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Dustin Johnson was stalking a 14-foot putt at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship like a leopard might circle around an unsuspecting antelope. As he address the ball, an NBC Sports analyst made golfers who follow equipment closely cringe.
“You know, Dustin’s coach, Claude Harmon III, told me he used three different putters in four rounds last week at the Valspar Championship and settled on old faithful this week (a TaylorMade Spider Tour Black), but he put a graphite shaft in it for a little different feel,” said Gary Koch.
The comment about three different putters in four rounds didn’t grab my attention, but the tidbit about adding a graphite shaft sure did.
With all due respect to Koch, Johnson has been using a graphite shaft in his putter, all of his putters, since the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. That week, he signed an endorsement deal with L.A. Golf (LAGP), the same company that makes the shafts in Bryson DeChambeau’s woods, irons, wedge and yes, his putter too.
Dustin Johnson had composite shafts installed in his putters at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. (David Dusek/Golfweek)
While steel putter shafts still reign supreme at the professional level and among recreational golfers too, there is a small but growing number of players who are tinkering with composite shafts that are made primarily using graphite. Kevin Na has been using a graphite putter shaft since 2019 and had one in his Odyssey Toulon Design putter when he won the 2021 Sony Open in Hawaii. Anna Nordqvist had one in her putter when she won the 2021 Women’s British Open and competed in last season’s Solheim Cup. Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Sandra Gal, Jeongeun Lee6, Marc Leishman, Shane Lowry, Francesco Molinari and Michelle Wie West have also each used a graphite putter shaft recently.
According to brands that make graphite putter shafts, the advantage they can have over their steel counterparts is versatility.
A typical steel putter weighs about 125 grams and to create one that is more flexible, manufacturers typically need to make the walls thinner, which also makes the shaft lighter. Conversely, to make a steel shaft stiffer, they need to make the walls of the shaft thicker, which adds more weight.
Graphite is much lighter and shaft companies can layer sheets of material at different angles and use different blends to increase or decrease stiffness while keeping the weight the same. They can also make specific areas of the shaft stiffer or more flexible, to give the shaft different playing qualities without changing the weight or diameter.
Anna Nordqvist at the 2022 Women’s British Open. (Photo by Andy Buchanan/AFP)
This leads to the other edge graphite can have over steel when it comes to putter shafts. By making the tip section very stiff without adding weight, graphite putter shafts can help the face resist twisting when you strike a putt toward the heel or toe. That will effectively increase any putter’s moment of inertia (MOI), so if you hit a putt outside the ideal hitting area, many graphite shafts can help the face stay pointed at your target line more effectively. The result, theoretically, is the ball rolls where you aimed more often and it doesn’t lose as much speed on mis-hits, so your distance control is better too.
Can recreational golfers feel a difference?
Feel is subjective, but Club Champion offered to help me learn if a 12-handicap golfer like myself can benefit from a graphite shaft, or feel the difference between a steel putter shaft and a composite.
The Test: Club Champion has 96 custom-fitting shops across the United States, and I recently went through a putter fitting at its Hartford, Connecticut location using a S.A.M. Putt Lab, a launch monitor and camera system that analyzes your putting stroke. Then my fitter took the heel-toe weighted blade putter I have been using for over a decade and the steel shaft was removed. The head was attached to a LAGP TPZ 135 graphite shaft that the company made available for this story. It was built to the same length, given the same grip and measured to ensure the loft and lie angle was the same as well. Then I hit a series of putts using a S.A.M. Putt Lab again so we could compare my putting performance with graphite against my previous fitting’s performance with a steel shaft.
SAM Putt Lab revealed that using a graphite putter shaft (top) helped me increase consistency and hit the sweet spot more often than putting with a steel shaft. (Club Champion)
The verdict: According to the S.A.M. Putt Lab system, my stroke’s path with the graphite shaft had slightly less arch, was more consistent and I struck the ball in the ideal hitting area more often. My overall consistency score went up over 30 percent. The chart above shows a clear difference in the quality of the putts I hit using the graphite shaft (top) compared to the steel shaft (below).
My putts sounded the same with the graphite shaft, but when I mis-hit putts toward the toe, which is my tendency, the putter head felt tighter. It didn’t feel like a mis-hit made the face wiggle and the ball seemed to roll more consistently.
So why isn’t graphite everywhere?
Kevin Na uses a graphite putter shaft (David Dusek/Golfweek)
There are four hurdles that graphite putter shafts need to clear before they can gain significant traction in the golf world.
1. More awareness. If a television commentator is not aware that a two-time major winner like Dustin Johnson has been using a graphite putter shaft for nearly a year, it’s safe to assume most golfers have no idea graphite putter shafts exist.
2. They don’t fit every putter. Graphite can’t be bent or curved like steel, so a graphite putter shaft can not be used with putters that have double bend necks and hosel configurations that require a curve. Some manufacturers have created composite offerings that have metal tips or other mechanisms to overcome this shortcoming, but the bottom line is that today, every composite shaft won’t fit into every putter.
3. Demos are hard to find. Nearly all drivers, fairway woods and hybrids have an adjustable hosel mechanism, which makes it easy to remove the shaft and try something different. Many custom fitters also put adaptors on irons to make it easy to test iron shafts too. Putters are a different story. Because awareness is still low, demand for graphite putter shafts is low, so for many shop owners, it is hard to justify building 10-20 putters fitted with graphite shafts.
4. Price. Golfers know that premium putters like a Scotty Cameron Newport 2, Ping PLD Anser, Toulon Design San Diego or TaylorMade Spider can come with a price tag of $250 or more. Graphite putter shafts can cost between $150 to $400 each and double the price of your club.
Like many other technologies, with time the prices are likely to drop, but the most-premium offerings will remain expensive. That said, if you want more consistency on the greens, testing a graphite putter shaft under the watchful eyes of an experienced fitter might make your old putter perform better. Some offerings to consider are listed below
Fujikura MC Putter, $250
Fujikura MC putter shafts (Fujikura)
Available in three versions designed to provide different feels and flex profiles (Smooth, Firm and X Firm), the MC Putter shafts all weigh 115 grams and blend rubber with the graphite and bonding materials to dampen vibrations and enhance the feel.
LAGP P Series, $400
LAGP P Series graphite putter shaft (LAGP)
The most-played graphite shaft on the PGA Tour and LPGA, the P Series has high-modulus graphite to make it extremely stiff and has very low torque, along with a proprietary viscoelastic material that the company claims enhances feel.
Mitsubishi MMT Putter, $150
Mitsubishi MMT putter shaft (MCA)
The MMT stands for metal mesh technology and Mitsubishi has used it successfully in the popular MMT iron shafts. In this shaft, it is 75 percent lighter but runs the full length of the shaft. According to Mitsubishi, it helps minimize deflection, enhances feel and boosts stability.
Breakthrough Golf Technology Stability Tour Fire, $299.99
Stability Shaft Tour Fire. (Breakthrough Golf Technology)
Developed by Barney Adams, the founder of Adams Golf, this composite shaft is made by wrapping high-modulus graphite around an aluminum piece to provide more stability while maintaining steel-like balance. It can be installed in nearly any putter.
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