Golf Monthly technical editor Joel Tadman explores the impact different shaft lengths have on the distance and accuracy golf drivers provide for varying levels of player
Many Golf Monthly forum members are increasingly inquisitive over the distance gains we see on reader-fitting days, questioning where exactly the distance comes from. Many, erring on the cynical side, pinpoint an increase in shaft length as the predominant cause of the extra yardage. Others enquire as to why the shafts in tour players’ drivers are shorter than those offered at retail to amateur golfers.
Before I attempt to answer these valid questions, let’s provide some context. The maximum shaft length allowed by the Rules of Golf for competition is 48 inches and common thinking suggests the longer the shaft, the more clubhead speed you can create. This is backed up by the fact former World Long Drive champion Joe Miller uses a 50in shaft. So if a longer shaft equals more distance, why doesn’t everyone use a maximum length 48in driver?
The answer comes down to control. In reality, the average length of a driver used on tour is 44.5in while the average shaft length found in drivers on the shop shelves is around 45.5in. There is an optimum driver shaft length with which golfers will achieve maximum clubhead speed and it will vary from player to player. The different length of stock shafts in drivers across manufacturers only re-enforces the importance of a custom fitting.
Driving distance leader on the PGA Tour in 2014, Bubba Watson, plays with a 44.5in shaft, while Tiger Woods played a 43.5in shaft for many years. These players have above-average swing
speeds and therefore do not need the distance an extra inch in their shaft would provide. They prioritise accuracy and control when configuring their driver set-ups. Ample distance comes naturally to them whereas for us comparable hackers, it does not.
So would the average 18-handicap golfer benefit from having a shorter driver shaft fitted? Well, yes and no. There’s no doubt that the majority of golfers would experience an increase in club speed in a 45.5in driver compared with a 44.5in driver and the testing that I have done backs up this theory. But for many, the trade-off is too severe.
For every half-inch of mishit on the clubface, you’ll lose five per cent of distance. So if a longer driver is too long for you to control, you’ll hit off-centre hits more frequently, often resulting in a drop in distance and accuracy rather than a rise.
I use a Ping G30 LS Tec with a Tour stiff shaft, which comes in at 45.25in – half an inch shorter than the standard shaft offered in the G30. This immediately infers that better players with faster, ‘tour-like’ swing speeds prefer the control of a shorter shaft and I for one agree. From all the club testing I do, when I come back to my Ping G30 I always find it feels easier to control the clubface, promotes better timing and helps me find the centre of the face more often and I feel like I don’t lose out on distance as a result.
Finding the centre of the face is the biggest ingredient to more distance. You could put a 47in shaft in your driver and your swing speed might increase by 5mph, but if you struggle to control the clubhead and frequently mis-strike the ball in the heel and toe, that extra club speed won’t necessarily translate into the ball speed needed to achieve more distance.
The only way to find out the best shaft length for your game is to hit shots on a launch monitor and discover your club speed, ball speed, distance and dispersion with different lengths of shaft. If your swing speed increases with a longer shaft, but the ball speed remains unchanged, then the extra clubhead speed is useless and you’re giving up accuracy for no reason.
But before you march into your pro shop and demand the assistant lops an inch off the shaft in your current driver, remember that when you shorten any club you will reduce its swing weight and change the overall feel. So it’s not quite as simple as chopping it down. An experienced club-maker or a professional will be able to build in the requisite compensations into your clubs if you do decide to change the length of your driver.
Every golfer is unique. Those with already fast swing-speeds are more likely to enjoy the control benefits of shorter shafts while higher handicappers with slower swing-speeds may be better off with the distance a longer shaft offers. It’s a balance and golfers prioritise areas of performance differently. Think about your own strengths and weaknesses and test out different lengths under the watchful eye of a pro before deciding.