Mark has been a PGA
Professional for over 10 years. He's played golf with Nick Faldo and is on the PGA Presidents Council on Growing the Game. He enjoys spending time with his wife, three children and large family.
Pine Oaks Golf Course
South Easton, MA
General Considerations When Shopping for a Driver
The driver is the golf club most often used off of a tee peg from the tee box on Par 4 and Par 5 holes, and may also be used on long Par 3 holes or from the fairway depending on the driver loft, player ability or specific needs of a golf shot. The longest golf club in the set in terms of both club length and distance, the lofts on drivers typically range from 7 degrees to 12 degrees. Drivers may be constructed of varied materials, or combinations of materials, and are engineered with different design features to maximize distance and accuracy from the tee.
Early drivers were constructed from a combination of wood and forged or stamped metal components, while the vast majority of current-day drivers are constructed of advanced, high performance steel, titanium and graphite materials. Advancements in both golf club head and golf club shaft material technology over the years have allowed for increased driver distance and forgiveness, particularly on off-center hits. Today’s driver manufacturer’s produce and sell drivers in varied lofts, and shaft types, lengths and flexes to optimize performance for all types of golfer abilities and launch conditions.
The driver is widely considered to be the most difficult golf club to hit, and the main reason is simply that the driver is the longest golf club in a set. The longest golf club in the set requires the longest swing arc, which makes it more difficult to return the clubface to a square position at impact verses shorter golf clubs. Further, as a result of increases in driver head size over the last few years, manufacturers have had to further increase driver shaft length to establish proper weight, flex and playability for optimum performance.
Buying a driver, however, is not as complicated or difficult as hitting one may be. Here are the four main driver attributes (or variables) to consider when selecting the driver that is best for your game:
The vast majority of drivers manufactured today have a graphite shaft. The primary benefit of graphite shafts, verses steel shafts, is they are lighter, and therefore allow for increased club head speed, which translates into increased ball speed, and ultimately longer driver distance. In addition to a faster clubhead, the lighter shaft allows manufacturer’s to make the clubhead larger, which increases forgiveness and a higher COR (trampoline affect) which also increase ball speed. Maximizing carry and roll distance is generally the most important benefit sought by golfers when selecting a driver, and a key reason graphite shafts have become the preferred shaft type for this particular golf club.
Flex is a measure of a golf club shaft's ability to bend during the golf swing. All shafts, no matter how stiff, exhibit flex under the forces of the golf swing. Typically, a player with a very fast swing will benefit from a shaft with less flex, while a player with a slower swing will benefit from a shaft with more flex. Shaft flexes are generally categorized as Extra Stiff, Stiff, Regular, Senior and Ladies in order of increasing flex. An attribute of shaft flex to consider when selecting a shaft for your driver is kick point. Kick point, also referred to as flex point or bend point, is the point along a shaft's length where it exhibits the greatest amount of bend when the tip is pulled down. Initial launch trajectory is affected by the location of the kick point where a high kick point may help lower initial launch trajectory while a low kick point may result in a slightly higher initial launch trajectory. It is generally agreed upon, however, that kick point has only a very modest effect on actual ball flight.
Today’s driver heads are constructed of steel, titanium, graphite composite, or a combination of some or all of these materials depending on the manufacturer. The purpose of applying these varied materials to a driver head is to deliver varied club head sizes, weights, profiles and feels, as well as to establish specific Center of Gravity (CG) locations and Moment of Inertia (MOI) measurements to maximize distance and forgiveness for golfers with different swings and performance needs. The Center of Gravity (CG) of a golf club is the point within the clubhead where the golf club is perfectly balanced. The position of the center of gravity within a clubhead can affect the trajectory of shots, where a center of gravity positioned low and back in the clubhead produces a relatively higher initial launch trajectory, and a center of gravity positioned high and forward in the clubhead produces a relatively lower initial launch trajectory. Moment of Inertia (MOI) is the term applied to a clubhead's resistance to twisting when the ball is struck. On any off-center hit, a club head with a higher MOI will twist less, ensuring more consistent distance and straighter ball flight verses lower MOI designs. The size and weighting properties of a driver clubhead, therefore, can be manipulated to position the Center of Gravity (CG) within the head for optimum initial launch trajectory, as well as add a greater Moment of Inertia (MOI) for more forgiveness on off-center hits.
Loft is a measurement in degrees of the angle at which the face of the club lies relative to a perfectly vertical face, and is a general indicator of how high and far the golf ball will go. Typically ranging from 7-12 degrees on drivers, loft also contributes to the level of forgiveness on off-center hits. Higher lofted drivers generally ensure straighter flight and more forgiveness because the golf ball has more backspin than hook or slice sidespin. While lower lofted drivers may produce more distance, they should only be considered by better players who generate enough club head speed to ensure playable initial launch trajectory, and who can afford to give up a bit of accuracy. Manufacturers continue to design clubheads to produce a higher launch angle as high launch, low spin and high ball velocity are the ingredients to longer, straighter driver distance. The type of golf ball you play will also affect your launch angle. Compared to years ago, typically golf balls have less spin, therefore if you do not have the initial launch angle from the loft of your club, it will be difficult for the golf ball to climb due to its low spin design. If unsure on loft, I would recommend going to a higher loft. Remember, the average PGA Tour players average loft years ago was 8.5* compared to over 10* today!