Winter in Canada is a tough time for golfers. We long for the warmth of the sunshine, the lush green fairways and well-manicured greens. The closest we can get to that at this time of year is by watching the PGA Tour.
As I was watching the latest event, it struck me that for the most part manufacturers are advertising drivers. Sure, they will throw in the odd ad for an iron, but they really focus on drivers. And how about the TV commentators, they go on and on about how far the pros are hitting their drivers. They get absolutely giddy when someone flies a fairway bunker that is a 300-yard carry. That is impressive and I guess it is no wonder there are so many ads for drivers. Tour players are able to hit these massive drivers with fairly good consistency, giving them just a short iron into the green on a par 4 and a shot at reaching most par 5’s in two. For them, long drives are a big advantage.
But what about us, the mere mortals? We would all like to find that magic driver that is going to give us another 10-20 yards or even more. The problem is that this driver does not exist. Every manufacturer has come up with some sort of new technology they claim makes their driver the longest.
The truth of the matter is this. Several years ago, the USGA legislated that the ball can only come off the face of the club at a maximum determined speed or the driver is non-conforming and cannot be used in competitive play. End of story. The best technology can now do is to make the driver face more forgiving on off centre hits. If you were to test drivers for distance, or more importantly for ball speed, you would find them all to be pretty close, maybe 2-3 miles an hour variation in ball speed. This represents a distance of 5-7 yards gained. Not a lot and not likely to bring your score down.
Now don’t get me wrong, technology such as cup face technology or moveable weight technology has made driver heads feel better and they are more forgiving. But there is not a lot of difference in the area of distance.
I believe if you want more distance off the tee box, you need two things. First of all, you need a driver that is fit to you. It should be an appropriate length for your ability, the correct loft, the correct face angle, it must have the launch characteristics that match your swing and last, but not least, it must have the correct shaft to match your swing. Secondly, you should learn how to hit it. So, you need to have the right tool and then you must learn how to use the tool. This is the hardest part, but the effort is worth it.
There are four key factors that combine to produce distance.They are clubhead speed (ball speed), angle of attack, launch angle and ball spin rate. Now let’s look at how these four factors affect driver distance. I have covered this in previous articles, but I think it is worth repeating.
First, we will assume a centre impact on the clubface. For example, let’s say a golfer has an average clubhead speed of 80 mph. If his angle of attack is -5˚, his launch angle is going to be around 13˚. His spin rate will be around 3500-3600 rpm. This will produce a ball flight that launches a bit low and then begins to balloon and when it lands it will roll out very little. From this type of swing we can expect a carry distance of about 160 yards and a roll out to around 176 yards.
Now let’s look at what effect angle of attack (AOA) can have on driving distance. Instead of a -5˚ angle of attack we have a +5˚ AOA. What will happen to the other parameters? Well, you can expect the spin rate to drop to around 2600 rpm, the carry distance to be around 181 and total distance with roll out to be close to 197 yards. We have just gained 21 yards by hitting up on the ball rather than down. This is good news, but there is even better news. If you can learn to release the club a bit better and use a lower spinning head, here are some numbers that are achievable. With an AOA of +5˚, a launch angle of 15˚ and a spin rate of 2000 rpm you can achieve a carry distance of about 175 yards and a roll out to over 209 yards. That is a net gain of 33 yards. Just a note, these numbers are based on a typical PGA Tour fairway. These are real, achievable numbers, not simple theory. If you get your AOA into the 5+ area, will every shot be 30-40 yards longer?
Of course not, golf is golf and it is humbling at times. Not every shot is going to be a perfect strike. But the point is, there is more room for improvement in distance by learning how to hit your driver rather than trying to find that magic driver that will do it for you. You just won’t find it.
So, I will leave you by reiterating two thoughts: One, get properly fitted with a custom fit driver and two, learn how to hit it for maximum distance.
Have a wonderful season of golf.
/ Don Irving, Master Club Fitter, Artisan Golf