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More Distance for Golf (Part 2): Long-Drive Equipment

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In Part 1, I wrote about some of the technical aspects of the swing you can employ for more distance in your golf game from a professional long driver point of view. In Part 2, I get in to the equipment aspect.

As a visitor of GolfWRX, you probably have an interest in golf equipment… and I assume you are also likely aware of the importance of club fitting. To hit the longest drives possible, club fitting is an absolute must. No top long driver skips this component of distance, because advancing or not advancing can come down to only a yard or two.

Equipment optimization can be the thing that makes the difference.

Check Out the Optimizers

Both Trackman and FlightScope have free optimizer tools on their websites that you can play around with to input your club head speed and find out what kind of launch angle and spin rate will optimize either your carry or total distance. What you optimize for with regular golf, however, depends a little bit on your needs.

If you play hard and dry fairways where the golf course is right out in front of you, there aren’t many ground obstacles in your line of flight/roll, and the rough isn’t too penal, you might optimize for total distance.

If you play different types of courses that require forced carry, have soft/wet fairways, or where it’s a problem if you roll through the fairway on a dogleg, it may be better to optimize for carry.

Move Toward a Positive Angle of Attack

positive-AOA

Image Courtesy of Adam Young.

When you play with the optimizers, notice that, all other things being equal, a positive angle of attack (hitting up on the ball) will generally hit the ball farther than a negative angle of attack (hitting down on the ball).

PGA Tour players average an angle of attack of about 1.3 degrees down. Although they hit the ball far compared to the average amateur, they are not nearly as efficient as a professional long driver (they often swing more than 5 degrees up). The highest AoA I’ve ever been able to achieve is +15 on a FlightScope with a 4-inch tee that stood on the ground.

So although this is not really an equipment thing, it may be worth it to transition your driver swing to one that catches the ball on the upswing. As they say, tee it high and let it fly!

Get Custom Fit

Using the optimizers mentioned above, or if you know your optimal/desired launch angle and spin rate numbers, you can use that information to dial in your equipment to match those optimums. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.

Balls

A good club fitter can help guide you in to a ball that best fits your game, but when doing your club fitting, try to use the same ball you will play with on the course. It doesn’t have to break the bank.

As a fellow equipment junkie, you are probably already aware of some high-quality, low-cost balls from companies like Vice Golf, Costco, or Snell Golf, which is what I currently play. Using your favorite ball may mean you need to get a portable net on the driving range to hit into for testing, like what my PGA and Swing Man Golf Swing Speed Training Certified friend Darren deMaille does with his Trackman outdoors, but it can make a difference in optimization. Top long drivers will do their testing using their competition balls, which presently are made by Volvik.

Shafts

index

As a generalization, the long drive guys generally use 48-inch drivers… not all, but most. Drivers that length can be more difficult to hit in the center of the face (which causes a loss of distance), but they often can be swung faster (but not always). So if you do catch it on the sweet spot, you can really bomb one out there.

On the other hand, long-drive guys get eights balls to score one in the grid. For regular golf, accuracy is more important and it can take some testing to determine what length might be best for you to get the best mix of distance and accuracy.

If you can handle a long shaft (get higher club head speed and also hit the sweet spot) and your golf course is wide open with no rough, by all means go for something long. But for many of you going shorter (Ricky Fowler is using a 43.5-inch driver) means hitting the sweet spot more often. Your longest drive might not be as long, but your average drive might be longer. The added consistency of strike can also mean more predictability (and thus confidence off the tee) and accuracy. As long as you’re not giving up too much distance, playing from the fairway in most cases will also make it easier to get your approaches closer to the flag and shoot lower scores.

As for the flex and weight of the shaft that are best for you, getting the right one of those can be a combination of personal feel, individual strength/tempo, and downswing force. For more info about shafts, my fellow co-creator of Sterling Irons single-length irons and contributing Swing Man Golf equipment expert Tom Wishon has a lot of great articles right here on GolfWRX. Give them a read here.

Loft

The loft of the head is important because it can really affect launch angle and spin rate. For example, one time I had student switch to a driver that was 2 degrees different in loft. That simple change helped add 14 yards to his drives.

Most long drive professionals that you see on Golf Channel will be using really low-lofted heads in the 1-8-degree range (yes, 1 degrees!) by companies like Krank or Callaway. The average long driver swings around 135 mph, however, and the average champion swings about 146 mph. They need a driver that low-lofted to keep them from hitting high-spinning moon balls that don’t go anywhere.

