Steel shafts: Heavy vs. light

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

There are no steel driver shafts on the PGA Tour, yet almost every player on the Tour uses steel shafts in his irons.

Graphite shafts own the driver, fairway wood and hybrid markets – where lightweight graphite can provide additional distance – but heavier steel iron shafts provide balance, feel, consistency, distance control, durability and cost effectiveness.

Imagine the loneliness of Matt Kuchar, who is leading a one-man graphite shaft parade among top PGA Tour players. Kuchar uses Aerotech SteelFiber graphite shafts in his irons.

Traditional steel shafts such as Dynamic Gold weigh about 125 grams after trimming. Nippon recently introduced a new extra-heavy steel shaft with raw weights in the 132- to 139-gram range, although it will dip into the high 120s after trimming.

Graphite iron shafts can be beefed up with an overall weight equal to steel, but consistency from shaft to shaft has long been a question mark. Graphite shaft manufacturers say their iron shafts are the equal of steel, but most PGA Tour players show no indication of switching.

And when they do change shafts, they tend to stick with steel. Ernie Els and Robert Allenby switched to KBS steel shafts, designed by Kim Braly, who also created the Rifle steel shaft.

Among amateurs, lightweight steel is rapidly gaining converts because of its performance and manageability. All major golf club manufacturers in the United States offer several choices in lightweight steel, the most successful of which can be found in the 90- to 110-gram range.

Keith Chatham, named 2006 Clubmaker of the Year by the Professional Clubmakers Society, sees golfers – especially seniors – using more lightweight steel and less graphite in their irons.

“I’m in a senior market,” Chatham said, “but the lightweight steel has improved tremendously, and I’m not reluctant to recommend it. I used to be 80 percent graphite. Now, I’m just about 50-50.”

But while the weight of shafts in many amateurs’ clubs drops, the male pros stick with heavier clubs.

Dynamic Gold and Project X, two heavyweight steel shafts from True Temper, dominate the PGA Tour. At the 2010 Farmers Insurance Open, for example, True Temper had 139 heavyweight steel iron sets in play. The remainder of the field used KBS or Nippon steel shafts (Kuchar did not play).

The next week, at the 2010 Northern Trust Open, nine of the top 10 finishers used Dynamic Gold steel in their irons.

The Nippon N.S. Pro 950GH is one of the most popular shafts in the lightweight steel category. Figures from the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open show that 86 players, including winner Eun-Hee Ji, used Nippon shafts in their irons.

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True Temper Dynamic Gold

The skinny: This is by far the most used shaft on the PGA Tour. Most Tour players choose either the X100 or S400 version. The trimmed shaft weighs about 125 grams. The emphasis here has not changed over the years, and the Dynamic Gold is designed for players who want a low, penetrating ball flight with maximum control and accuracy.

Cost: $14 (plus installation)

Available: Immediate

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True Temper Dynamic Gold SL

The skinny: The SL (Superlite) version reduces the Dynamic Gold weight by 20 percent, and True Temper says the ball flight, control and feel are identical. The key is what the company calls S3 alloy technology, used to create the tip strength necessary to perform like the original.

Cost: $17 (plus installation)

Available: Immediate

Nippon N.S. Pro 750GH

The skinny: Steel shafts don’t get any lighter than this. Nippon’s 750 and True Temper’s GS75 are 75-gram shafts that exhibit enough strength for all but the fastest of swings. The Nippon 750 has four carbon filament sheets in the grip area that are wound on top of the shaft to enhance strength and durability. These sheets also help dampen vibration. For most golfers, Nippon says carry distance will increase with this shaft.

Cost: $125 (plus installation)

Available: Immediate

Rifle Flighted

The skinny: This shaft was designed to provide an exaggerated change in kick point to manipulate ball flight. Thus, the long irons feature a lower kick point for higher trajectory and increased distance, while the short irons have a higher kick point for a lower ball flight and greater accuracy. All of the shafts are stepless on the outside, with the changing kick points determined by internal design.

Cost: $34 (plus installation)

Available: Immediate

KBS Tour 130

The skinny: Robert Allenby and several other touring pros are using KBS shafts that weigh 130 grams. These KBS shafts are available to consumers in weights of 90, 100, 110, 120 and 130 grams. Ping club designer Mike Nicolette, a former PGA Tour winner, tested the shafts and said he felt like the ball was remaining in contact with the face for a longer period of time. Inventor Kim Braly says the shaft produces a smoother power transfer, allowing players to use a stiffer flex. Braly says Allenby went up a half-flex into the X-plus range.

Cost: $29 (plus installation)

Availability: Immediate readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.