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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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TG2: What’s the most annoying breach of golf etiquette?

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What’s the one breach of golf etiquette that gets under your skin more than anything else? Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what drives them crazy. Also, Knudson talks about his first round with new irons and a new shaft in his driver.

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“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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