The average golfer swings about 93 mph, so a driver with a loft in the 8-14-degree range made by virtually any reputable driver manufacturer is more appropriate. Don’t be afraid to go even higher if you need it, though. I’ve seen 20-degree drivers by Bang Golf perform well. For some people, that’s what it takes.

Grips

GolfPrideMCCPlus4-640x480

You might think that the behemoths of long drive all use big oversize grips. Many of them are over 6-feet tall and weigh more than 200 pounds, and 2007 World Long Drive Champion Mike Dobbyn is 6-feet 8-inches and 300 pounds. This isn’t necessarily the case, though. Some use the smallest and lightest grips possible for extra speed and help with club release.

Multiple Drivers

It’s a bit unconventional, but it might be worth it to play multiple drivers. You may not need an entire staff bag full of drivers like you see with many professional long drivers, but it could be useful to have a draw-biased driver and a fade-biased driver. You could also have a driver for max total distance and one for max carry, or a long-drive-type driver for distance and a shorter one for accuracy. I’ve used all those combinations to my competitive advantage in various tournaments over the years.

As mentioned in the first article of this series, I do recommend working with someone who has the real-life experiences and tools to help you. To find someone reputable, check out the Top-100 lists that are available online. The AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals) and ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild) are also good resources.

In any case, I would recommend a brand-agnostic fitting and someone with a good inventory who is not going to push a certain brand on you because they have too much skin in selling a specific brand. I’ve heard good things about places like Club Champion and Hot Stix. My buddy, Doug Emma at True Spec Golf in New York, is also a great club fitting guy. Just pay attention to who you are working with for your equipment fittings, bag analysis, etc., and you’ll be fine.

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the co-creator of "Sterling Irons" single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also holds the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has more than 8,000 members and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s website members and amateur and tour player clients will pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – More than 2.8 million video views

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Old Gaffer

    Sep 14, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    I have a 300+ yard ‘drive’! Well, it’s more of a combo-drive because I don’t carry a driver and just one fairway 5-wood. I hit my 5-wood 175 yards and then an iron for the remaining 125+ yards. Sometimes I push it to 350 yards! Straight and narrow, and I use the same ball for a month.
    After that I have developed a great short game for my approach shots, and two putts later I’m playing sub-bogey golf. Bogey golf is my “par” (89).
    I don’t assault the golf course, I caress my way straight down the middle and into the hole. Meanwhile all the macho guys are playing out of the rough, the water or just lost. I don’t help anybody to search for their banana slice drive lost ball. I just tell them to drop another ball and play from where their ball went OB. I’ve seen macho duffers waste 12 ProV1s and then laugh it off as they brag about their useless WITB costly club set.

  2. The Dude

    Sep 12, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    What is the optimal launch condition??…..I was told it was 14* and 1,400 rpm (which I know is not achievable under normal conditions…..simply science). any truth behind this??

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Sep 13, 2017 at 9:34 am

      Depending on who you ask, there is variation as to what is said to be optimal launch conditions…but you can ball park it. Most of what I have seen indicates that the faster your club head speed the lower your launch and spin need to be, but it also depends. For example, for maximum distance downwind you’d want a higher launch and more spin to ride the wind. Whether or not you optimize for carry or total distance makes a difference as well. Lots of variables! Play around with the Trackman and Flightscope optimizer tools mentioned in the article and you’ll get an idea of your own personal optimal numbers.

  3. Orville

    Sep 12, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks too, and I still don’t understand how driver axial rotation coming into impact can increase ball speed on a toe hit. The driver head essentially disconnects when the shaft tip flexes and torques through clubhead droop. The driver face also closes as centrifugal torque aligns the driver head CG with the swing axial rotation axis which is above the shaft axis.
    Assuming the toe does close into impact, how do you know whether the toe is open or closing resulting in an impact tangent that will either push or pull the ball?
    Impact is a complex event, and there is a Science & Golf paper on driver head kickback effect lasting microseconds. Something just doesn’t add up.

  4. Boss

    Sep 11, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    48 inches

  5. Prime21

    Sep 11, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for the info. Great insight into some of the components that could help 1 increase driving distance and/or accuracy. I have had the privilege of working w/ Doug Emma, & simply put, his abilities are second 2 none. If you want to identify which equipment works best for your game, do yourself a favor & line up a session w/ Doug!

