Stiff Vs Regular Flex Drivers: Our In-Depth Research
Are you looking for maximum performance from your driver? The golf experts here at Tell Me More Golf created the ultimate guide to finding the right flex for your driver shaft. We are going to lay out the differences between shaft flexes, and how to maximize your driver for distance and accuracy (it’s no longer one or the other!).
We will talk about dispersion and distance and how to find the right golf shaft and overall the right club to play your best.
We will focus on graphite shafts and talk about how professional club fitters can help find the correct shaft for you.
Table of Contents
Regular Vs Stiff Shaft Driver Distance and How to Know What's Best For You
As the driver shaft technology has improved, shaft manufacturers and professional club fitters are now able to put most people into a graphite shaft for their driver. Shaft materials like steel are still popular in irons, wedges and putters. As the advancements continue we are confident in saying that your golf swing will produce the best results with a graphite shaft in your driver.
There’s a long-running story about Fred Couples using a ladies driver with a very flexible shaft for his 3 wood. This is a true story and the background is that the driver actually belonged to Tom Watson’s wife.
On a visit to Tom’s place, Freddie found it in the garage, borrowed it, and proceeded to play with it in majors, Ryder Cups, and President’s Cups, and went on to win a lot. I provide this anecdote upfront to help eliminate the notion that the only way to choose a shaft is by swing speed. While that certainly plays an important role, it is not the only driving factor in considering what shaft will give you the most distance.
Shaft flexes have a wide range of profiles including ladies flex(L), senior flex(A), regular shaft (R), stiff (S), and extra stiff shaft(XS). The designations in parentheses indicate what you will see on the label of the shaft to denote its flex. The most common shafts in play are regular and stiff.
The goal of driver shaft design is to get the golf club through the golf ball and hitting area with a square face and as much speed as possible. With that in mind, how does a regular shaft compare to a stiff shaft, and which one is best for you?
In order to provide you with the best answer, let’s talk frequency. To keep a certain level of standardization and consistency in shafts, club companies and fitters use a tool called a deflection board. This device locks in one part of the shaft and the clubmaker pulls back the other end while a laser measures the number of times it cycles per minute (CPM). This is known as the shaft frequency.
For reference, most shafts are between 200-300 CPM with the more flexible shafts being closer to 200 and stiffer as they get closer to 300. With that, we can focus on what will help you hit it longer.
Regular Shafts for Drivers
For the majority of golfers, graphite regular golf shafts that are the correct length and weight will produce the clubhead speed, ball flight, and carry distance that most avid and weekend golfers are looking for.
This is because the profile of a regular flex is appropriate for the majority of skill levels. About 60% of golfers hit a significant slice and shoot somewhere around 92-101. This group encompasses the majority of players. Most of these golfers often have these things in common:
- Swing speeds of 80-95 MPH
- Problems squaring the clubface leading to a slice or block
- They have not had a custom fitting
- They have a habitual swing flaw that needs to be fixed
Recommendation: unless you swing above 95 MPH or have a very quick tempo (think Nick Price), a regular shaft can still give you the chance to hammer the ball with your driver. Stiff flex shafts in the wrong golfer’s hands can create bad swing habits and compensations like swinging too hard and trying to help the ball into the air.
There are two main club companies that I feel have done an excellent job of providing great shaft options for slower mid and slower swing speeds. Stiff vs Regular Flex Driver options included.
These are Taylormade and Callaway. Both of these companies have done an amazing job of providing a selection of shafts for their drivers that caters to the widest variety of golfers.
Callaway provides fantastic stock shaft options including Mitsubishi and Project X. Both are great shaft options and with their selection you’ll certainly find the right shaft to max out your ball speed.
Stiff Shaft for Drivers
As we move up the shaft frequency scale we start to move into the stiff shaft. In keeping with the idea that swing speed is an important factor but is not the only indicator that you need a stiff shaft, let’s cover a few other factors. Golfers needing a stiff shaft usually share the following traits:
- Swing speed of 95-110 MPH
- Consistent transition into the downswing
- Positive attack angle (they hit up on the ball)
- They consistently make square contact with their fairway wood
Recommendation: It is likely that if you swing above 95 MPH, you will be fitted with a stiff shaft. The greatest part of today’s golf technology is that club fitters can get very precise.
For example, you might be on the border of regular and stiff and you could get a shaft that has a lower frequency (less stiff but still “stiff flex”). Conversely, you may need a stiffer, higher frequency shaft and you can move up the stiffness scale.
Like the regular shafts, there are two club companies that offer amazing club/shaft combos for those needing a stiff shaft. These are Cobra and Titleist. Both come with great options similar to Callaway in offering both Mitsubishi and Project X. Cobra offers Project X HZRDUS, which is a personal favorite of mine. I find the ball flight to be very consistent and when I swing harder, its design allows for more control on more powerful transitions.
A decade ago, you would have met a PGA Professional at the driving range to test out several different shafts with different profiles and slightly different flexes. This process of elimination was effective at finding the right driver shaft. It was effective but not as efficient as it is now.
The club fitting process has evolved with gear improvements. Using the latest in launch monitor technology, a trained professional can more quickly get you out of the wrong shaft and into the right flex, length and weight. You will be able to take that onto the golf course and instantly see more consistency and distance. Your regular group will ask to try your new club, guaranteed.
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Signs You Need a Stiffer Shaft for Greater Performance
When asked about equipment, one thing I find myself repeating to golfers is their driver shaft is too stiff. On the flip side, I also find that golfers may have improved their swing, their flexibility, or their strength and need to make an adjustment to a stiff shaft.
