Going to Great Lengths

The Pursuit of Power in Perspective

July 3, 2005

Let’s face it, there are guys out there who would trade their first-born to hit the tee ball thirty yards farther. For some golfers, success is measured not by the number of strokes, but by the number of yards. It does not matter if the ball plugged in the greenside bunker, or if a double-bogey was the score, as long as I can tell my buddies later that I hit my driver 300 yards to get there.

Similarly, most people approach golf as a game of hitting each shot as far forward as possible. The average golfer will need two shots to reach a green from 200 yards away; usually this means hitting a risky 3-wood as hard as possible and then trying to finesse an awkward little pitch, but rarely does it mean hitting two relatively easy 100-yard shots. Again, the thinking is oriented towards hitting the first shot as far as possible, rather than playing the odds.

greatlengths1A lady who usually plays nine holes, and shoots close to sixty, took a lesson this weekend. She complained that all her clubs hit the ball about 100 yards, so she said she needed to learn to hit the ball farther. She was getting the club on too flat a plane, so she tended to hit the ball thin and to the right. I showed her how to change her path, which will lead to better, more square contact with time and practice. And there are a few things we can do in the future to increase her club-head speed.

But after the lesson she still seemed concerned about distance. So I asked her if she would be happy to shoot 45 for nine holes. Of course she would. Can she usually two-putt the greens? Yes. So, shooting 45 would mean having 18 putts and 27 other shots, right? Yes. Does she realize that she can cover the yardage from the tees she plays in 27 shots simply by averaging 80 yards per shot? What?

That is right. If she would be thrilled to play bogey golf, and all her clubs go 100 yards, her only problem is that she hits it too far. She only needs 80 yards per shot. Of course, some decent chipping, pitching, and course management will help make up for the duffed shots that inevitably come.

But the point remains, most people just want to hit the ball a long ways, and sometimes it is a higher priority than learning how to play the game successfully, which means doing what it takes to shoot lower scores.

The world of distance-worshipers is also the world of long golf clubs. Everyone knows that longer clubs hit the ball farther, so longer clubs are better. Along this line, the best thing that happened for golf in recent history was the fall of the Soviet Union. After the fall, it did not take long for Russian entrepreneurs to sell off the metals that once made up thousands of missile silos. By the early 1990s, there were titanium-headed drivers flooding the golf market. The lightness of titanium along with graphite shafts made it possible to make longer clubs. The standard length of men’s drivers went from 43 ½ inches to 45 inches. So the end of the Cold War brought us a step closer to world peace while making it possible for golfers to really bomb it out there.

But I am not convinced that longer clubs help most people. In my opinion, the industry standards for club lengths very often cause swing problems for average golfers, often leading to reduced power.

Notice that some of the guys on tour look really big compared to their clubs. That is because they are. Ernie Els, Tiger Woods, and most tour players are fairly tall people. Even when they have a long iron or driver in their hands, the clubs look short, and the clubhead never seems too far away from the golfer as it rests on the ground.

As a result, the shaft of the club starts in a fairly upright plane and can swing in a fairly upright plane. This kind of a plane allows the club to swing in a path closer to the target line; it requires less arm, hand, and club rotation; and it allows for really solid “trapping” kind of contact. Keeping the ball, club, and arms closer to the body also produces better balance in the golfer.

greatlengths2Compare this kind of setup and swing to a squatty weekend warrior with his 45-inch Turbo Transcontinental Titanium driver. The driver comes up to his chin if they are both standing on their toes, and at address the clubhead looks like it is resting in another time-zone. The shaft will be very flat to the ground. The golfer will now be forced into swinging in a very flat plane; be prone to hitting blocks and hooks; will struggle to get the ball in the center of the clubface at impact; and will have to slow down his swing to have any chance of squaring the clubface.

There is a good chance the weekend warrior would actually hit the ball farther with a shorter driver that he can swing in a better plane, make center contact with, and swing with the kind of relaxation that increases clubhead speed.

I know a golfer who has shortened all his clubs and worked on his swing plane in recent years. His irons, now an inch shorter than industry standard, are a full inch and a half shorter than they were two years ago, and he tends to choke them down a little more. He is hitting his irons 10 to 15 yards farther than before.

He also has one of those big-headed titanium drivers, but he chokes it down about 2 ½ inches, which means it plays shorter than the old industry standard. He is hitting the driver 20 to 30 yards farther than he used to. But the distance is a side-effect of making better contact and swinging in a better plane. More importantly, he is hitting the ball more accurately, more consistently.

Golf is a game of hitting targets to shoot a score, and golf is a game of opposites. Sometimes the pursuit of distance leads to higher scores and less distance. When it comes to seeking distance, most golfers would do well not to go to great lengths.


  1. Brendon says:

    Hi do all tour players use clubs that are shorter then standard length? What is standard length now?
    If tour players clubs are shorter why don’t club manufactures make the standard length shorter.
    Next thing that needs to happen in the golf equipment is the stranded in the shaft manufacturing so a stiff shaft has the same flex torque kick point for every brand of shaft. how can one shaft from a company be a stiff flex and a shaft from another company with the same specs be regular flex.
    After reading your article I am going to start gripping down the shaft. i’m 6ft 4 inch my clubs have been fitted to me and i hit all my clubs from the heel with the odd shank or two I should not be doing this. I play of a 12 handicap have coaching once a month I’m trying to get to single figure handicap by the end of the year

    • John Rogers says:

      Brendon, thanks for commenting! I don’t actually know if there are stats on the tour averages for club lengths, but I do know you will find a lot more tour drivers UNDER 45″ than over 45″, just the opposite of what you find in the bags of the general population. The reason the industry does not alter this is because the average tour player does not need more distance, whereas the average joe does need power–and club designers have decided (wrongly, I think) that the best way to achieve the distance is through longer clubs. Since you are 6’4″ you might or might not need shorter clubs, but it is common for people with over-length clubs to hit in the heel. Your height can also make it a challenge to maintain good balance, since you center of gravity is likely higher than most of us. There’s a good chance that your weight moves toward the ball during the swing, causing the heel contact.

      As for the shaft standards across the industry, you are certainly not alone in wishing there was uniformity from one manufacturer to another. I have mixed emotions about it. In the end, people worry too much about the name of the flex, etc, and maybe not enough about a proper fitting, in which case the specs do not matter other than that they maximize a players’ results. Good luck to you!

Website Comments