  6. JimW

    Sep 11, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Several years ago, Ping were advocating to hit the ball higher up on their driver face, not the geometric center. This not only creates a slightly higher face loft due to bulge and roll, it apparently creates a “vertical gear effect” that results in longer distances due to better “smash factor”.
    What do you think about the Ping test results for driver distance?

    • Orville

      Sep 12, 2017 at 12:41 am

      Apparently not! This article on a Titleist patent application indicates that hitting toe-ward of the geometric center will give you an extra 7 mph of ball speed. Their patent application also shows the design of an optimal toe weighted golf club. Looks goofy.
      http://golf-patents.com/20140926/

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Sep 12, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Yeah, when you hit higher on the face, it can increase the launch angle because the direction of the club face at the point of impact primarily determines the start direction of the ball. Since we have a vertically convex driver club face, higher hits on the face launch higher than lower face hits. The vertical gear effect you mentioned also can lower spin on hits higher on the club face. It’s the old high launch and low spin thing.

      With the Ping thing, it’s not everyone of course, but I think such advocacy would come about from a block of tested golfers who have a downward angle of attack with the driver. They would conceivably need a higher lofted driver to get the ball up in the air sufficiently, particularly the slower their club head speed. That higher lofted driver increases launch but also increases spin. In such cases, they may still be launching too low and with too much spin to optimize for distance, so with a fairly conventionally lofted driver, advocating a higher face hit helps get the ball launched even higher while bringing down spin, potentially bringing those golfers closer to the ideal launch conditions that would help maximize their distance.

      Personally, if you are talking achieving maximum distance like in long drive, you don’t want to be as general as simply launching with high launch and low spin though. You’d want to find your ideal specific numbers and try to marry your swing and equipment to get the impact conditions you need per your individual club head speed. If you need to go with a lower lofted head than what most places offer to do that, there are companies like Krank Golf or Callaway Golf who produce drivers with lofts under the typical 8 or 9 degrees.

      From a maximum distance standpoint, I’d try to optimize for an on-center hit with a very slight toe miss bias). The toe typically moves faster than the heel, so even though you are “mishitting” it by having impact out to the toe (and losing ball speed from a glancing blow), it evens out with the extra toe club head speed (thus re-gaining the lost ball speed). Depending on the person and how they move the driver through impact, perhaps you might even achieve a slightly higher ball speed with an ever so slight toe-ward strike. On something like a Trackman, this would read as a higher smash factor because you get a little bit more ball speed but the Trackman is still calculating club speed at the center of the club face versus the point of impact out towards the toe. The lower club head speed calculation with the higher ball speed reads out as a higher smash factor.

      • JimW

        Sep 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm

        Thank you Jaacob for your very thorough explanations on my and Orville’s comments. Now it all makes sense to me, but without the Trackman numbers it would all be trial and error and error and error before you could get what is assumed to be ‘optimal’.
        In the era of launch monitors you can ‘engineer’ an optimal solution for each long driver. Can you imagine what life would be like without launch monitors? Engineers like you (and me) would still be swinging in the dark.
        And thank you Dr. Jorgensen and your D-Plane (Descriptive-Plane) physics enlightenment.
        I still can’t understand why anybody would want to have a driver downward angle of attack. Is it an anatomical or mental thing, or is it just teeing too low?

        • Jaacob Bowden

          Sep 12, 2017 at 5:40 pm

          I think there’s a consistency argument that can be made for a downward angle of attack with the driver. If you play all the clubs in the same ball position, the driver would end up being a downward angle of attack. You won’t max out on distance, which may hurt your scoring potential if you give up too much distance…but you might be more consistent.

          Tour players, in particular, also have to be careful about breaking what got them on tour. Many have enough club head speed they can get away with hitting down and being less efficient with a driver.

          • JimW

            Sep 12, 2017 at 8:05 pm

            So, hitting slightly down with the driver is less distance and more accuracy.
            Hitting up with the driver is more distance and less accuracy.
            ______________________________
            I hit up with my 10.5º (11.5º actual) driver at 95 mph max and drifting down to 85+ mph into the back nine. My normal shot is a high ‘power’ fade for 220-230 yard carry, and occasionally a straight drive.
            I carry a 12-13º smaller 2-wood when attempting a draw. No 3-wood and go into a 4 and 7-wood. That optimizes my drive/fairway game.
            Oh, and I use a 3″ tee for the 1-wood and a lower tee for my 2-wood.
            This is the result of 15 years of recreational optimizing and searching the scientific golf literature for answers.
            Thank you for your scientific and practical contribution to this fine forum and I recommend all your websites for viewing and study.

