Tee it High or Low?

April 30, 2007

You’re on the tee of a brutal 470-yard par 4 and really need to bust one if you’re going to get home in two. What’s your swing key?

One thing you’re probably not thinking about is how high you teed your ball. But you should be. Tweaking your tee height, it turns out, can be one of the best—and easiest—adjustments you can make to pound higher and longer drives.

Our Study

Who took part:

Twenty-seven golfers, aged 25 to 71, with handicaps ranging from scratch to 29. Of the players, 25 typically used a mid-height tee and two preferred a high tee.

The tee heights

• At the low tee height, the top edge of the ball was even with the top edge of the driver so that the entire ball was below the crown.
• At the mid tee height, half of the ball was above the crown.
• At the high tee height, the bottom edge of the ball was slightly above the top edge of the clubface so that the entire ball was above the crown.

Our Experiment

The players were divided into three groups of nine by handicap level: 0-9, 10-19, and 20-and-above. Each golfer hit 10 drives at each tee height, with each group hitting from the three tee heights in varying order to ensure that fatigue and motivation were balanced within each group. Only the best five out of 10 drives at each tee height were recorded so that mis-hits would not skew the data. Participants used their own drivers, with clubheads ranging from 410 cc to 460 cc.

Carry distance was measured by a launch monitor, which also calculated launch angle, clubhead speed, ball speed and spin. Accuracy was also recorded: drives that landed in the fairway (33 yards wide) scored 1; those that landed in the right or left rough (17 yards wide) scored 2; and those that landed beyond the rough scored 3.

The Results

Within each of the three handicap levels, carry distance for mid- and high-tee heights was significantly longer than the low-tee height, largely an effect of the higher tees promoting higher launch angles and less spin. The high tee height provided the most distance, giving the players an average of 12 yards more carry per drive than the low tee height.

Inside the Numbers

The Biggest Winners

The high-handicappers benefited the most from the high tee height, picking up an average of 18 yards over their drives on the low tee height!

Long and straight

The increases in carry distance from the low- to the mid- and high-tee heights did not come at the expense of accuracy in terms of hitting the fairway. This table presents the percentage of tee shots landing in the fairway, rough and beyond the rough as a function of tee height.

Fairway Rough Beyond Rough
Low tee 58.5% 30.4% 11.1%
Mid tee 54.1% 34.1% 11.9%
High tee 61.5% 27.4% 11.1%

The Aftermath

Following the experiment, 9 out of 27 (or one-third of) players planned to change from mid to high tee height. Three of those nine were from the low-handicap group.

The tee height study was conducted by Eric Alpenfels, a GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher in Pinehurst, N.C., and Bob Christina, Ph.D., dean emeritus of the School of Health and Human Performance at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

The Science: Moment of Impact

Catching the ball on the beginning of the upswing produces a higher launch angle and less spin, leading to greater distance.
At impact, the ball compresses because of the force transferred to it from the clubhead. The ball actually sticks to the clubface, sliding and rolling on it for about .0004 seconds.

After impact, the ball leaves the clubface with whatever launch angle, speed and spin your swing has imparted to it. About 1 percent to 2 percent of deformation in the ball remains, causing tiny vibrations inside.

Once clear of the clubface, the vibrations are damped out, and the ball is on its way.
Striking the ball above the center of the face—the new “sweet spot”—promotes a higher launch angle and less spin. These conditions result in a longer, more efficient ball flight that more than makes up for the clubhead rotation (and loss of ball speed) caused by hitting the ball above dead center.

What the Tour Pros Do
On the PGA Tour, one tee size doesn’t fit all.
We took to the range at Bay Hill to find out how high the best players in the world tee their balls when hitting driver—and their philosophies on why it matters.

What the pros say

Darren Clarke: If I tee it too low, I put too much spin on the ball and it shoots up…Zach Johnson: The higher I tee it and the higher I catch it on the face, the less spin I’ll get. I want high launch and low spin, and I need every yard I can get…Bubba Watson: I try to stick my tee in the ground as little as possible and then hover my driver over the ground…Ryan Moore: I don’t hit the ball very high to begin with, so a little more tee height helps me catch it more on the upswing…Jerry Kelly: Instead of teeing the ball at one height and hitting it as hard as I can, I try to work the ball. Different tee heights are key for me…Camilo Villegas: It’s a hard enough game-I don’t think about it!…Paul Lawrie: If it’s a tight driving hole, I’ll tee it down…Bart Bryant: If I tee it a little higher, I might gain a couple more yards, but this seems to be the optimal height for me to hit it straight…Jose Maria Olazabal: People keep telling me to tee it higher, but I’m too stubborn to listen…Jim Furyk: When I tee it real high, I have a hard time getting through the ball. When I tee it lower, I have more control.

Creating The Perfect Height

For a 6-iron through wedge, bury the tee in the ground so you can see only its head.
For longer irons, leave about a 1/4-inch of the tee above the ground.
For hybrids and fairway woods, leave about 1/2-inch of the tee above the ground.

Make a High Tee Work for You

Drill 1: Extend your arms for power

To consistently rip solid drives, you need to extend your arms through impact, keeping the clubface square. If you can accomplish this, your clubhead will be in prime position to launch the ball high and long. Here’s how to perfect that motion.

Place two tees in the ground, one about a foot in front of the other, and tee up a ball on the back tee. Now take your normal address position for a driver, with the ball in line with your front heel and your right shoulder slightly below your left.

As you begin your swing, imagine that, after impact, you want to clip the head of the second tee with your clubhead. You won’t actually strike the tee, but trying to do so will force you to fully extend your arms through impact. This will help keep your clubface square and get your clubhead in position to sweep firmly through the ball.

Quick Tip
To sweep your ball off a high tee, you must address the ball properly. Lean gently to your right so that your right shoulder is slightly below your left and position the ball in line with your front heel. If you tee up the ball too far back in your stance, you likely will swing too steeply.

Drill 2: Get on the power plane

A high tee will promote a rounder and shallower swing path because it forces you to sweep the ball. But it won’t necessarily get you on the power plane—that is, swinging on an inside-out path. Here’s a quick drill to help you do that.

Slide your right foot back from the target line about 1 foot at address and swing across your body. Your stance will allow your left shoulder to turn under your chin as your right hip coils on the backswing. On the downswing, your right arm and shoulder will naturally drop to the inside, creating a powerful inside-out swing path and a flatter plane through impact. Hit a few balls from this position and you’ll groove a rounder, on-plane swing that, combined with a high tee height, will allow you to hit the kind of towering draws you’ve always dreamed about.

Drill 3: Load your weight onto your back foot
One of the keys to generating power is transferring your weight onto your back foot during your backswing so that you can unload that weight during your downswing and through impact. At the top of your backswing you should have roughly 80 percent of your weight on the inside of your back foot and the other 20 percent on the inside of your front foot.

To feel the sensation of transferring your weight onto your back foot, take some practice swings on a slight incline. The slopes that often separate one tee box from another are perfect for this. As you begin your backswing, notice how your weight quickly and effortlessly shifts to your back foot. This sensation will be exaggerated because of the slope, but will be a useful reference when you swing for real. Be sure to keep your weight on the inside of your back foot. If it shifts to the outside, you will lose the solid base you need to transfer your weight to your front foot. To hone the feeling of shifting your weight to your front foot during your downswing, reverse this drill and do it on a downslope.

Quick Tip
Keeping your head behind the ball through impact will ensure that you catch the ball with a slightly upward blow for a high launch angle and low spin.

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