Does a Shorter Driver Produce Better Drives?

For the past few months, I’ve knowingly been flouting the 14-club rule by carrying two drivers.

In the March HOTLINKS, club expert Tom Wishon wrote that one key to “real improvement with the driver comes from a shorter length”: A shorter driver, he said, encourages center contact on the clubface, which leads to longer, straighter drives. Wishon also told me that the average driver length on the PGA Tour is shorter than the standard lengths equipment companies sell us.

I decided to give it a try. The folks at Ping built me two identical G30 drivers—one at their standard length of 45-3/4 inches, the other two inches shorter. Bill Iseri, who fit me at Ping’s Phoenix headquarters, added a little loft to the shorter driver since physics dictated it would produce a slightly lower launch angle, spin rate, and clubhead speed. He also added some weight to the head so the swingweights, and therefore feel, were the same.

I tried both drivers at the driving range and in half-a-dozen rounds: On some holes, I hit twice from the tee (sometimes more than twice), and while I’m no Iron Byron, I hit enough drives with both clubs to see what was happening.

Which was:

  • Shots from the shorter driver were more accurate, and usually as long or almost as long as from the longer driver;
  • Off-line drives with the shorter driver weren’t as far off;
  • A number of drives with the shorter driver were very long.

So why is the longer driver still in my bag? A few reasons.

First, when I’m in a groove and hitting the longer driver well, it’s much longer.

Second, the shorter driver feels different. Even though the swingweights are the same, the shorter club has a lower static weight, enough that I notice (or think I do). I also feel that I’m standing a little closer to the ball. Both took getting used to.

Third, and admittedly the dumbest reason—ego. I want to be able to hit the longer driver.

But the theory was sound. So should everyone use a shorter driver? Wishon said average golfers—anyone who shoots from the mid-80s on up—should give it a try. He also said it’s a must for women and anyone who swings over the top and out-to-in: By being harder to control, a longer club can exaggerate mistakes. (He also explained that some golfers will never gain distance even with a longer club and center contact, particularly those who release the club “early to midway on the downswing.”)

Both Iseri and Wishon made the same key point: Get fit for your driver, don’t buy it off the rack. Iseri said most players he fits end up with a driver shorter than standard, which produces tighter shot dispersion with little, if any, loss of distance. “That’s why at Ping we want all our clubs to be fit.”

But don’t simply chop a few inches off the shaft. That will affect swingweight and feel, and probably make things worse for over-the-top swingers and those with fast tempos.

“Take an old driver to a certified club builder, get it shortened and re-weighted, and give it a try,” suggested Wishon. “Or better yet, have a new driver custom-fit and custom-built not only at a shorter length, but also for loft, face angle, shaft, total weight, swingweight, and grip size.”

Less truly can be more.

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