Study: Do lighter shafts increase clubhead speed?

Lighter is faster. It holds true in car racing, running, and well… just about everything. Same for golf shafts too, right?

In theory, lighter shafts allow golfers to swing faster with the same effort, and a faster-moving club head means more distance. But what actually happens when the concept is put into practice?

I set up a controlled test using Club Conex adaptors so I could switch four UST Mamiya ProForce VTS Black Stiff shafts of different weights in the exact same driver head. The driver was a TaylorMade SLDR 460 (10.5 degrees) set to neutral weighting. The UST Mamiya ProForce VTS Black shafts were 4S, 5S, 6S and 7S and they had uncut weights of 46 grams, 59 grams, 66 grams and 74 grams.

Note: The 10.5-degree driver loft and stiff-flex shafts were not ideal for every golfer who participated, but I wanted to keep as many constants as possible to isolate the variable of shaft weight.

In the test, the golfers took two warm-up swings with each weight and then counted the next five swings in the data. Participants were divided into four distinct groups to see if performance varied by swing speed and handicap. All testing was done on our Foresight GC2 with a HMT unit so exact measurements of club head speed, face angles and impact positions could be recorded. The four groups included golfers of various swing speeds and handicaps.

  • High Swing Speed (>100 mph), Low Handicap (+2-to-5)
  • High Swing Speed (>100 mph), Average Handicap (12-to-18)
  • Average Swing Speed (<100 mph), Low Handicap (+2-to-5)
  • Average Swing Speed (<100 mph), Average Handicap (12-to-18)

So how much do you think club head speed increased with lighter shafts? Here’s a spoiler: if this was the set of ESPN’s College Game Day, Lee Corso would be wagging his finger and saying “Not so fast my friend!” Out of all of the golfers in the test, only two had their highest club head speed and increased distance with the lightest shaft.  And here’s the real surprise: both of those players came from our high swing speed, low-handicap group.

Results by Group

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A couple of key points that jumped out to me:

  • On average, the weight of the shaft does not play a huge impact on swing speed. This seems reasonable when you realize that the difference between the 40- and 70-gram shafts is less than the weight of a golf ball. While less than 30 grams would make a huge difference if focused in or across a club head 45 inches away; that weight reduction spread across the 45-inch shaft is much less significant.
  • No groups had their longest drives with the 40-gram shaft and only one did with the 50-gram — the Average Swing Speed/Low Handicap group. This group was dominated by older golfers who have played their entire life and have grooved swings with consistent impact. They don’t need as much feedback from the club to maintain path.
  • The only group to increase club head speed more than 1 mph with 40- or 50-gram shafts was the High Swing Speed, Low-Handicap group. Despite this, their distance actually decreased due to increased spin.
  • Spin can kill distance and heavier shafts typically do a better job of reducing it.

The Bottom Line

In summary, be very careful when selecting a lightweight shaft for your driver. The only two people who improved club head speed and distance with the 40- or 50-gram options were very good ball strikers with grooved swings who consistently centered their contact. As a note, both of these golfers disliked the feel of the lightweight shafts and preferred the confidence and stability the heavier weights gave them – one actually has an 80-gram shaft in his gamer driver.

There are golfers out there, however, who will get great results from ultra-lightweight driver shafts. The three characteristics I look for when thinking about going light in driver shafts are:

  1. Moderate-to-slow swing speeds
  2. Very consistent ball striking (better golfers)
  3. A neutral-to-positive attack angle that helps limit spin

Our tests did include golfers 60 and older who always assumed they needed a lighter shaft if they wanted more distance. All of them actually found the best balance of distance and control with the 60-gram shaft.

If there was any bias in this test, it was likely in favor of the lighter shafts, as the 70-gram models were losing distance because of launch angles and spin rates that were too low. The heavier shafts’ general out-performance of the lighter weight shafts despite that handicap was impressive and very telling.