Maxing Out Driver Distance

TJ Tomasi

by TJ Tomasi, Keiser University College of Golf Senior Faculty Member and Director of Research

Lee Trevino said ‘you can talk to a fade but a hook won’t listen,’ and one reason is that the toe of the driver is moving about 14% faster than the heel at impact.

But that’s not news to you, because if you’ve played any golf at all, you realize that where on the clubface you make contact influences the ball flight.

This is documented by Hot Stix Golf, one of the best club fitting companies in the industry, as shown in the chart below, relating the effects of contact point on two key metrics of ball flight – spin rate and distance using the driver.

The Effect of Driver Impact Position

Spin Rate (RPM)Distance (Yards)
-0.5” below center3,165243
-0.25” below center2,971247
-0.0” center hit2,564254
+0.25” above center2,098260
+0.50” above center1,862264

Note that the farthest distance and lowest spin is obtained by making contact +.5 inches above the horizontal centerline of the face.

This contradicts the old belief that the ‘sweet spot” is dead center in the middle of the clubface. But it does confirm another piece of old advice ‘tee it high to fly it high.’

Tee height is important in maxing out your driver distance, because if the ball is correctly positioned at address, it allows one to launch the ball high without resorting to using a driver with a lot of loft –  which would increase spin and decrease distance – remember the more loft, the more spin.

Takeaway: Max distance high launch/low spin is accomplished by:

  1. Teeing the ball high to strike it on the upswing,
  2. Using a lower lofted driver that produces low spin, and
  3. Contacting the ball .5” above the center line of the clubface.

And don’t be shy about doing your own testing on the golf course. I advise my students to use clubface spray and keep a record of where on the face they made contact – for both irons and metal woods.

Your problem-solving brain contains some marvelous algorithms, and they thrive on info so, feed the machine.

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Why You Can’t Hit the Driver

He’s a pro and was at one time, the best player in the world, so why does Tiger have so much trouble hitting the driver – it’s just another club in the bag isn’t it?

The answer is NO, It Isn’t. And  to spread even more confusion about Tiger-and-the-Driver, the stats don’t document what he actually hit off the tee, only where the ball ended up, so the stats are big-time misleading – many times throughout his career, Tiger’s opted for a stinger long iron, a three wood or a five wood off the tee, because he couldn’t control the driver.

Length: Since the driver is the longest club in the bag, it’s harder to find the sweet spot of the clubface, and if you impact the ball just 1 dimple (0.14 inch) towards the heel of your driver, it creates a spin of +6° (fade spin) with the ball ending up 10 yards right of the target line on a 250 yard carry.

If you impact as much as half an inch towards the toe, the dispersion will be 35 yards left on a 250 yard carry!

Yes the fairways are wide, but remember, if you don’t know if it’s going left or right, you have to aim down the center and that cuts the fairway in half (a 50 yard-wide fairway becomes 25 yards wide).

Because of the driver’s lesser face loft (say 11 degrees) vs. a wedge with say a 52 degree loft, there is much less spin – example 2500 rpm vs. 10,000 rpm.

To illustrate the difference in curve, suppose an off-center hit causes 500 rpm of sidespin (curve) for both the driver and wedge: With the driver, it’s a whopping 20% of total spin (500/2500) – aka a wild curve.

The sidespin on the wedge is only .05 (500/10,000), which is such a small percentage of the overall spin that it hardly curves at all.

This is an important reason why the driver is so sensitive to your off center hits.

Speed: The faster your clubhead is moving at impact, the more an error is magnified – the average Tour player’s driver swing speed is 112 mph vs. 83 mph for the wedge.

Just prior to his most current operation, Tiger’s driver speed was about 118 mph; six mph faster than average, but that’s not enough for Tiger – he has a history of obsessing about distance; i.e., being the longest off the tee, so he often over-swings  (sound familiar?).

And when you over-manipulate the club/body to generate extra speed, you’re most likely going to miss the center of the face.

Loft: As we’ve seen above, the higher the loft, the more backspin; so to curve the ball on demand – say to hit a draw to target – you need a specific ratio of path to face at impact.

For the driver, you need a ratio of 1 to 1.5 (e.g. +1 degree open face, with +1.5 degrees of path – both in relation to the target line).

For the wedge, it’s much wider, (+1 face and +5 path).

Thus, it’s harder to hook a wedge than a driver, or said another way, the driver is much more sensitive to curve and much harder to control because even a small flaw can disrupt the tiny 1 to 1.5 ratio  – therefore, small mistakes with your driver are magnified.

You are completely fooled when you plan for a small draw (+1face, +1.5path), but instead produce a +1face to 0 path that creates a slice.

Note two things about the above example: (1) the mistake in degrees is very small, yet it produces the opposite ball curve you planned for, i.e., a slice instead of the expected a draw, and (2) the same 1.5 degree mistake with a wedge would produce a small draw ending up a bit right of the flag.

The driver, more than any other club, violates my doctrine of “No Surprises;” i.e., build a swing where the misses can be played for.

Takeaway: Multiple swing changes, trying to hit it too hard, and swing technique problems are all exacerbated  by the dimensions of the driver – its length, its need for speed, and especially its low loft.

The driver in Tiger’s hands exposes a fatal chink in an aging suit of armor as it does for most players.

Your driver may be your favorite club, but only keeping stats will tell you if it’s your best.