What really constitutes the “ideal” launch conditions for a golf ball?
We see numbers; I even have a graph:
But let’s look at this from the professional’s point of view. Here are some more pics, taken Sunday during the Golf Channel’s “bonus coverage” of the WGC-Cadillac:
Take a moment to look at these numbers. We always hear “high launch low spin”. They try to sell us driver heads that have that magical combination, shafts they market as being “high launch low spin”.
Shit, I’m surprised they haven’t tried that ploy with grips by now…
I’m guessing you’re asking “who is the (carry) distance leader, and what’s the number?”. Well, let’s look at this example right here:
Just for kicks, let’s look at almost a year ago:
I should apologize for all the terrible camera work… but at least the numbers are readable!
The leader from ’14 (Dustin Johnson) is almost five yards longer than the leader from ’15 (Tony Finau). That same 2014 leader is actually just about five yards shorter in 2015? Is that a fluke?
Well… look at the bottom of the picture. See the “Tour AVG”? There’s just shy of three yards difference between 2014 (272.0y) and 2015 (274.7y). The “big hitters” may be a little bit shorter this year because of weather conditions, or they decided against using driver on some of the holes that were measured… Who the hell knows. But the Tour Average has barely fluctuated, which means distance isn’t coming in huge leaps and bounds.
Something else to ponder: most everyone on Tour gets to try out the latest and greatest at their leisure. Most update every year… and yet, the Tour average has barely changed.
So what does that mean for us? Well, go back to the tour averages for every spec in the photos:
Clubhead Speed: 113.1mph
Launch Angle: 14.59*
Backspin Rate: 2,086rpms
Here’s another screencap, taken by me (again, I apologize…), using Dave Tutelman’s Trajectoware Software:
Plugging in these numbers, this is what the program spat out. The carry distance ends up being 279.5 yards, not too far off from what the tour average is with the average Tour-level swing speed. The program constantly forced a change in the backspin rate, from 2,086 to 2,593… take from that what you will. I won’t take much from it, myself.
What this means for us is, we can chase numbers all day long.
We can search for some “high launch low spin” holy grail til we drop.
The only “ideal” is what YOU can produce. Maybe it isn’t the ideal high launch low spin combo… but that’s OK. As your swing speed decreases, you do tend to benefit from a longer carry distance by having a higher launch angle- but you need MORE backspin to help keep the ball in the air longer.
For the faster swingers, I still don’t see why they’re so obsessed with “high launch low spin”. Here’s a nice article to help explain it.
If you went to check out the article, welcome back!
My take on it: how, by only changing equipment, do you increase your launch angle and decrease your backspin rate? If you went to a higher loft, you have no choice but to increase your backspin rate. If you swap shafts to something that, because of your late release, actually does provide a more flexible tip to increase your launch angle, you’re still going to change the backspin rate! The reason is the “dynamic loft” of the club has increased. Yes, it may still say “9.5” or “10.5” on the sole, but because the weaker shaft flexes forward (even if it’s just a little bit) the loft at impact will still be higher- which means more backspin.
What you need to do
What you need to do to find that ideal high-launch/low-spin combination is to change how you attack the ball. According to former Long-Drive Champ and owner of the Re/Max LDA Art Sellinger, there are four things you can do without changing any equipment:
First, tee the ball higher. Acquire some extra-long (23⁄4 inches) tees and peg the ball as high as possible. This promotes swinging up on the ball—rather than flat or, even worse, downward—and helps create launch angles of 10 degrees or higher and spin rates of 3,000 rpm and lower, proven to be the ideal launch conditions.
Second, never sole the driver at address. This will help promote an upward strike on the ball, too. It also increases a golfer’s chances of making contact with the clubface in the center or slightly above. Drives struck one or two grooves below the center of the clubface will have too much spin and a trajectory that starts low and then climbs (editor’s note: this is what’s called “gear effect“, and the reverse is true, as well: shots struck slightly above the center of the face actually reduces the amount of backspin).
Third, eliminate any downward action in the swing. To reduce spin and maximize distance, golfers need to adopt the uppercut swing of a home-run hitter in baseball, not the flat swing of a contact hitter.
Fourth, stay behind the ball. Any tendency to slide ahead of the ball at impact will lower the launch angle and create more spin. Stay down and through the shot at impact, swinging the club up, out and away from the body, not down and across it.
I should also point out that obsessing over spin can be a very bad thing. As Tom Wishon states, look more towards ball flight than what the numbers from the launch monitor are. If your ball flight doesn’t have that sharp uptick- as in, a “ballooning” ball flight”- everything will be just fine.