A vast amount of golf instruction has been written about how to use the driver. Every week there are new tips, as well as recycled advice from years ago, claiming to help you hit the golf ball straighter and longer off the tee. And yet the average amateur, despite all the advances in equipment, isn’t getting much better, while leading professionals are hitting the ball further every year.
It shouldn’t really be a surprise, therefore, to hear that much of the advice touted in books, magazines, on TV, on websites and by many teachers, is just plain wrong. This poor advice is well intentioned, but it hasn’t worked for most golfers. What’s worse, it leaves golfers with a complete misunderstanding of how an efficient and effective golf swing works. Telling students a misleading half-truth might yield short-term benefit, but, until they learn how the golf swing really works, it will prevent them from becoming a really good golfer.
The aim of this article is to describe how to set up correctly in order to use the driver most effectively. It’s impossible, however, to understand what setup changes you should make with the driver without discussing why they work, and what we are trying to achieve.
The dynamics of the golf swing are complex, and impact dynamics with the driver are particularly sophisticated. We’ll go into a lot more detail about the mechanics of this in later articles, but we’ll touch on it here, just enough to give you a basic understanding of how it works.
The setup position we describe is based on the Swing Like a Champion system. Unless you were part of our early trial programs, your swing probably won’t yet make maximum effective use of the setup described here, but it soon will as you work through the program. Importantly, by setting up correctly, without allowance for the compensations and manipulations present in a less-than-perfect golf swing, you will more quickly learn how to swing the golf club more effectively.
Once again, apologies to the lefties out there, but for simplicity these instructions are given for a right-handed golfer.
What Are We Trying to Achieve?
You could setup to the golf ball with your driver in much the same way as with any other club, and play great golf. The standard setup that we describe in Golf Swing Drill 108 – Setup: Addressing the Golf Ball is perfect for a powerful, accurate, consistent and safe golf swing.
Indeed, for maximum accuracy with the driver, we recommend that the only changes you make are to move the ball slightly further forward in your stance, off your left heel, and to stand slightly taller and lift your hands a little as described below. With the Swing Like a Champion system, that’s enough to drive the ball beautifully, splitting the fairway a long way out.
However, we realise that almost everyone would like to hit the ball further off the tee. Scoring is certainly easier when you have a short iron in your hand for your second shot on a long par 4, and putting for eagle on par 5s is always fun! Plus, for many of us, giving your opponent’s ball a little wave, as you stroll 50 yards past it down the fairway to reach your own ball, is great for our ego, and that’s all part of the joy of this great game.
In trying to maximise distance with the driver, it is important to note that there is some compromise involved with regard to accuracy and consistency. If you really need to thread the ball down a narrow fairway, then stick to the setup we just described. If you have room to manoeuvre, and an extra 20 yards is worth the compromise, then some small changes to your setup will help you to achieve that.
So what setup changes do you make in order to really max out distance with the driver? Let’s start by detailing the standard driver setup for power and accuracy, and then we’ll discuss the changes you should make to really send one out there, and how those changes work.
Recommended Driver Setup for Power and Accuracy
This is the perfect setup for a powerful, accurate, consistent and safe golf swing. With the Swing Like a Champion system, it will enable you to hit the ball a very long way while still having maximum accuracy off the tee.
It is much the same as your standard setup for every other club, which allows you to be completely consistent with your swing sequencing and timing. This will help you to strike the ball more accurately, which is the key to playing better golf.
- Tee the ball up so that one third of the ball is above the driver face when the driver is on the ground, addressing the ball.
- As you take your stance, as described in Golf Swing Drill 108 – Setup: Addressing the Golf Ball, set the ball slightly further forward, the back (right side) of the ball level with the inside of your left heel (2 golf balls ahead of standard).
- Stand a little taller at address (you’ll do this naturally with the longer club as you stand further from the golf ball). Your hands will be pushed out and up a little as your chest pushes against your arms. The butt end of the club will be about 3½” (9cm) further from your thighs than with your standard setup, and a little higher. This will vary depending on your build, but your right thumb should be just inside a line drawn directly down from your chin.
- You should have the same spine tilt away from the target as with your standard setup, achieved by moving your hips the same distance (1 golf ball) towards the target — see Golf Swing Drill 105 – Setup: Spine Tilt at Address.
