Unleashing the Big Dog


To some people, it's like juggling plates of egg foo yong and trying not to spill. For others, it's like sledding down an icy hill - kind of out-of-control and exhilarating.
OK, perhaps I've gone a little over the top in expressing the endless quest to find the perfect driver. But in terms of how you deal with uncertainty, how you go with the flow, how you tweak a big group of knobs, it's not all that different.
The No. 1 Lesson the What's In The Bag? crew learned in preparing our premier show on drivers is that the big stick is a big conundrum. The golfer has not been born who is indifferent to long, straight drives. But plenty of golfers have a distaste for all the ways a drive can go wrong.
Or right. Whereas it used to seem that you could reach driver heaven simply by buying a bigger one, that is clearly not the case anymore. Drivers are a multi-factor analysis, and if you want to optimize your performance, you have to confront each factor.
I can hear you: 'I have to what with my what about what?' C'mon; buck up. It's all about optimization this year, about how to dial in all the variables on the driver so it will best reward your ability. Here's the multi-factor register, and by the time I get done writing it, science will probably have discovered that it's a partial list:
Loft. The experts say that we all play too little. It makes a certain kind of sense that a low screamer will go longer. But studies of how golf balls behave show that getting the ball higher for longer periods (hang time, if you will) will usually result in longer drives for recreational players. If you play 10.5 degrees, try a 12, just for kicks. You may end up hitting your second shot last a lot.
Lie. That is, the angle of the shaft to the ground at address. It's a function of your height and stance, of course. Won't necessarily help you if it's right, but will hurt you if it's wrong. A high toe will likely send the ball left, and vice versa. A knowledgeable pro or clubfitter can help with this.
Launch angle. Ah, the holy grail. Equipment manufacturer experiments with the angle to the ground at which the ball leaves the clubface have yielded the kind of results Ernie Els saw in Hawaii this year. Monster stuff. Good news is, there's a good angle for each of us. Portable machines with high-speed cameras, called launch monitors, show the experts what's what.
The right launch angle combines with loft to keep the ball at the right height for the right amount of time, hence longer drives. Simple example, this one from club genius Barney Adams: If you need to water the plants at the end of the yard and you've reeled out all the hose you have, you can raise the hose to make the stream fall on the plants. Hold it too low, and you don't get there; hold it too high and you only water yourself. Somewhere in that 90 degrees is optimization. (For many pros, by the bye, it's between 11 and 14 degrees.)
Ball velocity. It's not all the club. New rubber recipes can help the ball rocket off the clubface faster than in years past. Trying new balls may help you find new yardage.
Coefficient of restitution. The beloved spring-like effect. Yes, it's limited in the United States, but hitting the ball on the highest COR area of the face can add yards. Many companies are working on expanding the area on the face that gives the most COR benefit - essentially, enlarging the sweet spot.
Shaft. Where does it flex? The lower the 'greatest-flex' point on the shaft, the more likely the ball will get up in the air (to a point, that is). Optimizing this variable, like most of the others, depends on the particular player's swing speed, style, and preferences.
Conditioning. Put down the Krispy Kreme; pick up a barbell. Tiger didn't get that way by accident.
And folks, that ain't all. Manufacturers are learning more every day about how to make drivers hit the ball farther. The quest is unlikely to ever stop, which offers all of us the freedom to tweak, tinker, try and enjoy to our heart's content.
And as an avid golf gearhead, what could be better than that?
Thanks for checking in. See you next week, when we'll examine the world of golf balls.
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