Golfers often ask about the performance difference between steel and graphite golf shafts, and how to choose between them. This issue of Golf Pro Tips is dedicated to answering those questions.
GRAPHITE GOLF SHAFTS: The main advantage graphite shafts have over steel, is their lower "static weight". A lower static weight helps increase swing speed and produces more distance without additional swing effort. If you are able to swing within yourself and maintain good balance, a graphite shaft can provide the benefit of extra distance. Graphite is also very good compared to steel if you wish to reduce impact vibration.
High quality frequency and flex matched golf graphite shafts will have the same amount of flex strength as a steel shaft. So for golfers who can maintain an even tempo, these types of graphite shafts will offer the same excellent distance control found in steel shafts.
STEEL SHAFTS: Steel is a good choice for golfers who don't need the extra distance graphite shafts can provide. These golfers prefer steel shafts because their heavier static weight assists with tempo control and also gives a feeling of more control over the club head during the swing. If a player is able to analyze and benefit from the added feedback (more vibrations traveling up the shaft), steel offers a benefit in this regard as well.
Another notable benefit, a steel club (built to have the same "swing weight" as a graphite club) will be shorter. A shorter club can make it much easier for a golfer to consistently hit the sweet spot of the clubface. In this sense, many golfers who tend to be less consistent may find the shorter steel shafts give them greater swing control.
• Static Weight = weight of the club when resting on a scale.
• Swing Weight = weight perceived by the golfer while making a swing.
Equipment Choices – Shafts, Steel or Graphite?
Placing the right golf equipment in your bag is one of the major steps you need to take on the way toward shooting great scores. Of course, the clubs aren't actually going to hit the shots for you – you will have to do that yourself – but good equipment can make the game just a bit easier. The good news is that you don't actually have to spend a fortune in order to track down some quality golf gear. Even if you opt for an off-brand rather than a big name, the important piece is that you find equipment which is a good match for your swing. A club that performs beautifully in the hands of one golfer can be useless in the hands of another – it all comes down to finding the right fit.
In the content below, we are going to look at golf shafts – specifically, the differences between graphite and steel shafts. As you certainly are aware, golf clubs come in both graphite shafted and steel shafted models. Each of these options as its pros and cons, and excellent shots can be created with either one. This isn't a matter of picking out which one is 'better' so much as it is picking out which one is better for your game. Even among professional golfers you will find a mix of graphite and steel shafts, which is a sure sign that both is capable of getting the job done.
The best way to pick out the right equipment for your game is to educate yourself on the differences that exist between various types of gear. That holds true not only for shafts, but also for club heads, shoes, grips, gloves, balls, and more. The more information you can have in your mind before making a buying decision, the better choice you are likely to make. As you know, golf equipment can be rather expensive, which means you don't want to make a wrong choice, as you could wind up wasting quite a bit of money as a result. Take your time before pulling out your credit card to buy any golf equipment and only act when you are totally convinced that you have made the right pick for your game.
Getting back to the topic of shafts specifically, you should understand right up front that the shaft is the single most important part of the club when it comes to determining your performance. Most players pay attention to the club head first, but it is actually the shaft that has the most to say about how the ball flies through the air. If you have shafts in your clubs that fit the dynamics of your swing, you will be able to achieve satisfactory results with a number of different club heads. It is best to think about the shaft as the engine of your golf club. Just like in a car, you might take the engine for granted – but you aren't going anywhere without it.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play golf left handed, please take a moment to reverse the content as necessary.
Steel vs. Graphite – The Basics
It is not necessary for the average golfer to learn all of the technical details that go into each golf shaft on the market. With that said, it is important that you understand the basics of what differentiates the average steel shaft from the average graphite shaft. Of course, you will need to get into more detail than just 'steel or graphite' when you actually pick out a shaft to put in your clubs, but this section will serve as an overview to get your started. Once you have a handle on the basics, you can move on to look at your potential choices more closely.
- Steel is heavier than graphite. With very few exceptions, a steel shaft is going to weigh more than a graphite shaft. Since a heavier shaft will take more effort to swing through the hitting area, most golfers will notice an increase in swing speed as they move into lighter and lighter shafts. Naturally, this is a selling point for graphite. If you are a player who would like some help in creating as much speed in your swing as possible, graphite may be the right choice for you. However, you shouldn't think of this as the only point worthy paying attention to in the discussion. Sure, swing speed is great, but you also need to be able to deliver the club accurately into the ball time and time again. With a heavier steel shaft, you might find that you have a better feel for the position of the club head – meaning you are able to make good contact more often. Some players are willing to sacrifice a bit of swing speed in favor of that improved contact, but you will have to decide for yourself if that is a trade you want to make.
