Five years ago, it all seemed so simple. In November 2003, Golf Digest tested golfers with average swing speeds using different driver lofts. Our conclusion then: Average golfers generally need more loft than they think. It's a belief still universally supported, but the answer is now more complicated. Using the TrackMan radar device, the leading ball-flight analysis tool in the game, we put golfers with slow and average swing speeds under the microscope again. This time we found similar results with one caveat: It is awfully easy to overdose on loft.
What has changed? Well, for one, because of TrackMan and its capability of analyzing the entire ball flight, we know a lot more about a thing called "landing angle," or the steepness of a ball's descent to the ground. Naturally, the more shallow that angle, the more the ball will roll after it lands. Conversely, the steeper that angle, the less it will roll.
Our conclusion: More loft is good, but too much seems to be much worse than too little. Our testing featured players with swing speeds of 75 and 95 miles per hour using Tour Edge GeoMax drivers with lofts from 9 to 16 degrees. The slower swinger benefited almost equally from the 12- and 14-degree drivers, which carried about 15 yards farther than the 9-degree driver. Although the highest loft showed a 20-yard benefit in carry distance, the difference in total distance was only a yard because the 9-degree driver shots rolled an average of 32 yards because of a much flatter landing angle.
The 95-mph swinger benefited most from the 10.5-degree and 12-degree drivers, which carried 20 to 25 yards farther than the 9-degree model. Because of its excessive spin rate, the highest lofted driver produced only marginal roll, and the 9-degree driver ended up averaging more total distance, despite flying 17 yards shorter in the air.
So do you want the driver that carries the farthest or the one that rolls the most? The good news is, average golfers can understand which works better by getting on a launch monitor. Most equipment researchers believe loft is more important than flex if you swing less than 100 mph (as about 90 percent of recreational players do). Many also believe flying the ball farther in the air is a smarter way to use your total distance. Says Dean Snell, TaylorMade's senior director of golf ball research and development: "Ultimately, you want the ball to fly to the target. Once the ball lands, you can't control how it's going to bounce."