Let’s play a quick game of word association.
I say “Mitsubishi.” You say “________________.”
Electronics. Cars. HVAC systems. Those are responses I’d expect if this wasn’t an article posted on a golf website.
The answer we were looking for was “golf shafts.” I’d also accept Diamana, Kuro Kage, Tensei or Kai’li.
With that, many of you already know Mitsubishi manufactures a range of golf shafts for clubfitters, Tour players and equipment manufacturers. But what’s likely new information is that Mitsubishi Chemical America exerts a substantial influence over the entire shaft industry.
How so? Great question.
WHO or WHAT is Mitsubishi Chemical America?
Mitsubishi Chemical America is a piece of the larger Mitsubishi Chemical Group. The latter employs more than 50,000 and is responsible for roughly a $50-billion book of business.
Conversely, the office of the Sporting Goods Division of Mitsubishi Chemical America in Carlsbad, Calif., has a team of about eight. Eight. Its charge is to “develop the highest-performing composite golf shafts for discerning golfers everywhere.” Typically, if you reach out, Jon or Preston will answer the phone. But if two people are out of the office, it feels like a company retreat. The juxtaposition of a small team and access to a global entity that operates across virtually every major industry is an ideal situation that allows the California-based bunch to remain approachable and accessible in a way many don’t expect from such a large brand.
Fundamentally, Mitsubishi is a materials company. And Mitsubishi Chemical America reaches across numerous industries including aerospace, defense, IT, automotive and others. As such, golf shafts don’t carry the same high stakes as a project like manufacturing components for Mars rover vehicles. That said, this doesn’t mean the pursuit is any less passionate or that the end product isn’t held to the same standards.
A world-class chef still makes a damned good roast beef sandwich, right?
Let’s Talk Materials
Materials companies are inherently innovative. The company’s mission is to explore, develop, apply, succeed, fail …. and then explore some more. Risk is always an element of innovation. But MCA doesn’t need every project to hit a home run.
The math isn’t precise but, given 10 projects, if nine fail and one reaches the finish line, that’s a working model. It’s a luxury other manufacturers simply don’t enjoy.
Specific to carbon composites and golf shaft manufacturing, the number of global raw material manufacturers is small, particularly those that can produce consistently high quality on a large scale. What that means is plenty of shaft manufacturers (many of which have recognized names and significant market share) rely on Mitsubishi for materials. I can’t give you an exact number but let’s say it’s somewhere between Steph Curry’s and Shaq’s free-throw shooting percentage.
That aside, if you’re thinking that Mitsubishi always gets the first bite of the apple, you’re getting the picture.
Benefits of Vertical Integration
Mitsubishi isn’t 100-percent vertically integrated but the dynamics remain largely the same. Put differently, absolutely every bit that goes into a finished Mitsubishi golf shaft isn’t developed and manufactured in-house. But, practically speaking, all the real important stuff is.
As a result—and I can’t emphasize this enough—Mitsubishi doesn’t operate like other shaft manufacturers nor does it want to.
Yes, with vertical integration, a company uses materials it also manufactures. But once you decide to allow competitors to purchase it, any advantage is essentially null and void. Aside, that is, from generating a pretty healthy revenue stream.
Yet that tips the scales in Mitsubishi’s favor regarding access and innovation. Think about it this way: Mitsubishi doesn’t have to sell everything it makes. And my sense is that it holds back plenty of proprietary information and materials that 1) other companies can’t produce and 2) they could only access through Mitsubishi.
It’s an intriguing dynamic because there’s a finite amount of carbon fiber (and pre-preg) material suppliers. As a result, shaft companies have a limited number of outlets from which to source high-quality materials.
To clarify, this isn’t a case of site-based corporate hoarding or exclusionary business practices. It’s not as though one small office in Carlsbad is sending messages across the parking lot to another small office discussing a materials purchasing order. In reality, these decisions are made on the 35th floor of a much larger building by people with little, if any, connection to the golf industry.
That aside, does this mean Mitsubishi could strategically pump the brakes on supply should that be the best business decision? Sure, why not? If you want to argue that, to a degree, Mitsubishi impacts the speed of innovation of competitors, I think you’d find plenty of evidence to support such an assertion.
After all, the composite materials business is competitive and everyone is looking to take a pound of flesh from someone else.
Speaking of which …
Golf Specific Innovations
Mitsubishi would tell us that they’ve been at the forefront of numerous composite materials innovations including the development of pitch fiber and low resin/high modulus pre-preg.
Because MCA has direct contact with R&D (and materials) teams across Mitsubishi’s vast network, it can leverage advancements from other projects and incorporate those into golf shafts.
Hybrid pre-preg, for example.
Quick sidebar: There are exceptions but most golf shafts are constructed using sheets of composite material wrapped around a steel mandrel. Those sheets contain carbon fiber and resin (glue to hold the carbon fibers together).