- Your hands should hang in front of the zipper on your trousers, the same as with the standard setup, which means that the club shaft will lean very slightly away from the target when the club head is placed immediately behind the ball.
We strongly recommend that you use this “standard” setup, especially until you are proficient with the Swing Like a Champion system. The max distance setup, described below, is a compromise, and you should use it with care. If you overdo it, or get too aggressive with your swing, you will disrupt the learning process.
See “How to Practise” below for a description of how to ensure that you are in the perfect position.
Driver Setup for Maximum Distance
This modified setup is designed to max out driver distance, while still maintaining the accuracy and consistency you need to play great golf. This is not about being a long drive champion, it’s about getting the ball in the fairway closer to the green, or perhaps carrying trouble such as fairway bunkers or water.
In making these changes you are accepting a small loss of accuracy, in return for an extra 20 yards or so off the tee — that’s 20 yards on top of the huge distance gains most golfers will get from the Swing Like a Champion system with the standard setup.
The reasons for these changes are outlined below. Please take the time to read the whole of this article, it will explain how these changes work, help you to better understand how the golf swing works with the driver, and explain why some of the things you have been taught are dead wrong.
- Pick a target 5 degrees (about 20 yards or 18m) to the right of your real target (see Golf Swing 107 – Setup: Perfect Golf Aim and Alignment), and align yourself with that new target (and a matching intermediate target) — feet, knees, thighs, hips, arms, shoulders, and eyes, as well as the club face.
- Tee the ball up so that half of the ball is above the driver face when the driver is on the ground addressing the ball.
- As you take your stance, as described in Golf Swing Drill 108 – Setup: Addressing the Golf Ball, set the ball slightly further forward, the back of the ball level with your left heel (2 golf balls ahead of standard).
- You should stand slightly closer to the golf ball, to allow for the fact that the club head will be swinging in from the bottom of the swing arc at impact. You’ll test for the precise position as described below, in “How to Practise”.
- Widen your stance by 5” (13cm), by moving your right foot further to the right. Note that this is still, probably, narrower than you are used to.
- Stand a little taller at address, the same as above (you’ll do this naturally with the longer club as you stand further from the golf ball). Your hands will be pushed out and up a little as your chest pushes against your arms. The butt end of the club will be about 3½” (9cm) further from your thighs than with your standard setup, and a little higher. This will vary depending on your build, but your right thumb should be just inside a line drawn directly down from your chin.
- You should have the same spine tilt away from the target as with your standard setup, achieved by moving your hips the same distance (1 golf ball) towards the target — see Golf Swing Drill 105 – Setup: Spine Tilt at Address.
- Your hands should hang in front of the zipper on your trousers, the same as with the standard setup, which means that the club shaft will lean slightly away from the target when the club head is placed immediately behind the ball.
Hitting it Long
Driver impact dynamics are complex, and we’ll discuss them in detail (for those who are interested) in other articles dedicated to impact mechanics.
You don’t, however, need to get into too much detail in order to play great golf, but there are a few things you should understand that will help you conceptualise how a great golf swing works.
To max out distance with your driver, you need to consider 6 main factors:
1. Swing speed
The more club head speed that you can generate at impact, all other things being equal, the further you will hit the golf ball. The Swing Like a Champion system will help you to generate more club head speed than you ever imagined, whilst maintaining accuracy and consistency, and being kind to your body. The articles and drills that follow will quickly teach you how to do that. For now, we need to set up with the driver in the way that best enables a great swing.
2. Centre impact
Other than swing speed, the main difference between elite golfers and the average amateur is the quality of their ball striking. Hitting the ball out of the sweet spot, with a square club face, will maximise what’s called “smash factor”, which is a measure of the efficiency of energy transfer from club to ball. A higher smash factor equals more balls speed, and more ball speed equals more distance.
A 10% higher smash factor, caused by hitting the ball ½” (1.3cm) closer to the centre of the club face, is worth 10mph of additional club head speed — that’s about 30 yards (27m) more carry.
3. Launch angle
When it comes to maximum distance with the driver, carry is king. Other than in certain very special circumstances (high head-wind, very hard ground with downslope) you will get more distance (and have more shot options) the further the ball carries through the air. And, up to a point, you will get more carry the higher you launch the ball off the club face.