            • Jaacob Bowden

              Sep 13, 2017 at 9:39 am

              Hehe, that might be true for some but it’s not an absolute. For instance, I’m more accurate hitting up than down. So it depends on the person.

              Glad to hear you’ve found a setup for your drive/fairway game that works well for your game!

      • Orville

        Sep 12, 2017 at 3:08 pm

        Opps, please see my reply posted at the top of the topic thread, my bad.

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Opinion & Analysis

Golfholics Course Review: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

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In this new course review series, Marko and Mike from Golfholics provide their takes on the golf courses they’ve played around the world. The first episode starts with the famed, yet often overlooked Spyglass Hill. Enjoy the video below, and don’t forget to check out more videos from Golfholics on their YouTube page!

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Redkacheek’s DFS Rundown: 2018 CJ Cup

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Wow, what a crazy start to this season! Not only has the cheat sheet and slack chat plays over at the Fantasy Golf Bag been on complete fire, but the new golf betting model has now hit on two outrights and one FRL in back-to-back weeks! We get a much better field this week so definitely plan to keep this heater going here at the CJ Cup this week. Brooks Koepka will be teeing it up for the first time since being named the 2018 POY, along with guys such as Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Billy Horschel, and our new favorite Sungjae Im. As you can see, this will be a fairly exciting event for a setup as similar as last week’s tournament.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at this course and see if we can pinpoint some key stats to take us to another Big GPP win or at least a couple good choices for an outright win.

The CJ Cup will be played at the Club at Nine Bridges, a 7,196 yard par-72 golf course in South Korea. Although this may appear like a similar course to TPC Kuala Lumpur last week, this one will play quite significantly tougher. As you can see below, in 2017 there were more bogeys than birdies for the week which doesn’t happen much outside of majors. Justin Thomas won last year’s event after shooting 63 in the first round but failed to break 70 the following three days. JT finished at nine under, which tied Marc Leishman, who coincidentally won this last weekend (2019 Fall Swing narrative). So why so tough if it appears so short? Let’s take a look.

So first off, let’s get this out of the way first. These greens are brutal. No joke; these greens were the single most difficult greens to putt on all of last year. Everything from one-putt percentage to 3-putt avoidance, these ranked the No. 1 most difficult on Tour all year. But here’s the problem: We all know putting is the single most variable stat, so using SG:P will tend to lead to a very disappointing pool of players. For example, coming into last year the players ranked Top 10 in SG:P finished 11-33-47-40-28-64-36-26-71-36, respectively. There is a still a stat that helped fine-tune player pools last year that I will recommend this year: my first key stat to consider this week is 3-putt avoidance.

The next section here I will just briefly touch on the driving accuracy and GIR percentage for this course. It is very average for the PGA Tour…that is really all you need to know. Driving accuracy ranked 48th and GIR percentage ranked 38th in 2017. This course is not difficult tee-to-green, plain and simple. I will certainly add the usual SG:T2G this week along with GIR percentage, but this course will favor most guys this week.

So besides putting, why are these scores so poor considering the appearance of an easy course? Well besides putting on these greens, scrambling here is brutal. Scrambling also ranked No. 1 most difficult here last year but again, this is a stat that is extremely tough to see useful trends. I will, however, encourage you to use SG:ARG to help narrow down your player pool more efficiently.

Remember that this segment of the Fall Swing will not yield strokes-gained data, so we must only utilize the traditional stats the PGA Tour keeps. On top of all the micro-scoring stats mentioned above, let’s take a closer look at this course from a macro level. This will be fairly straightforward when building your model. The par 4s here are extremely difficult, so add SG:P4 Scoring to your research (par 3 scoring is also very difficult but sample sizes are usually too small to include each week). Par 5 scoring was difficult as well but there is a better stat we can use than the P4 scoring mentioned above. The final stat we will be using is simply bogey avoidance. This will do a fantastic job of incorporating T2G, scrambling and putting into our model/research.

Overall this course is really an amazing layout but will pose a difficult task for the players. Just like last week, I encourage you to ease into the season by playing light and also primarily playing GPPs.

