Optimizing Your Driver
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.