Picture yourself on the steps of the local Golfsmith. There’s a sale running—drivers are 20% off, and last year’s model is severely discounted. You go in, grab a few, and head over to the simulator. After hitting a few balls you decide which one you like best go ring it up. You stick it in your bag for a few rounds until you realize you can’t find the fairway for love or money. Then you go back and start the cycle over.

The story rings true for a vast majority of golfers in America. Unfortunately, it’s a tragedy that continually fails to address specific questions about golf clubs—questions that should be asked in order to make sure you get the right equipment for yourself. Do you know your club head speed? How about your spin rate? What’s your angle of attack? Do you know what type of shaft kick point you need? What loft gives you the best spin control? What is the ideal spin rate anyway? All of these questions are things that the common golfer knows very little about. Most golfers make their decisions on which driver to buy based on which one goes furthest on the simulator. But those same golfers fail to understand that the properly fit driver will provide the greatest benefit in terms of accuracy and distance, not just both distance measured on a simulator.

Over the next several weeks, I will provide a series of posts dedicated to helping you understand how to make the most out of your driver technology. It’s not enough just to have someone who is a supposed “expert” tell you what you should be getting. You need to understand how the product your buying helps your game. Only after you’re confident that your clubs address your individual swing characteristics can you play your best golf.

This post, the first in the series, will introduce something that most golfers ignore completely, at least with respect to drivers: spin. Now, most golfers see the TOUR pros backup their wedges and go “I wish I could do that.” However, spin on your driver is far more important than on your wedges. It can determine how far your ball flies, how far it rolls, how well you hit the shot, and a host of other important factors that change your ability to hit your driver confidently. Although there is no one rule for what is appropriate spin, understanding the differences in spin rates can help you achieve your best results.

Generally, driver heads with the flattest face loft will have the lowest amount of spin. Thinking back to the old days when I grew up playing golf, golf club heads were far more prone to high spin then they are today. This was especially true with shaft technology (not being particularly great), and with the old golf balls (being with a softer materials like balata and with wound construction). As such, for high swing players, it was important to have a low lofted driver to ensure that the ball did not spin too much. But with low loft drivers, it was very hard to hit the ball in the air. Therefore, you had to have very long golf tees, very high swing speeds, or a combination of the two in order to play the ball effectively. Nowadays, we have new means to control spin. Shaft technology is much better than it once was; golf balls are made differently than they used to be; and golf club heads even have characteristics that allow players to choose spin rates based on the location of weight in the head. We will get to all of this in later posts, but it’s an important backdrop for what is about to be discussed.

When selecting your driver, the ideal spin rate for you will likely be somewhere between 1500 and 3000 RPMs. For most golfers, the ideal spin rate is usually around 2000 RPMs. However, your ideal spin rate will depend on how you play the ball specifically. Some golfers are more prone to lower ball flights or higher ball flights. For golfers who naturally hit the shots higher, the lower spin rate they can achieve, the better. Driver Loft angles nowadays are usually between 8.5° and 12° loft. However, even with a very high lofted driver, you might hit your shots particularly low, as I do. And even with a very low lofted driver, you might hit your shopts particularly high, as LG does. This is a characteristic you will know only by examining your launch angle on a launch monitor. It’s a characteristic of your own swing, not something that is built into a driver necessarily. Understanding this, however will allow you to select equipment that maximizes your playability. For example, I hit the ball very low; it is important that I have a driver that spins the ball a little higher than most drivers. The reason for this is that my low launch shot will want to fall to the earth by gravity. Spin acts like an airplane wing and pushes the ball back up into the air against gravity. Because my launch angle is very low, I need a little bit more spin in order to have the ball carry far enough that my shot is acceptably long. For a player like LG, his high launch angle would be impaired buy high spin. If he already had a high launch angle, spin would serve only to increase the height of his shot. In this case, the ball would balloon up into the air instead of continuing along its normal path. As such, it is important for a player like LG to have a low spin profile in order to have the bolt carry its maximum distance.

The figure above illustrates these various flights. As can be seen, the red and green ball flights have the same launch angle, but the red has a bit more spin to keep the ball in the air longer. It flies further than the green ball flight, and the overall yardage with roll is greater for the red than the green. Similarly, for LG’s type of ball flight, the dark blue and pink flights launch at the same angle, but the high spin rate sends LG’s blue ball flight high up in the air with a steep landing, where the pink ball plight carries long. In reality, the pink ball flight would have more roll than the blue ball flight as well. In each case, matching the spin with the launch helps find the ideal shot, or as close to it as we can find.

How do we know what is ideal? That is a very tough question. “Ideal” depends on a lot of factors. You might use a high lofted driver with a low lunch shaft in order to achieve the right combination of launch and spin. Or, you might be a very low launch player who needs higher loft and a shaft that produces higher launch as well. The only way to tell for certain is to have someone who is experienced go through different options available and see what works best. This is not simply an exercise of taking the drivers that are sitting on the rack and walking into a simulator. This exercise requires someone taking the same exact heads with different shafts, or the same exact shaft with different heads, in combination to see what is the best results. As previously stated, the higher your launch angle, the lower your spin rate should be. And in general if you hit the ball lower, you might need more spin in order to keep the ball in the air. But only an experienced club fitter will be able to tell you where the exact sweet spot is for your game. For example, LG and I use the same driver had in the same loft with the same weight settings, but he uses a very low launch and low spin shaft, and I use a more middle launch mid spin shaft. This allows us both to hit acceptable golf shots that are controllable and appropriately long for a driver.

So how does all of this stuff matter? And how do we get different characteristics from things that look so similar? Well, that’s the subject of another discussion. For now, understand that an ideal spin rate is more important than just getting the flex of your shaft right or the loft of your driver right. You may have always played a 10° driver in the past, but you might actually need a 12° driver based on how you hit your shots. This is not a statement of your manhood; it’s just a characterization of your swing. PGA TOUR winner Camilo Villegas uses a 12° driver. If one of the best players in the world uses this equipment, there is no shame in you doing so.

And I know, it sounds easy. But it’s not. Because spin isn’t the only thing we worry about when we’re picking a driver. But we’ll talk about that later…

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