With all that out of the way, let’s get into my core plays for this week…

Justin Thomas (DK $11,600)

Justin Thomas finally makes the core writeup. After a mediocre finish last week (5th place), he comes to Nine Bridges as the defending champion. Ironically, he beat out Marc Leishman, last week’s winner, in a playoff last year and I think he is going to be the guy to pay up for over $10k. JT won both CIMB Classic and The CJ Cup last year, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t leave this leg of the Fall Swing (Asia) without a win. There’s a lot going for him outside of his recent form and course history (if that wasn’t enough), he ranks first in both SG:T2G and SG:APP, second in par 4 scoring, eighth in bogey avoidance and finally, surprisingly, 11th in 3-putt avoidance. If you are building only a few lineups this week, I think JT should be in around two-thirds of them.

Byeong-Hun An (DK $8,700)

Mr. Ben An makes the list again! Byeong-Hun An received a lot of praise from both Jacob and myself on the FGB Podcast last week and he did not disappoint with a 13th place finish, and really a strong chance to win going into the weekend. As part of a common theme you will see here, Ben An is the kind of consistent ball-striker to rely on each and every week. On the PGA Tour in the last 50 rounds, he ranks third along with a strong ranking in bogey avoidance (third) and GIR percentage (also third). He did play this event last year, finishing 11th at 4-under par, and if it weren’t for a final round 73 he had a realistic chance for the win! The price on Ben An is getting a little steep but I think we can still get some value out of it this week.

Kyle Stanley (DK $8,200)

Kyle Stanley should be considered a core play almost every week he is under $9K on DraftKings. One of the most elite ball strikers on Tour, ranking ninth in SG:T2G, 11th in SG:APP, sixth in GIR percentage and 14th in par 4 scoring, he sets up for another solid top 20. Last week Kyle finished 13th in Kuala Lumpur and now comes to Nine Bridges where he ended the tournament in 19th place last year. Kyle tends to be very “mediocre” so upside for a top 3 always seems to come sparingly during the season, but you still cannot ignore his skills at this price.

Charles Howell III (DK $7,700)

Charles Howell III is a lock for me this week. Coming off a strong showing last week (T5) but also an 11th-place finish at this event last year, he grades out as one of the strongest values this week at only $7,700. CH3 hadn’t played on the PGA Tour for over a month before appearing at Kuala Lumpur, causing him to fly well under the radar on his way to a solid top five finish. Always known as a superb ball-striker, Howell actually rates out 16th in bogey avoidance and 10th in 3-putt avoidance, both key stats for this golf course. Additionally, CH3 ranks inside the top 20 of both par 4 scoring and GIR percentage. In a no-cut event on a difficult ARG golf course, count on CH3 to gain enough placement points to pay off this solid price tag.

Ian Poulter (DK $7,600)

Ian Poulter may be extremely sneaky this week. We haven’t seen him since the Ryder Cup and most people that play DFS have severe recency bias. Poulter is a grinder, and considering the winning score should only be around 12-under par with lots of opportunities for bogeys, he should keep the wheels on all four days and have a chance on Sunday. One of the most surprising stats for me in my research on Poulter is that he ranks first in 3-putt avoidance, along with some impressive tee-to-green stats where he ranks inside the top 25 of all of my key stats mentioned above. Why is the 3-putt avoidance stat so important? As I noted in the course preview, these were the single most difficult greens to putt on last year with the worst 3-putt percentage. Outside of the key stats, it does seem like this course fits his eye as he finished 15th here last year. Ian Poulter will be another core play but I think he may come in quite under owned from where he probably should.

Joel Dahmen (DK $6,900)

Chalk Dahmen week is upon us and I am going to bite. Dahmen has been a DFS darling this year and last week was no different. Dahmen ended up finishing 26th which was largely due to a poor final round 71, which dropped him 11 spots. Even with that poor finish he was able to pay off his sub-$7K price tag, which is where we find him again this week. Dahmen ranks top 10 in this field in several key stats, including: SG:T2G, SG:APP, and bogey avoidance. If you need some salary savings but unsure about anyone under $7K, Dahmen should be your first look this week.

Also consider

Brooks Koepka
Jason Day
Marc Leishman
Paul Casey
Ryan Moore
Sungjae Im
Kevin Tway

Good luck this week everyone!

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Mondays Off: Bermuda vs. Bent grass, How to chip when into the grain

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How do you chip into the grain off of Bermuda grass without chunking the ball? Club pro Steve Westphal explains how to best handle the situation. Also, Westphal and Editor Andrew Tursky give advice on how to play in qualifiers or PAT (players assessment test) events, and they tell a few stories of their own.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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