Friday, March 2, 2012

Wishon On Soft-Stepping and Hard-Stepping

Recently, I went onto the Mizuno Shaft Optimizer and was fitted for the following shafts:

- Dynamic Gold XP X-Stiff (soft stepped once)
- Project X Flighted 6.0
- KBS X-Stiff (soft stepped once)

The idea behind 'soft stepping' is with taper tip irons (0.355 tips), each club is designated a particular shaft that is a particular length.

Here's an example of those shafts and their *un-cut* lengths for Dynamic Gold S300 shafts:

3-iron: 40 inches long
5-iron: 39 inches long
7-iron: 38 inches long

Let's say I want to assemble a 5-iron. With taper tip we DO NOT trim from the tip end. We simple trim to length from the butt end. So, we put the shaft into the 5-iron clubhead, measure the length that we want the club to be, then trim from the butt end. We typically leave about 1/4" for the grip. Thus, if you want to make your 5-iron 38 inches long, we would trim at approximately 37-3/4" because the cap of the grip will make up for about 1/4".

With 'soft-stepping', all we do is put a shaft designated for one club into a shorter club.

Thus, if we 'soft stepped once' we would be putting a 5-iron shaft in a 6-iron and a 7-iron shaft in a 8-iron. The idea is that it should create a shaft flex somewhere in between and feel softer.

In the example I used, the Dynamic XP X100 shaft soft-stepped once is supposed to have a flex between S300 and X100. And it's supposed to feel softer than your typical X100 shaft.

The same can be applied with parallel tip (0.370) shafts as well. With parallel tip shafts, you actually trim from BOTH the tip end and butt end. Furthermore, there is no 'designated shaft' for each club.

For example, True Temper Dynamic Gold parallel tip shafts are all 41 inches long. For their 3-iron, they call for 1-inch trimmed from the tip end. Then you trim from the butt end to the length you want the club.

But with the 6-iron, they call for the 2-1/2" from the tip to be trimmed. Then the golfer trims from the butt end to the length they want the club.

When it comes to 'soft-stepping' a parallel tip shaft, we would simply trim less from the *tip* section. So, if we want to soft step that 3-iron, we may trim only 1/2" from the tip instead of a full 1-inch.


Now that we have that out of the way, I want to get into 'Shaft Bend Profiles.'

Traditional ways of measuring flex have been done by using frequency matching machines. A clubfitter will put a club into the machine and it will read a number in cycles per minutes (cpm). The higher the number, the stiffer the shaft.

The problem is that it gives a vague measurement of the flex. You can have to X-Stiff flex shafts from the same company (just different models) and one can feel boardy versus the other or one can spin much more than the other.

What shaft bend profiles do is they measure the stiffness of the shaft along different locations of the shaft. Here's an example of shaft bend profile chart.

One the left side of the chart is more towards the tip section. The right side is more towards the butt section.

The charts are like any chart we use in that they are more or less there to provide a visual. If you put 2 shafts up there and their bend profile was extremely similar, you would see 2 lines almost match each other. If you had 2 shafts that were very different in bend profiles, the difference would be noticeable on this chart.

However, charts usually don't give exact details, so it's always good to know the numbers. Wishon's Shaft Bend Profile software gives the exact numbers along with the charts and other features as well.

With what we know about shaft bend profiles, I started to think 'if we soft-step a taper tip shaft (butt trim only), the shaft bend profile should remain the same. Maybe the butt end gets a tad stiffer, but that's about it.'

So, I had to ask Wishon this and here was his reply:

It (soft stepping/hard-stepping) works the same way regardless if the shaft is parallel or taper tip in construction. You're still increasing the tip section length when you soft step (shortening it when you hard step) so when you soft step, you are in fact making each shaft a little softer both in overall stiffness as well as in the tip section bend profile stiffness.

Half inch on a soft or hard step isn't very much. Very few golfers will feel that difference. One inch is where it becomes much more noticeable to a far wider range of golfers.

The MAIN reason to do this is to change the FEEL of the shaft for golfers who are nuts about shaft bending feel and get really weirded out and lose confidence if their shafts do not feel just right.

Second and a distant second, is to try to change the launch angle and trajectory of the shot OR to try to reduce/increase spin. I say DISTANT SECOND because a half inch soft or hard step does virtually nothing to launch angle and spin. It can exhibit the very beginning of a FEEL difference, but it is very unlikely most golfers would ever see a LA or spin difference from a half inch soft/hard step of a shaft.

At an inch, some golfers who are VERY consistent with their swing and ball striking will start to notice some difference in LA and or Spin from soft/hard stepping.

But at the end of the day, taking it from someone who has been around the block a whole lot of times over a whole lot of years with a whole lot of different golfer types, soft/hard stepping is done far more for ego/image purposes than for real performance purposes.

So...I was wrong, but not too far off.

Soft stepping or hard-stepping will change the bend profile of the shaft and the overal flex of the shaft. But, the difference is so minute that it really won't have an impact on launch conditions. And it's really meant to help with feel, but only a select few will ever tell the difference.



Jim A said...

I too went for a Mizuno fitting recently. My Swing DNA numbers were 87-4-6-6-8 (if that provides any context). Using an MP-69 and an MP-63 head, the Optimizer's first shaft recommendation was the Dynalite Gold XP S300--which seems to be a pretty common recommendation with Mizuno these days, not surprising since they first brought the shaft to market.

Despite being an old RP Rifle player nearly all of my competitive career, I figured I'd give the Dynalite XP's a fair hearing. After all, hitting balls with my Rifles had begin to feel like I was beating a brick with a broomstick. But still needing my fitting approach to be as familiar as possible, I decided the next step would be to go old-school. So I bought a couple Dynalite XP S300s to install in the 6-iron heads of my various sets (BH Grind, Apex 50, 690.MB, ZO, and MP-33) in order to do a subjective comparative analysis to the other two Shaft Optimizer recommendations (Project X 5.5 and a KBS Tour Stiff).

Now here's were I approach went awry. I mistakenly installed 39.5" taper tip shafts (in my 690.MB and MP-33 heads), inadvertently soft stepping them twice, thus softening the effective flex from 5.8 to 5.2. But I didn't know I had done this until later when I went to order a couple more shafts for the other heads. Meanwhile, blissfully ignorant of my mistake, I was hitting balls with what seemed to be amazing results. Ball speed. Distance. Trajectory. Dispersion. Natural shot shape. Ball contact. And that's with two heads that have a pretty low COG as blades go. I felt like I had shaved 20 years off my swing. More importantly, I could feel an energy transfer from the club face to the ball that I never experienced before. A kind of zing being unleashed at the moment of impact without being whippy. The feel was softer and easier on the hands, so my move through the impact zone became more relaxed, snd my grip pressure eased, even without necessarily slowing my tempo.

Now that's not to say the results of using a non-stepped S300 weren't optimal, too. In fact, before I realized my mistake, I thought the soft-stepped shaft was playing similarly to the demo Mizuno with the non-stepped S300. But after I discovered my mistake, I eventually realized a difference, which was this: for the first time in nearly nearly 30 years of playing golf, it felt like the shaft was actually doing the work for me. I didn't feel like I was muscling the ball. At least not in the way my old Rifles always felt. I didn't even know such a sensation was possible.

So now I'm befuddled. Could the Shaft Optimizer have been wrong for not recommending a soft step or two? If not, what might happen under competitive pressure (under the conditions of competitions, as the USGA likes to call it), when old nerves seize my swing and I revert to the only tempo and speed I can execute with timing? Fore left? Playing a provisional?

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