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Why you can’t hit your driver as straight as your irons



Most golfers struggle to hit their driver as well as they hit their irons, which makes scoring very difficult — especially on courses with tight fairways. In this article, I will help golfers understand why many of them are struggling with their driver and what they can do about it.

As an example I’ll use Kevin, who recently came to me for a lesson. Like most golfers, he is much better with his irons than he is with his driver. He’s a good player (about a 12 handicap) with a ton of swing speed (about 110 mph with his driver) that would help him… if he could keep his driver in play off the tee.

Let’s examine his iron and driver swings on Trackman.

Kevin’s Iron Swing

Photo 2

Kevin’s Driver Swing

Photo 1

As we compare the two swings you will note several things of interest.

  • His angle of attack (AoA) with his 6 iron is -2.7 degrees, but gets much steeper (-7 degrees) with his driver.
  • His swing direction (-1.4 degrees) and club path (-0.7 degrees) with his 6 iron is very manageable, but with the driver it becomes almost unplayable. He has a swing direction of -12.6 degrees and a club path of -7.8 degrees.
  • The face-to-path ratio with his irons is 4.2, but 7.8 with his driver.
  • With a 6 iron, his spin rate is above average for his swing speed at roughly 8,000 rpm. With his driver, however, his spin rate is completely unmanageable. It’s more than 4,500 rpm. For his swing speed, optimal spin rates range from 1,700-3,500 rpm, depending on AoA and ball flight preference.
  • Kevin has a tendency to “stand the shaft up” through impact with both clubs, raising his vertical swing plane.
  • The carry distances between his 6 iron (162.7 yards) and his driver (211.8 yards) are only separated by 49.1 yards, yet his driver swing speed is 14.6 mph faster. At his speed, he should be able to carry his driver around 276 yards.

It’s not hard to see that the driver swing I picked was one of his “bad” swings, which I wanted to show to illustrate how things can change the instant a golfer picks up their driver. Why? It’s because the longer swing of the driver usually exacerbates most swing flaws. So let’s go back and examine in more detail why this happens with Kevin.

Why his AoA with the driver gets steeper

  • As the club gets longer, the path tends to become more exaggerated from out to in for golfers who come over the top.
  • When golfers come over the top, which is displayed on Trackman with negative club path and swing direction numbers, they also tend to swing more down. That makes their AoA more down, or more negative.
  • As the AoA becomes more down or negative with the driver, the efficiency of impact decreases in the way of a lower smash factor, an overly high spin loft and increased ball spin.

Why the path gets worse with the driver

  • As the swing gets longer, swing flaws have more “time” to get worse.
  • Kevin’s faulty pivot is causing his poor transition from the top, and as the club gets longer it allows him to move deeper into the backswing and turn his body more, which amplifies his flaws.
  • When swing speed picks up, path issues will also become more of a problem.
  • Anytime golfers “throw” from the top, added speed will cause them to spin harder and it will shift the path farther left, or more negative than with an iron.

Why the ball curves more with the driver

  • The face-to-path ratio is not much different between Kevin’s 6 iron and his driver. Kevin’s driver shot curved offline much more, however. This is because as spin loft decreases, the amount of curve administered to the ball becomes much more exaggerated.
  • All things being equal, the less loft you have the more the ball will tend to curve.
  • Drivers have lower spin lofts than irons. They create more ball speed and usually possess the lowest lofts in the bag, thus they tend to move more offline than irons.

Why the driver spin rate is “off the charts”

  • Anytime there is a severely downward AoA and a big face-to-path relationship (and a ton of club head speed), golfers have a propensity to spin the ball too much.
  • The face to path relationship on this left-to-right shot with the driver is extreme at 7.8, and whenever the face is well right of the path you will also tend to add more loft. The added loft will spin the ball more than normal.
  • Low smash factors show off-center hits, and we know that vertical gear effect (hitting the ball low on the face) can also spin it more.

