Why Don’t Your Drives Go Far? Slow and Steady Loses the Race

Male golfer hitting driver off the tee

Golf can be a frustrating game at the best of times but there is perhaps no more frustrating a thing than struggling to get any distance with your driver off the tee.

Hitting a poor drive is bad enough but it can feel even worse if you hit the ball as well as you feel you can but you still don’t get much distance leaving your scratching your head as to why your drives don’t go very far.

As a whole golfers do not drive the ball far because of a lack of club speed combined with a poor strike on the ball that reduces ball speed. Distance comes from a golfer’s ability to translate club speed into ball speed so a slow club speed of 80mph for example combined with badly struck shots will result in short drives.

The golfing stats gurus are all now clear that distance is a critical factor when it comes to a player’s scoring capabilities.

If you are not able to hit the ball longer distances there will be a ceiling as to how low you can score.

An extra 20 yards in driving distance for example will reduce a typical 100-scoring golfers score by 2.3 strokes per round so the prizes on offer for being able to hit the ball further when it comes to better scores are significant.

And while not being able to hit your drives far can inevitably make you feel on occasion that an already hard game is in reality impossible understanding why your driver distance is so low is the key first step in being able to do something about it.

Your Drives Only Go 200 Yards For One of These Two Reasons

When it comes to golf courses for some reason the 200-yard mark seems a very common distance for how far you often have to drive the ball to get over a lot of the trouble before you reach the fairway.

I remember a few ‘nemesis’ holes on the course where I learned to play being filled with rough or water or both for the first 200 yards off the tee and it felt like I would never be able to hit my driver more than that distance and would have to suffer with high scores as a result of penalties and lost balls forever as a result.

But thanks to launch monitors in golf today and a much improved understanding of why golf shots go the distance they do it is now clear why up until that stage in my golfing development I couldn’t hit my driver more than 200 yards.

As a general rule drives only go 200 yards or less because a golfer is not able to generate enough ball speed at impact. Ball speed is the single biggest factor in determining distance and about 120mph of ball speed is needed to drive a total of 200 yards. A gain of 1mph of ball speed can increase distance by up to 2 yards.

That statement in itself does not tell the whole story however and although it is absolutely correct that ball speed is the key when it comes to driver distance knowing a bit more about that number generally is more helpful in understanding why golfers can only hit a driver 200, 210, 220, 230 yards etc etc.

Because while ball speed is the biggest factor in how far a golf ball actually carries club/swingspeed is the key element for determining a golfer’s potential distance.

[Editor’s note – ‘Ball speed’ is the speed of the golf ball immediately after impact. Club/swingspeed is the linear speed of the club head’s geometric center immediately prior to contact with the ball]

How far you hit the ball therefore is mainly affected by your ability to convert club speed into ball speed.

The ‘launch angle’ and ‘spin rate’ you drive the ball with are also important, and we’ll come to why poor ‘launch conditions’ cause alot of golfers to lose distance with their driver, but if you can’t swing much faster than 80mph you will not be able to hit your driver more than 200 yards no matter how well you hit the ball.

So the first reason your driver distance is so low and you are struggling to get any further than the 200-yard mark is likely going to your swingspeed.

Club speed is the core component for determing a golfer’s POTENTIAL distance. Adding 1 mph of club speed can increase your distance by up to 3 yards.

Trackman

[Note – If want to know how much swingspeed is required to drive the ball different distances check out our detailed analysis on this here.]

For a lot of golfers not being able to swing faster and add clubhead speed is what’s holding them at or below the 200-yard mark but for others the frustration lies in having the required clubhead speed on paper to reach, and even get beyond, that distance but still being stuck hitting drives that don’t go very far.

And this brings us to the second of the main reasons why golfers’ driving distances are on the low side – skill.

Ball speed as we have already identified is the key factor in how far a golf ball actually goes and in technical terms is the speed of the golf ball immediately after impact.

And in practical terms that simply means it is a measure of how well a golfer strikes the golf ball.

Lots of golfers out there have the swingspeed to ‘potentially’ drive further than they do but can’t hit their drives more than 200 or 215 or 230 yards etc because they strike the ball badly.

Various common swing faults lead players to hit big hooks or slices after striking a glancing blow off the toe or heel of their driver and as a direct consequence of that their ball speed, and therefore the distance they ‘actually’ hit the ball, reduces.

And to highlight how much of a distance difference skill and good ball striking makes looking at the difference between the average male golfer and the average LPGA Tour pro gives us an almost near-perfect comparison case.

