Most golfers are aware of the importance of using the proper shaft flex in your clubs, one that is suited to your particular swing profile. The uncertainty, however, often lies in how to go about choosing the flex that will be the best one for you. Should you be using a Stiff or a Regular flex? Or perhaps one of the other shaft flex options that is available?
To make sure that you get dialed in with the right one, it’s vital that the flex you select is matched to the way you swing, both in terms of your club head speed, as well as the overall tempo of your swing. Flex has a direct effect not only on how far you’re able to hit the ball, but also on how accurately you hit it, and on what trajectory. So, since so much is riding on the flex of your club, it’s critical that you get it right.
In this article, we’ll talk about the different shaft flexes that are available to you, and about how to make sure the one that you choose is the correct one for you.
Table of Contents
- Understanding shaft flex: What is a stiff flex vs. a regular flex?
- A word about tempo
- Is bend in the shaft a good thing?
- Why use stiff flex vs regular flex? What happens when your flex is mismatched to your swing?
- How is flex measured?
- How to choose between regular flex vs. stiff flex shafts
- Which is better for me, stiff vs. regular flex?
- Some shaft recommendations
Understanding shaft flex: What is a stiff flex vs. a regular flex?
Before we get into how to choose a flex, let’s first make sure that we have a good understanding of exactly what shaft flex is, and how it’s measured.
Simply stated, flex refers to the propensity of a golf shaft to bend as forces are applied to it during the golf swing. Those forces are generated by the type of swing that you have: either a fast or slow overall speed, and either a smooth or a quick tempo. A strong player with a high swing speed will exert significant force on the shaft and will therefore require a shaft that is more “stout” in its design (i.e., stiffer). Conversely, a player with a low swing speed puts much less stress on the shaft and therefore needs a more flexible model.
A word about tempo
Tempo is defined as the elapsed time of your golf swing from backswing to follow-through. It’s been said that “tempo is not how fast you swing it, it’s how you swing it fast.” It will affect how you load and unload the shaft and is a significant factor in determining which shaft will best suit you.
A player with a quicker backswing and a more aggressive transition will have a faster tempo, while a player with a slower backswing and smoother transition will have a more deliberate tempo.
As with faster swing speeds, faster tempos will put more stress (and therefore more bend) on the shaft than will a slow, smooth tempo. Consequently quick, aggressive swings will generally require a stiffer shaft, while slow, smooth swings call for a more flexible shaft.
Is bend in the shaft a good thing?
Not only is bend in a shaft a good thing, it is necessary. If the shaft was totally rigid throughout the swing, it would be much less efficient at transferring energy into the golf ball at impact, and you wouldn’t be able to hit the ball nearly as far as you could with a shaft that flexes and unflexes. And not only that, it would feel much too boardy and unresponsive.
As a shaft bends during the start of the downswing, it begins to store energy that will later be released into the ball as the club straightens out at impact. This adds additional club head speed to your swing and, therefore, additional distance to your shot.
The key, though, is having the right amount of bend for your swing. Having too much bend in the shaft can be detrimental, but so too can having not enough.
Why use stiff flex vs regular flex? What happens when your flex is mismatched to your swing?
If your shafts are too stiff, you won’t be able to load them properly during your downswing making it difficult to deliver a square club face at impact. When the clubhead gets to the ball, the shaft won’t unload properly and the face will remain open, causing a push or a slice.
Another possible outcome of having a shaft that is too firm for your swing is that your launch angle will be lower than it should be, the result of the golfer being unable to fully square the club at impact and achieve the optimum launch angle. This usually leads to a loss of distance.
If, on the other hand, your shafts are too flexible for your swing, you will experience a great deal of inconsistency in your ball flight. You will likely struggle with misses that can go both right and left, along with shots that have too much spin. Frequently you’ll have shots that go higher than normal and which hook, but you could also occasionally have shots that are pushes and slices as well. This unpredictability is caused by the excessive bending of a shaft that is not equipped to handle the force of this stronger swing, and the shaft’s inability to consistently return to square at the point of impact.
How is flex measured?
For many years flex was measured by using something called a Deflection Board. Although many club fitters nowadays have progressed to a more sophisticated digital device called a Frequency Analyzer, many are still using deflection boards to measure the amount of stiffness in a shaft.
At the top of the deflection board, there is a clamping device that is used to stabilize the shaft. The handle (butt) end of the golf club is clamped while the shaft is oriented horizontally across the board. A fixed weight is then attached to the other end of the shaft (tip)
The weight causes the shaft to deflect (i.e., to bend), and it is the amount of the bend that indicates whether the shaft is a regular, stiff, or extra stiff flex. Obviously, a very stiff shaft bends less due to the pull of the weight than a more pliable regular-flex shaft. The particular shaft manufacturer determines what deflection point on the board represents a stiff shaft, what deflection point represents a regular flex, etc.
