Smoke & Mirrors of Drivers
OK, you all know that I’m “the wedge guy”, and that I’m a firm believer that your route to lower scores is going to be at the short end of the set rather than from the tee. But this industry is driven by the noise around drivers and big companies’ endless promises of hitting the ball further. I received an email the other day from Pat in Yorktown, VA, a reader who is trying to make sense of the claims by the driver makers. It is so good, that I’m going to re-print it here:
Recently, driver technology has been working on generating more clubhead speed to get more distance by improving aerodynamics to lighter clubs to shaft length, etc. If we look at the simple physics formula: F=ma (Force = mass times acceleration), by increasing clubhead speed of a standard driver head mass, I can see how distance can be increased. But if we can increase our clubhead speed by 3-4 mph with a mass that may be 25 grams lighter, I can’t see how the math works out to increase the force we put on the ball to get more distance. Besides that, swingweight would change and that can affect the rhythm, tempo, and timing to square the clubhead and strike the ball solidly and accurately. I hope you can elaborate on this topic before I run out and buy the latest and greatest driver with all the promises and marketing hype. Thanks.
Well, Pat, I think you nailed it pretty well here. If we make the driver lighter so you can swing it faster, we’ve also reduced the mass with which you are making impact, so what’s the gain? For weekend and other regular-guy golfers, I’m betting it’s not much. The driver market has been driven by technology for decades now, and they have all pretty much pushed the envelope as far as the USGA will allow. But they surely cannot admit that, can they? They have drivers to sell.

In my opinion, unless your current driver is over 5-6 years old, there’s not going to be much distance improvement available to you with the newest whiz-bang model. In fact, I’ll bet that each and every one of you hits drives with some frequency that are super-long, and that’s because every once in a while you get all the hitches and idiosyncrasies of your swing just right and make dead solid perfect impact. And it’s no secret that even with the most advanced drivers in the market today, a miss by 1/2” will cost you 7-9% of optimum distance. And a miss by 3/4” will increase that loss to 12-15%.

But just for fun, you should see what 15 more yards would really do for your scores . . . if that was even “for sale” out there in the marketplace. The next time you play a recreational round, after each drive, pick up your ball and walk it 15 yards further down the line it was traveling when it came to rest. Whether it was headed straight down the fairway, or towards the OB stakes, water or bunker . . . 15 more yards, OK?

My bet is that it would not change your scores even one stroke for the better. But I’d sure like to hear what you guys find out with this little experiment.

Any takers?
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[ comments ]
Dusty23 says:
I seem to have fallen into the, replacing my driver every 2-3 years mode, and the one thing I have found is that I am a 230 yd avg driver of the ball. I have had three different manufacturers in my last three drivers and distance has remained the same. The only thing I'm looking for with the new technology (adjustability)is hopefully the ability to keep it in the short grass more often. Most of my practice time is spent 7i to SW
2/21/12
 
dtak84 says:
Well, let's see, you convert the grams to kg, and the acceleration to m/s, and you will notice the acceleration goes up more than the mass goes down. Thus, force will definitely go up if you had a 3mph increase to just a 25g decrease.

And maybe your rhythm, tempo, and timing will change, but who knows if it's for better or for worse? Once you get a solid repeatable swing down, timing/tempo/rhythm needs to be consistent. Only you can determine if different weight would make it better or worse.
2/21/12
 
dc8ce says:
I've been having a ton of trouble hitting my woods & hybrids this year. I had a nice draw before with the driver but it’s now turned into a big slice. The 3 wood & hybrids have been just as bad, with no consistent impact or ball flight. However, I've been hitting the irons really well. Since I only had the 5-PW in the bag I went out and picked up the 3 and 4 iron to replace the hybrids.

