Every company wants to have the longest driver on the market. Can you blame them? Of course not, despite how we all know that accuracy is the key to lowering scores, each year millions of clubs are sold because people want a little more length off the tee. In recent years, the length of drivers has gone up considerably and The Hackers Paradise wanted to do a little testing and find out if the benefits of added distance were true and if they outweighed the possible negatives of accuracy lost. The THP Forum has quite a few threads discussing this very thing as readers seem to really want to get down to the bottom of what is marketing and hype and what is the truth.
To get some overview on shaft lengths we went right to the source. Taylormade Golf and Graphite Design were both kind enough to take some time out and answer our questions as it relates to driver size and more importantly shaft length.
First up is Taylormade :
THP – What was the average shaft length in a driver in 2000?
TM – Drivers have been many lengths in the past. Most driver were 43″ until the early 1990s. With the introduction of larger ‘midsize heads’ and graphite shafts driver were made 44″. With the introduction of oversize titanium heads (230-250 cc) in 1994-1995, lengths were increased to 45″. A larger headed driver looks proportional at the se longer lengths and also gives more forgiveness, to make up for some slight accuracy loss.
THP – What is it now?
TM – Most titanium drivers have averaged around 45″ for a number of years in the market with a few notable exceptions. In 1998 both Taylormade and Callaway launched 46″. 1999-2000 were the Ping TiSi at 45.75 and the TM 360 at 46″. In 2007, we launched Burner driver at 46″.
THP – How long will it get and is their a standard?
TM – Lately the average has moved to 46″ for many average players, while tour players have moved to 45″. Tour players have always averaged slightly shorter than the market.
Next up is Graphite Design:
THP – Why have shafts lengthened in stock OEM equipment over the last 5 years?
GD – 1. The shaft lengths have increased for a few reasons but most of it happened more than 5 years ago.
A. Larger heads made of titanium are typically lighter in weight thus 45.5
to 46 became standard and have been for a while. Heads now can be weighted to appropriate weight but the increased length is already established.
B. Length is all any amateur talks about so 46 or longer helps gain club head speed and ultimately distance is they can make good impact.
C. Aesthetically the club head looks “normal” with the added length. A shorter length with make the head look really big.
THP – Will shorter shafts help the average golfer?
GD – Shorter shafts could in many cases be better. The average golfer, on average for the round, hit the ball farther because they would hit it more square with a shorter club thus increasing confidence and swing consistency. However in our testing, it does not always hold true.
THP – What does the future hold for shaft length?
GD – I think most companies have settled in the 46″ range. The USGA limits length to 48″. I do think however that many companies will put shafts in their custom fitting options at 47″ or even 48″ for consumers to try and then purchase. It all comes back to fitting and that most players need to have it done.
We got the chance to speak with two tour players one of PGA fame and one on the LPGA. We asked them the same question. “What are your thoughts on shaft length”? “I was one of the last players to drop into the larger club head for drivers category. Once I did, the look of the club with the shorter shaft looked more like a metal detector than it did a driver. I have gone as long as 46″ with mine and as short as 43″ but generally go with 45.5″. I had to go longer because of the look and when I did, I gained some needed distance. Height also plays a large role in it and when they look at averages on tour, it is not really fair, because there are a whole lot of short golfers on tour”, said John Huston.
LPGA’s Marcy Hart had a similar thought. “I went with what fit my eye. It has to look right first. I did not really notice a distance or accuracy differing. Then when I got fitted by the van it confirmed my initial choice. Right now I am using 45.25 inches. It is all about what feels comfy with your swing.”
THP wants to thank both players for taking the time to speak with us for this article.
We asked one of the companies we work with to provide two drivers for us for testing. Taylormade golf sent us two drivers with identical heads, lofts, and shaft type. The only difference is one is 45.25 inches long and one is 44 inches long. Neither club had ever been hit before the testing and both had the same stock grip. Since the Taylormade R9 is adjustable, we set both drivers to neutral for each tester to work with. No adjustments were made during the testing.
We assembled 24 golfers to help us out in our NON-SCIENTIFIC testing to find out what golfers of all skill levels noticed with the different drivers.
Low Handicaps – Scratch to 4 — 6 golfers
Low/Mid Handicaps – 5-12 — 6 golfers
Mid/High Handicaps – 13-21— 6 golfers
High Handicaps 21+ — 6 golfers
We marked a fairway at a local course with a line down the middle and were measuring two things, Distance and Accuracy. Each golfer was given 18 swings, 9 with the each driver and the high and low were not taken into the averages for distance and accuracy. We put the statistics together for group averages and those results are below. However this is THP and real course testing is what matters as well. So each of the 24 players used both drivers for an entire round hitting two balls on each hole in groups of 2.
Driver Distance with 45.25 – 271 yards
Driver Distance with 44 – 258 yards
Driver accuracy with 45.25 – 7 yards
Driver accuracy with 44 – 8 yards
With the low handicaps they increased their length by 13 yards with the longer driver on average and in accuracy, they were actually closer to the center of the fairway with the longer shaft.
Driver Distance with 45.25 – 262 yards
Driver Distance with 44 – 253 yards
Driver accuracy with 45.25 – 11 yards
Driver accuracy with 44 – 9 yards
With the low to mid group of players we saw a distance increase in 9 yards with the longer driver and in accuracy we saw that the shorter driver helped the players get closer to the middle by 2 yards.
Driver Distance with 45.25 – 256 yards
Driver Distance with 44 – 248 yards
Driver accuracy with 45.25 – 16 yards
Driver accuracy with 44 – 15 yards
The Mid/High group saw the longer driver give them a distance increase of 8 yards while the accuracy was 1 yard better with the shorter driver.
Driver Distance with 45.25 – 243 yards
Driver Distance with 44 – 227 yards
Driver accuracy with 45.25 – 19 yards
Driver accuracy with 44 – 17 yards
The high handicap group saw a 16 yard distance increase with the longer driver and only a 2 yard decrease in accuracy.
The on course testing showed much of the same as the driving test shown above. 22 of the 24 players said that they experienced virtually the same distance gain on the course as they did in our previous testing. The accuracy fell right in line as well. It is a rarity in our testing when on course and off course testing work in harmony, but it was a nice surprise. The two players that did not have the same results were two of our low handicap players that experienced a little more accuracy with the shorter driver than they experienced on the driving drills. Participants were told to keep a chart with them on distance and accuracy and what we found was that as explained above the on course testing simply mirrors the original setup of hitting balls. One by one each golfer explained that they got more distance with the longer shaft and lost very little accuracy. Something none of us expected.
What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing. But what it showed us during this testing is that it is crucial to get fitted for the right length for each individual. Players seemed to adjust to the longer shaft after a couple of swings and in the end, for our testing, the distance gained outweighed the loss of accuracy. Do longer shafts equal greater distance? They did in our testing. Do longer shafts equal less accuracy? In our testing they did in most groups, but not by much. Accuracy was not lost as much as we expected and in our initial research we expected distance to go up in the shorter driver in the higher handicap groups due to better ball striking. However that really was not the case. The high handicaps experienced significant distance gains with the longer shaft. Shaft technology has come a long way and with proper fitting can really help every single golfer out there.