Friday, August 2, 2013

Driver Education

PGATOUR player Luke Donald is not very good at driving. Relatively speaking--after all he is among the best in the world.

Note the furrowed brow and look of consternation.
First of all he is short. Over the last five full seasons he has ranked 170th, 147th, 177th, 173rd and 153rd in driving distance.

"Ow, that's gonna hurt my stats."
But for a short hitter he is also pretty wayward, having ranked 37th, 57th, 120th, 114th and 158th in driving accuracy over the same period. In the "total driving" stat, which combines the distance and accuracy stats, Luke has never ranked higher than 121st.

I was watching the replay of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational yesterday and saw him hit a pretty bad duck hook, and it occurred to me then that Master Luke has never really seemed all that comfortable hitting the driver.

"You might want to hit a provisional, innit?"
Now I bring all this up not to blast Luke Donald on the internet. If anything it is a credit to his overall game that he's been able to stay at the upper ranks of golf for the past few years. I'm just trying to understand my own driving problems I guess. (Chances are some of you reading this have driver issues of your own.)

I wrote in the last post about playing a 6500y course without hitting the driver once. It was tight off the tee, but because I relied on the 3-wood I was able to put it in play all day. It was fun, it was liberating. And since then I've been pondering the role of this stupid driver in the modern game.

If a guy like Luke, with access to the finest clubfitting in the world and what is generally regarded as one of the most enviable swings around, cannot sort out his driving problems, what does that suggest for the rest of us? Well I'm gonna go ahead and propose that maybe it's the club that's causing all the problems.

Of all the clubs in the bag the modern driver's an anomaly, a specialty club engineered for maximum speed. A typical driver these days is just under four feet long and light as a feather compared to the 1-woods of yesterday. They are routinely given highly suggestive names: Burner, Launcher, Rocketballz.

The Original Big Bertha
TaylorMade may have been the first OEM to produce a metal wood, but it was probably Callaway that launched this current culture of violent, reckless, indiscriminate driving with the introduction of the "Big Bertha", named, rather callously if you ask me, after a WWI killing machine.

With all that wanton speed, naturally you also need forgiveness and thanks to modern metallurgy, drivers have faces so tall and deep you could hit at least two balls at the same time off them. Let's face it, they appear to be designed more for avoiding whiffs than for precision ballstriking.

It wasn't always like that though. The longest club in the bag used to be called a "1-wood", and was pretty much just a larger version of the 3-wood. A reasonable person could even hit it off a fairway lie.

I started playing well into the Titanium Age, but its always been tricky for me to hit this thing, or even to set it up right. Like most people nowadays I use a 460cc club. It seems to require such a different setup than all other clubs. I look down at address lately and I'm still not sure of what's what. Am I playing it far enough forward? And still not sure where the sweet spot is, and never quite sure of how the clubface is sitting, open or closed.

I've been getting better results lately with a 3-wood. Weird. Even though a 3-wood head is tiny compared to a driver's, it seems so much easier to make good contact. I don't think I'm alone here--the best guys in the world (Phil and Tiger) have been shooting low scores and winning tournaments while abstaining from the driver. Phil went all out and replaced driver with a souped-up 3:

This thing is tiny--250cc's, just over half the size of a typical driver. And we all know how that's been working out:

Ok, I realize that plenty of people use the modern driver with great success. But clearly this is not working out for everyone. The future of driving is still unwritten. Who knows, maybe things will trend back towards smaller, more controllable clubheads.

For now I'm going to try relying more on the fairway wood and reserving the driver for only the most forgiving situations. So I'll have some longer approaches to the greens, so what. At my level I'm scrambling for a lot of pars as it is. I'm guessing it won't impact overall scores all that much. We'll see how it goes.

How about some feedback in the comments. How's your relationship with your driver?


  1. I hear you. I've left the Driver out of my bag in the past, literally left it in the car, because of the fear and how sideways I can hit it. Sometimes, my 3 wood shots are as close to some of my playing partners drives, so I use it pretty often. The swing with the driver is different to me than other clubs - because the ball position is so forward, the club so light and fast, etc. The least tolerance for error. I can spray them massively offline when my swing gets out of whack.

  2. Also want to comment on the Callaway "strong 3" called the 3 Deep. It's very hard to hit. I tried it at demo day and it did not work for me. I'd rather hit a normal 3 wood or even driver compared to that thing. ymmv

  3. Completely agree with everything you said. I love my 3 wood and I hit it almost as far as my driver, except on that rare occasion where I catch the Driver flush, which is almost never. I'm certainly far more consistent with the 3 wood. I can't shake the desire to master the Driver however, simply because it's challenging, and I have a strong suspicion that I'm hitting it consistently near the heel. Like you and John said, the setup with the modern Driver is different, since it's more forward in the stance and requires contact on the upswing. I've found some success opening my stance with the Driver. I think it has to do with maintaining acceleration through impact

    I followed that Canadian youngster, Graham Delaet, briefly this past year at the Northern Trust and immediately noticed how open his stance was with the Driver. Coincidentally, he's ranked #1 in the Total Driving stat and he's not a big dude. He's simply got good technique.

  4. Thanks guys. Thats pretty much all the confirmation I need. Modern drivers suck, and they're probably in need of a design overhaul. I really wonder what they'll look like in ten or fifteen years.

  5. Wait a minute. I think possibly the Nike VRS Covert Driver might just be the answer to everyone's problem off the tee. If only one were lucky enough to win one in an oob drawing. Now that would be a special moment.

  6. Another top-notch article and some good thinking there. I too have my moments with the modern driver, yet my average shot is a well-controlled fade that puts me in the fairway, 20 yds further down than with my 3 wood. Overall, I get around 60% of fairways (including the bad shots) with the driver, but I can be pretty wild off the tee with the big club, turning that controlled fade into a gigantic slice going sideways and even into a snap-hook (very rarely but it happens)...

    Meanwhile, the 3 wood gives me boringly nearly straight shot with a slide draw or fade on demand, but I lose 20 yds from my good driver drives, yet I am even or even further down than so-so drives, not to mention that I nearly always find my ball after it's been hit by a 3 wood. I don't hit my irons very far, so I make do with the driver when there is room for error. For tight drives, the 3 wood gets the call.

    Yet, on some days, I think the driver is my best club in the bag. Of course, on some other days I think it's the worst and if I get that feel early on in the round, it stays in the bag for the rest of the round.

    So, in a nutshell, I love *and* hate the driver! The different setup and design are probably responsible for this, and you may be onto something when you say that design overhaul is needed.

    1. The distance gap is considerable for me too but for myself I'm trying to look at the big picture. That is to say I find that I get a better overall feeling of wellness during those rounds where I rely on the 3W. It seems to promote a better swing all around. Because even on the days where I can find the fairway with the driver, I rarely ever feel comfortable with it. There is almost always some uncertainty associated with that club.

      But now I'm making a mountain out of the whole issue, and that can't be good.


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