How to Determine the Right Golf Club Length
Making sure your golf clubs are the right length is important. Golf expert Bill S. breaks down the most important considerations when getting fitted.
Having golf clubs that are not properly fitted for length can be a major contributor to inconsistent performance. For the same reasons that someone who is 6’ 5” wouldn’t walk into a men’s clothing store and buy a suit off the rack, golfers need to make sure that the golf clubs that they buy are suited to their body type and size. This is particularly important for players who are either much taller or much shorter than average height.
Why is Fitting for Length Important?
Playing with clubs that are either too short or too long can cause a golfer to change their stance or swing in ways that could negatively affect the outcome. It can lead to subconscious swing compensations that can result in inconsistent ball striking.
If a player has clubs that are too short, they will usually bend over too much from the waist in their address position. Conversely, clubs that are too long will require the player to stand too erect. Both of these subconscious adjustments could potentially make their swing motion less effective than it should be.
Only when the length of the club is correct, calibrated to the golfer's height, will players be able to assume a proper stance that will allow them to make the right swing action, which will give them the best chance to have consistency in their ball striking.
There are important shaft length considerations to consider for both the driver and the irons.
Shaft Length in Drivers
The length of the shaft in your driver is extremely important, as it plays a big role in determining how fast you can swing the club, the club’s path and angle of attack and, ultimately, how well you’re able to make center-face contact.
A simple analysis of the physics of the golf swing makes it clear that, all things being equal, the longer the shaft, the faster the club head speed. Put another way, a longer shaft will generate more distance than a shorter shaft. In large part, this explains why standard shaft lengths in drivers have continued to increase over the years. Club manufacturers always want to be able to “sell” distance for marketing appeal. And golfers, who are always looking for ways to squeeze out a few extra yards on their drives, have happily gone along with this trend.
Many years ago, the standard club length for drivers was 43”. Today it is 45”, and some manufacturers have even gone to 45 1/2” as their norm.
However, studies have shown that the single most important factor in creating distance with the driver is not the length of the shaft, but rather the golfer’s ability to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the club face. So, while shaft length is important in generating distance, there is a point of “diminishing returns.” As the length of the driver shaft keeps increasing, it becomes more and more difficult to make consistent contact on the sweet spot. This may explain why the average driver length on the PGA Tour is actually shorter than the average driver length used by amateurs. Those guys understand the importance of finding the center of the face. Amateurs should take a lesson from that.
So, what is the ideal length for a driver? The best advice for amateurs looking to optimize the shaft length on their driver would be to get the longest length you can manage, as long as it doesn’t impair your ability to consistently make solid contact. That may end up being the current industry standard of 45” for some players, or it may actually be something a bit shorter for others.
Shaft Length in Irons
In irons, more so than in the driver, optimal club length is usually determined by a set of measurements that take into account the player’s height, arm length, and swing posture. Clearly, a player who is extremely tall would not benefit by using golf clubs designed for a player who is much shorter, and vice versa.
Consequently, there is a range of player heights for whom standard length clubs would be recommended, but much taller or much shorter players will need to have shaft length modifications to suit their respective statures.
But how much extra length does a taller player need? And how much should shafts be cut down for shorter players? The following measurement techniques have been used by club fitters for decades to arrive at the proper lengths for various golfers.
Methods to Determine Club Length
Professional club fitters take a number of factors into consideration as they assess the club specification requirements of each golfer. Specifically as it pertains to club length, they will look at a couple of static measurements, and they will also conduct a “dynamic” fitting assessment:
- Overall height (static)
- Wrist-to-floor measurement (static)
- In-swing considerations (dynamic)
The first step in figuring out your proper club length is to start with your overall height measurement. This is the most basic method of identifying the proper club length you’d need, but by itself, does not offer enough information for an accurate determination. In the normal club fitting procedure, a player’s overall height is used, but only as part of the complete process of fitting a golfer for club length.
The table below provides a preliminary view of the recommended length, if the assessment was to be based solely on overall height.
As stated above, overall height by itself is an incomplete measurement for identifying proper club length. To make the process more thorough, and more accurate, overall height needs to be combined with another static measurement process, the wrist-to-floor calculation.