Apart from the loft of the club, the biggest factor in launching the ball higher is having a positive angle of attack — this is not the same as hitting up on the ball, as we’ll discuss below.
As a general rule, for maximum distance, all golfers should have a 5 to 6 degree positive attack angle at impact. This, together with the correct loft and club shaft for your swing speed, will produce maximum carry distance.
There are many other factors that contribute to launch angle, including shaft flex and profile, kick point, release point, and the compound pendulum effect. For the technically minded, these will be discussed in detail in other articles.
That low bullet that your friend hits, that seems to roll forever? With a great swing and a high launch, your ball will still be in the air as it flies past his. Tiger’s stinger is so impressive because, though it flies low, it carries further than you can believe! He can achieve this because he generates enormous club head speed and superb impact dynamics (we’ll teach you how to do that, too).
The ball will spin with every golf shot that you play, except maybe the putter, because you always strike the ball beneath it’s centre of gravity — more of that in our mechanics articles.
Spin, in conjunction with the dimples on the golf ball, creates lift. Lift keep the ball in the air for longer (and also curves it through the air if the spin axis is tilted). But spin also creates drag, slowing the ball down.
Slower swing speeds need more spin in order to keep the ball in the air longer. With higher swing speeds this creates too much drag.
The amount of spin imparted on the ball is related to the loft of the club and the angle of attack, and to the club head speed. A higher lofted club will launch the ball higher (a good thing), but will create more spin (not so good for high swing speeds).
With the Swing Like a Champion system, you will achieve high swing speeds. So for maximum distance with the driver, we want a high launch with low spin.
5. Gear effect
Gear effect occurs when you strike the ball away from the direction of the centre of gravity of the club (which is usually close to the centre of the club face). This causes the club head to “twist”, only slightly, but extremely quickly, during the moment of impact. This twisting while in contact with the golf ball causes it to act like a gear, imparting spin on the golf ball — this will be explained fully in another article.
This has a number of effects with the driver. When you hit the ball towards the toe of the club, gear effect will tilt the spin axis of the golf ball, creating draw-spin. Hitting it out of the heel of the club will create fade-spin. The bulge in your driver’s club face is designed to mitigate against this — for example, by starting the ball further right when you hit it off the toe in the hope that the ball will curve back towards the target due to the draw-spin.
For this discussion, however, the most important aspect of the gear effect is when you hit the ball just above the centre of the club face. This will launch the ball a little higher, because of the bulge in your driver’s club face, but the gear effect will reduce the spin (backspin) on the ball. A perfect combination, so long as the strike is still close enough to the sweet spot of the club face (see centre impact).
6. Square face
You may have been told that hitting the high draw is the best way to maximise distance. Well that has some truth in it, if everything else is set up for it, the ball will roll further. Most professional golfers prefer a fade, because the carry distance is at least as good, and they don’t want the ball to roll further into trouble when they’re off-line — more of that in other articles.
The most efficient strike, however, is with a club face that is square to its direction of travel (the club path) at impact, which will produce a straight shot.
Draws and fades, while you may prefer to shape the ball for other reasons, require that the club face points in a slightly different direction to the club path, which is in effect a “glancing blow”, and not quite as efficient (lower smash factor).
A 7-yard draw or fade isn’t going to lose you much distance, but that big hook isn’t doing you any favours, in so many ways, and of course we all hate the slice! With the Swing Like a Champion system, it won’t belong before you’re sure that you’ll never slice the ball again.
So, in summary, with the driver you want to hit the ball with maximal club head speed, out of the top of the sweet spot, and with a positive angle of attack. You also want the club face to be square to the target line, and to the club path at impact.
Don’t Hit Up on the Ball!
Every day we see teachers advising golfers to hit up on the ball with the driver for more distance. This is very bad advice! It sends completely the wrong message about how the golf swing should work, it causes golfers to get into inefficient and potentially harmful positions, and it has ruined many a good golf swing.
Yes, for maximum distance, you want to hit the ball with a positive angle of attack. The club head should be moving upwards at impact, and the club face should be pointing slightly more towards the sky.
A positive attack angle is achieved by releasing the club correctly through impact, just like you do with any other club. The only difference is that the club face encounters the golf ball slightly after the bottom of its arc, just after it starts to move upwards.
