2006: In search of the right shaft

Fort Worth, Texas

Jamie Pipes, a golf professional and 13-year member of the PGA of America, is on the practice tee at Diamond Oaks Country Club, trying to identify the ideal driver shaft for amateur Bob Moore.

Moore, of North Hollywood, Calif., is not your ordinary golfer. He is 6-foot-10, and his irons are 41⁄2 inches longer than standard. Moore, an avid tournament player, is here for theTrans-Mississippi Amateur Championship at Brook Hollow Country Club.

Pipes, manager of field research and product testing for shaft manufacturer UST, will spend a full day with Moore. They will test shafts, play 18 holes, then test some more.

Finding the right driver shaft can be one of golf’s most mysterious pursuits, and Pipes is one of the best detectives in the business. A highly regarded teaching professional, Pipes combines expertise from the shaft industry with knowledge from instruction.

This is serious shaft fitting for serious golfers.

Ultimately, Moore ends up with three TaylorMade r7 TP driver heads with three different shaft combinations. With further testing on his home course, Moore will choose one of these three drivers to use in the two dozen or so amateur tournaments he enters each year.

Because many golfers may be unable or unwilling to spend this kind of time or money in search of a driver, here are some of Pipes’ reflections to help all golfers evaluate their progress in matching the right driver shaft to the right head.

The ideal driver shaft fitting, according to Pipes, may start with a launch monitor, but it always ends up on a golf course.

“You can’t find every answer on a launch monitor,” Pipes says. “They are great for finding a starting point on where to go.

“But there is still some trial and error at the end of it. You still have to go out and hit a driver. You have to see if you can hit it in the fairway.

If you can’t, it isn’t the right driver.”

Simple advice on a complex subject.

Pipes believes there is also a certain amount of teaching involved in shaft fitting. He interviewed Moore before they stepped on the course, asking in detail what Moore and his instructor, Chris Walkey of the Jim McLean Golf School at PGA West, have been working on.

Pipes wants to be sure that Moore, in dealing with the emotions of finding a new driver, is not altering his swing or approach to the game.

Pipes and Moore are experimenting with longer versions of the UST Proforce V2 shaft. Moore has been a longtime user of UST driver shafts, going back to the original Proforce Gold.

Jose Maria Olazabal unveiled that purple-and-gold driver shaft, which is unusually tip-stiff, in winning the 1999 Masters. Jim Furyk still uses the shaft in his driver.

The new Proforce V2, available in 10-gram increments from 55 grams to 95 grams, is less stiff not only in the tip, but also throughout the shaft. This is a reflection on the modern game, in which balls spin less and optimum distance is achieved with a higher trajectory.

  • The half-inch solution: Big-name golfers such as Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Camilo Villegas have tried and failed to use longer drivers. For golfers who are unsettled on shaft length, Pipes suggests starting with a driver that has an untrimmed shaft.

“Don’t cut anything off the butt,” Pipes says. “Install a grip on the club and go hit it. Then you cut off a half-inch at a time. This allows you to kind of sneak up on the ideal length. It will cost you a few grips, that’s all, and you will find out exactly what you can handle.”

  • Weight conscious: Be aware of shaft weight and the manner in which it affects the overall feel of the club, Pipes says. Skilled players might lose feel if a driver shaft is too light.

“You have to be able to feel where the club is at,” he says. “If you can’t, you’re going to have problems.”

  • Lighter equals stiffer: Golfers who go lighter with a driver shaft generally can go stiffer as well, Pipes advises.

  • Kick point: Shaft weight and flex are far more important than flex point, or kick point.

“You have to get the weight and the flex right before you do anything else,” Pipes says.

  • Torque: For players with a driver swing speed of roughly 95 mph or higher, the shaft needs less than 4 degrees of torque. Otherwise, the golfer will sacrifice control.

  • 3-woods are different: Driver shafts and 3-wood shafts are not the same. Most golfers use their 3-woods off the tee and the fairway, and thus need a different shaft.

  • Loft is your friend: More loft in a driver typically means less sidespin, less dispersion and straighter tee shots.

Was the experience worth it for Moore?

“I learned so much that it’s hard to describe,” Moore says. “I am hitting the ball higher and carrying it farther, so accuracy is the big issue. Right now, I’m still experimenting with all three of the drivers.

“For me, there is no doubt that the driver is the most important club in the bag.”

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