The wrist-to-floor measurement is a common, frequently-used metric for determining correct club length. The reason it is so pervasive in club fitting is because it adds an additional layer to the measurement, which improves its accuracy.
Compared to the less-thorough method of simply using someone’s overall height, the wrist-to-floor measurement takes into account other factors that can influence a club length calculation: namely, the length of the golfer’s arms or the length of their legs. Two people of exactly the same height can have totally different wrist-to-floor measurements, because of a difference in their arm or leg lengths. So, this measurement is an important ingredient in the fitting process and will ensure that you are properly fitted for club length.
When taking your wrist-to-floor measurement, you should stand on a hard floor with both arms hanging straight down at your sides. Wear regular street shoes or sneakers so that there will be no effect on your height measurement by wearing higher-than-normal heels.
From this position, take the measurement (in inches) from the floor up to the crease in your wrist. It may be necessary to enlist some help in taking this measurement...it’s a little awkward to do this by yourself and you don’t want to sacrifice accuracy.
Then, armed with both your overall height measurement and your wrist-to-floor measurement, you can refer to the table below to determine what adjustment from standard you would need when buying new clubs. For example, for a golfer that stands 6’2” and has a wrist-to-floor of 39”, the recommendation for proper club length would be 1/2” longer than standard length.
In-Swing Considerations (Dynamic Fitting)
The two prior measurements discussed are considered “static” methods of club fitting because the measurements are performed while the player is standing still. Professional club fitters will often supplement these static measurements by incorporating an additional element into their club fitting sessions, a process that is considered “dynamic.” In a dynamic club fitting, a player will be evaluated during the course of their actual swing motion, with measurements taken at impact and by observing ball flight.
By watching the player actually hit balls, the fitter can observe if the golfer has stance-related issues or movements in their swing that could cause him to potentially modify his shaft length assessment. As an example, a particular golfer may bend over significantly at the waist in his setup, which carries through to his impact position. By swinging in this fashion, this player may actually need clubs that are shorter than the length that had been identified during the static measurements.
But, in addition to just determining the proper club length, a dynamic fitting gives the fitter the opportunity to also observe and evaluate a host of other critical aspects.
For example, if the club fitter determines that the player has a tendency to strike the ball out toward the toe of the club face, or in toward the heel, he might recommend that other modifications also be made, such as a more upright lie angle or perhaps a flatter lie angle. He can also evaluate the launch angle of your shots, which could possibly result in a recommendation for modifications to the club's lofts or even recommendations for possible changes to the actual swing itself. By measuring your swing speed, he can more accurately determine which shaft flex would be appropriate for your particular swing profile. As you can clearly see, the results of a dynamic fitting will always produce a more accurate measurement than those derived just from the static fitting process.
Impacts of Length Modifications on Shaft Flex
Most golfers are aware of the importance of having the proper flex in their shafts. What may not be common knowledge, however, is the close relationship between club length and shaft flex.
You should be aware that, when you make alterations to the length of your club to suit your height and arm length, there may be a resultant effect on the stiffness of the shaft. Predominantly, this would be most noticeable when you have an existing shaft shortened. The effect of taking length off of a shaft will be to effectively increase the stiffness of its flex. How much it increases stiffness will depend on from which end of the shaft the trimming is done.
The impact on stiffness will be less significant if the trimming is done from the grip end of the shaft and, consequently, club fitters will usually cut the shaft from the butt end to get it to its desired length. This will leave the shaft’s flex mostly unaffected. Trimming from the tip end of the shaft, on the other hand, will have much more of an effect on flex and would therefore only be recommended if the goal is to also stiffen the shaft. As an example, tip trimming could potentially result in increasing the flex from Regular to Stiff, or from Stiff to Extra Stiff.
As a golfer simply trying to ascertain what your proper club length should be, you can certainly perform the two static measurements mentioned above on your own. Your overall height and the wrist-to-floor measurement can be done easily at home and the chart included above can then be utilized to identify your correct club length.
For those seeking a more thorough, and ultimately more accurate, fitting process, you are encouraged to get a comprehensive fitting from a qualified professional who can take into account the dynamic aspects mentioned above, which will include those static measurements as part of the overall process.