If there are but so many bend profiles and all shafts are made with similar (in some cases the same) materials, aren’t shafts more alike than they are different?
Yes, the basic shape and construction of shafts lead many to such conclusions. However, EI profiles (graphic depiction of the overall bend profile of shaft) are like roadmaps showing someone how to get from point A to point B. There might be several options which, at first, appear virtually the same, but upon further inspection, there are subtle differences which can result in significant variations in performance.
Different roads have different speed limits, conditions, space/congestion, number of stoplights, etc. Shafts are often given generic labels such as mid-launch, low-spin which in the absence of contextual and comparative information, is like calling the short game of a tour pro average. It’s further complicated by metrics like CPM (cycles per minute) which are more consistent from OEM to OEM, but because it only indicates how stiff one section (butt) of the shaft is, it’s at best an incomplete answer to a much more complicated question.
Questions around shaft product invariably include questions like do humans have a comparative advantage over machines or is full-automation the next frontier?
Yes. Both…perhaps all of the above.
When it comes to taking sheets of pre-preg (carbon composite sheets which have been impregnated with a specific amount of resin/glue) the traditional methods of hand-rolling flags of composite material around steel mandrels and utilizing machines to do the work humans can’t, is the tried and true approach leveraged by the industry leaders. That said, other brands believe eliminating the human element altogether allows for tighter tolerances and ultimately better performance, though this approach places restrictions on scalability and without access to economies of scale, tends to be cost aversive.
Who exactly is good enough to warrant a serious shaft fitting?
It tends to be the thinking that more proficient golfers somehow are more worthy, but often the reality is that the industry creates barriers to entry which give fittings an exclusive (single-digit golfers only please!) aura. What if gyms only catered to people who were already in shape or mechanics only worked on cars which had never missed an oil change? It would seem a poor model which alienates a large chunk of the target audience. In fact, higher-handicap players can often benefit more from a professional fitting, but until we create platforms where all golfers can engage and benefit from this information, the vast majority are left on the outside looking in. By increasing access and leveling the educational playing field, all golfers (regardless of ability) stand to benefit.