[PHOTO: Sam Greenwood]

When we talk about the driver, we’re talking mostly, of course, about distance. And when we talk about distance, we are bombarded with confusing terms and science. Things like moment of inertia and co-efficient of restitution and aerodynamics and ball speed and low spin and shaft loading and variable face thickness. All of those play a part, but the most important key to distance for most golfers is the simplest bit of science there is: launch. You have to get the ball in the air if you’re going to maximise your distance. The stinger might work for Tiger Woods, but you are not Tiger Woods.

Specifically, what we’re talking about here is launch angle, the angle that the ball takes off relative to the ground. It’s one of the three key flight characteristics that are spit out of a launch monitor. There’s ball speed, spin and launch angle, and the latter is what makes the most difference for most golfers. (Certainly, the fastest-swinging elite players can get away with a lower launch angle, but again, you probably are not a fast-swinging elite player.)

Golf Digest has studied the importance of launch angle for the better part of the past two decades, and every time we find that average golfers could benefit greatly from increasing their launch angle. That leads to greater carry, and greater carry for nearly all golfers fuels greater total distance.


A 2003 Golf Digest test found that an 11-degree driver went further than a 9-degree driver at every swing speed from 85 to 115 miles per hour, and a 16-degree driver was longest at 65 and 75 miles per hour. In 2016, we ran a robot test that mimicked the typical downward angle of attack of an average golfer’s swing. Adding two degrees of loft (from 9.5 to 11.5) yielded 11 more metres of carry and five metres in total distance.

Our latest study makes that even more abundantly clear. During our last round of Hot List testing with players whose handicaps ran the gamut from scratch to the mid-teens, we used Rapsodo’s MLM2 Pro launch monitors to capture every shot. If we look at all players and their average launch angle, higher was significantly better. Specifically, when the launch angle was between 7 and 10 degrees (generally too low for all but the fastest swingers), the average driving distance was 204.19 metres. But when the launch angle was 10 to 13 degrees, the average distance was 216.99 metres. Thirteen metres is game-changing, but even better the fixes to get there don’t necessarily involve a life-changing body transformation.

Here are a few simple tips to increase your launch angle:

Photo: Richard Heathcote

1. Use your wrench. Your adjustable driver is just that. Add a degree or so of loft to your driver face and see if it changes your ball flight and, of course, your total distance.

2. Tee the ball higher. Ideally, you want about half of the ball above than the crown of your driver at address. This will ingrain a more ascending blow at impact, helping to launch the ball higher.

3. Play the ball slightly more forward in your stance. Again, this breeds a more ascending strike. (Note: as you develop a more positive angle of attack, pay attention that you don’t have too much loft on your driver—you can overdo boosting the launch and end up spinning your tee shots too much and the carry distance is shorter and the landing angle is too steep further reducing total distance.)

4. If your driver has an adjustable weight, put the heaviest weight to the back. For some swing types, this will encourage more dynamic loft, which is basically the amount of additional loft at impact. For most golfers, more dynamic loft will equal more distance.

5. Switch to a more flexible shaft—possibly shorter, too (45 inches or even 44.5 inches). Generally, a softer shaft will lead to higher launch, and a slightly shorter shaft will lead to more consistent contact with the centre of the face so you can take advantage of your driver’s true loft while maximising energy transfer.

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This article was originally published on golfdigest.com