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Like to hit it low with your driver? You must like shorter drives

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Ricky Barnes has the PGA Tour’s lowest average launch angle with his driver in 2014, 7.45 degrees, a little more than half that of launch angle leader Jeff Maggert (14.62 degrees). So despite Barnes’ above average clubhead speed of 116.37 mph, he is only averaging 12.3 yards more of the tee than Maggert, who has an average clubhead speed of 104.78, fifth worst on the PGA Tour.

For most people, distance production with the driver is a very important thing because it defines how certain players feel about their game. I know golfers who cannot bear to see the ball go shorter than their other friends, and in fact it almost becomes an obsession to be the longest one in the group.

Thankfully, through the advent of Doppler radar launch monitors like Trackman and FlightScope as well as new shaft and clubhead combinations, golfers more than ever have the ability to get fit to a driver that works best for their game, their swing and their desired shot pattern. What can’t be fit for golfers, however, is the bias they have for certain trajectories, among other things.

While teaching and fitting, I often run into old attitudes that “good” players have regarding what they want out of their driver distance-wise and how it should be created. This type of golfer is usually one who disregards technology and prefers to rely on memory of what he did on the course on certain golf holes and with certain shots. While I am very keen on the idea of working things out on your own via feel, I do have a problem with players who tend to immediately disregard the data that comes from Doppler radar launch monitors as invalid or incorrect as it pertains to their game.

I have hit thousands of shots on my Trackman and seen hundreds of thousands more shots hit by players of all levels, and I’ve come to find that the data pertaining to distance is spot on! I hate to tell many golfers this, but 90 percent of the golfers today have NO idea that they don’t carry the ball anywhere near to the place where the ball rolls out on the course, and sadly they use this knowledge incorrectly when playing and or getting fit.

Below are two screen shots of a sample shot patterns from what I would call typical “good” amateur golfers from my lesson tee.

Golfer 1

Photo 01

Golfer 1 hits a low, flat, bullet-type drives, and while this is great for certain conditions it does not work optimally unless the fairways are running firm and fast. If you try and use this ball flight tendency on soft fairways, you better have the headcover off your hybrids, because it’s going to be a long day.

  • Swing speed of 100+ mph.
  • Mid-range ball speed of 153 mph.
  • Low dynamic loft of 10.5 degrees.
  • Low launch angle of 9.2 degrees.
  • Low and flat ball-flight: 50 feet in height is well under the PGA Tour average of 90 feet.
  • A below average carry of 225 yards, thus relying on roll to gain the remainder of their distance.

Golfer 2

Photo 02

Golfer 2 tends to hit the ball higher, yet he has a shallow landing angle that helps increase roll after the ball lands.

  • Higher attack angle at 4 degrees upward.
  • More dynamic loft 14 degrees and a higher launch angle at 12.5 degrees.
  • Higher apex of 80 feet.
  • Carry of 251 yards and a total distance of 291 years.

With the correct conditions, this shot will work better most of the time, but whenever better golfers see added height they instantly think less roll and less overall distance. I have to argue with many players after showing them that higher is better, provided their spin and landing angle numbers are correct as well.

Now back to the golfers who only use the golf course to audit their drives. Take that low, flat driving shot in from Golfer 1 and use it on a slightly downhill and hard running fairway. What happens? They get more distance. Take the higher-flying drive and hit it into an up sloping fairway. What happens? No roll. So by using the two shots listed above with the two examples I described, you would instantly say less loft is better and more loft costs you distance., but this is simply not the case.

In order to have your driver working optimally for your game, you must get fit in the best way possible and that only comes through using different shaft and head combinations coupled with Doppler radar launch monitors like Trackman and FlightScope. From there, golfers must learn what conditions will not allow their driver to perform optimally and accept that the outside elements — not the driver used — is what is hampering your distance output.

Sometimes when conditions change for the short term, it might be better to have two different drivers that operate on two different trajectories. Remember, you cannot only rely on roll to give you the added distance you need — it’s a blend between lofting up with optimal launch conditions so your landing conditions are working for you, not against you. Having a low, flat ball flight with your driver only works in certain situations and on certain holes. Don’t be fooled!

Read More Tom Stickney II : What Flightscope and Trackman can tell you (and me)

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Josh

    Mar 20, 2014 at 1:55 am

    Good article, Tom.
    I’ve long given up on the idea of lower lofted drivers, and I am considering the Ping G25, as I’ve heard it is super-forgiving with high launch.
    Wish I could get my brother/playing partner to think likewise.
    He had a great 10.5* driver that he hit well, but he claimed it went too high. He now owns two other drivers, both 9*, though one is adjustable. He gets his lower trajectory.
    I don’t think he even realizes he hit further with a higher loft. Since most pros hit lower lofts (though it is slowly changing), that’s what he chooses. He should see a pro tournament in person to realize how high those drives really go.

