For those of you ready to move past our basic Driver Buying for Dummies strategies, we’re ready to take you to the next level.
This guide is still for the guy who wants no part of working with a fitter – you’re an off-the-racker, and that’s ok.
This guide is for the DIYer willing to put in a little bit more work. It’s for the guy who wants to look a little deeper at the numbers. It’s for the guy who can come to terms with the kind of things some golfers don’t want to hear.
The 5 suggestions from the first guide still apply, we’re simply building on that to help you make a more informed decision when it comes time to buy your next driver.
1. Understand Tempo
A number of variables impact shaft fitting, but we believe tempo and transition are the most important. The guy that swings 110 may not need an x-stiff shaft, while another who only swings 95 might.
Not only will quicker, more aggressive swingers generally get more consistent (and better results) out of stiffer shafts, results can noticeably improve by stepping up to a heavier (70g+) shaft as well. That’s right, for some, heavier is better.
Of course, if you’re a silky smooth swinger with an effortless transition, then softer, and lighter shafts often produce better results.
The key takeaway is that you need to look beyond swing speed as the sole criteria for determining shaft flex. It’s one of several variables, and arguably it’s not even among the most important.
If you’re unsure of your tempo and transition (nobody’s ever said “damn, that was quick, might wanna slow down“), then tools like Mizuno’s Shaft Optimizer or just about any of the high tech swing trainers on the market, can help you figure out if you’ve got some aggression issues.
2. Grab Some Impact Tape
You need to know exactly where the face is hitting the ball. Impact tape, powder, or whatever other method you want to use, is an invaluable tool for providing you with some pretty meaningful insights.
Unless you’re consistently pounding the center of the face, chances are that tape is going to tell you that you need to trim a bit of length off that driver. You need to come to terms with that.
While more than a few manufacturers routinely produce drivers at 45.5″ or more, even with the improved face technology, and higher MOI of many of today’s drivers, 45″ is still a better starting point (there’s as reason why most ‘better player’ drivers are shorter), and more than a few reputable fitters will tell you that 44″ may be the better number for most.
Length doesn’t equal distance, hitting the sweet spot does.
3. Know what Really Happens When You Adjust the Hosel
The majority of drivers on the market today give you some sort of ability to rotate the hosel and change the loft of the club. What many don’t realize is those loft changes don’t exist in a vacuum.
Changing loft, with very few exceptions (and even those are hotly debated) alters face angle – and face angle at impact is what determines where your ball starts.
Adding loft closes the face, while decreasing loft opens the face. It’s pretty simple stuff, but it’s important to understand that trying to optimize launch angle through adjustability can impact other critical aspects of ball flight.
In our years of testing we’ve seen so-called loft changes both positively and negatively impact accuracy. While most companies talk in terms of loft adjustment, most golfers are better served thinking about hosel-based adjustability in terms of face angle first.
If you can’t start the ball on the right line, ideal launch and spin become mostly inconsequential.
4. Know what Really Happens When You Move Weight Around
There’s stuff golf companies tell us happens when we move weight around, and then there’s the stuff they don’t talk about.
Most of us understand the basics. Move weight to, or put the heavier of two weights nearest the toe, and you can mitigate a hook or promote a fade. Move the heavy stuff towards the heel and now you’re mitigating a slice or even promoting a draw.
This stuff actually works, and its what golf companies want you to understand about movable weights.
What they don’t talk about is that shifting weight in either direction also raises the center of gravity.
Why does that matter?
When you raise the center of gravity you move mass farther from the driver’s neutral axis. That change will decrease dynamic loft (launch angle) while increasing spin, and ultimately result in a less efficient transfer of energy between the club and the ball.
Not exactly a recipe for distance, is it?
Unless you absolutely need shot shape correction, you’ll be better served by keeping weight centered. In drivers where that’s not possible, you’ll see better ball speeds with the heavier weight in the toe.
5. Forget Optimal, Focus on Achievable
We’ve heard some of the claims. TaylorMade says 17° and 1700 RPM is the ideal recipe for distance. And here’s the thing, the company isn’t far off.
If you look at the charts, and run the trajectory simulations 17° and 1700 RPM really is closing in on recipe for maximizing distance (at least it’s in the ballpark).
Of course, to get to those numbers, you’re going to sacrifice quite a bit of distance when your strike isn’t quite as optimal as the numbers you’re trying to achieve, and more to the point, even if you’re targeting launch conditions that some would consider more playable, what’s optimal isn’t always achievable.
To get the best performance out of your driver you need to know what the optimum numbers are for you. Some launch monitors have that information cooked into their software, but for those that don’t, most manufacturers and launch monitor providers have charts that will help you optimize for carry or total distance (your choice), but first you need to know some things about how you deliver the club to the ball.
Optimizing the performance of your driver starts with one very important and often overlooked variable, which brings us to…
6. Know Your Angle of Attack
For those who aren’t familiar with Angle of Attack, it is, as the name implies, the angle at which you attack the golf ball with the golf club, and it can vary significantly from one golfer to another.
To get the most of your driver, you want to hit up on the ball (a positive angle of attack), but the reality is that most of us, despite teeing the ball up, actually still manage to hit down on the driver.
While it’s counter-intuitive, Trackman’s charts suggest that the more you hit down on the ball, the more your ideal spin rate increases and your ideal launch angle decreases.
Let’s look at two golfers, both with swing speeds of 90 miles an hour. Golfer A has an Angle of Attack of -5° (not uncommon among average golfers) and Golfer B has an Angle of Attack of +5°.
According to Trackman’s Total Distance Optimization Charts, Golfer A would get his best results launching at 8.5° with 3122 RPM of spin. Golfer B, however, would be optimized at 13.8° and 1948 RPM of spin.
Same swing speed, two wildly different sets of optimal numbers. If you hit up on the ball, high launch and low spin is absolutely the recipe for distance.
If, however, you hit down on your driver (as the majority of golfers do), you’re never going to get close to 17°/1700 and those numbers, while theoretically ideal on paper, simply aren’t achievable with your strongly negative angle of attack.
To understand what the actual ideal launch angle and spin rate are for your swing and ball speed, you must first know your Angle of Attack.
And yes, in case you haven’t figured it out, the only way to get the most out of whatever swing speed you have is to hit up on the ball. While arguably it’s outside the scope of this guide, I’d be remiss not to mention that working with a qualified instructor to increase your angle of attack will produce more distance than any new driver ever will.
7. If it Fits, Buy It
This last one will be a hard and bitter pill to swallow for the eBay shoppers and other bargain hunters among us, but when you find a club that fits, buy it. Buy that exact one. The one in your hand. Don’t go down the road, or online looking for a better deal.
The odds of a different club (even one with identical specs) performing exactly like the one you just tested (and love) are far from 100%.
Heads have tolerances. For most manufacturer’s it’s +/- 1°. That means if you happen to demo a driver with actual loft 1° below the intended loft, but buy one that’s 1° above the intended loft, well…basic math says there’s a chance what you just bought could have as much as 2° more loft than what you tested.
That’s a completely different driver.
There are tolerances for weight and face angle in heads as well.
And that’s hardly the end of it. Everything that goes into a driver has tolerances. Shafts have tolerances. Grips have tolerances. Hosel adapters have tolerances too. The only way to guarantee that the driver you buy will perform like the one you tested is to buy the exact driver you tested.
It’s so simple, even a dummy can understand it.