There is no question I have been an advocate for driver shaft length to be shorter than the current standard driver shaft lengths as offered by the various golf equipment companies. From the beginning of the 20th century all the way through to the middle 1980s, the standard men’s driver length stood at 43”. Starting in the 1980s, all the golf equipment companies began to increase the standard length of the driver to the point that today, all men’s drivers are made to a length between 45 ½” and 46 ½”.
Did the entire male population of golfers all of a sudden get taller in the last two decades of the 20th century? No, what happened was the number of golf companies tripled starting in the 1980s which brought about an increase in completion for sales. In the golf equipment industry, it is a historic fact that distance sells golf clubs. Create a new driver that hits the ball longer and you will have a flock of golfers knocking down your door.
We golfers are on average, no taller nor any more skilled than the golfers of the 1950s, 60s or 70s. Drivers have gone through a 3” plus increase in length over the past three decades simply as a way for golf companies to sell more drivers via the marketing promise of longer distance.
Here’s an interesting fact. Since 2005, the average driver length on the PGA Tour has stood at 44 ½”. Here you have a collection of some of the best golfers on the planet, golfers with incredibly good swings, yet on average, they play with drivers which are 2 inches shorter in length than what is being sold to regular golfers. Why?
There is an old adage in clubfitting which says, “the longer the length, the heavier the weight, the lower the loft and the stiffer the shaft, the harder the club will be to hit consistently well.” The tour players all know this is true. This is the primary reason they, on average, use driver lengths that are much shorter than what the golf companies make to sell to regular golfers. No matter how good they are, tour players know that the longer the length of the driver, the more difficult it will be to hit on center and to hit with accuracy. With longer rough on the average PGA Tour golf course, these guys know they have to keep the ball in play to make a living.
Here’s an even more interesting fact. The golf companies all began to increase the length of their drivers because they believed that the longer the length of the club, the higher the clubhead speed will be, and in turn, the farther you’ll hit the ball. But that only happens for golfers who have a later to very late unhinging of the wrist cock angle on the downswing. For golfers who release the club early to midway on the downswing, a longer length does not result in a higher clubhead speed. But for ALL golfers, a longer length results in a higher percentage of off-center hits.
Let’s put it this way. If you have a 12 handicap or lower, and if you have these following swing characteristics – smoothly accelerating swing tempo, late wrist cock release on the downswing, and an inside/out to square swing path – go ahead and use a longer length driver because you do have all the combined playing characteristics to hit the ball longer and with reasonable control. But if you lack even one of those characteristics, be a smart golfer and use a shorter driver length. The game will be more fun and overall you will play better golf.
Next week: What is the key determining factor for shaft flex?