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Getting the Shaft: The Brave New World of After-Market Components

They don’t call it the engine of the golf club for nothing.

Titanium heads, removable weights and spring-loaded clubfaces nothwithstanding, the shaft really is where all the magic happens — regardless of whether it’s a high-end premium product or the dolled-up piece of junk that came with the club.

Yeah, you heard me: if you’re playing a driver, a wood or a hybrid that came with a proprietary “premium” shaft installed, it’s probably far from premium (if you’re looking for proof, check this guy out).

If you’ve made up your mind to search out a high-end after-market shaft, bear in mind it can be a pretty daunting and confusing shopping experience. Your best bet is to find a certified clubfitter, preferably one who is independent of the influence of major manufacturers, and tell him what you’re after. He’ll suss out your swing and make a recommendation. Since most clubfitters tend to have lines that they promote, the broadest spectrum of choices can only come after visiting a number of clubfitters.

If, however, you’re like me — a finicky, infinitely dissatisfied tinkerer who likes to swap out shafts more often than most people change their toothbrush — you probably already know a lot about the sort of shafts that work best for you. And yet you’re never fully satisfied.

In my own case, it’s been 6.5 Rifle Project X steel shafts in the irons, and usually some iteration of a UST Proforce V2 shaft in the woods, hybrids and driver. For whatever reason, UST Mamiya makes a variety of shafts that have over the years seemed to fit my swing. You probably have a favourite manufacturer, whether you’ve discovered it yet or not — and that discovery really the whole point of the exercise. It starts out being all about the usual golf-ad cliches — taking your golf to the next level, learning how good you can be, finding your game, etc., etc. But like all things golf, and indeed like life itself, it ends up being more about the journey than the destination.

“When you buy (a club) off the rack, your (shaft) choices are limited,” says Robb Schikner, UST Mamiya’s vice-president of sales and marketing. And even in this age of adjustable clubs and interchangable shafts, he adds, trying before you buy is all but impossible when it comes to shafts.

The Proforce AXIVCore is a suitable heir apparent to the V2 legacy, a consistent and playable shaft that holds up under higher swing speeds but still proves playable for the lower ones.

“Most of the retailers don’t have another one of those shafts available for you to try. It’s not like there’s another shaft sitting on the rack.”

That’s the main reason why you don’t see many top PGA Tour players being paid to use and promote high-end golf shafts — unlike clubs, balls or apparel, shafts aren’t commonly among golf’s most sought-after commodity, even though they are arguably the most important component of the golf-gear continuum (second, perhaps, to the ball). It’s also why a company like UST Mamiya can refer only to “the winner” or “the champion” in news releases heralding the Proforce V2 as the winning driver shaft: Steve Stricker isn’t being paid to play it.

In the end, of course, it’s an even stronger endorsement than the paid one, since the shaft is the champion’s choice for reasons of merit instead of money. Everyone who matters is sure to recognize the shaft’s telltale yellow, black and silver paint job as Stricker brandishes it on the tee box.

Solving that dilemma for the serious or elite amateur golfer (let’s face it, the big-box retail golf experience is aimed squarely at the double-digit weekender) is part of the idea behind the TourSPX Dealer Network, a new UST initiative designed to bring PGA Tour-level shaft fitting and tweaking to the masses — and, of course, widen the market for UST’s higher-end shaft offerings, which include custom shafts and prototypes developed for Tour players.

Here’s how it works: get fitted at a certified dealer and you have exclusive access to TourSPX shafts, designed for use on the PGA Tour, certified through a stringent 19-point inspection process and laser-etched with a unique identifying serial number. Dealers get access to the company’s proprietary online database, allowing them to cross-reference UST Mamiya specs with those of other competitors, a service previously available only to Tour reps.

“The Dealer Network will directly benefit from the TourSPX Lab’s efforts to study and isolate the effects of the shaft on a player’s performance based on Swing DNA,” Michael Guerrette, UST Mamiya’s senior director of research and development and tour operations, said in a release.
“We are dedicated to pushing the limits of golf-shaft technology – not just sustaining it like our competitors. This focus will bring about the next big thing.”

Here’s the thing about all of this: the next big thing is golf shafts, full stop. Disconnecting them from the clubhead in a way that allows golfers to switch up and try different options was just the first step. Boutique shaft fitting is the next, and shopping for a shaft that’s separate and distinct from the clubhead is very likely the next.