- Graphite tends to offer more flex. As you swing down into the ball, the shaft of your club is going to flex to a certain degree. You need that flex in order to generate power, but too much flex can actually reduce distance and can make it difficult to hit accurate shots as well. Again, this is a point that comes down to your personal capabilities and preferences. If you have a lower swing speed and a smooth tempo, a graphite shaft might be the perfect match for you. However, if you are able to generate a high swing speed, or if you have a quick transition from backswing to downswing, you may find that a steel shaft is a better match for your needs. Within the steel and graphite categories there are a range of shaft flexes available, so you should have no trouble finding one that offers you optimum performance.
- More torque is seen in graphite shafts. The twisting of the shaft through the hitting area is known as torque, and there will usually be more torque associated with hitting graphite shafts. This can be seen as a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. On the positive side, a shaft that offers more torque will feel more forgiving through the shot, something that many golfers appreciate. On the other hand, that torque can lead to off-target shots, which are never a good thing. Finding the right balance with torque is key if you hope to hit accurate shots that feel good coming off of the club.
- Graphite is usually more expensive. The last point on our list is an important one as far as your budget is concerned. With a few exceptions, graphite shafts are going to cost more to purchase than will steel shafts. For golfers who are hoping to build a nice set of clubs on a budget, sticking with steel is the smart option. Of course, if you are willing to spend money as you think that graphite is a better choice for your swing, feel free to move in that direction.
As you can probably see, there is a pretty clear divide between steel and graphite shafts. Steel shafts offer less forgiveness but more control, while graphite shafts are almost exactly the opposite. Even without getting into any more detail, you probably have a good idea of which option is going to be right for you. Are you an experienced player who places a premium on feel and control? You will likely enjoy the performance characteristics of steel shafts. Or, are you a relatively new golfer who needs help getting the ball up in the air and on line? This type of player will love the experience provided by a set of clubs fitted with graphite. Think about your own game and the likely winner in this debate should quickly become clear.
It's All About Ball Flight
The way the ball feels when it comes off of your clubs is important, but in the end, the only thing that really matters is your ball flight. If you can get the ball to fly in the same manner shot after shot, you should be able to play good golf. Controlling the flight of the ball is a skill that most players never develop, and those players struggle to shoot good scores as a result. If you are serious about playing up to your potential, it is crucial that you learn how to manage your ball flight – and having the right clubs in your bag will help you do just that.
Most players assume that there is a problem with their golf swing when they have trouble getting their ball flight under control, but it is actually possible that your shafts could be at the root of the issue. Without the right shafts in your clubs to match up with the mechanics and speed of your swing, even your best swings are unlikely to lead to good results. Only when you are able to make good swings with shafts that are a perfect fit for you will the outcome be satisfactory.
Following is a list of ball flight problems that plague many amateur golfers. Review this list to see if any of these points relate to you and your game.
- Ball soaring too high in the air. A high ball flight is usually thought of by amateur golfers as being a good thing, but shots that fly too high become nearly impossible to control. When your ball starts to 'balloon' up into the air, you will have difficulty keeping it on line, and it won't travel as far as it could on a flatter trajectory. Usually, a ballooning ball flight is going to be the result when you use shafts that are too soft. While this can potentially happen with steel shafts, it is far more likely to occur when using a graphite shaft. If you see your shots soaring too high up into the sky on a regular basis, there is a good chance that you are going to need to look for a heavier, stiffer shaft.
- Ball flying too low to the ground. This is the opposite problem from the previous point, and not surprisingly, it usually has the opposite cause. If you are playing with shafts that are too stiff, too heavy, or both, you will usually hit shots that struggle to get up off the ground. Of course, this is a problem because you will have trouble stopping a low shot quickly when it lands, making it difficult to leave your ball near to the hole. By moving into a set of shafts that offers you a soft flex and perhaps a lower overall weight, you should quickly be able to move your ball flight higher into the air. This higher flight should also mean more spin, which is a great thing for getting the ball to stop quickly when it lands.
- Push out to the right. If you feel like you are making good swings only to see the ball flight well to the right of your intended target, you may be using shafts which are too soft. As you swing down, the club face is opened up to the target line thanks to the flex in the shaft – and if that flex is too dramatic, you won't be able to get the club face back square before impact.