I played a round Sunday on my "home course" with my usual foursome and decided to only hit irons all day. I knew the course well and was confident a small drop in yardage off the tee would be worth not spraying the driver everywhere. I weant out and shot my best score since July of last year! (scorecard [[url=http://www.oobgolf.com/golfers/score.php?id=1898449]]here[[/url]]) Other than 2 misses, I was consistently straight and only a few yards off of my buddies. A few times I was actually farther than what they were hitting their driver! I'm playing a longer course Friday so we'll see if my strategy works there.
2/21/12
 
dc8ce says:
Sorry, tried to post a link but that didn't work. Here's the url: www.oobgolf.com/golfers/score.php?id=1898449.
2/21/12
 
GolfinHawg says:
I have tried different drivers over the last few years and still get no further or starigter than my R-9 that is now on season 3. I have tried diffrent brands with the different technologies and still no major improvement or major wow factor. Thanks for another great article..
2/21/12
 
nickmomrik says:
I'd like to move my ball 15 yards closer to the middle of the fairway. :-)
2/21/12
 
mtgolfidiot says:
I once heard that Bob Toski would tell you to take your drive and walk backwards 15 yards, but you get to place it in the fairway. His theory was your scores would go down because hitting from the short stuff was more important than gaining 15 yards on your drive
2/21/12
 
brian575 says:
I did that yesterday, hit my drive then on the same line walked 15 yards further and hit another ball, I only did this on the par 4 to see the difference. The results, I hit 0 greens on my first ball, and 5 on my second. I lost 1 ball that would have run through the rough into a yard. I missed 2 additional fairways but picked one up so a net loss of one fairway. Instead of hitting 6-7 irons into the green I was hitting 8-9 irons into the green. I shot a 113 on my first ball (I suck) I shot a 101 on my second. Both snowmen on my card turned to pars when I walked up 15 yards. So for me the added 15 yards is worth the effort.
2/21/12
 
birdieXris says:
I have a feeling on the whole, brian575's experience is going to be the norm for the average golfer. If you can put the ball reasonably towards the fairway, you're going to benefit from the 15 yards. Bottom line is EVERYONE would benefit from an extra 15 yards if they can hit it reasonably straight. The right thing to do here is, judge your own game and figure out if you need a new driver this year, or need to spend the money on some lessons and get a better driver next year. One thing you have to watch though is will that new driver give YOU 15 extra yards.
2/21/12
 
birdieXris says:
Just saying, statistically speaking, hitting a shorter club has less margin for ball movement. I share the wedge guy's penchant for saying the score is brought down in the shorter end of the club set, but if you're not hitting those shorter clubs, it doesn't really matter. 15 yards is at LEAST one club down depending on the lie and the grade to the green.
2/21/12
 
DaRupp13 says:
6 years ago or so I was hitting off the tee with an 11* steelhead. I hit it really well and typically straight. But the ball was only going about 225. On a normal par 4, I would still have 180-200 yards to go. I upgraded to a Cleveland Hibore and learned the new swing that came with it. I started hitting it about 275, and now on that same par 4 I have 130-150 in, hitting an 8 iron instead of 4 iron. I also upgraded a couple months ago to last years Burner Superfast. The difference between that superfast and Hibore is small (I went from 10.5* to 9.5* and used to hit it really high so I am getting some additional distance - more the loft than new amazing tech IMO). But the difference between a steelhead and hibore was definitely recognizable.

The overall point is I think the technology does have some weight when you're going from an older driver to a modern 400cc+ driver but once you get to that class of driver, the difference is negligible and more about comfort and feel.
2/21/12
 
Kurt the Knife says:
F=ma ignores some stuff. Things like alloy character, modulus, tensile strength, ductility, rigidity, structure n stuff like that.
I reckon.
2/21/12
 
snuffyword says:
Terry, it's a honor to see my topic posted for discussion. The reason I asked is because I am in the market for a new driver. My Mizuno 400cc MP-001 is over 6-years old. This model came out in 2004. A golfing buddy asked when I was going to upgrade to new technology because I am always being out-driven. I told him that I like my driver but I did think about what he said. If I want to use my scoring clubs more during a round, I need to be inside 140 yards more often. I'm hoping to find something that can give me some added distance and still be in the short grass.
2/21/12
 
birdieXris says:
@snuffy - You're looking at a pretty good time. There are new clubs coming out and the old stuff is on sale, and the stuff from 2 seasons ago is clearance. You can go back about two seasons and not lose much on today's technology --- all while keeping some coin in your pocket.
2/21/12
 
snuffyword says:
Thanks, birdieXris. That is my first option but I want to demo the new stuff for fun. I'll be looking for something that I can cut down to 44" and still be able to improve my distance and accuracy. The more coins in my pocket, the sooner I can upgrade to the 4161.
2/21/12
 
