hugely variable reference point from one manufacturer to another anyway. I do think that flex is important, especially for the better golfer who has solid swing mechanics (better than mine anyway!) for the rest of us, it might actually be better selection on weight and going perhaps lighter than we might think.
Is My Iron Flex Really Too Soft?
A lot of us worry that we might be playing with too soft a shaft, but unless you are spraying it all over the place, this really might not be the case. Even if you do have a lot of dispersion, it is far more likely to be a swing problem than an equipment issue.
Of course, there is quite a lot of ego involved here too. When we hit one well left, it is tempting to think that we “over-powered the shaft” rather than just put a horrible swing on it. Tom Wishon, one of the smartest men in golf in my opinion, said something along the lines of the weight/flex must be really off for most golfers notice it affecting their shots. Of course, I am not saying that we should play just any old thing. There is a huge amount of choice out there which is great for golfers. you may as well get something that has as good a chance as possible of working.
However, unless you are miles away and you have something like a really aggressive transition, the shaft is perhaps not doing as much as you think. I would illustrate this perfectly. I guess that a shaft fitting for my irons today would probably put me in something like a medium-weight stiff shaft. The reality is that I hit my extra-stiff heavy steel shafts far too high. Shaft too weak? Of course not. Dodgy swing mechanics? Guilty as charged!