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Your Questions Answered

Which is more important for maximizing driver distance—the club or the ball?

Tiger Woods

The order of importance when attempting to optimize your driver distance is: golfer, driver, ball.

J.D. Cuban

Question: I want to optimize my spin and launch angle off the tee to get the most distance I can. Should I focus on the driver or the ball?

Answer: Whether your swing is a work in progress or you’re looking for that last tweak of optimized performance, a quality clubfitter is going to help you dial in your specs. However, in order of importance, especially with the driver, the club plays a more important role than the ball, says Woody Lashen, co-owner and lead fitter at Pete’s Golf on Long Island, a perennial Golf Digest 100 Best Clubfitter.

“Take the loft of your driver," Lashen says. "If you went from 7 degrees to 12 degrees, the launch conditions would change drastically, but if you took a 9-degree driver and hit every ball on the market, the launch conditions wouldn't change much.”

Lashen says when trying to change launch conditions, particularly subtle adjustments with launch angle and ball spin rate, an adjustable driver can alter those characteristics by shifting the center of gravity (in the front-to-back direction) or through a loft adjustment. Switching to a lower-spinning ball can also affect launch conditions, but that will impact the rest of the clubs in your bag, too, and all the shots you need to hit. You likely are talking about a feel change, too.

Lashen says one finding of Ping’s Ballnamic ballfitting system is that balls that appear to have similar launch conditions might have different kinds of performance downrange, something that isn’t going to be evident in most indoor launch-monitor fittings. A player will have to be very consistent to even notice those differences.

Marty Jertson, vice president of fitting and performance for Ping, agrees that the golfer holds sway in the order of influence. “In the Ping Proving Grounds advanced training course, we break it down in terms of pre-impact physics, impact physics and post-impact ball flight,” he says from Frisco, Texas, where he is preparing to compete in the PGA Professional Championship for the 11th time. “The golfer's movement— forces and torques—paired with the club mass and shaft properties will inform the delivery of the clubhead. Combined with the clubhead properties, that will be the primary influencer of the launch and spin.”

The golfer's properties include the downward or upward angle of the clubhead coming into the ball, the relationship of the face angle to the path of the swing and where the player is making contact on the face. The club properties include elements like the club’s center of gravity, its moment of inertia (a measurement of stability on off-center hits) and the bulge and roll (heel to toe curvature and crown to sole curvature of the face).

“The player and clubhead are more important," Jertson says, "but these answers are never binary in practice because the ball is also key and should be used to fine-tune or overcome shortcomings in ball flight.”

Switching drivers could also include a small change in the shaft. A different shaft profile may lead to a different angle of attack at impact. A more positive angle of attack might reduce spin and require a lower loft on the driver. That combination could mean more ball speed, higher launch and less spin. For example, if a player with a clubhead speed of 95 miles per hour could change his or her launch conditions, a 12-yard gain is not out of the question.

A ball fitting is still important as a final resource to make subtle changes to your driving performance, but any change you make to the ball needs to work with all the clubs in your bag. That's why a quality fitter can show you what you’re in for and what’s going to get you the most bang for your buck, even if that means doing nothing with your gear at all.

Got a question or conundrum that's bothering you about your gear or golf equipment technology in general? Shoot us an email and we'll dig deep to get you the education we all need. You can reach us at michael.stachura@wbd.com or mike.johnson@wbd.com.