  2. Phat

    Mar 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Great advice. I’m an occasional golfer (read. busy young family) and have been reading your columns with great interest, particularly in regards to launch angle and loft.

    Recently I switched from a 9.5 TM driver to a 12deg 910d (set to 11.25 draw). What a difference, I’m able to consistently drive 250-275 yards now – on my damp local courses – without too much effort and keep it in the fairway more often than not.

  3. ndabunka

    Mar 16, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    I am one of those that is still using an older driver (Nike Vr Pro). I bought it specifically due to the fact that is was one of the early adjustable drivers and I needed to reduce my spin rate (down from over 4K to something a bit more reasonable). I prefer an open clubface and doing so on that driver took it to about a 8-degree loft which did help reduce the spin to around the 3,400 mark. I swing around 103 and hit most fairways with driving distances between 240 and 280 with an occasional drive over that. I am a 50 year old fart who plays to a traveling 9 handicap and have always had a fairly low trajectory with a mild draw (very similar to your first example) but can also play fades as needed.

    I just ordered a TM 430 SLDR TP with a gift cert I won from a recent tournament. I don’t have access to launch monitors but I do live on a par 5 and will take it out and compare it to my current driver to see if there is much real difference. One of the reasons I ordered the 10.5 version is because I understand that it can be lofted to as much as 12-degrees easily without having to buy anything else. I am hoping that this new 430 will allow me to do exactly what you have demonstrated in your graphics above. The one concern I have is that your not showing apples to apples above as the low trajectory hitter is a full 2 MPH slower than the “high ball hitter” and that may tend to skew the results a bit as the low ball driver would have had better distance on his carry if you had made the Swing Speeds equal.

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 17, 2014 at 9:54 am

      With all things being the same the flatter ball won’t carry as far and will rely on the course conditions as to how far it will roll out in the end.

  4. Snowman

    Mar 16, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Great article… I’m hearing lot’s of abut inconsistencies in driver lofts / shaft flex (on same make/model of drivers) due to manufacturing tolerances.. So how do I solve the problem of the Driver I demo and get best launch spin numbers with is not the driver I actually get to buy?

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 16, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      I’d suggest calling Scott Felix at Felix Clubworks in Memphis, TN and seeing when you can get an appt. In his fittings you leave with the exact club you hit! If that’s too far from you see if he knows others in the fitting world whom do the same. I’m sure there are others.

  5. Greg

    Mar 16, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    And sometimes the problem isn’t wholly the club, which is hard for people to grasp the concept of.

    I have a launch angle that is very low, whether the loft is 9.5 or 11.5. So a new driver isn’t the answer for me (I hit a 10 degree with a launch angle of 9.1). I work hard at the range to catch my driver on a better plane to get a better launch angle.

    But for someone that grew up and still believes in a “feel” approach to the game (a swing is art not science), I do love these articles about the “numbers game”. Keep up the good work!

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks. You’re 100% right…I always try to make my instruction a blend of art/science. Having one without the other leads to incomplete instruction.

  6. Dave

    Mar 15, 2014 at 8:20 am

    A few years ago when I worked at a golf course I took two identical demo drivers out with the only difference being the loft. One was 9 and one was 10.5. Using the same model of ball for several swings the 9 degree was longer. Not by a huge margin but probably 10 yards or so. So explain that everyone who wants me to buy a new driver. (Don’t get me wrong.. I’d love to buy a new driver, just not one that’s shorter than my current one)

    • tom stickney

      Mar 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Older technology necessitated lower lofts…

      • Dave

        Mar 16, 2014 at 8:17 pm

        They were Ping G5’s though so it wasn’t that long ago. That was after the trend became to go higher lofted… that’s why I tried it.

  7. ABgolfer2

    Mar 14, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    I lofted down because I like to see where my ball lands then go hit it again. Had a 10.5 degree G10 and for every bomb there was a “where the F did that go?” No feel a too long in their is a bad combination.

    • tom stickney

      Mar 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Not sure what you are saying but it sound like things are going well!

