At the WGC-HSBC Champions, Dustin Johnson took the title using a TaylorMade SLDR driver with 10.5 degrees loft. Although TaylorMade has recently been touting the benefits of "lofting up" with its new driver, it's actually been a trend on the PGA Tour for more than a decade.
Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Driver lofts have been on the rise since multilayer, solid-core balls burst onto the scene in large numbers in late 2000.
Early in the same year the average driver loft on tour was around 8 degrees. In 2002 it rose to approximately 8.5 degrees. By the 2008 Deutsche Bank Championship it was all the way up to 9.17 degrees, and then five years later, at this year's Deutsche Bank, it was 9.39 degrees. At the WGC-HSBC it was even higher: 9.41 degrees.
Part of the reason for the increase is that lofts at the low end and on the high end have done a near complete flip-flop, witnessed by these numbers from 2002 and this year. In 2002 there were often as many as 30 drivers in play with lofts of 8 degrees or lower and only five (give or take, depending on the week) at 10 degrees or higher. This year most weeks saw around 10 drivers at those lower lofts and far more than 20 at the higher end. At the WGC-HSBC, for example, there were 23 drivers in play with lofts of 10.5 degrees or higher -- and that was in a field of just 78 players.
There is no single reason for the boost in driver lofts among pros. Rather, a number of equipment technologies have come together resulting in the need for additional loft. Drivers with center-of-gravity positions and other attributes designed to kill spin, solid-core balls that spin lower and the emergence of launch monitors all have contributed to players reaching for more loft.
Launch monitors revealed that high launch with low spin offered the greatest distance off the tee. When golf balls went from high-spinning liquid-center wound construction to lower-spinning solid-core multilayer models, the low spin part was a given, and it didn't take long to understand that more loft would create the high-launch part. However as more drivers were created to produce low spin, achieving the optimal trajectory and launch angle became more difficult. In 2008 the average launch angle on tour was 11.26 degrees. In 2013 it was 10.87 degrees.
That means that even though driver loft has gone up about .25 degrees over the past five years, launch angle has decreased approximately .4 degrees. It helps explain why a player with the strength and clubhead speed of Johnson still needs more loft to get the most out of his tee shots.
And what of everyday players? Although many amateurs remain reluctant to loft up, Tom Wishon, owner of Tom Wishon Golf, produced data a few years ago that revealed a golfer with a 12-degree launch angle swinging at 90 miles per hour with a modern driver under fairly normal conditions could gain an additional nine yards of carry by going from a 9-degree driver to a 13-degree driver. Yet the most popular driver lofts at retail continue to be 9, 9.5 and 10 degrees.
To those still playing with too little loft: If Johnson, the game's ultimate Mr. Macho, just went to 10.5 degrees, then what are you waiting for?
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Kenny Perry had a new club in his bag as he sewed up the season-long Schwab Cup points title at TPC Harding Park -- a Hopkins Golf 60-degree wedge. Perry's use of the club capped a solid first year on the Champions Tour for the fledgling company as 32 players used Hopkins Golf wedges in competition. ... After testing both Titleist's Pro V1x and TaylorMade's Lethal ball in recent weeks, Ernie Els was back with Callaway's HEX Black model at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai where Els finished T-11. ... Billy Horschel has agreed to a new multiyear deal with Ping. Horschel, who was 16th in the 2013 FedEx Cup standings, used the company's G25 woods and new S55 irons at the WGC-HSBC event as well as a custom-made Redwood Piper putter. ... Golf Pride will be showing its new Tour Velvet Super Tack grip to players at the McGladrey Classic. The grip -- the first new grip under the Tour Velvet name since 2009 -- will be available at retail in spring 2014. ... Tim Burke of Orlando won the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship in Las Vegas with a blast of 427 yards using a Krank Golf Formula 5 driver (Fujikura Flywire XXX LD shaft) with 3 degrees loft and a Top-Flite XL ball for the winning swat.
