Let me start first with a confession.
I have played golf for close to 40 years now and have been lucky enough to play off a single-figure handicap since I was a teenager but when it comes to the driver and terms like ‘attack angle’ I am pretty late to the party in terms of understanding its impact.
That lack of knowledge has clearly cost me a lot of distance and shots over the years and as a result, I very much wish I had paid attention much sooner to what a good attack angle is for driver.
The ideal attack angle for driver is different for each golfer but between 2º and 4º is a good guide range for best carry and roll distance. Long drive specialists reach attack angles up to 8º but often at a cost of accuracy while the average male amateur golfer’s average driver attack angle is -1.6º according to Trackman.
Talk of any general ‘ideal’ is often fraught with danger in golf however given how many variables are involved, including a golfer’s swing where one is never the same as another.
And although you have probably been aware much earlier than me about the general rule that hitting up on your driver is a good thing, especially if you are looking to increase the distance you hit the ball off the tee, one thing I have learned quickly is that focusing it in isolation is a risky strategy!
Should You Swing Up or Down with Driver?
If you currently hit your driver with a negative attack angle – in other words you hit down on the ball – you are in good company.
The majority of amateur golfers do this and as we have already noted Trackman, perhaps the leading launch monitor manufacturer in golf today, has measured that the average male amateur golfer has a negative attack angle of -1.6º.
But when it comes to getting as much carry and total distance off the tee as you can – which is the main goal with driver – that unfortunately is not a good thing.
As a whole hitting up with a positive angle of attack when hitting driver will maximize distance as it increases launch and decreases spin. For a golfer with a near-average swing speed of 95mph hitting driver with a negative attack angle of -7º compared to +7º will cost them 31 yards of carry and 33 yards of total distance.
And that loss of both carry and total distance by hitting down on the ball with your driver is evident in Trackman’s analysis below of the optimal distances of a very wide range of driver swingspeeds, from the slow of below 80mph, all the way up to very fast PGA Tour level clubhead speeds of 110mph and above.
|CLUBHEAD SPEED||CARRY DISTANCE|
(-5º versus +5º attack angle)
(-5º versus +5º attack angle)
|75mph||143 vs. 164 yards (+21)||166 vs. 187 yards (+21)|
|80mph||160 vs. 181 yards (+21)||176 vs. 197 yards (+21)|
|85mph||175 vs. 197 yards (+22)||199 vs. 223 yards (+24)|
|90mph||191 vs. 214 yards (+23)||215 vs. 239 yards (+24)|
|95mph||207 vs. 231 yards (+24)||243 vs. 266 yards (+23)|
|100mph||222 vs. 247 yards (+25)||244 vs. 272 yards (+28)|
|105mph||237 vs. 263 yards (+26)||260 vs. 288 yards (+28)|
|110mph||252 vs. 279 yards (+27)||275 vs. 305 yards (+30)|
|115mph||266 vs. 295 yards (+29)||290 vs. 321 yards (+31)|
|120mph||281 vs. 310 yards (+29)||305 vs. 350 yards (+45)|
But now that we have answered the question of whether you should be aiming to hit up or down with your driver from a distance perspective it is clearly important to understand why.
Before we get to that though we of course first need to be clear on what a negative attack angle actually means.
The attack angle of your driver – or ‘angle of attack’ as it is also frequently referred to – is the vertical (up and down) angle the club is moving on at impact relative to the horizon.
A negative attack angle therefore simply means that the angle your driver is making with the imaginary horizontal line that represents the horizon when it makes contact with the ball is less than 0º.
This is not always the easiest thing to visualize given the very small degree differences in different drives but the number displayed by launch monitors makes it obvious whether you are hitting up on the ball – and have a positive attack angle – or hitting down with your driver with a negative attack angle.
And why that matters when it comes to your drives is that the optimal mix of the 3 key elements that determine driver distance – namely ball speed, launch angle, and spin rate – is dictated by a golfer’s club/swingspeed and their ‘attack angle’ at impact.
As the attack angle changes the ‘optimal’ launch angle and spin rate for the golfer change and when a golfer has a negative angle of attack more loft is needed to launch the ball.
But the problem with that is that additional loft requires the need for it to be combined with higher spin rates to ensure the ball stays airborne for longer.
And unfortunately too much spin with a downward hit drive, even when it is struck well, will reduce the distance your golf ball will roll.
It is always of course important to remember that there is no one size fits all when it comes to the optimal ball speed and launch conditions of individuals’ drives and as a direct consequence there is also no ‘optimum’ angle of attack that applies to all golfers.
What we can say with certainty now though, thanks to our understanding today of attack angles and their influence on driving distances, is that a positive angle of attack is a good way to increase a golfer’s potential distance.
And that has principally come about thanks to the modern generation of launch monitors.
The original devices launched in the late 1990s allowed a step change advance in our understanding of why players hit the ball as far as they do but they initially only measured the key numbers – club/swingspeed, ball speed, spin rate, launch angle and of course carry and total distance.
As a result, while this allowed people to understand whether their ‘launch conditions’ (i.e. launch angles and spin rates) were in the right ranges, or too high or too low, they couldn’t tell an instructor or golfer exactly ‘why’ this was.
