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Benefits of Graphite in Irons

Having lost some distance at age 67 I'm looking for some improvement with my irons by trying lighter shafts, in this instance Graphite. However, one of the guys at the local golf shop said I wouldn't necessarily improve distance with lighter shafts. He said other factors come in to play as well. I am under the impression that increased club head speed will increase distance whether it be iron or wood. I am well aware that I need to hit the ball in the middle of the club to get maximum distance but if I do that won't I get improved distance with the lighter shafts?  Thanks for you consideration. I enjoy your website.

--Bill

Bill,

You are correct in your assumption that by changing to graphite shafts (i.e. lighter shafts) in your irons you will generate higher head speeds and more distance assuming that all else is equal.

Not that you asked but the reason for this is that you will decrease the overall weight of the club and this decreases the MOI (Moment of Inertia) of the system which makes it easier to accelerate the club if you apply the same forces. The MOI of the club as a whole (‘the system’ not just the head which relates to the forgiveness of miss-hits) is another property which has not been talked about very much but is an additional means of matching clubs in combination with frequency and overall weight.

Technically it is a measure of the resistance to angular acceleration about the axis you are swinging the club. Unfortunately, this axis changes throughout the swing. However, if you swing with the same forces each time with a lighter shafted club you will be able to generate increased head speed. That’s the GOOD news.

The BAD news is, because manufacturers don’t want to offer a different head weights for their graphite shafted option but they do want to maintain a similar swing weight (about 1 or 2 points lighter for graphite) they increase the length of a graphite shafted club by about ¼ of an inch and charge $25 more per club. The normal difference in length between a six iron and a five iron is ½ an inch.

What this increase in length does is make the club slightly less accurate; it increases the MOI of the system a little – partially reversing the decrease in MOI by changing to the lighter shaft – but increases the head speed because of the added length.  

The bottom line is that even with these slightly compensating factors you should get greater distance because you will get increased head speed. Don’t look for 25 yards increase but you will improve your distance with lightweight graphite-shafted clubs compared to traditional steel-shafted irons.

Otherwise if you are interested in 10 to 15 yards increase in driving distance or just extra distance with your irons, you need to sign up at a local gym and work on strength and flexibility exercises. This form of exercise will increase your range of motion and – based on studies performed – increase the head speed of a driver about 5 mph adding at least 10 yards to your drives. The gym visit will probably cost less, and give you greater improvement in distance, than a new driver. In the mean time, take advantage of what graphite has to offer in irons.

Thanks for your kind comments and I am pleased that my weekly Q&A has been informative.

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Good golfing.
Frank