The continual search for the perfect driver keeps the closets of many golfers full of a wide array of old and new technologies. Most golfers wait with great anticipation for the arrival of fresh models so that the process of new driver selection can begin. We all have golfer friends who actually go through this more than once a year. Why? Because the right driver can change the way we play and definitely the way we feel about our golf games.
Hopefully, all such searches include a session with a qualified club fitter with launch monitor capabilities at the very minimum. What happens then can be the difference between confidence on the tee instead of frustration.
Players and club fitters alike tend to expend the majority of their energies trying to identify the appropriate driver head and loft, and shaft type and flex. But you should give the length of the driver careful consideration, too, since it can have tremendous influence on the consistency of on-center contact, as well as providing the ability to swing the club on the appropriate path and plane. Improving both of these elements leads to better ball flight and tighter shot dispersion.
If you give length some consideration, it is usually brief and ascertained through quick, static measurements of the player’s height and their wrist-to-floor. Not to say that static measurements cannot provide reasonably sound guidelines, but ideally, they should be used only as a starting point in the fitting process. Personally, in addition to launch monitor data, I use video feedback in fitting. The camera’s ability to identify a given club’s effect on postural changes, as well as club positioning throughout the swing, is very beneficial. Don’t forget that within the fitting process, an initial player interview, combined with continual feedback solicited throughout the session, is necessary to understanding player needs, tendencies, expectations and preferences.
Over the years, with the advent of the “longer and lighter” philosophy, most driver lengths have increased. Still, however, there are club fitters who subscribe to building shorter drivers. In the end, it is important to stay flexible and fit each golfer on a case-by-case basis, since our golf swings are as individual as our fingerprints.
The key to identifying the optimal driver length is improving the player’s ability to achieve consistent on-center hit location. Therefore, using impact tape should be your primary tool. Certainly, shaft specifications—flex, weight, tip profile, etc.—have influence on the face impact pattern, so it is important to fit length using head and shaft combinations you feel will closely fit the client.
It can be challenging to interpret face impact markings, given the numerous variables that have influence (particularly the swing variables), but if you commit to the fitting process, you can still make sound recommendations. Again, the goal is always to achieve the most consistent on-center hit location you can. Generally, you should test players who produce very sporadic markings (marks made with no consistent pattern) with progressively shorter drivers, at half-inch increments.
Although it may be counterintuitive, better players also should be tested with shorter drivers. As a group, better players struggle with swinging the driver too much from the inside (marks made towards the heel) and can see an improved clubhead path and greater consistency with a shorter club. Weaker players in general tend to swing the club too much from outside the target line (marks made toward the toe) and, perhaps surprisingly, can be better served by adding length. By increasing length, you can effectively get the driver traveling more around the player and less up and down, helping to get an out-to-in path on-plane.
Remember: Broad generalizations can sometimes be dangerous, so it’s critical that you fit each player as a unique case. Take the necessary time to identify the optimal driver length for every golfer you fit, and you will you give them the potential to see their best results.