Wrench set: Is adjustability still a selling point?
Have adjustable drivers become so popular that golfers have stopped noticing the feature? A recent Golf Datatech study of serious golfers (15 or more rounds a year) shows a modest decline in enthusiasm for adjustable drivers for the first time since 2010. Last spring, 79 percent of golfers said they were interested in purchasing an adjustable driver. While still high, that number was down to 71 percent in the current study. More than 95 percent of drivers from major manufacturers being introduced for next year will be adjustable.
As the report's authors note: "It may be that adjustability has become so common that serious golfers no longer view it as 'special' and are now expecting it in their driver, similar to 'distance' in a golf ball." Curiously, the number of single-digit players "not interested" in an adjustable driver grew the most, up from 13 per- cent in the spring to 22 percent in the current study
Dave Felker is CEO of Polara Golf, which makes a slice- and hook-correcting golf ball and is marketing a driver that exceeds the USGA rules on clubhead size and springlike effect. He answers five questions from Mike Stachura.
Q: What's wrong with today's equipment rules?
The USGA likes to say they're here to preserve the game. Well, they've been around since 1894. Why didn't they just keep everything the same as in 1894, or 1910, or 1940? One of the traditions of golf is the evolution of the game's technology. The USGA should let technology evolve. There will continue to be challenges. It's never going to get so anybody can shoot an 18.
Q: Your products are geared to average golfers, not tour players, right?
Two I feel like I invented them for myself. Because I can hit it very straight off the tee now, golf is so much more fun. That's what we're shooting for: to make golfers have more fun.
Q: Do you think that's what golfers want?
If you can give people some hope that maybe they'll do a little bit better next time, that brings people back. Also, if you can lower the embarrassment factor. I think they're embarrassed because they hit it into the woods and slow up play.
Q: How would a nonconforming driver dramatically improve distance for average golfers?
What we're talking about here is a secondary effect. Once you get the proper loft, you can still get more distance if you go beyond the USGA regulations.
Q: How big can the market for these products really be?
Forty percent of golfers told Golf Datatech in 2010 they'd be willing to play nonconforming equipment if it provided a performance benefit. We repeated the survey using Google in 2012, and it was 63 percent. I think the time is right.
As Daniel Summerhays struck his second shot on the 557-yard, par-5 17th hole at TPC Deere Run Sunday at the John Deere Classic (shown, right), a fan was unmistakably heard just after the club struck the ball. Only this time the yell wasn't "You da man!" or even "Mashed potatoes!" This time the words that pierced the air were ones rarely heard these days: "Driver off the deck!"
Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MC
Faced with 278 yards to the hole and needing birdie, Summerhays really had little choice other than to haul out his 8.5-degree Ping G25 driver. The fact he hit the shot perfectly, the ball traveling with a slight fade, running up onto the green and ending 22 feet from the hole, was impressive. A bogey at the last that dropped him from a share of the lead to T-4, however, prevented the shot from getting more attention. Even Summerhays, despite his disappointment at not winning, commented afterward that, "I'll remember the driver off the deck that I hit on 17."
And he should. The "cool factor" of a driver struck from a tightly mown fairway is undeniably high. The odds of pulling the shot off successfully -- especially with today's large-headed drivers -- are rather long.
Still, there have been instances in recent years where players have hit big shots with the big stick off the grass. At the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Bubba Watson stood 305 yards from the green on the par-5 last at Kapalua's Plantation Course and used his 7.5-degree Ping G15 driver, smashing a low, hard cut that curved nearly 50 yards right-to-left and scooted along the ground until it came to rest 10 feet from the hole.
Woody Austin is another example -- sort of. Over the final nine of the 2008 Buick Open, Austin eschewed a tee on the tee box and instead kicked up a tuft of turf, put the ball down and hit driver. Austin did that twice, finding the fairway both times. But why? Summerhays' shot is understandable, but a pro hitting driver without a tee off the tee?
