What club in your bag has the greatest variance in performance?
Most golfers will probably agree: It’s the driver.
And everyone wants to hit it farther. And straighter. To do both you might just have to hit it higher!
There is one word that provides the most significant answer to your driving distance and accuracy: Loft!
As a Master Clubfitter*, I’ve found that even after all these years, driver loft is still a misunderstood specification. Launch monitors and measuring devices have all been calibrated to get you the most optimum launch conditions based on your swing. But if they do that, why is the driver still the most difficult club in the game for so many to hit effectively?
Loft is a funny animal. Reduce the loft of a 60 degree wedge by 2 degrees to 58 degrees and many players won’t notice a change in performance. Reduce a 6-iron by 2 degrees and you’ll see a noticeable difference. Drop from a 12- to a 10- to an 8-degree and with each 2 degree change you will see an increasing change in performance. In other words, the lower you go the worse it will get.
Think of it this way: When you hit that 60 and 58 with the faces tilted backwards as they are, you are actually putting a bit of a ‘glancing’ impact on the ball, transferring energy to make the ball go very high. If you put some sidespin on the ball it probably still won’t curve off line.
But with each change in loft going lower, the ball may go farther and the change in the face will accentuate the effects of the sidespin. In other words with each longer club and lower loft, you will experience more effects of curvature – the same sidespin will cause the ball to go farther off line.
Now get to the most ‘vertical’ lofts in drivers, and at some point the ball will go shorter and the sidespin effects get worse at a faster rate! Just because you can hit a 10.5-degree, it doesn’t mean you can effectively hit a 9.5-degree. Yes, some will argue that the angle of attack (hitting down or up on the ball) is important, but the biggest limiting factor in these actually becomes your clubhead speed!
Let’s say your clubhead speed is 95 mph, and you have been playing for 5 years. You can probably hit a 14-degree loft relatively easily. Let’s drop that to 12 degrees. Your ball probably goes farther. Now drop to 11 and it might go a little farther, and 10 maybe a little farther and maybe not. Chances are at 12, 11, or 10 degrees you’ve probably reached the bottom of your effective loft. It’s not the same for everyone, because everyone has different abilities.
But, as the clubface gets more vertical in the lower lofts, that sidespin has an increasingly worse effect on direction. In other words, you’ll hit a 12 degree straighter than an 11, and an 11 straighter than a 10. And if you choose a loft that is too low you’ll start fading and slicing even more.
Now, if you increase that swing speed to the tour average of 110 – 115, that optimum driver might actually be the 9.5-degree. That still isn’t always enough for a tour player to drop and use that 9.5 degree driver, because they’re also looking for accuracy and “workability”. They may try to curve it slightly on purpose, and a higher loft is easier to control in those cases.
As I got older, my driver swing speed started to drop off, from a maximum of around 108 – 110 twenty years ago, down to around 100 mph more recently. Fifteen years ago I went to a higher lofted driver and never looked back! It’s been very helpful to hit the ball straighter and almost as far… I hit a lot of fairways these days. I’m not too proud to say I’m using a 13-degree driver! I spend a lot less time searching for my golf ball on the course these days.
*Bob Duncan is a Master Clubfitter, with over $1.7 million in custom fitted equipment sales since 1992.