In the previous segment of this blog, we discussed hitting the ball on the sweet spot in order to optimize your “smash factor” or efficiency. In general, this will be a spot that is slightly towards the toe and just above the center of the clubface. Remember, to maximize distance, it is a combination of ball speed, launch angle and spin rate.
In this segment, we are going to talk about the optimum launch angle for your club speed. Launch angle is determined by several factors:
- Club loft
- Angle of Attack
- Impact point on the clubface
- Forward lean of the shaft
In general, the slower the swing or club speed, the higher the loft of the driver to optimize both carry and roll. Most drivers come in degrees of loft from 8.5 to 16. Long Drive competitors have drivers that have only 4 to 7.5 degrees of loft. This is because at higher ball speeds, there is considerably more lift created which allows the ball to climb rapidly after impact. Let’s assume for now that you have a 100 mph club speed and your driver launch is 10.0 degrees, as shown in the chart above. Your maximum total distance would be 278 yards. Now, if you could increase the loft to 12.4 degrees, your total distance would increase to 293 yards, an improvement of 15 yards.
Attack angle is the angle between the ground and clubhead at impact. We have been told for years to “hit down on the ball” with irons. Now we need to learn how to “hit up on the ball” with our driver. The reason is simple. A positive attack angle increases launch angle and reduces spin for a given cluhead speed thus creating more carry AND roll. In the example above, the 15 yard distance gain came by improving the attack angle, but that could also be accomplished by increasing the loft of the club from, say 9.0 degrees to 10.5. The same could happen if your launch angle was too high. By lowering your launch angle, you can actually increase the carry distance of your driver. If you have ever been out watering the lawn with a garden hose, you know that you can reach that farthest spot in the corner of your yard if you have just the right launch angle! Same thing with your driver. By optimizing the loft on your driver, you will maximize both the carry distance AND the rollout of your drives.
Impact Point on the Clubface
If you have a negative attack angle, you MAY be launching the ball too high if you are hitting the ball off the top of the face. Because of the design of the driver face, the actual loft at the top of the face is about 1.5 degrees higher that on a center hit. Conversely, even if you have a positive attack angle, you may be hitting the ball too low if you are hitting off the bottom of the club face. Check these statistics with a qualified fitter so you know for sure your attack angle and impact position on the club face. Correcting this can be as simple as a change in tee height and/or ball position but it could also mean a change in shaft to reduce or improve forward lean at impact.
Forward Shaft Lean at Impact
As you start your downswing (transition) the shaft in your driver is going to bend toe-up. As you move to the forward swing (about waist high) the shaft will lag behind your hands. Right before impact, depending upon your release point, the shaft will actually recover from its lag and will lean slightly forward. If the shaft mid and tip section are too soft for your swing dynamics, the lean will be amplified and your attack angle will increase. Conversely, if the shaft mid and tip section are too stiff for your swing, your attack angle will decrease. It is very common in our fittings to greatly assist in fixing attack angle issues with the proper shaft.
The beauty of today’s modern drivers is that you can usually adjust your driver loft up or down by 1 to 2 degrees. So when you are getting fit for your next driver, you need to know the actual loft of your driver, your club speed, launch angle and attack angle. If you assume that you cannot change your attack angle (we will show you how to do that in the next segment), you need to optimize the effective loft of your driver to give you the best carry and rollout. The image below shows the TrackMan Optimizer which we use to help guide our golfers to the best driver loft. In this case, this customer is leaving 20 yards of distance on the course because he is launching the ball too high.
For more information, visit the TrackMan tutorial on maximizing distance here.