Because the average male amateur has an average driver swingspeed of 93.4mph that is almost identical to the 94mph average driver swingspeed of the average LPGA Tour pro according to Trackman these players therefore, as we have already noted, have the ‘potential‘ to drive the ball the same distance.

However when we then consider that LPGA pros average a total driving distance that is 38 yards further than the average male amateur (257 vs. 219 yards) with essentially the same swing speed we can see what impact skill, and the quality of ball striking, has on ball speed and the ‘actual‘ distance players hit a driver.

Indeed skill has such an influence on driving distance that Arccos’s analysis of millions of amateur golf shots found that a scratch-handicapped 70-year-old male golfer will hit the ball further than a 20-year-old twenty handicapper because skill is twice as impactful as age when it comes to driving distance.

“When the ball is struck correctly you will get a geniune reflection of the ball flight and distance merited by your swing speed and ball speed, known as ‘smash factor’.”

Darren Clarke, Former British Open Champion and ex-European Ryder Cup Captain
Golfing Focus infographic comparing the average driver swingspeeds and driving distance of the average male amateur with the average LPGA Tour player

This article was originally published on GolfingFocus.com. If this content is published on any other site it has been done without the permission of the copyright owner GolfingFocus.com

So when you find yourself wondering why you can’t hit your driver more than 200, or 215, or 230 yards, or whatever the number is it’s more than likely because you haven’t reached the swingspeed or skill level yet that will let you hit it much further.

[Note – If you want to find out how much ball speed is needed to hit 250 or even 300-yard drivers click here to check out our deep dive into that topic.]

[Top tip: Improving your fitness and swing speed will make a huge difference to how far you hit the ball and has the potential to add 20 to 30 yards to drives and an extra club throughout the bag. If you want to know how you can achieve this check out two of the best ‘golf training’ programs that can get you there:

Trackman infographic showing what an attack angle with driver is.
The ‘attack angle’ is the vertical (up and down) angle the club is moving on during impact

Lots of Drives Are Losing Distance Because They Are Negative

While it is all very well to know that your ability to convert clubhead speed into ball speed is what will primarily affect the distance you get with your driver it’s not the complete story.

To maximise both the carry and total distance you hit your driver you need to hit the ball with the best ‘flight trajectory’ and that means driving it with the best ‘launch conditions’ dictated by your swingspeed and ‘attack angle’ at impact.

Because if you don’t that will be a big part of the reason you are losing distance with your driver.

Poor launch angles and spin rates due to a negative attack angle at impact are key factors that result in golfers losing distance with their driver. Trackman stats show the average male amateur has a -1.6º attack angle and loses 29 yards by hitting drives with a 2.1º ‘too low’ launch angle and a 975rpm ‘too high’ spin rate.

Talking about ‘launch conditions’ and ‘attack angles’ may sound overly technical for many when it comes to hitting a golf ball but it’s a flying object like any other after it is hit and the basic physics that apply to how far the ball goes is the same as it would be for anything else launched into the sky.

And one of the great things about the introduction of launch monitors in modern golf is that they have allowed relevant metrics to be tracked with regard to hitting the ball that enable golfers to clearly understand why they are driving the ball the distances they do.

What launch monitor data now allows everyone to clearly measure therefore is that hitting down on the ball with your driver and creating a negative ‘attack angle’ at impact is a big reason why so many golfers are losing so much distance with their driver.

And I should know because I am one of them!

“The most common cause of power loss is hitting down on the ball. We know without a doubt that in order to maximise your distance when hitting the driver, based on whatever your clubhead speed is, that you want to hit up on the driver.”

Todd Kolb, Director of Instruction for USGolfTV

In a recent lesson with my coach we found that when I hit down on the ball with my driver creating a -2.4º angle of attack at impact I lost 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 whatever your swingspeed the results are the same.

For example if we now take a look at the graph below from Trackman, one of the industry leaders in launch monitor technology, analyzing the optimized numbers for an average male amateur with a swingspeed of 95mph, we can clearly see how much distance is lost with a negative attack compared to a positive one.

Trackman infographic highlighting the optimal launch angles and spin rates for a golfers with a club speed of 95mph hitting their drives with different attack angles.

Between the extremes of -7º and +7º attack angles, there is over 30 yards difference in both carry and total distance off the tee which I think we can all agree would make a huge impact to scores when translated onto the course.