GBogey says:
Similar thought going on here. I want a new driver, mainly due to take advantage of getting fitted this time as I think I need more loft. My idea was to go back to Hot Lists from either 2011 or 2010 as a starting point - saves $100-$200 easy.
2/21/12
 
legitimatebeef says:
I don't keep up much with the new gear but I'm pretty sure that drivers aren't just getting lighter they're making them longer too, longer as in shaft length. I'm sure that has an immediate effect on club speed/ball speed but I'm guessing it also produces a wider dispersion of misses. But let's face it golf club collecting is just something ppl like to do regardless of how it affects their scores, so that market for the latest so-called cutting edge clubs will always be there. There will always be those who love to look down at something new when addressing the ball, who put their golf hopes and dreams on the latest new "technology".
2/21/12
 
brian575 says:
birdieXris you make some good points. After lessons my drives became shorter but much straighter. I average 85% playable drives and I do not see that changing if I was able to hit the ball 15 extra yards. I went to a shop after my round to see if a new driver would help. I hit a few and averaged about 230, which is what I hit my current driver, then I hit one particular driver and averaged 255, only one driver was able to produce those results. So now I am weighing is 25 yards worth 300 bucks.
2/21/12
 
larrynjr says:
Hank Haney has a new lesson to help fix slicing, a short of it is on golf digests website. I actually caught onto what was doing while watching the Haney Project Ray Romano. In it's simplest form, i bring my driver back to the outside and as i reach the top i'm doing a clockwise circle with the club head which drops me into an inside out path. I was on the range yesterday and of the 8 or so driver hits I made, only one had a slight fade on it, the rest were straight to drawing. I hit the fence before the ball hit the ground on one of the drives, only 235 yds. or so but in the past, the few times I've hit the fence. I felt like i was swinging out of my shoes to get there. This time it felt smooth and almost effortless. My driver is a 2009 model and I don't plan to update anytime soon.
2/21/12
 
Dusty23 says:
I know this article was on driver tech & distance, but playing from the right set of tees in relation to your skillset can make up that 15 yards too. I believe it was in an article by Tom Watson where he said that if you are always hitting fairway woods, hybrids and long irons for your second shot on par 4's, you need to move up a set of tees.
2/21/12
 
jpjeffery says:
It's funny the obsession there is with the driver. My driver shots are pretty consistent, not long, but generally on target. After my last frustrating round (over a month ago now!), where my problem was fairway shots, my playing partner emailed me the following day to suggest I buy a new driver...!
2/21/12
 
DaRupp13 says:
@jp kind of like that most recent Nike VR commercial. The secret to a good short game is to have a shorter short game.
2/21/12
 
frankteo714 says:
Couldn't agree more on the whole club head weight and tempo/timing. I hate light drivers. I find myself whipping the club around so fast I just slice it. I think I'll stick with my R11. More accuracy, not more distance.
2/21/12
 
windowsurfer says:
I worked hard on finding a driver that gave me the most distance with the greatest accuracy. Lots of heads gave me distance, so I picked one that pleased my eye. The right shaft flex + kick point added more distance by optimizing trajectory. I got better accuracy by shortening the shaft (44-1/4) and now I am close to my big-hitter buddies & get into less trouble off the tee (than when I depended on shaft length for distance.) I am sticking with the *same* club day-in-day-out - think that helps too! Working diligently on my swing (Jimmy Ballard DVD) for consistency and confidence. Just gonna grind it out, baby.
2/21/12
 
onedollarwed says:
I will say that to play golf at a high level (high level of enjoyment and efficiency), you've got to love hitting your driver, period! There is a lot of distance to cover out there, and the big stick is what's for dinner. Problem is, most folks end up with more than they can handle, and that's no fun. So help define that love. A)you stink it up with the driver only 1/10 times out. And that one time you get it fixed by the back nine. B) You look forward to any hole where driver is the obvious choice from the tee - especially the first tee, where you are brimming with confidence and the joy of starting a round! C) 9/10 Drives are perfectly playable, 5/10 are in the fairway, and not because of worm-burners, 2/10 you've shaped just right to get maximum distance. D) You can play a draw or cut when you need to, or favor one particular side of the fairway. E) Last but not least, your driver feels and sounds real good when you hit it, soooooooooo nice! What do you think?
2/21/12
 
onedollarwed says:
If the above stuff isn't happening, you need to find a driver that can do that, not add distance.
2/21/12
 