Some might believe it was Austin being his nonconformist self, but there was a reason for it. Although Austin certainly was sacrificing distance (the hot spot on most modern drivers is actually slightly above the center of the clubhead), he was trying to eliminate the left side of the course. Hitting a large-headed club without the added height of a tee decreases the chances of the ball hooking.
Whether in the fairway or off the tee box, the fact is driver off the deck is a shot the pros practice -- and use -- more often than most would think.
Vijay Singh also is a fan of the shot, using the big stick often for the second shot on par 5s. "I like hitting drivers off the deck," Singh told Golf World in 2011. "It makes one really aggressive when you do that."
Martin Kaymer had success with a driver off the deck as well at the 2008 Abu Dhabi Championship. When questioned about the shot, Kaymer had a simple explanation for why he felt comfortable trying it.
"When I was young, my father never gave me tees," said Kaymer. "I would ask, 'All the other guys get tees. Why don't I get tees?' He told me it was a big advantage for [me] because I would feel better playing it from the fairway in tournaments. That's how I got used to it."
Physics, however, dictate driver off the deck may not be a shot everyday players should attempt. In fact, you might want to steer clear unless you have a courtesy car.
That's because the shot really makes little sense for most everyday players. One of the reasons is that it spins more. That's not such a problem for tour players who hit it fairly straight, but for average golfers who impart more sidespin, it could lead to shots going even more off line. It's also important to remember that for most players, hitting driver off the turf delofts the launch angle between 3 to 7 degrees. Couple that with today's lower-spinning golf balls and the odds of keeping the ball airborne long enough to get the distance benefit are small for all but the fastest of swingers.
In other words, there's nothing cool about hitting driver off the deck if you're hitting grounders.
TIANLANG GUAN // Anchors away?
Now that the USGA and R&A have announced they will enact Rule 14-1b -- the so-called anchor ban -- starting in 2016, numerous players using anchored putters have begun practicing non-anchored strokes, with 14-year-old Chinese amateur prodigy Tianlang Guan among them.
Guan, who qualified for and made the cut in the Masters using a belly putter he anchored in his abdomen, recently played the South Course at Torrey Pines. Though he was still using a belly putter, he was holding it about an inch away from his body. "I just have a try with it," Guan said, "and I feel good with the change. It's not a big deal. It's OK they stop using it. I'm OK with it."
Guan said he will continue to experiment without anchoring his belly putter -- using a Scotty Cameron by Titleist Futura X that he received on a recent visit to Cameron's putter studio in San Marcos, Calif. Guan, who is waiting to hear about a possible sponsor's exemption into the RBC Canadian Open, was noncommittal as to whether he would use a non-anchored stroke should he get in the field. --John Strege
Scotty Cameron by Titleist Futura X
This mallet uses weight in the sole and "wings" to lower the center of gravity for stability and better performance on mis-hits. Available in 33, 34, 35 inches. Half-inch increments through custom order.
Ping is debuting a prototype driving iron -- named Rapture -- at the British Open and True South Classic. The 17-degree club is made from stainless steel with a 455 Carpenter steel face to promote ball speed while tungsten is positioned low in the sole to lower the center of gravity and assist launch. Bubba Watson and Lee Westwood have tested the club. ... David Duval has a new stick for the British Open -- a Nike VR_S Forged 2-iron that is a quarter-inch longer and 2 degrees stronger than a normal 2-iron making it, in essence, a 1-iron. ... TaylorMade's new SLDR driver was in the bags of nine players at the John Deere Classic (including Boo Weekley and Lucas Glover) and another four at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, including Darren Clarke.
Instead of players hitting into him (as seen on a recent Nike commercial), perhaps it will be Tiger Woods saying, "Sorry," this week at Muirfield during the British Open. That's because Woods was spotted Monday testing a Nike VR_S Covert Tour driver.