And this rule also applies to the pros.

In a recent session with Trackman 2-time PGA Tour winner Kevin Streelman hit one 109mph club speed drive with an angle of attack of -1.3º and carried his ball 251.9 yards rolling it out to a total distance of 274 yards.

However when hitting his next 108.9mph drive – in other words with a near identical club speed – but this time with a +1.9º attack angle he launched it to carry 281.5 yards (+29.6) and a total distance of 304.8 yards (+30.8).

So as we can clearly see from these three examples of drives with very different swingspeeds it doesn’t pay in terms of distance to hit down on the ball and if you are losing a lot of distance with your driver it’s something worth checking.

[Editor’s note – if you want to know how your drives compare to others check out our complete comparison guide to average driving distances by age, handicap and swingspeed here.]

But what if you are not like most golfers and have a positive angle of attack rather than a negative one and are still wondering why you are losing distance with your driver when compared to others with a comparable swingspeed?

If that’s the case it is most likely because of a failure to launch!

Because while driver distance is primarily affected by a golfer’s ability to convert swingspeed into ball speed – and the higher the swingspeed the better as we’ve already seen – they must also do this while launching the ball at the optimal angle and spin rate which produces the best flight trajectory for carry and roll.

What this means in more straightforward practical terms is that golfers must get the ball up in the air (i.e. with an optimal ‘launch angle’) as quickly as possible and not have much spin on the ball (i.e. a low ‘spin rate’).

And if you don’t hit your driver with the best launch conditions you will lose distance no matter what standard of player you are and irrespective of your swingspeed.

Hit the ball with a launch angle that’s too low for example based on your swing and you will not carry the ball very far and your roll distance will be reduced by the constant friction with the turf.

Have a launch angle that is too high by comparison and your carry distance will be good but your total distance will be reduced as you get very little roll.

Taking a look at the launch monitor data below from a lesson I had last year as an example we can see from the orange arrow indicators on the right hand side that while my launch angle (12.9º) was in the blue optimal range my driver spin rate of 3914rpms was way too high and as a result I lost distance.

Golfing Focus driver launch monitor data showing the amount of driver distance lost as a result of less than ideal launch conditions

The reason for that high spin rate was related to the poor strike off the heel amongst other things but it is a good example of how less than ideal launch conditions can cost you distance off the tee (39 yards or carry and 48 yards of total distance in this case!) even if you are hitting up on the ball with a positive attack angle.

We have already shown how important your swingspeed is to get your driver distances up and in short the more swingspeed you have the farther you will hit the ball.

But for many golfers swinging faster is not an option because of time and/or physical constraints, so if you are in that category it is worth checking whether you can manage to get the most distance you can off the tee but hitting up on the ball with a positive attack angle and optimising your launch conditions.

[Editor’s note – To find out the best launch angles and spin rates for golfers with different driver swingspeeds take a look at our deep dive into this topic here.]

Lessons Will Help You Find Out Why Your Driving Distance is So Low!

When it comes to golfers wondering why their drives won’t go very far one thing is for sure. There will be no shortage of advice coming their way!

We all get all sorts of tips and advice all the time, especially from our playing partners on these sorts of subjects whether that be ’tilt your shoulders more’ or ‘lift your left foot up on the backswing’ or lots of other ‘helpful’ hints.

But if you do think your driving distance is too low and you want to do something about it one of the best things you can do is to get a lesson or a club fitting or both.

And make sure it is one where the instructor or fitter is using a launch monitor because with the numbers they provide there is no need to guess anymore as to why you are hitting the ball as far as you do.

A good coach or fitter knows what all these numbers mean in relation to your own individual swing and can help you hit the ball further if you are willing to do your part and put in the required amount of practice to change the things that need to be amended.

You never know also. You may be one of the lucky ones who will find out it’s not you but the club you are using that’s causing you to not drive the ball as far as you should!

[Editor’s note – For those of you interested in getting coaching from renowned golf instructors anywhere in the world GET 15% OFF ANY LESSON PURCHASE AND 15% OFF THE FIRST MONTH OF A SUBSCRIPTION at Skillest – https://golfingfocus.com/product/skillest-online-golf-coaching/ – BY USING OUR DISCOUNT CODE – GOLFINGFOCUS15.]

[Note – Just so you know, and we are upfront as an affiliate program participant, Golfing Focus earns from qualifying purchases made through links on this page.]

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Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life and a member of Royal Troon Golf Club he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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