Instruction: Get more bang from your driverDustin Johnson maximizes distance by launching the ball high, but with a low spin rate.November 13, 2013
By Jason Fenstermaker, Club Fitter/Staff Instructor, PGA TOUR Golf Academy World Golf Village
High launch, low spin. No doubt you’ve heard that these are the magic words when it comes to maximizing distance with your driver. But how do you get it?
The very first step is to make sure that you get fitted for your next driver purchase, because it’s not going to matter how fast or hard you swing if the clubhead and shaft are bad matches for your swing. The pros are constantly working with their equipment sponsors, trying to get the right combination of launch, spin, and ball speed so that they can drive the ball longer and straighter. Rarely a day goes by when one of their equipment reps isn’t trying to figure out a way to squeeze more yards out of their driver. So if the pros are paying this much attention to their equipment, shouldn’t you, at the very least, get fitted for your driver?
If you’re not, you’re wasting a tremendous opportunity to add more distance to your drives without having to change your swing. I’d estimate that for the average over-the-top swinger (i.e., slicer), I can get them an extra 10-15 yards just by putting them in the right head, loft, and shaft combination. Here are a few things to consider from a club-fitting standpoint to help you groove that perfect high-launch, low-spin combination.
CENTEREDNESS OF CONTACT
The No. 1 way to get more distance is to simply hit the ball in the center of the clubface more often. This will produce a higher Smash Factor (a measurement of how much energy you’re transferring into the ball--which is determined by dividing ball speed by clubhead speed), and higher ball speeds. According to Trackman, a device that uses radar to measure various launch conditions, the average PGA TOUR Smash Factor for a driver is 1.49 (out of 1.50), and the ball speed is 165 mph. That’s why the pros drive the ball, on average, about 294 yards. If you come to me and your average ball speed is in the sub-120 mph range, and your clubhead speed is 90-100 mph, then chances are you’re not contacting the ball in the center of the clubface, and your Smash Factor is low. The closer you can get that Smash Factor to 1.50, the farther you’re going to hit the ball.
The ideal place to contact the ball is on the upper half of the face, in the center, so that if the ball were to leave an imprint, you’d see the entire ball and not just a part of it. That’s going to give you the best combination of launch (high), spin (low), and ball speed. Club manufacturers are doing everything they can today to boost ball speeds on off-center hits, thinning out the areas of the face where most golfers miss (high toe to low heel), but the more consistently you can contact the center of the face, the faster and farther the ball is going to travel.
If you’re struggling to find the sweet spot on your driver, there are several things you can do from an equipment standpoint to help boost your ball speeds and distance—not to mention help you find the center of the face more consistently. No. 1, you want to purchase a driver with the maximum-sized 460cc head, so that there’s more hitting surface available to you. These tend to be the most forgiving in terms of distance on mis-hits. Secondly, if your misses tend to be too high or low on the face, you should look for a driver with a very deep face; and, conversely, if your misses tend to be out toward the toe or the heel, you should look for a very wide face. You can diagnose your misses very easily on the practice range by applying Dr. Scholl’s foot powder spray to the face (it wipes off very easily), or by using golf impact tape. Thirdly, you should look at the shaft length of your driver. Rarely will you see a player on TOUR hitting a driver longer than 45 inches, but most of the drivers sold off the rack to consumers are 46 inches or longer. The average golfer can’t handle this kind of length, and usually winds up swinging over-the-top and off-plane as a result, which leads to a glancing blow instead of a solid hit.
Lastly, you can go to a heavier gram-weight shaft. In many instances, if the shaft is too light, the golfer will swing over-the-top. A heavier shaft will encourage the club to fall more on-plane on the downswing for more solid, center-face hits. When looking at drivers, pay more attention to ball speed than clubhead speed. You could lose 1 mph in clubhead speed but still pick up more than 3 mph in ball speed just by hitting the center of the face more frequently.
HIGH LAUNCH, LOW SPIN
After we look at your centeredness of contact and ball speed, the next thing we’re going to measure is your launch and spin numbers. The general rule of thumb is: the lower your clubhead speed and ball speed, the higher you need to launch the ball, and with more spin; and vice versa. According to Trackman, the average PGA TOUR player has a vertical launch angle of 11.2 degrees, and a spin rate of 2,685 rpm. But that’s with a driver clubhead speed of 112 mph. The average LPGA Tour player, who’s clubhead speed (94 mph) is much more in line with the recreational golfer’s, has an average vertical launch angle of 14 degrees and a spin rate of 2,628 rpm.
I typically find that most golfers launch the ball too low, because their attack angle is too steep and their hitting down on the ball. The ball launches really low off the face and then climbs, due to excess spin, before falling out of the sky with very little roll. They need to get their vertical launch angle in the 13-15 degree range and then work on bringing their spin rate down, which will create a more piercing trajectory (like the shape of a rainbow) and a lower landing angle so that the ball hits the ground running.
If you find you’re launching the ball too low, there are a number of different things you can try to bring your launch up and optimize your impact conditions. The most important thing to look at is the clubhead, because some heads are designed to launch the ball high with more spin, while others are designed to launch it low with less spin. You should also find a head with more loft, as that’s going to raise your launch angle by a few degrees. In addition, you might want to go to a lighter (less gram weight), more flexible shaft with a lower kickpoint, or bend profile, which will help kick the head upward and add loft, thus creating a higher launch and trajectory. Now, should you launch the ball too high and with too much spin, you might move into a less-lofted driver with a firmer, heavier shaft profile and higher kickpoint (i.e., closer to the grip), which will help lower the launch and trajectory.
In summary, the closer you can get to achieving your optimum launch angle and spin rate, the farther you’re going to hit the ball. It’s hard to do that on your own, so I recommend you stop by the PGA TOUR Golf Academy at World Golf Village or visit your local club-fitter for a driver fitting to see what a change in equipment can do for you and your game.
Jason Fenstermaker is a Club Fitter/Staff Instructor at PGA TOUR Golf Academy World Golf Village in St. Augustin, Fla. For more game-improvement tips from the TOURAcademy instructors, on-the-spot club recommendations and 3D previews of each hole you play, download the TOURCaddie PRO app at www.pgatourcaddie.com.