The flex of a golf shaft refers to how stiff or flexible it is, and will have an impact on the shots different players will produce.
When you purchase a driver or a set of irons, the clubhead will be the same, but shafts of different flexibilities can be selected and purchased, each intended to suit different types of golfer.
The flex of a golf shaft is fairly closely linked to swing speed, with stiffer shafts being more suited to those who have higher swing speeds and more flexible shafts designed for slower swing speeds.
However, there is no general rule for which shaft flex you should use, and whether you swing the club fast or slow, the most important factor is how well it performs for your golf swing.
Golf shaft flex matters, as those with higher swing speeds usually benefit from stiffer shafts. However, there is no one-size-fits all and people may actually find better feel and performance from a shaft that historically shouldn’t really suit them, in terms of their swing speed.
For older golfers who swing the club slower, dropping down to a senior flex shaft may yield better results, but even PGA pros can have trouble differentiating between shaft flex, so the jury is still out on just how important it is.
In this article, I’ll answer all the key questions about shaft flex to help you decide which is the right one for your golf game.
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What to consider when deciding on shaft flex
Generally, there are two rules to consider when discussing golf shaft flex: performance and feel. Amateur golfers who swing the club fast will usually see greater performance from a stiff or extra-stiff shaft, whereas the slower swinging golfer might find a regular or senior flex helps them lift the ball into the air better.
If you use a stiff shaft, you need a little more speed to help launch the ball up into the air.
The second factor is feel, although this is a somewhat contentious issue.
Several PGA professionals who frequent YouTube have done blind tests to determine how different shafts felt from senior flex right through to extra stiff.
Surprisingly, many couldn’t tell the difference, so numbers, rather than feel, may well be the determining factor when considering how important shaft flex is.
What flex golf shaft should I use?
You should use a golf shaft that aligns with your swing speed, with those who swing the club faster needing stiffer shafts. At the slower end of the scale, you should use a senior flex shaft, followed by regular, stiff and extra stiff as swing speed increases.
While swing speed is a good indicator for which shaft you should use, there is no set rule, and some golfers might find a different shaft suits them better, despite a faster or slower swing speed than usually recommended for that stiffness.
When observing swing speed, as a general rule, you should select a certain shaft stiffness based upon the following ranges:
- Extra Stiff: Greater than 105mph
- Stiff: Mid 90mph to 104mph
- Regular: Mid 80mph to mid 90mph
- Senior: Low 70mph to mid 80mph
- Ladies: Less than 72mph
However, feel is an important factor worth considering as well, as even if your swing speed suggests you need a stiff shaft, you mind find that your swing just feels better with a regular shaft.
Case in point is when I trialed a Wilson Launch Pad driver a couple of years ago with a loft of 13 degrees, a decision made due to my rather low ball flight that I was battling at the time.
Now the driver did its job, launching the ball high into the air, but it just didn’t feel quite right, and I eventually noticed the shaft in the demo was a senior flex.
While I hit the ball high and technically got the result I desired, it just didn’t feel right in my hands, hence my decision to move up to a more appropriate stiffer flex.
What happens when your shaft is too flexible?
When your golf shaft is too flexible you may find it hard to load the club and generate energy and power, given the shaft will flex too much during your downswing. You want to place the shaft under stress to load it, so if this is too easily done then there is less power stored and then released through impact. The result is a clubhead that rapidly catches up to the hands at impact, sending the ball high into the air.
You might find that your shots go shorter and to the left as well, as the clubhead, due to the reduced stiffness, unloads very rapidly at impact, being allowed to turn over and make contact with a closed face and a high amount of loft being presented.
While this may feel quite desirable and as if you are harnessing lag – especially if you have been practicing with the lag shot trainer – it could just send drives sky high and lack any penetration and distance.
What happens when your shaft is too stiff?
When your shaft is too stiff, it won’t square off to target early enough, failing to unload and catch up to the hands, presenting reduced loft. This will cause shots to come out lower and the face to be open at impact, sending shots off to the right. Unfortunately, as so many golfers want to emulate the pros, they opt for a shaft that is too stiff and encounter these very issues.
People often fall into this trap through buying second hand gear as well, as a fair amount of golf gear on the used market will be stiff flex as the majority of golfers game this type of shaft.
If you are a beginner golfer just finding your way or an older golfer who is slowing down a little, be sure to keep an eye out for this.
Another thing to be wary of is the fact that there is no global or even national standard for shaft flexibility and how it is labelled.
An extra stiff shaft for one company may actually be similar in bend to a stiff shaft from another, so always try before you buy, get a club fitting and ensure you are certain the clubs you’ll purchase and game are fitted with the right shaft for you.
What shafts do pro golfers use?
Pro golfers will generally use shafts that are quite stiff, due to their fast-swing speeds. If you swing over 105mph with a driver, which most pro golfers do, then you’re definitely in need of an extra stiff shaft. Surprisingly, some golfers do actually perform well with more flexible shafts, but it is rare to see pros use anything other than an extra stiff version.
There are some fascinating stories, though, about pro golfers that have used peculiar clubs with extremely unexpected shafts, none more famous than Fred Couples.
Many years ago he began tinkering with a ladies club owned by the wife of PGA legend Tom Watson, and remarkably, liked it so much he gamed it for several years.
While this club certainly wasn’t ‘appropriate’ for his swing speed and had a shaft that most fitters would have claimed was far too flexible, the distance and feel it provided was what he wanted and ultimately, this is more important than what shaft you technically ‘should’ play.
Do I need a stiff or regular golf shaft?
The shaft stiffness you need depends on your swing speed, along with what feels best to you. As a general rule, if your driver swing speed is nearing 100mph, then you should be considering a stiff shaft. If you swing your driver in the mid 90’s or lower, then a regular flex will be better suited to you.
A couple years back I purchased a new driver without giving any attention to the shaft, a real failure on my behalf in buying a club online rather than testing it out or being fitted.
With it’s regular flex, I felt as if it was impossible to get the ball up into the air, struggling for months with a low ball flight.
I eventually upgraded and tested a new driver before I bought it with a stiffer shaft.
Unsurprisingly, this better suited my swing and led to a much improved ball flight.
Should a beginner golfer use a stiff shaft?
It is unlikely that a beginner will need to use stiff shafts, as they are often going to swing at a moderate speed while they learn the game. However, if a beginner starts the game with quite a rapid swing speed, then stiffer shafts may in fact be optimal for their game.
Many beginners inevitably start the game with a second-hand pair of golf clubs, and a fair amount of used clubs on the market will have stiffer shafts, given the regularity with which they are used by amateur golfers.
While these may not be suitable for all beginners, ultimately the cheap cost of second hand clubs is going to be more important to someone starting out than getting the perfect club shafts at top dollar.
If you’re new to the game I certainly wouldn’t get too hung up on the shafts you use, with fundamentals like set up and developing a quality golf swing more important than the gear you use.
If you are the kind of person to splash out and buy brand new clubs when fresh into the game, it is worth going into a golf store with some hitting facilities and getting fitted for them.
If they can record some data using a Flight Scope and determine your swing speed, you may well find that, even though you’re new to the game, you naturally swing fast enough to warrant stiffer shafted clubs.
While shaft flex is not the absolute be all and end all, it is an important factor that needs to be experimented with in order to get the optimum set up with your clubs.
If you find your ball flight is off or have made significant improvements in your game, especially with swing speed, it might be worth exploring different shaft options to see if they have an impact on your game.