Choosing the Right Shaft Flex in Your Golf Clubs

Understanding golf club shaft flex can help improve your golf game

Golf driver flex
It's important to think about the shafts in your golf clubs, and specifically whether you are playing the right amount of flex. David Cannon / Getty Images

If you want to avoid giving your game the shaft, you need to understand the effect that shaft flex has on your game.

"Flex" refers to the ability of a golf shaft to bend as forces are applied to it during the golf swing. Those forces are generated by the type of swing that you have - fast or slow, smooth or jerky.

There are five generally used ratings for shaft flex: Extra Stiff, Stiff, Regular, Senior and Ladies, usually denoted by the letters X, S, R, A and L ("A" is used for Senior because this flex was originally called "amateur").

Having a flex that doesn't match the needs of your swing will result in the clubface being misaligned at impact, causing your shots to go off-target.

What Shaft Flex Impacts

Shaft flex impacts, either directly or indirectly, the accuracy, trajectory and distance of your shot. Three pretty important things, eh?

As the shaft flexes throughout the swing, the position of the clubhead changes. And the face of the club must be square (perfectly straight) at impact to get the most out of the shot. If you have the wrong flex for your swing, there is less chance that you'll make contact with the ball with a square clubface.

Some General Guidelines About Shaft Flex

The degree of flex in your club shafts is something you control. You can choose to buy stiffer shafts, or softer shafts, depending on your needs.

But how can you tell what you need? Here are some general guidelines:

  • Take a look at the distance you hit your driver. This is a good, but very general, indicator. If you carry you driver 250 yards or more, go with Stiff; 230-250 yards, Regular; 200-230 yards, Senior; less than 200 yards, Ladies. Only the biggest of the big hitters is going to need Extra Stiff. For most of us, Extra Stiff isn't even in the picture.
  • If you have a very smooth swing, you might benefit from a softer flex even if you swing fast. A swing that gets jerky at the top - when transitioning into the downswing - will probably need a stiffer shaft.
  • If your drives go left, you might benefit from a stiffer flex; if your drives go right, you might benefit from a softer flex.

    If Your Shaft Flex Is Too Stiff ...

    What effect does a too-stiff shaft have on your golf game?

    1. The ball will probably fly lower and shorter for any given loft, compared to a properly fit shaft.
    2. The ball may tend to go to the right, or fade side, for right-handed golfers because with a too-stiff shaft the clubface is harder to square (the clubface is more likely to be open at impact, in other words).
    3. The shot may feel less solid, more like a mishit even if you make contact on the center of the clubface.

    If Your Flex Isn't Stiff Enough ...

    And what will happen if your flex isn't stiff enough?

    1. The ball might fly higher for any given loft, compared to a properly fit shaft.
    2. The ball may tend to go left, or to the draw side, for a right-handed golfer (because with a too-flexible shaft, the clubhead may tend to come into the ball closed).
    3. Shots may tend to feel more solid, even when they aren't.

    To go more in-depth into the effects of the wrong flex, see:

    Oh, Those Macho Men

    Men like to hit golf clubs with Stiff shafts. It's a guy thing. Unfortunately, it's not always the smart thing.

    No macho man wants to be seen hitting a wimpy little Regular flex club, or, Tiger Woods forbid, a Senior or Ladies flex.

    But overswinging is a common problem among male high-handicappers. Choosing a softer flex often has the effect of forcing macho men to slow down their swings. And slowing down the swing often makes those macho men into better golfers.

    And the fact is, the harm in hitting a shaft that is too flexible is much less than the harm in hitting a shaft that is too stiff. As equipment guru Tom Wishon has said, when unsure about flex, always err on the side of more flex (meaning, a softer shaft). If you can't decide between Regular and Stiff, go with Regular.

    The Foolproof Way to Choose Shaft Flex

    A clubfitting with a golf professional is the recommended way to choose the proper flex.

    The pro will take a lot of measurements, watch your swing, measure your swing speed, watch your ball flight and be able to recommend the flex that is right for you.

    Clubfittings are available at many pro shops and almost all golf schools and from teaching professionals. Dedicated clubfitters are also becoming more common.

    If a club-fitting isn't in your future, the next best thing is a demo day. At demo days, you'll be able to hit many different types of clubs with different types of shafts. Or find a good pro shop with swing bays where you can try before you buy.

    The key, short of a club fitting, is hitting lots of different clubs and watching the effect that changing shaft flex has on your shots.

    If you find a flex that feels good and produces a good ball flight, there's a good chance that's the right flex for you.