Are Longer Drives a Spec Change Away?
Thanks to Bryson DeChambeau, longer driver shafts have been one of the hottest topics in golf equipment. Ever since he revealed that he’s been working with a 48″ driver, everyone has been wondering, “Should I be playing a longer driver, too?”
In this edition of Golf Myths Unplugged, we tested that very idea. Should you be adding length to your driver? Will it cost you accuracy or consistency? Let’s find out.
Myth #1 – Longer shafts will create more club head speed
Myth #2 – Longer shafts will create more ball speed
Myth #3 – Longer shafts will create more distance
Myth #3 – Longer shafts will be less accurate
Myth #4 – Longer shafts will be less consistent
How We Tested
For this test, we brought together five golfers with handicaps between 0 and 14. Each player hit five drives each with a 45″ driver and a 47″ driver. All players used the exact same driver head and the exact same driver shafts – a Mitsubishi Diamana TB [review HERE]. Some players hit the longer driver first, others hit the shorter driver first. All testers were required to wait at least one minute between swings to more closely simulate on course conditions. All shots were recorded on Trackman.
All testing was done at and with the help of Club Champion.
Special thanks to Mitsubishi for providing the Diamana TB shafts for this test.
Our testing showed that a longer shaft did lead to higher club head speed. However, the amount of extra club head speed varied quite a bit. Our slowest tester only gained 0.2 MPH with the added length. On the other end of the spectrum, we saw one player gain 3 MPH of club head speed. On average, our test panel gained 1.16 MPH of club head speed.
In my opinion, this data may underrepresent the gains possible from going to a longer shaft for two reasons. First, the swing weight was much higher when the shaft was longer. It’s possible that a more “normal” swing weight could have helped our players swing even faster. Second, and probably more importantly, our testers all game 45″ drivers. If they were given time to acclimate to the 47″ driver, I hypothesize that they would find even more speed.
While each of our testers gained club head speed, not all of them were able to translate that into more ball speed. In fact, there was a very clear divide. Three of our testers gained substantial ball speed – 3.8 MPH on average. Our other two testers, however, lost significant ball speed – an average of 4.4 MPH.
Overall, I rate as plausible the idea that a longer shaft will lead to more ball speed for a number of reasons. First, most of our testers did gain speed. For the two that didn’t, the lack of familiarity and the higher swing weight may have played a role in the poorer ball striking. Finally, the tester who lost the most ball speed with the longer shaft was our smallest, physically weakest tester, and was clearly struggling with fatigue when he got to the 47″ driver. This suggests an avenue for future testing, which will be discussed more later.
A longer shaft did create longer drives for our test group. On average, our testers gained 4.7 yards of carry distance with the 47″ driver.
Our biggest gainer added a whopping 12.4 yards of carry distance by switching to the longer shaft. One tester did lose carry distance – 2.8 yards.
Looking at the launch angle and spin, there were no consistent patterns. Some players saw huge spin reductions with the longer shaft (~900 RPM), others saw moderate increases (~300 RPM). Similarly, one player added 4 degrees of launch angle with the longer shaft, another lost nearly a degree. Once again, we see how personal equipment is and why fitting is essential.
The standard knock on longer driver shafts is that they will lead you far from the fairway. In our testing, we found that the opposite was true.
As always, we looked at accuracy two ways: average distance from the centerline and left-to-right dispersion. By both measures, the 47″ driver was more accurate than the 45″ driver.
In average distance from the centerline, the longer driver was better for 4 of our 5 testers. Our median tester was 4.6 yards closer to the centerline with the longer driver, and the average improvement was 2.3 yards.
When looking at dispersion, again, 4 out of 5 testers were better with the longer driver. In this case, the differences were even larger. The median tester had a dispersion that was 30 yards tighter with the longer driver. On average, our testers had left-to-right dispersions that were 14.4 yards smaller with the longer driver.
Consistency is the other concern that keeps player in shorter driver shafts. There is a concern that the best shots will be great, but the worst shots will be worse. We found that, contrary to popular belief, the longer driver led to superior consistency.