Which means we all need to become a little less ignorant of the engine of the golf club. And because they seem to be leading the effort to bring high-end after-market shaft shopping to the masses, UST Mamiya offers a few excellent places to start.

The aforementioned Proforce line has been one of the most prominent shafts on the PGA Tour in the last few years, thanks in part to its unmistakable colour signature, but also because of the shaft’s consistent and continuing reputation as a consistently strong performer.

The UST Mamiya ATTAS shaft, notable for its citrusy colour scheme and stability throughout the swing.

These days, a new series of offerings, the ATTAS line (see an earlier review here), represents UST Mamiya’s efforts to take things to the next level.

Designed based on feedback from PGA Tour players, the red and black ATTAS T2, introduced to public markets earlier this year, features a tip section specifically engineered to optimize acceleration through impact. USTM describes the result as an efficient transfer of power and unparalleled distance.

The T2 presents as a higher-swing speed alternative to the ATTAS, which has also enjoyed prominence on professional tours around the world in the last two years. It offers exceptional stability and responsiveness throughout the swing, maximizing trajectory and ball speed while minimizing the flippy kick-back effect at impact.

The T2 is a strong, stable shaft, but feels like it needs to reach maximum warp to unlock the magic.

In the right hands, the T2 is probably a shade more stable than its predecessor, but given that this is a high-end, after-market shaft, a wide array of flexes, torque ratings and kickpoints help to ensure there’s a version for every swing speed, provided it’s high enough.

“While the ATTAS was more about distance, the T2 is a little more about control,” says Schikner. With additional stiffness in the tip and the butt section, “there’s better dispersion with the T2.”
For the journeyman player, the familiar Proforce AXIVcore line might provide a better fit −- the Proforce shafts have consistently proven one of the most resilient and adaptable shafts on the market, well suited to a strong amateur player who might appreciate the four-axis design’s ability to amplify stability, control and ball speed.

Proforce continues to enjoy a strong profile of success around the world, Schniker says, which becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy when the fitters themselves have had success with it.

“It has a lot of following at the retail level,” he says. “When I talk to clubmakers in the retail shops, a lot of them know the V2 and they believe in it … that clubmaker will say, ‘I play the V2, you should try it.’”

UST Mamiya produces 35 shaft models within both the ATTAS and Proforce product lines, a pretty compelling argument for the single best piece of advice anyone can offer when it comes to shafts: seek professional help, even if you think you know what you want.

The TourSPX concept aims to use golfers as lab rats of a sort to generate new shaft design concepts and broaden shaft research in an effort to develop the next substantial breakthrough in shaft technology. Next-generation products and prototypes are first made available to members of the dealer network — ergo, to those golfers who get fitted there.

The Golf Station in Euless, Tex., a world-renowned U.S. clubfitting centre, is the first to be certified as a TourSPX dealer.

“Being part of the TourSPX Network takes our business to a new level and helps create a unique marketing identity,” Don Willingham, a certified Golf Station club fitter, said in a release.
“Our customers rely on our professional expertise to help them play their best and the option of providing TourSPX shafts helps us meet those expectations.”

Those most likely to seek out and benefit from such attention to detail are the sort of players who genuinely crave an understanding of the golf swing, who want to know not only how to fix things when they go wrong, but to understand exactly what’s happening when things are going right.
Those same players also know an irrefutable rule of golf: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Give the genuinely curious golfer the ability to swap in a myriad different shafts of various lengths, flexes and flight characteristics — to say nothing of the ability to add loft or introduce a fade or a draw bias, all with the twist of a wrench — and you have a situation that could potentially put that person’s golf game in serious peril.

The flip side of that, of course, is the goal that drives all of us who embark on these apparent flights of fancy: the combination of shaft, loft and face angle that produces the perfect driver for our respective swings.

So those of us who do embrace the era of adjustability must do so with our eyes fully open, with the understanding that we’re embarking on a grand cause-and-effect experiment — and that our games, such as they are, will serve as the guinea pig.

Enter this experiment with an open mind and a willingness to spend some time at the practice range trying different combinations, and you will make some tremendous discoveries.

      

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James McCarten

When James McCarten isn't at the Ottawa offices of The Canadian Press, where he works as parliamentary news editor, he's either on the golf course or putting off his latest freelance golf-writing gig to spend time with wife Lisa and school-age kids Claire and Lucas. With 20 years of experience in Canadian journalism, James also suffers from a financially crippling addiction to all things Scotty Cameron.

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