ClubMaker’s Classroom: Gaining Distance and Accuracy Without Changing Your Swing

w/ Don Irving, Artisan Golf

As I am writing this article, we are all dealing with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Its effect on our lives is something that is unlike anything we have ever experienced. Since Artisan Golf was forced to close in mid-March (we are now open again, by appointment only), it has given me a lot of time to work on my swing and reflect on some of the aspects of fitting people for custom clubs.

Certainly, the goal in every fitting is to provide the golfer with clubs that are comfortable to swing and clubs that optimize distance and accuracy. I have always felt that accuracy is the most important factor in golf. As I have had this time to reflect on these two factors, accuracy and distance, I am even more convinced that accuracy is definitely the most important. However, deep down in my soul, there remains that little voice that says, “I want more distance!” I cannot deny that there will always be that part of me that wants to hit the ball further.

Certainly, as we get older, our distances begin to get shorter as our bodies are not able to do the things they used to be able to do. The natural tendency as we strive to maintain distance or even get a bit more distance is to try and swing harder to create more clubhead speed. This almost never works. First of all, when we swing harder, the timing of the swing goes awry, and we end up with about the same distance, but the accuracy suffers.

As I mentioned I have had more time than usual to think about things and I began to look at my own swing and try to figure out how I could improve my distances through a change in my equipment. I started fitting myself with various combinations of head and shaft. Before I tell you what I found, I need to back up about 2-3 years.

At that time, I really noticed a decline in my iron distances. With my 7i, I was struggling to hit the ball 140 yards. At that time, I decided to fit myself to an iron that had a very responsive face that had just been released and sure enough, I saw a significant improvement. Instead of struggling to hit my 7i 140 yards, I was hitting it 150-155 with no increase in club head speed. I was a very happy camper. Now that I am forced to be closed, I am working on my swing and lo and behold I am noticing a drop in my clubhead speed and I am back to about 143 yards carry with the my 7i.

So, I decided to do another irons fitting and see if I could once again improve on my distance. After trying various combinations of head and shafts, I realized that by going to a lighter weight shaft, from 95 grams to a 60-gram shaft, I could see an improvement. I also discovered that by going to a much softer flex, I was able to regain a lot of distance. The current head in my irons was definitely the best for me, so no change there.

The combination of the much lighter shaft and a much softer flex produced an average 7i carry distance of 153 yards, pretty much my 7i distance from a few years ago. Not only was this combination longer, but it felt fabulous and allowed me to have a nice butter smooth swing and therefore actually improved my accuracy. Now I cannot wait to reshaft my irons and take them out on the course. Who knows, maybe my 5i will start working for me again!

After this success, I decided to look at my driver. Sadly, I have lost about 15 yards in distance due to a loss of club head speed. I am down about 4-5 mph in clubhead speed. So, the question that presented was how to regain my driving distance without making a major change in my swing (which by the way takes quite a bit of work).

Since the USGA set a limit on how fast a ball was allowed to come off the face in 2003, I knew that changing club heads would probably not have a great impact on my driving distance. I already had a very light and flex appropriate shaft in my driver, so I did not feel that a shaft change was the answer. But I did try different shaft/head combinations and found that I was right, no major improvement. I simply needed more clubhead speed, while maintaining a good smash factor.

I started thinking about a driver length study that I undertook to achieve my Trackman Master designation. So, I tried testing drivers of 43 ½, 44, 44 ½. And 45 inches and comparing club head speeds.

Guess what? No matter what length driver I used, my clubhead speed was the same. So, a longer driver was not the answer. What I did find was that when I shortened my driver from 44 ½” to 43 ½”, this was the most comfortable to use. It did not improve my distance but is certainly improved my dispersion and therefore my confidence. Now to improve my driver distance, I will have to work on my swing. After all good golf is a combination of good equipment and good fundamentals in the swing. 

This article is based on my experience. You may have a similar experience, or it may be somewhat different. The point is if you are looking to improve your distance or your accuracy, you need to be properly fitted by a professional club fitter using a launch monitor. It takes time and expertise. And although we do not like to admit it, the aging process can be a factor that needs to be addressed.

If you have been suffering a distance loss, don’t be discouraged, there may be things that can be done to help you regain the yardage or actually increase your distance without losing accuracy.

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