5 Good Questions: Drivers

February 21, 2007

Your driver is probably going to be the most technologically advanced and expensive club in your bag. New models arriving in pro shops feature moveable weight systems, exotic materials and designs that look nothing like what Old Tom Morris would have swung.

So before you plunk down your hard-earned greenbacks, you’d better arm yourself with some information. Here are five things you’ll want to know before you make your next driver purchase.

1.) How do I maximize distance?
Okay, okay. You want to hit the ball farther. Or to be more accurate, you want to humble your buddies and quietly walk down the fairway with a smirk on your face, then nod as if to say, “You fellas are away.”

Here’s the deal: Back in the day, it was thought that the best drives started low, then shot high in the air. We now know that those kinds of shots have too much backspin. In order to get the ball really deep down the fairway, we now know that you need to maximize carry distance. You want get the ball started on a high launch angle, and once it is in the air, you want it to hang up there due to just the right amount of backspin. Too much backspin and the shot will balloon up, then fall straight down. Too little spin and you can’t keep the ball in the air long enough.

To make that happen, to create those perfect launch conditions, you need to have the ideal combination of clubhead, shaft and ball for your swing.

2.) So how much loft do I need?
Do your drives feel rock solid when you hit them, but fall like a stone and drop short? That’s a sure sign that you are not generating enough backspin with your driver. It’s also likely that you are one of those players who hits your 3-wood better off the tee than your driver. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. More than a few players get more carry distance and better control with their 3-wood off the tee. Sure, the shorter shaft of your 3-wood will give you more control, but it’s the loft, which is about 15˚, that really is the key.

If your driver has 9.5˚ or 10.5˚ of loft, and your typical swing is about 85 mph, which is about average for male players, then you may not generate enough backspin to keep the ball in the air long enough to maximize carry distance. Generally speaking, the slower your swing, the more loft you need on your driver. The faster your swing, the less loft your driver needs to create the ideal amount of backspin. (FYI … The more backspin you impart on the ball, the straighter your shot will probably fly. For this reason, you never hear about someone slicing a 9-iron or wedge.)

It’s pretty safe to say that any player with a swing speed slower than 75 mph should be playing with a driver that has at least 12˚ of loft. But unfortunately, you can’t make a nice, clean assumption about how much loft you need if you swing much faster than that because there are so many variables in the golf swing. One 90 mph players may be 10.5˚, but another 90 swinger might only need 9.5˚.

So what about those pros you hear about who have a driver with something like 8˚ of loft? Well, those guys probably swing their driver around 115 mph. If they played a 10.5˚ driver, their shots would have too much backspin and rob them of distance.

3.) What is Flexpoint and is it important?
Flexpoint simply refers to the area of the shaft where it bends (kickpoint, which you might also hear, means the same thing).

Generally speaking, a lower flexpoint will produce a higher ball flight, which can be good for slower-swinging players. The shaft literally flexes closer to the head of your driver and “kicks” it through the impact area so the ball goes higher into the air.

A high flexpoint, again, generally speaking, won’t kick the ball up as much and produces a lower ball flight. This would be ideal for someone who swings his driver very fast, and therefore creates a lot of natural backspin.

But don’t get the impression that we’re talking about spots that are spread far apart. They’re not. The standard length of a driver shaft is 45 inches and in reality, the flex point range is only about an inch or two wide.

So, are you putting one and one and one together to get three?

If you haven’t, here’s the kicker (no pun intended): If you select the perfect clubhead and ball to use, but if your shaft doesn’t compliment them, it will be very tough to consistently hit drives that are as long and straight as they could be. And if you change any one of those variables, you will change the flight of your drives.

4.) Can a driver cure my slice?
Slicing is the bane of the amateur ranks. And golf club manufacturers know this. A slice is produced when you hit a shot with a clubface that is open to your swing path. This imparts left-to-right spin on the ball (for a right-handed player) and makes the shot curve right.

There are two kinds of drivers that are designed to help slicers:

Draw-biased Designs:
Drivers with draw bias have weight in the heel area. That weight will make the clubface naturally close more easily on your downswing, so you will be less likely to slice. Several of the new 460cc monster-size drivers have this feature.

Closed-face Designs:
Some drivers look like the face of the club points left when you set them behind the ball. That’s because they do. Clubs with hook-faces are designed to impart right-to-left spin. Again, this will help you avoid the conditions that create a slice.

5.) Is bigger always better?
460cc drivers are appealing because they offer an enormous effective hitting area. But not all of them are the same.

Think about it this way: Mercedes and Yugo both make sedans, but those cars are nothing alike. Don’t assume that every 460cc driver will maximize power and offer lots of forgiveness on off-center hits. Weights and designs differ, and therefore, so does performance. That’s why you need to get out there and demo several drivers before you purchase one.

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