—February 15, 2016
I spent a fair amount of time in golf retail, and I can tell you there’s one question I was never asked: “What’s the stock shaft on this iron?”
Even among “educated” golfers on the forums, the Want To Buy ads for irons that specify a shaft is vastly outnumbered by those seeking a particular head on any long, round piece of steel.
That’s because all iron shafts are the same, right? Regardless of the brand, weight, or bend profile, as long as you’re a good player, you can make them work…right? Actually, no. If you really care about how your irons perform, you need the right shaft weight, as we found out in this test.
Myth #1 – Shaft weight doesn’t matter for irons
Myth #2 – Lighter shafts always create more distance
Myth #3 – Heavier shafts are always more accurate
We brought together six golfers with handicaps ranging from scratch to the low teens for this test. Using the same six-iron, each player hit five shots at each of four different swing weights – D0, D3, D6, D9. All the shots were recorded on Trackman.
All testing was done at and with the help of Club Champion.
You don’t have to study the data for long to realize that picking the iron shaft with the correct weight has a huge impact on performance. On average, our testers gained 12.8 yards of total distance with their best-fit weight compared to their worst-fit, and one tester gained 21 yards!
The benefits don’t stop at a greater distance, either. Every tester showed significant improvements in accuracy with their best-fit iron shaft. Our testers were anywhere from 4 to 26 yards closer to their target, on average, with their best-fit shaft. That can be the difference between a makeable birdie putt and a tricky two-putt or the difference between a GIR and a ball in the water.
Finally, playing the shaft with the correct weight improves consistency. Even with our best players, we saw distance dispersions (distance between their shortest and longest shots) of 20 or 30 yards with badly fit shafts. With the correct shaft in hand, the gap between the best and worst shot shrunk to less than 10 yards.
We hear this myth across the industry: “Lighter shafts are the guaranteed path to more distance!” Unfortunately, this isn’t true. While some of our testers did well with lighter shafts, particularly the 95 gram, not one of our testers posted his longest average with the lightest shaft. In fact, 3/7 testers recorded their worst total distance with the 85-gram shaft, and two of our players had their best average with the heaviest shaft.
Make no mistake, light weight shafts are a great choice for many players, but they don’t guarantee longer shots.
The “common sense” counterpoint to the idea that light equals long is that heavy shafts lead to straighter shots. This idea is equally dubious. Over half of our testers posted their best dispersion range (distance between farthest right and farthest left shots) and average distance to target with the 85-gram shaft. To further cement this case, two players had their worst dispersion range with the heaviest shaft, and three had the largest distance to target with it.
Are there any rules to fitting shaft weight? None that are set in stone, but, Nick Sherburne, Founder of Club Champion and Master Club Fitter/Builder, offered this:
The data from this test tells a very clear story: if you care about hitting your irons longer and straighter, picking the correct shaft weight is critical. Additionally, it shows that there are no simple, one-size-fits-all rules for selecting the right shaft. There is no substitute for working with a knowledgeable club fitter and builder to create the tools that will allow you to play your best golf.
Matt Saternus. Co-founder, Director of Instruction at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker at the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.