“Im looking to pick up a little distance”
I have NEVER heard a player on the PGA Tour utter these words. NEVER. The truth is, the real key to PERFORMANCE is the management of spin.
On TOUR, players have access to what I would call the NAVY SEALS of fitters. Each OEM sends its best of the best to events to ensure staff players are dialed in on all fronts. Of all that is done, loft and spin and the fine-tuning of both have the biggest influence by far.
LOFT is the topic of conversation today.
Loft in concept is pretty easy to grasp, but its influence on everything seems to get overlooked. It’s easy to look at the number on the club and assume it will do this or that; for example, back in the day, less loft meant more distance (in theory). I played like that for a long time.
Golf has changed dramatically in the last ten years, with CG properties, materials, the modern golf swing, and, most importantly, THE BALL. LOFT and how it relates to overall performance is more important to understand NOW than ever.
For civilians, I think a lack of loft (with the driver specifically) is the area we make the most mistakes. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. My fear was always more loft meant more spin which meant high floaters which meant no fun. I am wiser to that now but I still fall in the trap of old thinking.
Here is a perfect example of something that happened last year.
To be fair to the situation, I usually land on drivers by instinct or making an educated guess. Part of my job is trying all the products and reporting my findings to you. Do I fit myself on occasion? Yes. Yes, I do. 🤷🏻♂️ It’s a time management thing.
In this case, it was the Epic Speed 💎💎💎LS driver. Typically I hit up (Angle of Attack) on the driver 3 or 4 degrees, so lower lofted drivers have usually worked just fine. This build matched my gamer at 8.5 degrees, same shaft, swing weight, length, etc. It was apples to apples with my Epic Speed 💎💎💎
I hit the LS center punch every time, BUT I couldn’t keep it in the air, especially on my stock shot which is a draw. The ball got up in the air at the initial strike, but MY GOD, did the ball fall out of the sky quickly. YES, it was an LS head, but I’d never had an issue with low spin profiles in the past; even more, to be safe, I added weight to the back to raise the MOI and neutralize the CG a bit. Even then, the ball fell outta the sky.
No spin. The funny thing was when I added just one degree of loft (just one); it became a totally different club. Then I switched to a 10.5 head, and BOOM. The draws were soft, and the carry went up by 25 YARDS!! The spin windows went from 1700-2200 to 2300-2700. Do you now see why SPIN IS KING?
To those that have been fit, this may seem like an obvious result, but in my opinion, it needs to be hammered home as I see this mistake made constantly. When I am asked what the best way to optimize a driver is, my answer is always to make sure, at the very least, it has ENOUGH loft.
So why are we discussing this NOW?
Last week during my Friday AMA I got the same question three times…
WHY DO RAHM, XANDER and SAM BURNS play such high lofted drivers?
Felt like a great time to jump in.
Every golfer on the planet has a delivery DNA. Whether it be steep, shallow, or, like me, steep to shallow (working on it), there is an optimized loft and CG location for YOU. This is why knowing your game and getting fit properly is so important.
I asked Callaway Performance Rep Kellen Watson to explain a bit further and this is what he had to say:
JW: In simple terms, why do Xander, Rahm, and Burns play with higher lofted drivers?
Kellen: Xander plays a higher lofted driver to satisfy the look that he would like at address. When we tested the nine* at the same loft as the 10.5*, he didn’t fall in love with the look of it. Although the nine* was slightly open and not far off from his optimal visual, the 10.5* sat a touch more open and gave him more confidence in hitting the hard draw and fully releasing the soft cut.
Jon and Sam need more loft because of their delivery of the driver to the golf ball. Both play very stable, heavy shafts that essentially play against them in terms of spin. Both rely on a small cut as their go-to shot, taking away the spin from the cut with the heavier shaft but hitting the optimal launch conditions.
Jon, for instance, is pretty shallow in terms of attack angle on the course, but he dynamically adds anywhere between 1.5*-3* of loft to his 11.2* driver. Example – 121 mph Club, 11.5* launch with 0.4* attack angle, dynamic loft at 13*, produces a 179 mph ball speed with a 2200 rpm spin rate that flew 312.4 for him with a total of 337.
JW: Can you explain the relationship and importance of loft as it relates to distance?
Kellen: Well, in terms of physics, you can have an inflated ball speed; for example, let us say it is 170 MPH, but if the launch is low, say 2*-5*, the ball will only be able to carry a certain distance while rolling out, inevitably, to who knows where. With this pattern, your spin needs up to 4000 RPM to maintain a carry distance consistently. Consequently, if we use the same ball speed with a launch of 16* or higher, you will be limited to a certain carry distance with little to no rollout. With this pattern, we would need to see a spin rate of 1600 RPM and less the higher the launch. With low spin rates, mishits and/or starting lines become paramount. Low spin shots that start right or left generally do not have a chance of curving back to your intended. If we can line up the proper launch and dynamic loft with the correct spin, we can maximize the carry distance while producing an optimal rollout. There is something to say when you fit the consumer, and that person will generally play only 1 or 2 courses. You can calculate whether this person will need more loft and more carry to avoid hazards on driver holes or to properly place the ball off the tee or a lower lofted option with good numbers that will maximize their rollout and give them shorter clubs into holes.
JW: What does too much loft look like in the air? Not enough?
Kellen: Too much loft with a low launch looks very similar to an old Balata ball or a slow riser that mimics a flighted iron into the wind. It may bounce once or plug into a damp fairway.
Too much loft with a high launch would look like a flop shot with the chance it may come back to you, ala a boomerang, or may land with some snow on it travelling rather short.
Too little loft with a low launch may not ever make the fairway or may never make it to the next tee box.
Too little loft with a high launch will look like a low spin lob shot from Federer or Nadal. It will be very tough to control where this ball goes, but you may hit that one your scramble partners relied on you for.
I love talking about this aspect of fitting, and if you study the WITB posts of these three players, you will see that they play with higher lofts across the bag. You won’t find any 20-degree four irons or 31-degree seven irons. All three live on the higher side of the spectrum as it relates to other players on TOUR. Study the bag of the man who has dominated golf for the past 20+ years; he plays with more loft than anyone.
I asked Jon Rahm a while back why, and he said, “I NEVER want to have a club in my bag that I can’t spin; I know how to take spin off but having to manufacture it on command is too unpredictable. My delivery takes loft off anyways, so I want to have plenty of margin for error. Spin is control. I’m not giving up control for distance ever.”
If he doesn’t know, no one does.