One of the biggest disappointments in golf is to look up and see your tee shot heading not just off-line, but way off-line! It can ruin your round, not to mention your day.
In fact, hitting the driver off the planet on every hole far exceeds the aggravation caused by missing a short putt, or shanking the ball around the green. This, in my opinion, is the worst thing that can happen while you are playing.
So, what causes the big miss with the driver, and how can one go about curing it once and for all?
There are a few aspects that work against you when it comes to hitting drivers:
- Length of the driver
- Loft of the driver
- Clubhead speed of the driver
- Gear effect with woods
- Correlation between the face and the path
The Length of the Driver
The biggest reason players struggle with drivers is the fact that the longest club in the bag is the hardest to control, basically due to its length. This extra length exacerbates the swing flaws you have within your swing and, coupled with the other items above, can drive you out of the game.
Golf companies started to make drivers longer and lighter in efforts to raise the swing speeds of the average player, and while this works for most players, no one thought about the negative impact this would have on accuracy. To make it simpler, the longer the club, the bigger the miss, with all things being equal. Couple this with a club that is too long for you to handle, and you have a recipe for a big miss.
I have always been an advocate of playing a driver that is long enough to for you to produce speed, but not so long that you can’t find the face. So, here is a simple test:
Hit 10 drives and chart your clubhead speed, as well as your impact point (you can use Dr. Scholl’s on your home range, spraying it on the driver face as I’m doing in Photo 1, then hitting the ball (Photo 2) and audit the results (Photo 3).
Next, choke up half an inch and repeat, etc. After you do this a time or two, you will find the length that works best for you and produces both speed and a consistent impact point—this is what you want to find out.
The Loft of the Driver
As we know, ego plays a big part in the lofts most people use, as everyone wants to use a loft that is lower than all your buddies.
However, what we’ve found out is that your launch conditions are vital to making sure you have the right loft. If you tend to hit the ball high on the face, you can use lower loft, but if you hit the ball lower on the face, you will need more loft. Many drivers are adjustable, so be sure to experiment with this technology.
Why? This is due to the vertical gear effect on the driver— high face impacts add dynamic loft to the driver and the low face impacts reduce dynamic loft.
Once again, go to the practice tee and make sure you find the loft setting (Photo 4) that fits in with your typical impact location, and also fits in with the conditions you play at home.
If your course tends to play wet, you need more loft to ensure more carry; if you play a more firm golf course, then you can get away with a touch less loft.
The Clubhead Speed of the Driver
As we stated, more length (to a point) creates time for more speed, and we know that the more clubhead speed you have, the more off-line your missed tee shot will be versus a player with much less speed.
Think of the misses of Mr. Havercamp, your oldest lady member, versus Troy Mullins (the long drive champion). Mrs. Havercamp does not possess enough speed to hit the ball that far off-line, thus she hasn’t missed a fairway since 1972.
Sadly, the big miss is greatly affected by speed. Because of this, you must find a speed that is around 70% to 80% of your total speed. So, find out your max speed on the range and scale it back a few MPH, and you will have a speed that you can play with – but if you smash it, you will have to go find it!
The key is to go to the range and find the speed that you can control. You can audit this by charting the landing dispersion.
Gear Effect with Woods
We have talked about vertical gear effect, which can change your launch conditions, but what about horizontal gear effect, which can make your misses much worse if you hit the wrong part of the face?
Let me explain: most manufacturers have built gear effect into the toe and the heel of the club, which means that a heeled tee shot will tend to slice and a toed tee shot will tend to hook. Couple this with a funky path and face combination, and you have the recipe for the big miss.
If your path is left of the target, you hit the ball on the heel (like I’ve done in the Trackman image, Photo 5), and your face at impact is pointing right of the target, then you have a ball that is going right to right with the blinker on! Why? Because you have both the face and path, plus the gear effect, working against you.
You must focus on hitting the ball in the center of the face, as I’ve done in Photo 6, no matter what the path. This is a fundamental that must be focused on as much as anything else.
The Correlation Between the Face and the Path
TrackMan has shown us that the ball mostly begins where the face is pointing at impact and curves away from the face. Thus, when you have the face and the path pointing in radically different directions, you will have huge misses.
The key is to make sure your face and path are only separated by a few degrees in order to eliminate the big miss. The face-to-path comparison in Photo 7 illustrates this optimum situation on the left, while the right image shows a big problem.
So, if it’s this easy, how can we make this happen?
In my opinion, the biggest reason for big face-to-path variances is lack of attention to where the target is, and where you are trying to swing the club. Ninety percent of all golfers come over the top, which is the root of the average player’s big miss.
So, to shift the path back into the correct position, I would suggest setting up a practice station like I have done in Photo 8. By placing an alignment stick a foot or two outside the ball’s targetline and just a touch on the left side of the ball, you are forcing yourself to make a swing that is more from the inside. This, coupled with some relaxation, and you have the chance for the club to release naturally. The ball should drift slightly more right to left.
Once you can hit nice, tight draws, the final step is to spray the face and ensure you’re hitting the ball on the face where you should be in order to find the optimal impact location for your swing.
Remember, eliminating the big miss takes some time, but it’s as simple as that. Now go and work on it!
Tom Stickney, PGA, is Director of Golf at Punta Mita Resort in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org