Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Want Longer Drives? Become a “Launch Angle Lab Rat”
By John Bebow

So you want to bust some longer drives, eh? Maybe reach some par fives in two. Or hit seven irons instead of four irons when coming into those tough par fours.

Have you tried hitting a lower tee shot to bore through the wind? How about a longer driver? That would give you more swing speed! Maybe you need to put more spin on the ball to get it rolling?

If those are your latest strategies, it’s no wonder you’re still longing for longer drives. The folks at Titleist will tell you that HIGHER drives and LOWER ball spin rates actually produce the big boomers — and they’ve got plenty of grass roots research to back up the claim. I recently volunteered as a lab rat for the Titleist Launch Monitor — a sophisticated computer device designed to make sure golfers are using the right weapon off the tee. It’s a trimmed down version of the devices manufacturers use to cater to PGA Tour players, whose idiosyncrasies, whimsy and pickiness require constant top-notch customization from club makers. For three years now, a troupe of Titleist researchers have set up shop at top-notch pro shops around the country to bring this technology to the average player and gather fresh data for new Titleist equipment.

Now I know why Tour players spend so much time in the equipment trailers.

The Titleist technicians added 22 yards of carry and 24 yards of overall distance to my drives in only 30 minutes of computer tracking on the driving range! The secret was in two key facts of physics — launch angle and ball spin rate off the face of the driver. (Notice, I didn’t say anything about Titanium, or oversized club heads, or super long shafts, etc. etc.) Titleist has concluded — through tests with thousands of low handicappers, club pros, and touring pros — that a higher flight off the club face, when combined with lower spin rates, can considerably improve distance and accuracy. A higher tee shot with low backspin, actually flattens out in flight and thus flies farther and even can fight the wind.

You certainly don’t want to ponder all this stuff while standing on the tee of a tight driving hole, but it works like this...

Launch angle is the angle at which the ball leaves the club face in the first few feet of flight. PGA Tour players have an average launch angle of 9.5 degrees. Someone who hits a low drive has about 3-6 degrees of launch angle. A high-hitter may have 16 degrees or more of launch angle. Titleist likes amateur players to have 10-14 degrees of launch angle — which can be controlled mainly through loft on the driver.

Spin rate is the number of RPMs of backspin a shot produces. Generally, the less spin the better a ball stays in flight and stays on course. Pros have an average of 3,100 RPMs of backspin off the driver. Those studs in long driving contests have only 2500 RPM of backspin off the driver. Amateurs should have 2,500 to 3,500 RPMs of driver backspin — which can be controlled through driver loft, driver shaft tip flex, and the kind of golf ball you play.

In my case, the Titleist technicians increased my overall driving distance average from 232 yards with my own stick to 254 yards through the following changes...

•A one-inch shorter shaft to increase control

•A two-degree increase in launch angle (through changes in shaft flex and a 10.5 degree club head instead of my own 9.5 degree)

•A 200 RPM decrease in spin rate (mainly through changes in shaft flex and the 10.5 degree clubhead)

Convinced? Want to give it a try? Talk to your local club pro about arranging a Titleist demonstration. Their “science van” makes pit stops at top notch practice facilities across the country — in my case, Miles of Golf in Ypsilanti. Miles is a nationally ranked pro shop and practice facility where science and custom fitting are a part of every sale.

“The more we educate the consumer the better,” Miles of Golf General Manager Doug Davis said. “This process doesn’t help you put it in the hole any faster — you still have to play the game. But it helps you concentrate on what you need to be a better player. We’re not necessarily trying to sell clubs through these demonstrations. Programs like this are just part of what we’re trying to do to build better golfers through fitting, instruction and equipment.”

(John Bebow is an extremely inconsistent six-handicapper and editor-in-chief of Michigan Live, the state’s largest online news, information and entertainment service at http://www.mlive.com)

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