Your swing should be the same as the swing that you use for any other club, for a full-swing shot. Your swing plane will be a little flatter, because of the longer club and your small setup changes, but your swing sequence and timing will be the same.
With the Swing Like a Champion system, you will learn to generate maximum club head speed through impact, accurately, consistently and safely. You will learn how to release the club properly to deliver the club to the ball for optimum results. With an iron, that means striking down and through the ball — the club face “collects” the ball on the way to the bottom of its arc. With the standard driver setup, we’ll move the ball slightly forward so that the club collects the ball just a fraction before the bottom of its arc. With the max distance setup, the ball will be further forward in a wider stance, and the club will collect the ball just after the bottom of its arc, as it starts to move back up away from the ground, giving a positive angle of attack.
Same great swing, same sequence, same timing, same release point. Same consistent, optimal results.
It is important to understand that, in order to play great golf, you must develop a consistent position for the bottom of your swing arc. And, for efficiency, this position should be precisely under your left shoulder, with your body positioned correctly over your left side through impact. This is the key difference between a good ball striker and a poor one, and between a powerful swing and a weak one, and it is one of the most important things that you will learn in the Swing Like a Champion system.
Trying to “hit up on the ball” will cause you to tilt your spine too far away from the target, you’ll probably try to move the bottom of your swing arc back, get too steep, and try and scoop at the ball, even sometimes getting your weight stuck on your back foot. Your timing will be inconsistent. Your ball striking will be erratic, often hitting the ball on the bottom of the club face, off the toe, or out of the heel, thus losing distance and accuracy. And you’ll hurt your back!
Don’t Swing Inside-Out!
This is another piece of advice that we hear every day, swing from in-to-out. We can’t begin to describe how much we hate this destructive, pernicious nonsense!
The intentions are good, we’re sure. Most amateur golfers swing “over the top”, creating a swing path that is from outside-in. This is weak and inconsistent, it’s the main cause of the dreaded slice, and it needs to be fixed. So teachers try to get their students to swing more inside-out to correct it. That makes sense, doesn’t it? But the result of this, as with so much golf advice, is to mislead golfers, giving them a completely false understanding of how a good golf swing works.
Yes, you do want to attack the ball from inside the target line. But every good golf swing is inside-to-square-to-inside, and not inside-to-out.
With an iron, the club head may, for some shot shapes, be still moving out at the moment of impact, on its way to the bottom of its arc. But you should never think of this as in-to-out. It’s an in-to-square-to-in golf swing, it just so happens that it connects with the ball just before it gets to square.
Trying to swing “out” past the target line will destroy your golf swing. You’ll have to manipulate the golf club, you won’t release the club efficiently through impact, you’ll hit the ball with a glancing blow, and much of your energy will be thrown out away from you long after the ball has gone. It’s inefficient, inconsistent, and it requires you to manipulate your body into potentially damaging positions. It’s really horrible!
As an aside, you may have heard that some great ball strikers, particularly the wonderfully eccentric Moe Norman, tried to keep the golf club square to the target line for as long as possible, all the way through until well after impact. That’s what Moe told people that he did, when trying to explain to them how amazingly accurate he was off the tee. Well, he didn’t. He had a weird follow-through, where he took the club back out towards the target line again, but through impact he was inside-to-square-to-inside, just like every good golfer.
Note that any such attempt to keep the club face square to the target line for longer through impact is not the same as extending through the ball, far from it. We’ll teach you how to get great extension through the ball, as part of the Swing Like a Champion system, and you’ll learn that extension is the result of efficiently releasing energy into the golf club, and nothing to do with trying to manipulate the club face through impact.
Never try to manipulate the golf club through impact. Everything happens far too quickly, and the energies involved are considerable. Any attempt at manipulation will just hurt your consistency and disrupt the efficient transfer of energy through to the golf ball. You may be interested in reading more about how energy is transferred within the golf swing, which will help you to understand how you can hit the ball a lot further, with less effort, in Golf Lag and the Compound Pendulum.
So I’ll Hit it Left?
Ah, we’re glad you noticed!
With the max distance driver setup, we want you to hit the ball with a positive angle of attack, which means that impact takes place after the bottom of the club’s swing arc.
But the club plane is at an angle, let’s say 45 degrees for simplicity. So if the attack angle is 5 degrees up, then the club face, if it’s still square to the club path, is pointing 5 degrees to the left.