  8. Roger

    Mar 14, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Great info Tom, as always!
    Higher loft, 70% swing, a high percentage
    in the fairway…..thats the gameplan!
    6 out of 7 fairways with TMXR03 10.5 driver yesterday. Golf lesson a week ago.
    I listen,learn, implement the New Info From
    the Expert! I have learnt a lot from Trackmn
    on AOA and rollout. Super Stormy day here
    in Auckland today so hope things are Just Fine where you are, cheers!

    • tom stickney

      Mar 14, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      Thank you…all the best! Love watching the All Blacks Rugby Team. Have a friend here who introduced me to them…studs! GLAD I didn’t play rugby; I would have died!

  9. KK

    Mar 13, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    40 and 55 yds of roll?? What kind of fairways are these?

    • tom stickney

      Mar 14, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      Hopefully the ones you are playing as well. Seriously, the roll-out data is comprised of correlating the ball speed, launch, spin, landing angle, etc under perfectly level conditions by the Trackman…

      • KK

        Mar 16, 2014 at 3:21 pm

        The fairways I play don’t give that much roll unless it’s a significant downhill slope or a cart path. The median driving distance on the PGA Tour is about 289 with a median clubhead speed of about 112 mph. I guess the fairways they play aren’t up to snuff either?

      • jm

        Mar 16, 2014 at 3:35 pm

        i understand the launch and spin parameters but what type of fairways actually produce 40+ yards of roll.

        looking at carry efficiency for barnes and maggert shows that barnes is less efficient at carry but they both average around 16-18 yards of roll.

        my questions are:

        if barnes had a different (more optimal spin rate) for his given launch angle would he pick up some more distance? looks like if barnes could lower his spin rate he may pick up some roll

        if 12 yds does not seem like enough difference, what should the difference look like in your opinion?

  10. Taylor Made Sucks

    Mar 13, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Wow. Taylor Made is now claiming your ball will travel for “291 years”.Amazing what their technology can do. Are these the new TM “Lightspeed” drivers?

  11. Double Mocha Man

    Mar 13, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Good article Tom.

    I played yesterday on one of our soggy Northwest courses and absolutely smashed a drive (107mph swingspeed) at a medium trajectory about 260 yards. The ball actually backed up a foot! Never had that happen before. Many 1 foot rollouts in those conditions but never the driver backup.

    I’m ready for drier, firmer fairways up here so I get what’s coming to me. Though I guess I’m better off than those in the cold, snowy northern states. At least I can play even if the shoes need a good washing after the round.

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Thx. You bet. Early wet season golf is tough if you are trying to run it.

  12. Ian

    Mar 13, 2014 at 7:00 am

    The above article was sponsored by Taylormade Golf. Taylormade “Loft up or get left behind”. lol

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 13, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Callaway’s alpha driver also needs to be lofted up. 🙂

  13. Setter02

    Mar 13, 2014 at 6:58 am

    Good thing we still cares about what Tour Pros avg off the tee, given they are still measured whether they hit driver to a 3 iron, of what, 2 holes on the course…

    • Richie Hunt

      Mar 13, 2014 at 9:05 am

      I’ve asked the Tour about this and they told me that they measure only when the player is using a driver.

  14. Leo

    Mar 12, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    How about the attack angle? What if Golfer 1 matches the attack angle of Golfer 2, wouldn’t he also increase the carry and total distance regardless of what loft of driver he plays?

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 13, 2014 at 10:46 am

      It would still come out a touch too flat relying on roll for added distance.

  15. Eric

    Mar 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    It’s so true that an expert with the right equipment will get it done right….yet people resist based on, what amounts to, stupidity couched as traditional type knowledge. It blows my mind that there are people out there that will pay for a club fitting and then tell the person they acknowledged as the expert in club fitting (via paying them) “no, you’re wrong.” Why get a fitting if you’re just gonna do what you want anyway? I’ve had instructor friends tell me the same thing….people come to lessons and just don’t do it and say the pro is wrong.

    I know we live in an age of self-esteem and human potential (go to any bookstore and marvel at the size of the self help section) that has devolved into narcissism (e.g. the selfie….that really does sum it up), but imagine how great we’d all be if we were even a little less egotistical.

    • tom stickney

      Mar 12, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      It’s always best to keep an open mind…sometimes that’s harder than you think. I guess that’s why we were given two ears and one mouth to hopefully use accordingly. Thanks for the note

      • Lar

        Mar 12, 2014 at 6:15 pm

        It’s also because you will always have people are scientifically minded and those who are artistically minded that will think differently.

        It’s not just about the Ego. Just because it’s a sport for competition, MOST people play it for FUN, lets not forget that.

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