2006: Steel shafts: lighter and livelier, fyg

Orlando, Fla.

Lightweight steel has become a heavyweight contender among golf shafts.

Shaft makers True Temper, Royal Precision and Nippon have pushed the weight of steel iron shafts under the magical barrier of 100 grams, and golfers are taking notice.

For years, shaft manufacturers dreamed of steel iron shafts that could rival the weight of graphite. It’s finally happened.

Lightweight steel shafts go hand-in-hand with irons. Occasionally, they are used in hybrids and fairway woods, but irons are the focus of the current lightweight steel frenzy.

Many golfers consider steel more consistent and more accurate than graphite. Although this is disputed by most graphite shaft manufacturers, there is no doubt the world of golf has been waiting for high-quality lightweight steel in irons.

“It was considered a given that graphite eventually would take a large portion of the iron business, but it never happened,” said Peter Mathewson, chairman and CEO of graphite shaft maker Aldila.

As new alloys were created, the weight of steel iron shafts slowly came down.

Nippon, which began making steel golf shafts in Japan in 1959, took the lead in lightweight steel. Its N.S. Pro 950GH shaft dipped below 100 grams and became the world’s largest-selling lightweight steel shaft. Today, more than 10 million of the 950 GH shafts have been sold, according to Nippon.

True Temper and Royal Precision followed. Royal Precision introduced the Rifle Air Lite, a stepless shaft in the Rifle tradition, but it was True Temper that was particularly aggressive with lightweight steel. The company unveiled an array of shaft models still in the True Temper lineup.

The original Dynamic steel shaft from True Temper was invented in 1941. Today’s Dynamic Gold, the most popular iron shaft on the PGA Tour, isn’t that different from the shaft that debuted 65 years ago.

A Dynamic Gold 5-iron shaft weighs 119 grams. DynaLite, True Temper’s most successful early attempt at a lightweight steel shaft, has a 5-iron weight of 107 grams.

DynaLite, though, never was intended to be part of the Dynamic family. Dynamic Gold is known for its penetrating low ball flight, while DynaLite produces a high ball flight.

The next entry, Dynamic Gold Lite, weighs 102 grams in a 5-iron shaft. The shaft represented the first attempt to replicate Dynamic Gold in a lighter weight, although its trajectory is slightly higher than that of the original.

Along came True Temper’s revolutionary TX-90, with a 5-iron weight of 90 grams. With its feathery weight and high ball trajectory, it appeals to many different golfers. But, once again, it was not created in the image of the famous Dynamic shaft.

Finally, True Temper president Scott Hennessy laid down a challenge to his troops: Build a lightweight steel shaft that feels and performs exactly like the Dynamic Gold.

Obviously this wasn’t easy. “It was a huge undertaking for our engineering group,” said Chad Hall, True Temper’s director of marketing. “It had to look the same, feel the same and play the same, except that we wanted to remove 20 percent of the weight.”

After many failed attempts, the engineers finally were successful. The Dynamic Gold SL (SuperLite) shaft was unveiled in 2005. The ultimate validation came from the PGA Tour, where eight to 10 players have been using the shaft during a typical week.

A Dynamic Gold SL 5-iron shaft weighs 99 grams. For 2006, True Temper has added the DynaLite Gold SL, also at 99 grams.

The M80 from True Temper is an 83-gram steel shaft that was introduced in Japan last year.

It is now available in the United States through True Temper’s network of Tour Concept certified retailers (www.tttourconcept.com), although the shaft is not recommended for golfers with fast swing speeds.

On the other hand, Nippon has a 75-gram shaft, the N.S. Pro 750GH, that is strong enough and durable enough to be used by any golfer. However, the shaft is not all steel. It has graphite filaments wound horizontally and vertically into the shaft, reducing the overall weight.

All Nippon shafts can be purchased in the U.S. through members of the company’s shaft fitter network (www.shaftology.com).

Nippon controls about 80 percent of the steel shaft market in Japan and Asia. In lightweight steel, its share is more than 90 percent.

True Temper and Royal Precision are decisive Nos. 1-2 in the steel shaft category on the PGA Tour, but Nippon is knocking at the door. When Callaway Golf introduced its Fusion irons in 2004, it selected a sub-100 Nippon as a stock shaft.

Titleist, Cobra, Ping, TaylorMade and Mizuno are among the companies offering a variety of lightweight steel shafts in their custom programs.

At the 2006 PGA Merchandise Show, Callaway Golf club designer Roger Cleveland was busy searching for lightweight steel shafts for his personal irons.

“It just makes sense,” he said. “For those of us who like steel and are getting older, it is definitely the way to go.”

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