The results of a few drivers can quickly show if these players need to make the switch to a stiff shaft. Some common things we see in golfers that could benefit from a stiffer shaft are:
- The ball flight balloons and reaches apex too quickly causing loss of distance
- They are consistently hitting hooks or pulls because the clubhead is closing earlier
- The ball spins too much
- Accuracy is a problem
This list is not all-encompassing and does account for the most common ways to know whether or not you should consider a stiffer shaft. If you are not regularly hitting the center of the clubface or feel like your total distance should be greater, it may be time to try out a stiff club. Keep in mind that a club fitter can find a shaft with a frequency that may be slightly stiffer without making a huge jump.
Remember Bryson before he started bulking up? Well, since then he has had to put a much stiffer shaft in his driver. With his increased speed he can control the ball while still taking a rip at it.
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Stiff Vs Regular Flex for Beginners
In my 30 years of golf experience playing, teaching and fitting there have only been a handful of times when a beginner truly needed stiff shafts in their clubs. Beginners are better off using more flexible shafts and focusing on proper swing technique.
The wrong equipment from the start could lead to poor habits that could have been avoided. As beginners continue to improve and their technique gets better, they grow into stiffer shafts because they gain more confidence, balance, swing speed and improved connection with the ball.
X Stiff Driver Shaft and Who Really Needs It
I lived in Jupiter, FL for a few years and played the mini-tours. After my first couple of events around Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, it quickly became apparent that I needed to get stronger for my golf swing. I was already working out six days a week but I was doing it wrong. It did not take me long to stumble onto JoeyD Golf just a few miles from my house.
When I stopped in, I had a chance to meet JoeyD (Joey Diovisalvi). He was very inviting and knowledgeable and gave me a huge discount on sessions with a coach named Brandin Deets. Brandin and I first did an assessment and determined my needs. At the time I was swinging about 110 MPH and after about 6 weeks, I was up to 114 MPH on average.
So what does this have to do with an extra stiff shaft? One day I was meeting Brandin at the gym at 7am, an hour before typical opening time. When I walked in, there were exactly four people in the entire gym. Myself, Brandin, Joey and Dustin Johnson. I quickly realized whose McLaren was in the parking lot. Also, I had brought with me a driver that I ordered through my tour discount to give to Brandin. It was a Taylormade M3 with a Fujikura tour extra stiff shaft in it.
As I began my workout and Brandin pulled the head cover off and checked out his new club, Dustin came over and asked to take a look. He took it into one of the simulator bays and started hitting it. After about 5 balls that carried 300+ with 190 MPH ball speed, DJ went back to Brandin and said “it’s good to go now”.
I tell you that story to highlight who needs an extra stiff shaft in their driver; the players who can swing at 115 MPH or higher and still are not swinging at 100%. In the same way a player might need a stiff versus regular shaft, some players would hit high spinning, ballooning drives with a stiff shaft.
These same players are also focused on launch conditions like lower spin combined with a higher trajectory. So, let me help to simplify all of this. Unless you swing over 115 MPH and still have something left in the tank, you don’t need an extra stiff shaft.
In contrast, one of my regular playing partners at The Dye Preserve was a Korn Ferry Tour player and Titleist staff member. His driver shaft was an Oban brand labeled with an XS (extra stiff). It was actually a stiff shaft labeled as extra stiff. And, although he did not have DJ’s length, he could still hit bombs. When I first asked why he used a stiff shaft, it was because a more flexible but stable shaft gave him the shot shape that he could consistently rely on. That is the key to better golf from tee to green.
Here at Tellmemoregolf we obsess over golf equipment so that you don’t have to. Here are a few key takeaways from this piece:
- Use the most flexible shaft that you can still control. This will provide you with the best combination of distance and direction.
- If you have access to a PGA pro or club fitter, utilize the technology at their disposal to help see if your current equipment is fine or if you need an adjustment. You may just need to swap out shafts in your driver and that makes all the difference.
- DO NOT listen to a golfer that cannot beat you by at least 10 shots. We all have that guy in the group that knows everything about golf but doesn’t really.
- Keep it simple and leave your ego at home. Focus on getting a shaft in your driver that performs.
- The major club companies have amazing stock shaft options. Start with a regular shaft in the 60-70 gram shaft and work your way into the right club from there.
At the end of the day, Tell Me More Golf is here to help you. Reach out to our team for more guidance because, unlike our competitors, we have decades of experience, a passion bordering on obsession and we love helping golfers get better.
Frequently Asked Questions: Driver Flexing
Will I lose distance with a stiff shaft?
It is not a guarantee that you will lose distance, but certainly a possibility. If you find that your ball balloons or your shaft feels very loose and whippy when you swing, go try a few clubs with stiff shafts and see what that does to your launch and overall distance.
Is Stiff flex or regular flex better?
Neither is “better” than the other per se. But, one is certainly a better fit for you. Shaft manufacturers have options to suit you. Do your research (or let us do it for you) and test out different options. Once you’ve found the right performance, that is the best shaft for you.
Do I need a stiff or regular flex driver?
Generally speaking, if you are asking this question, you will need a regular flex in your driver. A good frame of reference can be your 3 wood. If you hit your 3 wood higher than your driver, you need to try out a regular flex. On the other hand, if your driver launches higher than your 3 wood and gets more spin on it, you need to try a stiffer shaft.
What happens if shaft flex is too stiff?
This will cause the shaft to flex and release improperly for your swing which will lead to a loss of distance.
Is stiff shaft better than regular?
No, neither shaft is better overall. It is simply what is best for you and offers you the most consistent performance.
Will a regular flex shaft cause a slice?
Possibly, but the more likely outcome would be that a regular flex shaft helps reduce your slice because the clubhead is able to square more effectively.
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