Tee shots are soaring farther than ever because they're launching faster, spinning slower and climbing higher. Learn why this new trajectory revolutionized the game-- and how it can help yours.
By Alan Bastable
2 of 14WIRE IMAGE
CHARLES HOWELL III
Average driving distance: 303 yards
"When I first came out on Tour, I loved to hit everything hard. That was my best chance of hitting it straight. Now you've got to have the ability to hit the moon ball to stop it on the greens like Tiger does, because greens are getting firmer and pin locations are three paces off the corners."
3 of 14WIREIMAGE
Average driving distance: 282 yards
"I definitely hit the ball a lot higher than I used to. My trajectory has evolved as I have grown as a player and it is something you have to learn to play with when you're in competition. The technology revolution with clubs, shafts and balls has certainly helped. No doubt about it."
4 of 14WIREIMAGE
Average driving distance: 288 yards
"I used to be a really high hitter with the soft ball. Surprisingly, I now hit it low--and these balls are supposed to launch higher! The biggest effect of changing ball flights I've seen has been the way the ball behaves around the greens. Those old soft Titleist balls really checked up."
5 of 14WIREIMAGE
Average driving distance: 282 yards
"I've made the mistake of trying to hit it higher and it has affected my game. I've gone with longer drivers and it has thrown my timing off and made me less accurate. Technology made it easier to hit it higher, but I am trying to hit it lower. I recognize that, at 47, I don't bomb it anymore."
6 of 14Angus Murray
How to give your tee shots a lift
Whether your swing speed is 125 mph or 65 mph, you'll drive it longer if you can raise your launch angle and lower your spin rate, says Top 100 Teacher T.J. Tomasi. Here are 7 easy ways to make that happen.
1. Move the ball up in your stance, opposite your front foot
2. Tee the ball high (try a 4-inch tee, the legal limit)
3. Set up with your back shoulder slightly lower and place more weight on your back foot
4. Keep your head behind the ball through impact
5. Flatten your swing plane by swinging the club more around you
6. Use a more flexible shaft with a lower kick point
7. Use a deep-faced, big-headed, high-lofted driver
7 of 14Schecter Lee
1990: Soft-covered balata (Top)
In 1990, most Tour pros played soft-covered (balata) wound balls,which were comprised of a liquid-filled core encased by rubber windings. The soft design allowed players to "squeeze" the ball and impart backspin on it for maximum control. This was great for shots into and around the green, but off the tee balatas tended to float when launched at too high an angle. "That was a problem," TaylorMade's Snell says, "so Tour players would take 8- or 9-degree drivers and turn them down to 5- and 6-degrees to get that spin rate down and prevent the flight from ballooning."
2007: 3-piece balls
A look inside TaylorMade's newest three-piece balls, the TP/Red (near left) and the TP/Black (far left), reveals how subtle differences in a ball's composition influence trajectory. The Red has a larger core and thinner mantle designed to promote a lower launch angle for more control and softer feel (for players like Sergio Garcia), while the Black's slightly smaller core and hicker mantle (by .015 inches) promote a higher launch angle and lower spin off the driver.
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C0NTROL AND DISTANCE
In 2000, Rock Ishii, the tech wiz behind Nike golf balls, designed a high-performance solid-core ball (the Tour Accuracy TW) that offered such a clever balance of
control and distance that it convinced Tiger Woods to drop the wound Titleist ball he had been playing. Soon after, Woods won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15
strokes. Titleist then released the solid-core Pro V1, and the wound ball vanished from the scene. "That was a time of great change in trajectory," Ishii says of the introduction of the solid-core ball. "I saw a 30-foot increase in the average apex."
Some players still prefer the trajectory of old. "I do a lot of work with older Tour pros," says Tom Mase, executive vice president of R&D and Innovation at Hot Stix Golf, a custom-fitting company in Scottsdale, Ariz. "They don't want to see the ball fly high. I tell them to tee the ball up just a little higher, the spin rate will drop and their launch will be higher. It'll add 10 to 11 yards in carry distance. But they're just not used to seeing the ball carry higher."
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A split second after the collision of a 460 cc driver with a multilayer ball, the high launch angle imparted by today's technology is evident. The ball's soft core helps it jump off the face, while the ball's hard mantle helps reduce spin. Today's designers try to build balls that spin less than a wound ball off the driver but the same as a wound ball off a wedge.
By hitting a low-loft driver off a low tee height, players kept their ball flight low. The resulting trajectory was not a simple parabola, because the excess spin caused by the ball's soft cover caused the ball to rise and drop quickly toward the end of the flight--again, good for accuracy, bad for distance.
10 of 14Leonard Kamsler
THE OLD TRAJECTORY (1990)
Average ball speed on the PGA Tour: 160 mph
Average spin rate of a balata ball (preferred by Tour players of that era) launched at this speed: 4,000 rpm
Optimal launch angle for these conditions: 8 degrees
11 of 14Fred Vuich
THE NEW TRAJECTORY (2007)
Average ball speed on the PGA Tour: 168 mph
Average spin rate of a three-piece ball launched at this speed: 2,500 rpm
Optimal launch angle for these conditions: 13 degrees
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460 cc driver, three-piece ball (Top)
Tester's take: "The fat, forgiving club, the wind-cheating prowess of the Pro V1--in other venues they might call it overkill."
460 cc driver, gutta-percha ball
Tester's take: "Feels solid, but the gutty is slightly leaden. Flies more heavily than its modern counterpart--it's a ball of a different feather."
Hickory-shafted driver, three-piece ball
Tester's take: "Stinging sensation in hands and sobering realization of how much technology shields me from my fundamental flaws."
Hickory-shafted driver, gutta-percha ball
Tester's take: "Utterly hopeless. I might as well be hitting rocks with a garden hoe."
13 of 14Katja Heinemann
YE OLDE TEE SHOT
How far--and long and high--we've come
Tee shots may be flying higher and longer than they did 20 years ago, but what happens when you look back 100 years?
How we did it
We asked a 6 handicapper to hit several balls with his own gear--a 9-degree, 460 cc titanium driver and a three-piece ball (a Titleist Pro V1)--and tracked his results on an Accusport Vector Pro launch monitor. Next he hit a hickory-shafted driver (the kind golfers used 100 years ago) with the ProV1, then his 460 cc driver with a gutta-percha ball (a one-piece ball filled with dried gum, like the kind golfers played a century ago) and finally the hickory-shafted driver with the "gutty."
What we learned
Most telling was how both the modern and hickory drivers performed with balls from another era. The 460 cc driver held up well, carrying the gutty more than 200 yards, but the hickory-shafted driver struggled, launching the three-piece ball less than 180 yards. The bottom line: be grateful for what the multilayered ball has done for your game, but bow down and worship your melon-headed titanium driver.
14 of 14From Left: Getty Images, AP, WIREIMAGE
And the longer get longer...
Better equipment and a higher-launching, lower-spinning ball flight have resulted in huge gains in driving distance, but a closer look reveals it's the biggest hitters who have benefited most.
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