Note that 5 degrees is a very small angle – less than one second on a clock (6 degrees).
The club head swings inside-to-square-to-inside, as well as down-to-level-to-up. The “up” bit is our positive attack angle, the “inside” bit is the club face pointing left.
Let’s make this absolutely clear. This is not a swing flaw, and it’s nothing to do with how much loft the club has, it’s just simple math. If the club face is perfectly square to the club path at impact, as the result of a perfect golf swing, then if you have a positive angle of attack the club face will be pointing left, at an angle approximately equal to the angle of attack, and the ball will go straight left.
So, if you don’t alter your swing or manipulate the club in some way, if you have a 5 degree positive angle of attack, the golf ball will fly 5 degrees straight left.
We want you to correct for this simply by aligning your whole body 5 degrees to the right, and not through complex manipulations that require impossibly precise timing.
That’s your whole body, no manipulations or contortions, please! Your feet, knees, thighs, hips, arms, shoulders, and eyes, as well as the club face should all be aligned 5 degrees right, so that the ball will fly straight to your real target.
To do this, once you’ve picked your target, as described in Golf Swing 107. Setup: Perfect Golf Aim and Alignment, you must change the target of your alignment, pick something to align yourself towards which is 5 degrees right. So, if you carry the ball 250 yards, then your alignment target should be 22 yards right of your real one. Then pick an intermediate target in line with the alignment target, and set up exactly as you would for a straight shot out to the alignment target. Don’t try to force it or manipulate it, just make a good swing and accept that the mechanics of a great swing will “pull” the ball to your real target. You’re aligned right, towards your alignment target, but you’re really “aiming” straight at the real target.
Try not to pick a target which means that you are aligned at trouble. If 5 degrees right means aligning at, say, a water hazard, then the water will play heavily on your subconscious, which will then try to manipulate your swing for you. The subconscious mind is a mysterious thing, and sometimes just thinking “Don’t go in the water”, or even being very conscious of the water due to your alignment, can mean that all your subconscious hears is “WATER”, and that’s where the ball goes, straight in the drink! Even without your mind playing tricks on you, your alignment at trouble is almost certain to introduce tension into your swing, and tension is the biggest enemy of a good golf swing.
Be very careful to fully commit, and to align yourself properly. Any feeling of trying to pull or draw the ball back into the middle will cause you to subconsciously manipulate your swing, and damage your timing. Once you have taken a final look at the target, and you’re ready to pull the trigger, make sure that your eyes are aligned with the alignment target. If your eye alignment drifts back towards the real target, then you’re likely to push/fade it right or pull/hook it too far left. Your subconscious is an incredibly powerful thing, if it thinks you are aiming right, it will try to correct you. Only with practice will you learn to trust your adjusted alignment.
We could try to hit the ball “straight” (aligning at the target and hitting the shot in that direction), by manipulating our swing plane, coming more from the inside so that the club swings back up to “square” at impact. But, in effect, that’s exactly what we are doing by aligning to the right, just without the swing manipulations. Such manipulations are very difficult to time correctly, and on days when your timing isn’t perfect you may easily block your shot way right or hook it O.B. left. And if your standard swing generates optimal performance, then why do you want to use a different one with your driver? Timing is a fickle friend at the best of times, do you really want to change yours from shot to shot? So many times we hear golfers complain that their irons were great but the driver was off, then next week it’s the other way around. Use the Swing Like a Champion system to built one great, powerful, consistent golf swing and stick with it for every full swing you make.
Many very good golfers prefer to hit a fade with their driver, it takes the left side out of play and means that the ball is less likely to roll into trouble. This is a great alternative to the natural “pull” shot described here, and gives you a lot of control and forgiveness without trying to manipulate your swing path. We’ll teach you how to do this, if you prefer, by “holding off” the club face a little, in a later article.
A Note on Fairway Woods
The driver is the only club in the bag which is for “maximum distance”. With every other club, you want to play the ball a precisely known distance. For example, with your 6-iron you might carry the ball 178 yards +/- 6 yards. Sometimes hitting it 200 yards with a really good swing is of no use if your average is 170, you’ll just fly the green. Fairway woods are the same, they are for attacking greens and splitting fairways, not for hitting the ball as far as you possibly can — once you have a distance “dialled in” you can attack more pins, even over water.
