Will you benefit from the latest driver technology?

Most golfers live in hope that one day a driver will appear on the market which will revolutionise their game. Everybody is looking for another 20 yards off the tee. The major club manufacturers nurture that dream by the manner in which they market and promote their products. For example at the beginning of the year Callaway made claims that their X Hot driver would give you another 30 yards. Is this actually possible? Well yes it is under certain circumstances.  At St Andrews we have often achieved more than 30 yards for some players. Will everybody achieve such yardage gains?  Not in a million years! So why does it work for some and not for others?  Read on for an explanation.

The new Optiforce driver from Callaway

The new Optiforce driver from Callaway


With the R&A testing and controlling driver technology, the manufacturers are pretty limited as to what they can do. In reality they only have 3 areas to work on.

Clubhead speed
Manufacturers may claim to have increased driver clubhead speed by either lengthening the club, reducing the overall club weight, reducing clubhead drag or by a combination of all three. At best they might manage to increase clubhead speed by around 1-2 mph which translates to around 2 or 3 yards of distance, assuming you achieve a centre strike. Keep in mind that it is ball speed and not clubhead speed which contributes towards driver distance so an increase in clubhead speed without achieving an increase in ball speed is of little value. The key here is the quality of strike and that is more likely to improve with a shorter rather than a longer driver.

Clubhead moment of inertia (MOI) and face technology
Since ball speed from centre strikes is controlled and limited by the R&A, manufacturers are trying their best to minimise the loss in ball speed from off-centre strikes. They do this by increasing clubhead MOI and designing forgiveness into their face technology. It is true that in recent years this has been achieved to some extent but the improvements nowadays are marginal. So once again this aspect of driver design doesn’t really explain yardage gains of 20 yards.

Centre of gravity (COG)
Manufacturers will talk about how they have moved the COG in their new driver heads to optimise launch and spin rate. High launch and low spin are the buzz words which all of them are trying to achieve. However a particular COG position in the clubhead may only be appropriate for a particular loft and likely won’t suit everybody. The effect of a slight movement in COG by itself has minimal effect on ball flight, certainly not enough to account for 20 yards.

Whether or not you can achieve significant gains in driver yardage with a new driver depends upon:

1. How well you are hitting your current driver
2. Whether or not you have serious swing faults
3. How well you are fitted for the new driver

If you have serious swing faults then chances are you are going to struggle with any driver and instead of buying a new club you would be better spending the money on a series of golf lessons.

Assuming that you are a reasonable player without serious swing problems, we can tell if you have another potential 20 yards in the tank by checking out your swing speed on Trackman. We know the maximum yardage possible for any clubhead speed. So for example if you are swinging your driver at 90 mph then we know that the maximum distance you can achieve off the tee is 245 – 250 yards on a calm dry day with normal run. If you are currently only achieving 225 yards then there is potential for another 20 yards if we can optimise your ball speed, launch angle and spin rate with the new club. At St Andrews we have seen yardage gains of 50-60 yards where the player was currently using an ill-fitting driver.

If on the other hand your driver launch conditions are optimised and you are already hitting drives of 245-250 yards, then you will gain nothing in terms of yardage with a new driver although you might improve shot consistency, accuracy or dispersion.

So what actually determines the benefit you will gain from a new driver is not the new technology by itself, but whether or not the new technology can be optimised in terms of face angle, head bias, loft, shaft, etc. Keep in mind that a new driver bought off the shelf without fitting could actually perform worse than your current one. That means buying a new driver without a custom fitting session could prove to be an expensive mistake.

So if you are looking for more distance off the tee, your first step should be a Trackman fitting session to see if the potential for yardage gain is there and, if so, to then get fitted properly for the new driver. Once your launch conditions are optimised and you are achieving your maximum distance for your clubhead speed, then that is as good as it gets unless you are willing to start working out in the gym to gain more clubhead speed.

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