Why Kevin “stands the shaft up” through impact

  • Over-the-top players also tend to raise the handle up through impact with their driver, holding the club face open. This can also cause golfers to hit the ball off the toe, invoking horizontal gear effect with the driver that helps limit a slice.
  • Irons can be “driven into the ground” with a steeper AoA and still be mostly playable… but not with the driver.
  • A steeper AoA shifts the path farther rightward, or positive, than it would be normally and helps to accelerate the closing rate of the club face reducing the face-to-path relationship.
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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico ( 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: [email protected]



  1. Paul

    Jun 17, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Hi Tom

    Very informative and interesting article, I have the same problem a slight revurs pivot and come over the top.

    Do you have any tips, or video links to cure these faults?

    Many Thanks

  2. Tom Stickney

    Jun 16, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    The cure is for him to fix his pivot.

  3. Stretch

    Jun 16, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    For those who want to see the cure study the phrase;

    “Kevin’s faulty pivot is causing his poor transition from the top, and as the club gets longer it allows him to move deeper into the backswing and turn his body more, which amplifies his flaws.

    Cure the faulty pivot

  4. Tom Stickney

    Jun 16, 2015 at 10:40 am

    The article was to show the reasons WHY people can’t hit their driver. Not how I fixed Kevin. Sorry for the confusion.

    • mbc

      Jun 16, 2015 at 11:08 am

      Thanks, Tom, for all of the information, definitely helpful for why this happens. Do you have plans on a follow up article on how to fix the problem?

  5. adam

    Jun 16, 2015 at 7:17 am

    Shot my first 100 in a few years. Driver went away after 9 because it was awful. Cut down to 44″ which gives me a bit more control but I kept trying to muscle the driver. Next 18 at a tougher course, shot a 76 with no driver, only a 3 wood. So instead of taking unplayables/OB’s, 3 wood off the tee, best and safest move you can play. Learn to hit it off the tee if your driver is like mine – unreliable.

  6. dapadre

    Jun 16, 2015 at 6:31 am

    As always great info Tom! Now the million dollar question: How did you or how are you working on fixing this?

    Greeting from sunny Holland/The Netherlands

  7. Birdman

    Jun 15, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    I’ve always felt that the club was too long and guess I hadn’t choked up enough. Maybe Tom is writing that conclusion we all want. Or you have to pay to find out.

  8. Birdeez

    Jun 15, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Wish those clicking shank would voice their opinions so we could read their stupidity. Great articles guaranteed to have some jerkoff choosing shank

  9. RI_Redneck

    Jun 15, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Perhaps this is why I was taught to use one swing fro everything and just vary the ball position. It’s almost like this guy loses his mind when he gets his driver in his hands.



  10. Slimeone

    Jun 15, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Tiger for the pictorial! Harsh – but valid!

  11. Jim

    Jun 15, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    What adjustments will correct the problem?

  12. other paul

    Jun 15, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    An interesting article with no conclusion. The conclusion being how Kevin got better.

  13. MB

    Jun 15, 2015 at 6:03 pm


    This is my problem whats the fix?

    • Charles

      Jun 17, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Lessons!! Go find a PGA pro and take lessons, then practice as prescribed. There is no shortcut for a sound golf swing.

  14. Greg V

    Jun 15, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    So, the $1 million question: is Kevin capable of fixing his swing? Or should Kevin play a more lofted, and shorter length club (fairway wood?) off the tee?

  15. Jon

    Jun 15, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    This explains a lot of my problems. I always wondered why at 5’8″ my irons had to be adjusted to 2* upright and why I hit my hybrids and fairway woods more off the toe. The driver has been in the closet for nearly 2 years because I could hit my 4 iron farther so why waste the space in the bag. The only time the driver comes in handy for me is for punching shots under trees.

    • Andy

      Jun 16, 2015 at 10:30 pm

      Hmmm… at 5’8″, I think you would want a flatter lie , not upright

      • Jon

        Jun 17, 2015 at 9:59 am

        Andy, I had always thought the same thing, but the lie board says differently.

      • Christopher

        Jun 17, 2015 at 12:11 pm

        It depends on how Andy’s hands are at impact, some people go higher, some lower and how long his arms are. Lie boards are useful, but if you get fit for your fault and get it taught out of it by a professional, you’ll need your clubs adjusting again!

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)



Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned



With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)



Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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