- Pull to the left. You can probably guess this one by this point – when you are pulling the ball left, you are dealing with a shaft that is too stiff. In this case, you are unable to get the shaft to bend at all on the way down, meaning the club face will be shut and the ball will shoot to the left (and usually low). A softer shaft may not solve all of your swing issues in this case, but it certainly will help to eliminate the pull that has been plaguing your game.
The list above contains a few of the common ball flight problems experienced by the average golfer who is having trouble finding the right shaft for their swing. If any of those issues sound familiar to you, it would be a good idea to look into some new shafts that will be a better match for your game.
A Popular Mix
For most golfers, the right answer to the question of steel or graphite shafts is actually not one or the other – it's both. In fact, that is the same story for professional golfers, who usually have both graphite shafts and steel shafts among their bag of 14 clubs. Why is that? Well, it comes down to optimizing performance for each individual club in the bag. Different clubs are tasked with producing different shots, so it stands to reason that you would pick shafts that are well-suited to what you want each club to do.
By far the most popular combination of shafts is using graphite shafts in the driver and fairway woods with steel shafts in the irons and the putter. This is a combination that you will see in the bag of nearly every professional golfer around the world. Some players may opt for steel shafts in their fairway woods, and some may place graphite in their long irons – but the general pattern holds true across most players who make a living in the game. Naturally, it this layout is good enough for the world's top players, it is something that you should at least consider for your own game.
Graphite shafts are well-suited to the driver and fairway woods because these are clubs that are geared for distance. When you want to maximize swing speed, you are going to want to use graphite because of its lighter weight. There are an incredible number of graphite shaft options on the market for use in your driver and fairway woods, so every golfer should be able to find a flex/weight/torque combination that works nicely for their swing. Most likely, you will want to look for a driver shaft first, and then select fairway wood shafts to match the performance characteristics of the one you have picked for the driver.
When choosing your driver shaft, you want to think about finding a shaft that is going to create a ball flight which maximizes your distance potential. The best way to do this is to work with a professional club fitter who will be able to leverage modern technology in order to locate the shaft that meets your needs. Club fitters today use computers to measure nearly every part of your swing, and then that data is used to sort through the various shafts on the market. While it might be possible to find the right shaft without using technology, that process would be time consuming and it could get expensive if you have to buy two or three shafts before finding a winner. A single club fitting session will usually not cost more than a golf lesson, and the fee might even be refundable if you buy a new shaft/driver from the golf shop where you had the fitting completed.
So, if driver shaft selection is all about distance, then it only stands to reason that picking shafts for your irons should be all about accuracy and control. You need to be able to hit your irons a reasonable distance, of course, but it is more important to have precise control over your ball flight when hitting iron shots. This is why steel shafts are so popular with a majority of players when it comes to the irons – steel offers a great feel and control that isn't always present with a graphite shaft. The heavier overall weight places a nice feel in your hands, and most players are able to make a more-consistent swinging action when they use steel. Unless you need the help of lighter graphite shafts to get the ball up off the ground, steel is going to likely be your best bet in all of your non-driver and fairway wood clubs (irons, wedges, putter).
As mentioned in the previous section, there is plenty of technology available today which can help you pick between graphite and steel shafts. While that technology should absolutely be used to your advantage, you need to remember to trust your own feel as well. Before committing to any club shaft, make sure that the $shaft feels good in your swing – after all, you are going to have to trust it on the course if you are going to reach your potential. Even if the computer says that a particular shaft is your best bet, don't go along with it until your feel matches up with what the data is telling you.
Hitting good golf shots requires good technique and proper equipment to be sure, but it also requires confidence. Without confidence in your game and your clubs, there is simply no way you are going to be able to play your best. The golf course has the power to expose your weaknesses and cause you to doubt yourself at the worst times, so you need to have total belief that you are on the right track with your gear. Once the correct shafts are in your clubs – based both on the data you gained from a club fitting and your own feel – you can head to the course feeling great about your chances to play well.
Both steel and graphite shafts are capable of producing quality golf shots. However, each has its own unique set of pros and cons, so you should think carefully about which option is going to suit you best. As mentioned above, there is a good chance that you are going to want to use a combination of steel and graphite shafts in order to settle on the perfect assortment of clubs in your bag. Take your time to sort through all of the options available and you just might be able to take your game to a new level in the near future.