The club, which does not have the weight screw in the sole like the production model, has a Mitsubishi Diamana White Board 73X shaft and the pear shape Woods feels allows him to better shape his shots. Additionally, the shaft is glued as opposed to being adjustable.
Related: The Complete Hot List
Although it is unclear whether Woods will put the club in play this week or not, the World No. 1's history with equipment shows that although he takes his time changing drivers, he is not adverse to doing so. During his career Woods has won with eight different drivers: Cobra's King Cobra Deep Face, Titleist's 975D and six Nike models--Forged Titanium, Ignite, Ignite 460, SasQuatch Tour, SQ Dymo 380 prototype and VR Tour. Whether No. 9 comes at the British Open remains to be seen.
Over the last decade or so professional golf has become a power game with an equipment focus on balls that fly like flubber and drivers the size of saucepans. Less noticed, however, has been the role of the fairway wood. Quietly, the club has gone from one used to reach the green on par 5s to, in many instances, a second driver.
Photo: J.D. Cuban
There are few tournaments where that holds as true as at the Players, where many in the field hit driver only a handful of times. One of those players was eventual winner Tiger Woods, who hit the big stick sparingly and let his 3-wood and, at times, his 5-wood carry the load.
"I'm hitting 3-wood over 300 yards," said Woods. "This 5-wood I was hitting most of the week was going 280, and I was carrying it easily 260. Those are big numbers."
The bigger question, is how are these distances possible? The short answer: Driver technologies such as springy faces, higher moments of inertia (which produce better results on mis-hits) and longer shafts have trickled down to fairway woods, making them easier to gain distance with off the tee. Some outside-the-box thinking has helped too. Adams and TaylorMade have employed slots to boost ball speed, Nike's VRS_Covert fairway woods (used by Woods) have an open cavity on the sole and Callaway's X Hot 3Deep has (as the name implies) a noticeably deep face -- all with the thought of providing additional yards.
"It has been relatively easy to get to the USGA and R&A limit on springlike effect for many years," said Dr. Alan Hocknell, senior VP of R&D for Callaway. "It's taken a little longer to get there in fairway woods because you're working with a smaller size and, in most instances, stainless steel instead of titanium." That smaller head meant a reduced trampoline effect and stainless steel is not as durable as titanium, meaning it was more difficult to make the face thin without risking caving in.
A combination of improved manufacturing processes and more durable steels allowed designers to begin thinning the face (as well as other areas of the clubhead) and moving the center of gravity forward -- both favorable to increased distance. With that, interestingly, has come a shift toward higher lofts on the 3-wood within the PGA Tour ranks.
At the 2010 Players, slightly more than half of the 3-woods (52.4 percent)had less than 15 degrees loft, with 56 of the 145 players in the field (38.6 percent) using a 3-wood with 13.5 degrees of loft or less. Just three years later those numbers have shrunk to 47.6 and 22.8 percent, respectively. One of the reasons is that the more forward center of gravity combined with today's low-spinning golf balls make it more difficult to achieve the proper launch angle. Just as with a driver, a 3-wood off the tee requires a high launch with low spin to produce optimal results. The forward CG helped the low-spin part. More loft assisted the necessary high launch.
Such improvements in fairway woods have helped limit the use of drivers at TPC Sawgrass. The last 10 winners of the Players have combined to hit just 72 tee shots of 300 yards or more (an average of 7.2 per year). Over the last five years the winners have averaged just 6.6 such tee shots. But that doesn't mean there's a power outage off the tee.
"There's really no room to hit driver except for a few par 5s," said Woods. "I hit 5-wood off the tee [on No. 5] because I was afraid of hitting 3-wood up over the hill and through the rough and into the bunker. Even that 5-wood I think was 310."
For the record, ShotLink had it at 289 yards. But that doesn't diminish the fact players were getting more than enough off the tee with their fairway woods. "You've got to play the golf course for what it gives you," said Woods. "Certain years it's soft and it's wet, and I hit a lot of drivers. This is one of the weeks where I didn't."