But with the addition of metrics such as ‘attack angles’ into the modern generation of launch monitors we now know without a doubt (and what you probably did before me!) that in order to maximize driver distance you want to hit up with a positive attack angle based on whatever your clubhead speed is.
And because further metrics such as ‘dynamic loft’ – whose separate effect on distance we look into in more depth here – are now also measured it is possible for coaches to be clear on what piece of the puzzle is causing a golfer’s launch issues and therefore for them to lose distance.
It could be their angle of attack or dynamic loft, or it could be both!
Whatever it is though a good coach working with a modern launch monitor will help you to work out what it is and the distance rewards on offer can be substantial as I am now all to aware myself.
In a lesson last year I found that when I was hitting down on the ball with a -2.4º angle of attack at impact I was losing over 32 yards of carry distance and 43 yards of total distance compared to driving with a positive 2.3º attack angle with almost comparable swingspeeds of just over 100mph.
And I don’t know about you but that seems like a fair incentive to start working on hitting up on the ball on a consistent basis!
[Editor’s note – If you want to find out how you can potentially gain distance without changing your negative angle of attack check out one of the ten ways we explore here you can hit it further off the tee.]
Can You Hit Up on Driver Too Much? It is About Strike Too!
Distance is a big topic in the game of golf, especially with driver, and as it is crystal clear how important hitting up on the driver is to increased launch and low spin – two of the three key distance elements – the goal for any golfer looking to maximize their yardages off the tee would seem to be a simple one.
Try and hit up with your driver with an ever increasing angle of attack.
However as with everything in golf too much of anything usually turns into something bad and the same is true with striving for higher and higher angles of attack with driver.
In general hitting up on driver with a positive attack angle is best for distance but golfers can find it difficult to maintain accuracy if they hit up too much, especially with angles that are a long way from the negative ones they hit other clubs with. Players therefore often hit down on driver to keep control of the ball.
A lot of distance off the tee is a great thing and the stats are very clear on how important increased distance is to lowering any golfer’s scores, from the highest handicapped amateurs all the way up to the best pro players in the world.
But when a player starts chasing very high positive attack angles with driver – for example over 4º – this can often come alongside a big problem with accuracy.
So while it is all very well to hit the ball far with positive attack angles hitting up on the driver too much can cause a lot of golfers’ drives to go too far in the wrong direction.
Because a large of amateurs, and even some pros when they start going for big drives by aiming to hit up on the ball as much as they can, start then to struggle with how well they strike the ball leading to drives being hit all over the driver face and then all over the golf course.
In short they lose control more often than is good for their scorecard and while the good drives do indeed go a long way they lose a huge amount of control with the bad ones which then turn into score wreckers.
Tour Golf Experience did a great experiment to illustrate this recently when they took a golfer who typically hit the ball with a negative attack angle and average swingspeed of close to 100mph and tried getting them to hit up on the ball instead.
As we can see from their launch monitor data above getting them to hit up on the ball with a +5.5º attack angle – their normal was -0.4º – resulted in them gaining 35 yards of both carry and total distance.
But what this quest for a high attack angle also got them doing was hitting the ball with a poorer low on the head and toe strike, which can easily lead to big hooks, compared to the much more centred strikes they achieved with their negative angle of attack.
And the result was a much bigger dispersion in their drives with a +5.5º angle of attack which out on the course would likely have resulted in long drives into lots of trouble out on the course.
By getting them instead to target a positive angle of attack closer to their normal one (+2.8º vs -0.4º) – the clubfitter was able to help them achieve not only almost equal distance with the much higher attack angle but also with a near centre strike which also delivered a ‘controlled’ and manageable range of outcomes.
And that is a perfect example of why you can aim to hit up on the driver too much and why, if it means you can control your drives much more effectively, it is sometimes ok if you hit down on driver with the longest club in the bag.
Focusing solely on your angle of attack number, even if it’s positive as we are told it should be, is not a great strategy. It is much better to understand it in the context of all the elements which determine driver distance which we go into in much more depth here.
That’s also where a good and experienced club fitter can really help you because when they fit you for a driver they want to make sure they get the best result for the player and not just for the launch monitor numbers.
You want your driver to help for BOTH your good swings and your bad ones and that often means not ending up with a driver and swing that always gives you the highest attack angle as hitting up on the driver too much can lead to some very damaging shots if you are not careful.
“I played a big draw, and I hit it miles, but occasionally it didn’t come off and I’d hit this big block. Hit just one of those a round and you’d be dead. (So) I started teeing it lower and hitting this high spinny fade into play. It didn’t go far but I knew I could control it, then over the years I learned to hit it further.”Marc Leishman (Golf.com)
Why Do Pros Have a Negative Attack Angle on Driver?
Given how clear it is now that hitting ‘up’ on the ball with a positive attack angle with your driver is the best way to maximize distance it may seem curious as to why some of the best pros in the world have a negative attack angle with driver.
