2005: Driver lofts reach new heights

The 4-inch golf tee used to be golf’s version of the Eiffel Tower, sticking preposterously in the air for no obvious reason.

Pride Sports is the world’s largest manufacturer of wooden tees. When Pride kicked off the 2005 season by announcing that 31⁄4 inches and 4 inches had become standard lengths, it was a sign the company had done its homework.

True, the U.S. Golf Association had established 4 inches as the maximum height of a tee, but Pride executives knew more than this. They knew a secret about deep-face titanium drivers: These drivers demand that a golfer contact the ball on the upper half of the face.

To accomplish this, a player must tee the ball higher off the ground than ever before. Welcome

to golf in the 21st century.

What golfers don’t know about contemporary drivers can hurt them. With today’s drivers, the height at which the ball is teed plays a crucial role in the launch angle.

4What you don’t know about drivers, Part I: Contacting the ball on the bottom half of the face is a formula for hitting a worm burner, 2005 version.

“Driver faces have gotten taller,” says Tom Stites, Nike’s global director of product creation. “It’s

very delofted on the bottom half of that golf club.

A 10-degree driver could be 7 or 8 degrees on the bottom. You don’t want to hit the ball there, because you’ll never get it up in the air.”

Because today’s lower-spinning golf balls perform better at higher launch angles, a ball hit on the bottom half of a driver will fall out of the sky without ever achieving its optimum trajectory. Nice drive, Shortie.

The center of gravity of the modern driver also has been raised, so in most cases the sweet spot is located just above the equator of the clubface.

“Every tour player I see has managed to find the sweet spot on his driver,” says Peter Mooney, a chief fitter for Adams Golf. “There will be a worn spot on the face. Average golfers have more trouble hitting the sweet spot, so additional loft on the driver can help them tremendously.”

4What you don’t know about drivers, Part II: Driver lofts have increased faster than most golfers realize.

Tom Olsavsky, TaylorMade’s director of product marketing for metalwoods, says, “We’re seeing a

lot more 11.5s and 12s these days instead of 8.5s. That doesn’t surprise us too much. Golfers are realizing how important it is to get the golf ball up in the air.”

Olsavsky says even the hard-hitting Sergio Garcia switched from an 8.5-degree driver to a 9.5-degree model.

Tim Reed, the designer primarily responsible for the popular Adams Redline driver, says 10.5 degrees is the company’s biggest seller.

Stites tells a story about Nike staff players: “Among our guys who have won tournaments in the last 12 months, their drivers had between 8.5 and 11 degrees of loft. No, I can’t tell you who used the 11-degree driver. He might be embarrassed if people found out.”

No, it’s not Tiger Woods, who uses a Nike Ignite 460 driver with a loft of roughly 9 degrees.

4What you don’t know about drivers, Part III: Most men are afraid to admit they play a high-lofted driver. It’s the macho mentality, in which low loft is associated with power and ability.

“I joke that we should make a commercial with a bunch of guys having an AA-type meeting,”

Stites says. “One guy stands up reluctantly and announces, ‘My name is So And So, and I use a

12-degree driver.’ There are plenty of men who won’t use a high loft because they think it makes them look like sissies.”

Oh, the shame of it all.

4What you don’t know about drivers, Part IV:

The loft that is indicated on your driver probably isn’t accurate. Ping, whose G2 driver is the hottest selling driver in the history of the company, is the only manufacturer openly admitting the inaccuracy of its numbers. Still, many others do the same thing.

Ping’s 11.5-degree G2 driver, for example, has 12.5 degrees of loft.

“The loft on the driver is 1 degree less than it really is,” says former PGA Tour winner Mike Nicolette, a longtime Ping employee who assists in club design and testing. “It addresses the egotism of people not wanting to play higher lofted drivers. When we measure drivers from other companies, almost all of them have more loft (than indicated by the number on the club).

“Sometimes I think it would be better if drivers didn’t have lofts on the bottom. It would be kind

of like the old times. When I played the Tour, there was no loft on the driver. It was a 1.”

4What you don’t know about drivers, Part V:

The spring-like effect in a driver face can increase with age.

“We see it all the time,” said Ping CEO John Solheim. “The ball goes farther after the driver has been used for awhile.”

Let’s see: Drivers get hotter as they get older. If only this were true of people.

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