Op­ti­miz­ing Your Driver

Golf Today Northwest - - Contents - by Bob Dun­can, PGA Bob Dun­can is a PGA Life Mem­ber, a Master Club­fit­ter, and de­vel­oper of the Golfer Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tem.

Have you been op­ti­mized? If you have, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you have achieved your op­ti­mum per­for­mance. The goal for many of get­ting a new driver is to op­ti­mize the launch con­di­tions of your ball flight for dis­tance and ac­cu­racy – with an eye for what hap­pens on the golf course. Two main el­e­ments go into this: What you do with your swing, and the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of your driver. Some fa­cil­i­ties of­fer driver club­fit­ting and op­ti­miza­tion, and some of­fer it with com­put­er­ized launch mon­i­tor ser­vices. Where it counts – on the golf course – is the bru­tally hon­est and true eval­u­a­tion of your op­ti­mum per­for­mance. There are ways of op­ti­miz­ing your driver on the course, and they may not al­ways agree with the com­puter. Ask a launch mon­i­tor op­er­a­tor what the op­ti­mum flight is for your driver and you might get an an­swer filled with launch an­gles, ball speeds, spin rates, and ‘smash fac­tors’ – all of which are sig­nif­i­cant. Ask the player what he re­ally wants and the an­swer is sim­ple: a driver he can hit long and straight. The ques­tion is, which is more im­por­tant: More dis­tance or more ac­cu­racy? And do you sac­ri­fice one over the other? The key swing in­gre­di­ent you can achieve in your swing with a driver is to get the club to ‘level out’ at im­pact, or to catch the ball slightly on the up­swing. Called the An­gle of At­tack in ‘launch’ terms, of­ten the dis­cus­sion about bad shots cen­ters more on cor­rect­ing the swing path. But if we fo­cus more on the An­gle of At­tack we might just cor­rect the swing path as a fa­vor­able by-prod­uct. When your An­gle of At­tack at im­pact is on the down­swing (hit­ting down on a driver) the ball will tell you what is hap­pen­ing from its flight: If it is rel­a­tively solid, you will see the ball start on a tra­jec­tory and rise up due to hav­ing too much back­spin. Other tell-tale down­swing flights are shots that are ei­ther high slices or low hooks, or the das­tardly ‘sky ball’. In each of these cases the club is on the way down when it reaches the ball. There are rel­a­tively sim­ple cor­rec­tions you can make to get the club to level out or catch it on the up­swing. First, you’ll no­tice that many great driv­ers of the ball set their top hand turned slightly to­ward the rear of the club – for right-han­ders this sets the left thumb at about 1:00 or 1:30 on the club, or 11:00 or 10:30 for a lefty. Sec­ond, many great driv­ers set up with their spine an­gled away from the tar­get. This is sup­ported by the rear shoul­der be­ing lower than the for­ward shoul­der, and the po­si­tion of the lower hand on the grip. This will al­low the club to swing on a

more shal­low and inside path in the back­swing. If this spine an­gle is main­tained at im­pact the club should re­turn to the ball more level. To get the club to ar­rive at the ball on the up­swing, you can move the ball for­ward in your stance and raise the tee height. Play­ers who make these changes re­port a feel­ing that they will hit the ball higher and that they ‘stay be­hind the ball’. Should you ‘sky’ the ball, chances are your An­gle of At­tack was neg­a­tive (on the down­swing). As an ex­am­ple, Bubba Wat­son is known for a very pos­i­tive An­gle of At­tack, as much as 5 to 7 de­grees on the up­swing. Launch mon­i­tor ex­perts will be pretty happy if your An­gle of At­tack is shal­low or slightly up, in the 0 to +2 de­gree range – this makes their job eas­ier, but there is one caveat – we need to make sure you can use this to achieve use­ful re­sults on the golf course. Club­fit­ting pro­fes­sion­als will test sev­eral dif­fer­ent shafts and club­head lofts and con­fig­u­ra­tions on you to op­ti­mize your launch num­bers. You should also ask to test a slightly longer and shorter shaft, as well as a slightly lighter or heav­ier shaft. The real ques­tion is whether you can achieve sim­i­lar per­for­mance on the course. Sev­eral things may pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing:

1. If the top hand is not turned slightly away from the tar­get – po­si­tion the top hand with the thumb on the very top of the club­face and you’ll more likely slice or have An­gle of At­tack is­sues.

2. If the driver loft is re­ally too low for on­course per­for­mance. For ev­ery de­gree of loft you add to the driver, you will ex­pe­ri­ence a straighter flight. And for ev­ery de­gree of loft you sub­tract from the driver you will risk a more crooked flight.

3. If the tee height is too low for on-course per­for­mance. This means you will most likely be forced to hit down on the ball – in this case there isn’t enough room un­der the ball to hit it on the up­swing.

4. If your spine an­gle changes be­fore im­pact dur­ing the swing. Let’s face it – we’re not Tiger Woods. The op­ti­mum num­bers achieved on the launch mon­i­tor are when you achieve your best swing. Main­tain­ing that best swing on the golf course can be very chal­leng­ing when we don’t prac­tice as much. If we can’t op­ti­mize the swing all the way around the course, that op­ti­mum driver may be more dif­fi­cult to hit. Of­ten these can be dif­fi­cult to main­tain on the course. If you want a ‘more for­giv­ing’ driver, or one that is re­ally eas­ier to hit on the course, look for

1. Higher lofts – These gen­er­ally go straighter, and many play­ers will get more dis­tance out of a higher loft. Based on swing speed, lower speeds need higher lofts.

2. Po­ten­tially shorter than stan­dard lengths – Many ‘stan­dard’ lengths can be too long, as the in­dus­try has length­ened driv­ers in the last 30 years.

3. Per­haps slightly heav­ier shafts – if shafts are too light you may get more club­head speed but you might ex­pe­ri­ence less con­sis­tency. Weight is just as im­por­tant as flex – and some­times more. The bot­tom line is you need to test dif­fer­ent spec­i­fi­ca­tions to find out what you can hit bet­ter, and de­cide whether far­ther or straighter is more im­por­tant. And re­mem­ber, a 250 yard drive lost in the trees isn’t as op­ti­mum as a 235 yard drive down the mid­dle.

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