With “TiNickel” wire, a Mitsubishi team in Japan found a way to incorporate metal wire into the pre-preg. This arrangement was used successfully in its Kuro Kage line of shafts. It’s also an application consumers won’t see outside the Mitsubishi brand.
The MMT technology (Metal-mesh) found in Mitsubishi iron shafts started with its archery division. At the time, the most popular arrow was made from aluminum. Ultimately, MMT proved to be a better solution which led to the golf division asking a simple question: “What would MMT look like in an iron shaft?” Again, this isn’t one that Mitsubishi is going to share with others … at least for the time being.
More Examples, Please
If you look at the tip section of a shaft and see an “MR70” label, that indicates a shaft made (at least in part) from a high-strength, high-modulus Mitsubishi Rayon (hence the “MR”) material. Pyrofil is one of the brand names for pre-preg developed by Mitsubishi and Dialead is one of the brand names for its pitch fibers. Also, the Vanquish line of shafts (launched in 2023) uses several proprietary technologies, the most intriguing of which is amorphous wires in the butt section. The purported benefit is that this allows for increased activity in the handle for more club head acceleration without any loss of consistency.
“Resin capabilities and development” sounds like a 400-level college lecture that you end up in by mistake. However, it’s a focal point of Mitsubishi’s R&D efforts that has yielded plenty of advancements in low-resin content in addition to heavy resin systems that incorporate tungsten. The chief benefit of the latter is manipulating the balance point of the shaft without adding much weight. Generally, altering shaft characteristics is much easier if you’re willing to add 10, 15 and even 20 grams of total weight. The task becomes far more onerous when that’s not the case.
Product Line Overview
We will dig into specific models at a different time so consider this the Reader’s Digest version.
In a retail environment (think clubfitters, e-commerce, etc), Mitsubishi has four primary shaft families, each with its own characteristics and unique features.
Tensei – The Japanese word “Tensei” translates as “transformation” in English. This shaft answers the question of “just how far can we take shaft design?” and is engineered for the golfer who doesn’t mind paying a premium price for a shaft with all the bells and whistles.
Diamana – If there’s a shaft that consumers connect with Mitsubishi, it’s likely the Diamana series, aka “Whiteboard” and “Blueboard” for those of you who have been around for a while. The primary objective of the modern-day Diamana family is to give golfers a high-performance shaft with exceptional feel.
Vanquish – Released in 2023, the Vanquish line is “a new way to think about lightweight speed.” Generally, the primary challenge with lightweight shafts is that they struggle to maintain stability at higher swing speeds. Mitsubishi believes Vanquish largely eliminates this tradeoff.
C6 – Plenty of golfers aren’t inclined to pay $600 for a driver and then another $350-plus for an upgraded shaft. The “C6” series is a budget-friendly option that still includes a fair amount of MItsubishi materials and engineering.
On the PGA TOUR, expect to see Mitsubishi narrow its focus to Tensei (with a bit of Diamana on the side). The reason is that, when you do have an opportunity to work with a professional, it tends to be a one-shot deal. Ultimately, you have a single opportunity to convince that player to try your product. As such, it’s advisable to have a single, clear, focused lineup that players can easily digest. In the past, Mitsubishi admittedly missed the mark in this regard. Live and learn, right?
Mitsubishi and The PGA TOUR
Winning the shaft count on any professional tour is a big deal. Not only does Tour usage help validate performance but, unlike other pieces of equipment, golfers aren’t paid to play a certain brand or model. It’s also a battleground where logic and common sense don’t always win out.
That aside, Mitsubishi has plenty of data to suggest it’s trending in a positive direction. Here are a couple data nuggets for your consumption:
- MCG has increased driver shafts in play in 85 percent of PGA TOUR events this year.
- MCG has the most wins on the PGA TOUR this year (18). *This includes Mitsubishi and Aldila brand shafts through The Open Championship.
- The Tensei 1K product had 49 total driver shafts in play during the 2021-22 season. For 2022-23, that number escalated to 451 (a more than 700-percent increase).
I get that golf shafts might not carry the same sex appeal as new driver tech or pictures from a bucket list trip. And it doesn’t necessarily help when pundits make ridiculous claims like “shafts don’t really matter.”
If anything, I’d assert that the more we know about golf shafts, the more important they become in finding an optimal fit for any player. In addition, companies can do far more with composite materials (as opposed to steel) to tweak performance characteristics.
Also bear in mind that not long ago, steel was the material of choice for driver shafts. There’s plenty of room for debate but the transition to graphite driver shafts (toss in fairway woods and hybrids as well) is one of the most significant equipment advances in the last 50 years.
Progress remains undefeated and, quite possibly, today’s carbon composite shafts will be replaced by something better in the future. What we don’t know is exactly when that will happen or what the material will be. But what seems clear is that Mitsubishi will be an integral part of the process, if not leading the discussion entirely. After all, that’s what materials companies do.