Indeed according to Trackman the average attack angle on the PGA Tour is negative – approximately -1.3º – while former world no.1 Brooks Koepka is well known for his negative angle of attack with driver.
As a general rule some pro golfers have a negative angle of attack when they want to prioritize accuracy and control over maximizing total distance. This is typical of pros who know they could hit it further by switching to a higher attack angle but produce a more accurate and consistent ball flight by not doing so.
While it may not seem like it given the almost flawless way they all seem to smash a golf ball off the tee tour pros like amateurs have swings as unique to them as their own fingerprints and as such how they choose to hit their driver depends on what they are most comfortable will deliver the most consistent results.
And that means for some it makes sense to hit their driver with a negative angle of attack because it produces the ball flight they want and are most comfortable hitting.
Marc Leishman’s quote above is a great example of this and clearly shows he knows, as we all do, that hitting up on the ball with a high attack angle will give him more distance.
But he also is well aware that his ‘bad’ shot with a high angle of attack with his driver can result in a scorecard wrecking number and as a result he chooses to hit with a lower one to deliver a more consistent result.
In other words it is a pragmatic decision he is making to allow him more control with his drives and luckily for him doesn’t cost him a lot of distance given he was still averaging 307.1 yards of distance on the PGA Tour in 2021-22.
Similarly Brooks Koepka’s Trackman numbers have shown he is still able to ‘carry’ his drives nearly 300 yards in spite of hitting the ball with a negative attack angle of -3.7º!
Yes, it is also true that the game’s longest hitters like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson average around the +4º mark, and often higher when they go for some of their huge hits.
And as we have already noted long drive competitors are targeting attack angles of up to as much as +8º to maximize their driving distances.
However for many tour pros they choose consistency, control, and accuracy over a very high upward attack angle which would maximise their carry and total driving distance and for those lucky enough, like Koepka and Leishman, they don’t need to hit it any further to compete at the top.
Unfortunately average golfers typically do not have this luxury and need to wring every last yard of distance out of their driver to score well.
Remember no matter what myths you hear about how the short game is more important than the long game there will be a ceiling on how much you can improve based on how far you can drive the ball.
To which point it is further interesting to note that by comparison with the PGA Tour the average attack angle on the LPGA Tour is around +2º.
And that is likely because with LPGA Tour players averaging 257 yards off the tee, compared to the near 300 yards PGA Tour pros drive the ball on average, they are aiming to maximize distance to a greater extent than their male colleagues.
And given the average swingspeed on the LPGA Tour is almost identical to that of the average male amateur (94mph vs. 93.4mph) it probably makes the most sense for regular golfers to see how their driver attack angles and key launch monitor numbers match up to the best women players in the world!
Further it would not surprise me in the slightest if that average negative attack angle from the PGA Tour started to get closer to the LPGA Tour’s positive number as time goes on.
Final Thought for the 19th Hole
The people at Trackman have often been quoted as saying that “we need a driver swing and a swing for everything else.”
And the reason they say this is that while it is desirable to hit up on the ball with a positive attack angle with your driver to maximize distance, the opposite is true with your irons.
When using an iron your attack angle should be negative because by hitting down on the ball with your irons you will generate more spin thereby giving you more stopping power to hit and hold the ball on the green.
In other words the priority with iron play the majority of the time is accuracy and control over distance, in much the same way as it is for some of the pros whom we noted above decide to hit their drives with a negative attack angle.
If you are not hitting down on the ball with your irons you will likely face problems with inconsistent strikes as well as poor distance and direction control.
So when it comes to talk of attack angles it is very important that we are clear that driver is the only club where we want to hit up on the golf ball with a positive number.
For the rest of the clubs in your bag when the ball is on the ground we want that angle of attack to be negative.
More top posts related to this topic:
- Average Driver Swingspeeds? COMPLETE GUIDE by Age, Handicap etc.
- How Far Should Your Driver Swingspeed Go? 60 to 120 mph Guide
- How Far Should You Hit a Driver? FULL GUIDE By Age, Handicap etc.
- How Far Should Your Ball Speed Go? 100mph All the Way to 210mph!
- Why Don’t Your Drives Go Far? Slow and Steady Loses the Race
- Where is the Sweet Spot on the Driver Face? Take the High Road
- Should Beginners & High Handicappers Use a Driver? Yes & Yes
- What Determines Driver Distance? Skill Triumphs Over All!
- Do Distance Golf Balls Go Further? Marketing Matters
- Do All Golf Balls Go the Same Distance? Physics First
- What Affects Golf Ball Distance? Beware ALL the Uncontrollables!
- Are Driving Range Distances Accurate? Golf Balls are a Problem
- How Do Pros Hit the Ball So Far? It’s Not About the Equipment!
- How Often Do Pros Hit Driver? Not As Much As You Think!
- How Far Do Pro Golfers Hit Each Club?
- The PGA Tour’s Rising Driver Ball Speeds Mean One Thing – $$
- What Driver is Most Used On the PGA Tour? Top 100 Player Analysis
- What Shafts Do Pros Use? Top 100 PGA Tour Player Breakdown
- Most Popular Driver on LPGA Tour? Top 50 Player Guide