First, we looked at the consistency of club head speed. We found no difference between the 45″ and 47″ drivers. Next, we examined ball speed. Here we found that the 47″ driver was more consistent – players had a great variance in ball speed with the 45″ driver.
Next, we looked at distance dispersion. This was a mixed bag. One tester created substantially more consistent distance with the longer driver. Another tester was noticeably more consistent with the shorter driver. Our other three testers were slightly more consistent with the longer shaft, but the difference was minimal.
Finally, consider the accuracy data that we cited above. Our testers were closer to the centerline and had tighter dispersion with the longer driver.
Additional Findings & Commentary
One subjective note that surprised me was that our test panel felt very comfortable with the 47″ driver. Most said the difference was not significant, though one said he preferred the 45″ driver.
I’d also reemphasize the point that I made earlier: these results may underrepresent the gains possible with a longer driver shaft. If given time to practice with the 47″ driver, I think our testers could generate even more speed and distance.
Finally, it’s worth considering the importance of shaft fit. The Diamana TB shaft that we used was selected because it works well for a wide range of golfers. That said, it wasn’t necessarily ideal for each of our testers. It would be interesting to see the players test their personal shaft at varying lengths. I’d also be curious to see if there are different “best” shafts depending on the length of the driver set up.
Opportunities for Future Testing
In this test, we used the exact same head throughout, so the longer driver also had a significantly higher swing weight. We did this to keep the static weight of the two driver sets up closer. It would be interesting to run this test again and match the swing weight, allowing the static weight to vary more.
Additionally, our testing indicated that the longer shaft worked better for some players than others. In this test, our smallest tester fared worst with the longer shaft. However, our largest tester was not the biggest gainer from the longer shaft. Though it’s unlikely we’ll have this opportunity, it would be interesting to test driver length with large numbers of golfers with different body types to see if there are any correlations to be found.
If you want to get longer off the tee, the fastest way to do so may be playing a longer driver. Don’t be discouraged by the clichés about longer drivers being inaccurate or inconsistent. Most of those notions come about as a result of confirmation bias. People assume that longer drivers are less accurate, so when a longer driver hits it in the woods, they make note of it. They ignore the fact that short drivers miss plenty of fairways too.
Ignore the naysayers, the haters, and anyone else who would tell you what to do with your equipment. Work with your fitter to find the combination of shaft profile, flex, weight, and length that will let you bomb it past your friends.
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Great experiment Matt! The test definitely goes to show the benefits and necessity of being properly fit to play your best golf. #GetFit2021
Very interesting study. I recently shortened my shaft by 1” (differs shaft than prior and heavier) and actually have seen my fairways hit go up but small drop in distance. Maybe I need to reconsider things.,, thank you for this.
Another important point to note when you build a longer driver on a “normal” head – the club tilts up more towards the player since the lie angle of the club is too upright for the club’s new length. This essentially makes the club very draw biased. So people who struggle with a slice may see benefits from this type of a setup . This may account, in part, for why your test group hit the ball straighter – but over time I wouldn’t be surprised to see the player struggle with alignment on the course. Conversely, someone who fights a hook may really struggle with this setup. It’s going to be interesting to see if the OEM’s start making drivers with flatter lie angles designed to be fitted with longer shafts for the general public – since we know they already are making them for the pros.
Thanks for the great test Matt. Generally speaking, as a club fitter if you were to build a 47” driver for a consistent ball striker, 98mph “normal” driver swing speed, would you go lighter and counterbalanced with the shaft to keep the swing weight down?
Also interesting in your test that the backspin number did not go higher with the longer shaft. Great test.
Great question. With the caveat that something different will work for everyone, I think my first thought would be to use a slightly lighter shaft (50 vs 60, perhaps) and either a small amount of counter weight or modify the head weight (use a lighter weight in the case of a driver like the Srixon ZXs).
Hey Matt, nice article. This was probably 10-12 yrs ago, I got fit at PING, at the time they were going with the idea of slightly shorter driver shafts with their staff players., why, because they found consistently better contact. I’ve been doing this ever since myself and really works well, for me.