The more modern Frequency Analyzers also test stiffness but do so using digital analysis to measure the relative “frequency” of the shaft compared to the frequency of other shafts. Frequency is expressed in numerical terms by assigning a number to the shaft’s stiffness based on a cycles per minute (cpm) calculation, with higher frequency numbers reflecting stiffer flexes and lower frequencies reflecting softer flexes.
Note: An important thing to remember about these flex designations, however, is that each individual shaft maker is free to decide how much bend is required to earn a “stiff” flex designation from them, and how much is required for a “regular” flex designation. There are currently no industry standards for shaft flex. As a result, it is entirely possible that a shaft that is marked as “stiff’ by one manufacturer, may actually be considered “regular” by another. This highlights the importance of testing out various shaft flexes from each manufacturer to determine which shaft is actually fitted to your profile.
How to choose between regular flex vs. stiff flex shafts
While stiff and regular flex shafts make up the lion’s share of the clubs in use (almost 80%), there are several other flex categories as well. Each category represents a step up in stiffness and is designed to fit players within certain swing speed ranges. If you don’t know what your swing speed is, the other common way to determine which flex category would be best for you is based upon the carry distance of your average drive.
Here are the five different shaft flex categories to select from:
- Ladies (L), for swings of less than 70 mph, and driver carry distances of less than 180 yards.
- Senior (A), a flex for players with swing speeds of 70 – 80 mph and with driver carry distances of about 180-200 yards.
- Regular (R), a flex option meant for players with swing speeds of 85 – 95 mph, who hit their drives about 200-240 yards.
- Stiff (S), a category for stronger players who generate swing speeds of between 95 – 105 mph, and who have a driver carry distance of about 240-275 yards.
- Extra Stiff (X), which should only be considered by the strongest golfers who generate considerable swing speeds (> 105 mph) and who generally have a carry distance on their drives of 275+ yards.
As an alternative to having your swing speed actually measured or knowing your average driver carry distance, there is one other useful indicator to tell which shaft flex would be appropriate for you: identify the club that you usually hit when you are 150 yards from your target.
Many golfers won’t know exactly what their driver carry distance is, but most will know what club they normally hit from 150 yards. Based upon your normal club choice from this distance, you’ll be able to identify which shaft flex is most likely to suit your particular swing profile.
The chart below summarizes these general shaft flex indicators that you can use to tell you which category would be recommended for you, based upon either your swing speed, your driver carry distance, or your 150-yard club:
|Driver Carry Distance
|Club Used from 150 Yds.
|< 70 mph
|< 180 yds.
|3 wood/5 wood
|4 or 5-iron
|6 or 7 iron
|8 or 9 iron
|> 105 mph
|> 275 yds.
Which is better for me, stiff vs. regular flex?
To answer the question, you must first have some basic information about your own specific swing, specifically your club head speed and your tempo.
The reason one flex is better for you than another has nothing to do with the inherent qualities of the actual flex category itself. It has everything to do with how well that flex matches your particular swing. As we’ve laid out, every golfer has a swing “profile” that includes all of the unique characteristics of the way you swing. It includes, among other things, your swing speed and your swing tempo. To make sure that you get a shaft that maximizes your performance, it is crucial that the flex of the shaft be matched and aligned with both of these key factors.
Some shaft recommendations
Now that you understand the concept of shaft flex, we thought we’d include some recommendations of some of the best golf shafts on the market. If you’re considering a new shaft for your driver or fairway woods, the ones highlighted below have been selected for your consideration as some of the best performing shafts you can get.
These shafts are recommended as elite performers in three separate areas: they reflect a top option for golfers who prefer a low trajectory, a mid trajectory, and a high trajectory:
The HZRDUS Smoke Black is a high-performing shaft that favors those with a more aggressive swing. It features a low-spin and low-launch profile, while providing new optimized material placement to promote an improved feel and an increase in playability.
The HZRDUS Black shaft is for players who have a fast transition and need maximum stability in their shafts. It is not generally recommended for players with slower swing speeds.
EvenFlow’s revolutionary “even” bend profile transfers shaft load more efficiently throughout the swing to create maximum energy release at impact. The result is a powerful flow of energy that feels smooth while delivering excellent distance.
EvenFlow Blue features a mid-spin and mid-launch profile and would benefit those who have a “moderate” swing tempo. EvenFlow Blue models will launch higher and spin more than the HZRDUS shaft highlighted above, appealing to golfers who want an even smoother-feeling shaft or a higher ball flight.
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Helium Black is designed with premium materials for all golfers looking for a lightweight structure with extreme stability. Helium wood shafts are a light weight design using materials in innovative ways for the best in feel and stability never seen before in light weight structures.
This is for the golfer seeking to maximize distance with longer builds and incredible control. UST was able to reduce additional weight on the Helium Black by using 25% less resin. This obviously lowered the weight but they were also able to add stiffness for stability.
The shaft is counterbalanced to work well with today’s heavier driver heads. In addition to using lower resin carbon fiber material, they added more carbon fiber in key areas for additional stability and improved shot dispersion.