As it turned out, he didn't need to.
KEEGAN BRADLEY // A pair of 4s
Phil Mickelson has used two drivers, and there have been some instances of tour players heading into action with a pair of putters. At the Players, however, Keegan Bradley took on TPC Sawgrass with two 4-irons.
That's because one of the 4-irons actually behaves more like a 3-iron for the 2011 PGA champion. Bradley's iron set is Cleveland Golf's CG7 Tour model, a modest cavity-back favored by better players. The second 4-iron, however, is the company's 588 MT. Although the MT is a full iron set, many on Cleveland's PGA Tour staff have employed the beefy longer irons as hybrids or utility irons. At the Players, Bradley also worked with 2- and 3-iron 588 MTs with the possibility of adding one or both to his bag at Merion for the U.S. Open.
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Tiger Woods used these fairway woods at the Players. A dual-axis hosel allows for independent loft (five to choose from) and face-angle adjustments.
Now healthy and saying, "I'm able to generate the speed like I used to, and I'm able to handle that shaft again," Tiger Woods changed driver shafts at the Players, returning to the Mitsubishi Diamana White Board he used for most of 2007 through 2009. ... Another player switching to a Mitsubishi shaft was Louis Oosthuizen, who after testing the 'ahina model in his Ping Anser driver said he felt he was gaining up to 10 yards. Oosthuizen then backed up his claim, leading the field in driving distance at 300.6 yards -- the only player to crack the 300-yard mark for the week. ... If it looked as though David Lingmerth was using a shorter-than-normal putter, it's because he was. Lingmerth's Ping i-Series Craz-E is just 33 inches long. ... At the other end of the putter-length spectrum was Roberto Castro. The first-round leader put a new club in the bag at TPC Sawgrass -- a TaylorMade Daddy Long Legs putter. The counterbalanced mallet was 38 inches long with 3 degrees of loft. ... Jeff Maggert is known as one of the most particular players on tour when it comes to equipment. How precise is Maggert? He has the swingweight on his irons down to the decimal point. The swingweight on his Ping S56 irons are D2.2. ... Wilson was showing its prototype adjustable woods to players this week, and Padraig Harrington liked the hybrid enough to put the club (21 degrees of loft) in the bag. No word when (or if) the clubs will be brought to market.
It might be much ado about nothing, but a recent addition to the United States Golf Association's conforming driver list appears to be an all-black version of TaylorMade's flagship white R1 adjustable driver.
What's shown is a left-handed model that seems to feature the R1's adjustable hosel and sole plate, with only a TaylorMade logo alignment mark on the crown instead of the angled stripes seen on the white version.
Company spokesman Dave Cordero called this club a prototype and said there are "no plans for this version to come to retail."
Draw it up: Tianlang Guan played two new fairway woods. Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images
You might think players would be reluctant to make equipment changes at the year's first major. But the challenges of Augusta National (the need for a right-to-left tee shot, firmer-than-normal turf, greens that are more receptive to higher shots) had several players making changes or tweaks.
Adam Scott had a new driver, changing from Titleist's 910D3 driver to the newer 913D3. Scott kept the same specs, including 9.5 degrees of loft and a Graphite Design Tour AD DI-8X shaft.
Lee Westwood recently tried a Ping Scottsdale TR Anser B putter, 38 inches long. For the Masters, Westwood was back with the TR Scottsdale Shea he'd been using, at a conventional 35 inches.
Tianlang Guan [above], 14, tested a Callaway X Hot 3-wood and 4-wood in Augusta before the tournament. The 3-wood was 43 inches with 14.1 degrees of loft. The 4-wood was 42 inches with 17.1 degrees of loft. Guan liked that he could draw the clubs, so he putt hem in his bag
Tiger Woods added a Nike VR_S Covert 3-wood, preferring the way he could turn the ball right to left with it.