CeeBee says:
I use a 2010 model Taylor Made superfast. Was fitted for it and works fine. It's fun to hit and I stay in play. Just for fun I demo'd the R11, Rocketbalz(is that right?) and the newest model Super-f and saw no results worth spending $.

Being as the driver is the most expensive club in my bag, I pull it 14 times a round confidently.
2/22/12
 
mjaber says:
I'm still swinging my Taylormade R5 Dual circa 2005. It's actually my 2nd R5. The first was an R5 dual-D, which developed a crack. It was the first clubI added as an upgrade to the "starter set" I had. Bought it used for $60. "New" R5 is the TP version, complete with weight kit. Not sure I'll use, I more got it so that I had the wrench, which I need for one of my wedges. Bought the TP, with weight kit, used for about $60. I'll play the R5 until I can't find them anymore.
2/22/12
 
TeT says:
Most of the pros are not hitting what TM and Titleist are selling off the rack. Most have shorter and heavier shafts with the weights added... Some do though. The newer drivers will outperform the oldif you can swing them the same as your old.. but how much, not enough.
2/23/12
 
LINKSWIZARD says:
The Kinkswizard from Rhode island says to 1. Play from the proper tee for your handicap. 2. No new driver can improve your game! Only practice, so practice with a purpose!
2/23/12
 
Tim Horan says:
I have found that head technology doesn't count for much. It is the shaft that matters more. Tip stiffness, torque, kick point, mid and butt stiffness, spine alignment and puring. If the shaft is wrong for you no amount of adjustability in the head will help. As we have learned from Terry very occasionally the mass production methods that the big 5 employ will throw up a winning combination head/ shaft that suits more of us than any other in the market. They just cannot cater for all of our swing idiosycrasies whilst producing for the mass market. It just has to be an averaging out strategy (There are more amateur golfer who fade so they make closed face drivers). Get fitted properly it may cost you a little more this year but you won't be buying another driver next year.
2/27/12
 
joe jones says:
Paying $400 for the latest magic wand is nuts. Spend the money for lessons from a good local pro. They are badly under paid and if you commit to a series of lessons rather than one or two they will invest quality time with you. Easiest way in the world to lower your handicap.
2/29/12
 
...the Murseless says:
Regarding the initial question: " F=ma... by increasing clubhead speed of a standard driver head mass, I can see how distance can be increased. But if we can increase our clubhead speed by 3-4 mph with a mass that may be 25 grams lighter, I can’t see how the math works out to increase the force we put on the ball to get more distance."

This maybe isn't the most relevant question/equation: this equation deals with instantaneous acceleration as a function of an instantaneous force, but the force applied to the golf ball is not instantaneous (nor is it linear nor 100% elastic). You would be better to think about the increased energy available for transfer to the golf ball - which would be 1/2 mass * velocity _squared_. That 'square' relationship needs to be taken into consideration and may make the idea more intuitive.
3/5/12
 
...the Murseless says:
Another variable (or variables) that is importance is the effectiveness of the transfer of energy from the club head to the ball: a lot of energy is 'lost' by imparting spin on the ball and by not applying the force of the club perpendicularly to the contact point (not to mention off-center hits which disrupt the transfer of energy and also introduce non-perpendicular forces); but there is also the duration of time while the ball is in contact with the club face: there is a difference between a club head travelling at a constant 100mph, a club head travelling at 100mph but decelerating and a club head at 100mph but accelerating. The accelerating situation actually keeps the ball compressed on the club face longer and theoretically imparts more energy.
3/5/12
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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