Clubmaker’s Classroom: The Facts Of Driver Distance

By Don Irving, Artisan Golf

If only it were so. If only that super exercise machine could give you the body you’ve always wanted, if only that weight loss program would definitely melt off those extra pounds. And if only that latest driver head would give you an extra 30 yards on your drives.

Marketing and advertising are big business. And they can make very promising claims because sometimes the promises are realized. But more likely they are not.  In the case of golf, getting an extra 30 yards off the tee is not simply a matter of a new driver head. There are several factors that must be taken into consideration. 

Due to the availability of page space, I won’t get into too much of the nitty gritty of drivers but hopefully I can give you an overall picture of what is important in a driver. 

First, we need a bit of background on driver development. The challenge all manufacturers face is the fact that around 2003 the USGA initiated a rule that the value on a driver head must not exceed .830 COR (Coefficient of Restitution). The air cannon test, prevalent at the time, shot a ball at the center face of the head at 100 mph and measured how much energy was transferred to the ball. This transfer had a maximum limit of 83% or the club was deemed non-conforming. Today there is a much more sophisticated and gentler way of determining the COR. It is called CT or Characteristic Time. The upper limit using a CT test for a head is 257 microseconds, which is the amount of time a small metal ball of a CT machine can remain on the clubface when swung against it.  Beyond .257 microseconds, the head is deemed non-conforming.

So, if the construction of a driver has this limitation, how can a driver that hits the ball substantially further exist? Well, really it can’t, or it would be non-conforming. What manufacturers can do, however, is to engineer a driver face where the CT value is more consistent across the face of the club. This is what manufacturers have been striving to do over the last few years, but their hands are tied in terms of more distance. To illustrate this point, in 2008 Bubba Watson led the PGA with an average drive of 315.1 yards. In 2018 Trey Mullinax led the field with an average drive of 318 yards, an increase of only 2.9 yards. In 2008 the average driving distance for the PGA was 287.74 yards and in 2019 it was 295.29 yards for an overall average increase of 7.55 yards. These are not exactly staggering numbers. Just as a point of interest, in 2003 Hank Kuehne led the PGA with an average drive of 321.4 yards …… 16 years ago!

Now let’s look at some of the key features and parameters that need to be looked at to maximize your drive distance. During a fitting for a driver we look at such factors as launch angle, spin rates, attack angle, club path and impact location. These parameters all have an impact on the type of driver you should have. At the same time the data gathered from your swing will have an impact on what type of shaft you should have in terms of launch characteristics, weight, flex, length etc. For example, if you tend to hit a low penetrating shot that does not go very high and does not have a lot of carry distance, I would be looking firstly for a head with a lower center of gravity (COG) and a shaft with a more reactive tip, one that will launch the ball a little higher. Conversely, if your drives go high and kind of float out there and drop with very little run out, I would be looking at a head with a higher COG and a COG closer to the face to bring down the ball’s trajectory and to also bring the spin rate down to prevent the ball from ballooning.  As well, I would want a shaft that is designed to lower the ball flight and reduce spin. There are infinite possibilities and combinations of head and shaft. Therefore, is it is critical to go through a detailed fitting before making a purchase.

The biggest killer of distance with a driver is excess spin.  When you hit a drive which has too much spin, the ball launches high and continues to climb until apex and then literally drops out of the sky with little to no roll. A good amount of this type of ball flight can be corrected with a properly fit driver, but sometimes you might need a little swing help as well. Sometimes changing your swing a bit, combined with a properly fit driver, will get you an extra 10-15 yards. However, I have had customers who have picked up as much as 25 yards with a properly fitted driver and improved technique. Extra yardage is dependent on the golfer’s ability to create club head speed combined with good technique and the right equipment. 

If you are looking for a new driver or if you like your current driver, but are wondering if it is suitable for your swing, have a professional club fitter put you on a launch monitor to gather the data needed to fit you into a new driver or for an evaluation of your current driver. Then you can enjoy longer, straighter drives!