Getting more distance of the tee is easy right?Getting more distance off the tee is easy right? Well, golf companies sure would like you to believe that…they have us feeling as if the equation is as simple as…longer drivers = longer drives. Not so fast cowboy! As recently as the early-90s, most standard off-the-rack drivers were 43″ – 43.5″. That number has since jumped up to around 46″. But, remember humans don’t evolve that quickly…we aren’t getting taller but clubs sure are getting longer. So the question we wanted to answer for everyone …”Is Longer Really Longer?”
A Sanity Check(Written By: GolfSpy T) If you’ve ever read anything Tom Wishon has written about driver length, or spoken to your local fitter about the topic, there’s a curious statistic that you’ve probably encountered.
Since the mid 2000′s, the average driver length on the PGA Tour has held steady at 44½”.Think about that for a second. The very best players in the world, guys who hit the sweet spot on their driver as easily as most of us would hit water after falling from a cruise ship, guys who routinely drive the ball to distances that some reading this would need two swings to achieve are playing drivers upwards of 1.5″ shorter than what most of the rest of us have in our bags right now.
Last season (2010) the majority of drivers we received for testing were outfitted stock with 46″ shafts. While there were exceptions, only one driver we’ve ever received for testing was shorter than 45.5″ (Titleist), and that was more than countered by another that actually measured in at 46.5″!
Somewhat surprising considering the distance race the big OEMs are engaged in; for 2011 – and from what we’ve seen from the 2012 lineups – many OEMs have backed off driver length every so slightly (we’re seeing more 45.75″ than 46″ shafts), but I think most would agree overall shaft lengths are at historic highs. As you’ll see below, many golfers custom order clubs well above stock lengths. What they probably haven’t considered is that in all likelihood, their games are suffering for it.
All of this begs the question; Are the Pros shorting themselves distance by playing shorter drivers, or have the rest of us, driven by the compulsive need to gain the fabled 10-15 More Yards, completely lost our minds?
How Did We Get Here…and Who Can We BlameWhile it would be easy to blame the OEMs for the never-ending demand for more distance, the reality is, while the golf companies perhaps give us tools we don’t need, they do so only because we asked for them. It’s our prevailing willingness to accept the flawed equation that shaft length = clubhead speed = ball speed = distance … ALWAYS that has most of us hitting out of the rough much more often than we should be.
To get a better idea of how pervasive the “longer than the Pros play” driver phenomenon actually is, we asked TaylorMade to provide us with some details about their custom orders from the last several years. While it’s not surprising that the most popular order, even among custom orders, is for standard length (45.75″-46″) drivers, what I found most shocking is that TaylorMade receives orders for drivers 2″ longer than standard at a rate of 2 to 1 over drivers 2″ shorter than standard.
And while their most popular non-standard order is for drivers cut 1″ below standard length, TaylorMade still ships 2 drivers at 1″ above spec for ever 3 1″ below. In fact, over the last 3-4 years, TaylorMade has received nearly as many orders for drivers longer than standard length as they have for drivers shorter than standard.
When you examine these orders, what you find isn’t a case of the OEMs pushing longer drivers on consumers; you can make the argument that it’s the consumer demanding longer shafts from the golf companies.
To get some perspective on the madness, we asked seasoned club-fitter and Director of the New York Golf Center’s Custom Shop, Josh Chervokas what he generally recommends to his customers. Here’s what he had to say:
“I rarely fit anyone into a driver over 45″ and often I build them shorter, I just did a 43″ build. People want to hit it farther but what we see in fittings is that clubspeed is useless if it cannot be turned into ballspeed. People have a harder time centering the ball in the middle of the club and so they get lower and lower smashfactors as the club gets longer”.The suggestion is that the average golfer would actually benefit more from playing a shorter driver. We’ve heard this same sentiment echoed time and time again from basically every fitter we’ve ever come in contact with. And yet despite a chorus of respected professionals telling us otherwise, the overwhelming majority of golfers are still bagging drivers longer than most club fitters would recommend.
While golfers should probably shoulder the bulk of the responsibility, the OEM’s aren’t completely without blame. When you look at current product lineups, it’s actually the high-MOI, ultra-forgiving clubs…the ones designed for high handicap golfers (guys who struggle to produce consistent swings) that come stock with the longer (46″ shafts). High handicap golfers have basically been conditioned to believe that longer drivers provide more distance, and ultimately fit them better. Clubs designed for better players often come stock with slightly to significantly shorter shafts. What’s up with that?
On the off chance that Tom Wishon, Josh Chervokas, and basically everyone else who earns a living fitting golfers for their clubs might be wrong, we decided to put together our own little test to determine how much is gained (accuracy), and how much is lost (distance) when golfers are willing to trim a couple of inches off the big dog.
The Test Equipment
ShaftsTo provide the shafts for our tests we contacted UST-Mamiya. They agreed to provided us with 4 of their new Proforce VTS Shafts (2 – 65 regular flex, 2 – 75 Stiff flex). Though we didn’t undergo a full shaft fitting for this test, we were very interested to get our hands on the new VTS, which introduces what UST-Mamiya calls 3D Fitting.
While shaft torque has largely been an after-thought the Proforce VTS lineup includes torque as a key part of the fitting equation. Every weight/flex combination in the VTS lineup is offered with 3 distinct torque options. No longer does heavier and stiffer necessarily mean lower torque.
As it turns out, the pearly white color scheme of the VTS also looks positively sick with the head we chose for this test.
HEADSTo provide the heads for our testing we reached out to TaylorMade to see if they’d be interested in participating. Since our test involves multiple shafts (multiple flexes, multiple lengths) it was important for the sake of consistency, simplicity, and expedience that we were able to quickly swap out shafts while using the same head for every shaft. TaylorMade’s R11 heads coupled with their Flight Control Tips matched that need perfectly.
While we sometimes find the marketing a bit over the top, TaylorMade’s implementation of adjustability is almost without argument the most complete and user friendly on the market today. The simple fact that TaylorMade makes its FCT tips available for purchase by the consumer was a substantial factor in why we chose to approach TaylorMade first. Quite frankly we think every OEM should make their adapters available to the consumer. As it stands right now, TaylorMade is the only big OEM that actually does.
We had planned to have our resident club builder help us out with shaft assembly, but when the team at TaylorMade volunteered their Tour Department to handle the assembly, we were happy to take them up on the offer.
At our requests, shafts in each flex were cut to 43.75″ and 45.75″ inches. We asked that each pair be frequency matched, and that the neutral bend point of each shaft be aligned to the standard/neutral position of the Flight Control tip.
The Testing ProcessTo test distance and accuracy, each of 6 testers was asked to hit a series of 12 shots with both the 43.75″ and 45.75″ drivers. In a perfect world testing would have been blind to eliminate any possibility of the placebo effect, however; let’s be honest…you’d have to be some special kind of oblivious not to notice a 2″ difference in driver length.
To balance things out as much as we possibly could, half of testers hit the longer driver first, the other half hit the shorter first.
After the 12 shot sequence was completed, impact tape was placed on the driver face, and testers were asked to hit an additional 5 shots with each shaft so we could observe quality of impact.