You should setup with your fairway woods (fairway metals), hybrids and rescue clubs just like you do with any other iron for a standard full swing shot. That’s the same alignment, stance width, ball position, hand position, spine tilt, and about the same spine angle — you will naturally stand slightly more upright as you are further from the ball with the longer club, which will push your hands very slightly away from your body. See Golf Swing 102b – Setup: The Perfect Golf Ball Position and the other articles in this section for details.
On the tee, tee the ball up slightly to get the maximum benefit from the larger club face and the increased size of the sweet spot, again you want to be striking the golf ball out of the top of the sweet spot. With a longer club, your swing will naturally be shallower, though you still want a negative angle of attack (about 3 degrees down). Depending on the size of the club face, a tee height of about ¼” to ½” (6 to 12mm) is ideal, experiment by using a dry-erase marker as described below.
As you progress through the Swing Like a Champion system, you will learn how to generate much more club head speed, and to move the bottom of your swing arc forward, so it is consistently in front of your left foot. Thus, you will learn to strike down and through the golf ball for consistency and accuracy, taking a shallow divot, and your increased club head speed will launch the ball high and far.
How to Practise
We strongly recommend that you practise hitting your driver with your normal setup, with the same ball position and stance width that you use for every other club. Tee the ball low and hit down on the ball (just like you would with a long iron, hybrid, or 3-wood), scuffing the ground after the ball as you take a “divot”. Learn to feel that your swing is exactly the same as for any other club.
Once you can do that successfully, then change your setup, as we describe above, and make exactly the same swing. Don’t let yourself adjust your thinking or your timing, don’t “react” to the new ball position, just accept the fact that the club face will collect the ball a little later in your swing, and that the ball will go straight left.
Be very conscious of releasing the golf club in exactly the same way through impact, with the same timing — just as you just did with your normal setup.
The recommended driver setup moves the ball up 2 golf ball diameters towards your left foot. Once you are proficient with the Swing Like a Champion system, this position will be just fractionally behind the bottom of your swing arc, so you’re still striking the ball with a slightly negative angle of attack. Be sure that you still release the golf club at the same place (with the same timing) as you did above, as if you were striking a ball in the normal position for an iron. Note that if you’re still developing your Swing Like a Champion system, your swing arc may not yet bottom out this far forwards, and you may not yet have complete control over the club face, and so the ball may launch slightly left, as per the max distance driver setup — experiment a little with the precise ball position that works best for you, and adjust it as your swing improves.
The max distance driver setup also moves the ball up 2 golf ball diameters towards your left foot, towards the bottom of your swing arc. Then widening your stance effectively moves it another 2 golf balls forward, so it’s now about 3 inches ahead of the bottom of your swing arc. This creates the required 5 degree positive attack angle, but you must keep your swing release point the same as you did with the standard ball position and stance width.
Widening your stance will make it a little more difficult to get over to your left side on the downswing, which is one of the main reasons why we don’t recommend it, and we’ll discuss that later on in the Swing Like a Champion system downswing section.
One crucial thing to practise, with either setup, is hitting the ball out of the top-centre of the sweet spot. The easiest way to check the point of impact is to mark the back of a range ball with a dry-erase marker pen, and see where the ink dot is on the club face after you’ve hit the ball. Adjust your tee height and your distance from the ball to correct it. Practise this regularly, the more accurately you can strike the ball with the correct point on the face, the better golfer you will be.
The exact amount of positive attack angle that you create with the max distance driver setup will vary, as will the direction of the golf ball, depending on many factors which we’ll discuss in later articles.
Once you are proficient with the Swing Like a Champion system, we recommend that you get fitted for a club shaft that matches your exact swing profile and optimises your launch angle and spin rates. One shaft that says “S” on it is not much like another, even for shafts by the same manufacturer. Manufacturing tolerances are wide, and shaft flex profiles vary enormously. Club heads are mostly a matter of taste, what looks good to you behind the ball, what sounds good at impact, what inspires confidence. But the right shaft can really help your game — once you have a great golf swing.
If you have any questions or comments about this or other articles on Golf Loopy, please send us an email.
Okay, you’re set up perfectly over the golf ball and ready to pull the trigger? Let’s start learning how to move, with Golf Swing 201 – Takeaway: The Perfect Golf Swing Takeaway.