Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thoughts On Hitting Up On The Driver...

One of the concepts that often bandied about in golf instruction recently is hitting up versus hitting down with the driver.

For those who don’t understand ‘attack angle’, it’s actually measured from the caddy view as shown in the diagram below.


Many people confuse this with ‘coming in too steep’, which would be viewed from the Down The Line perspective, such as this player coming over the top.


A steep or shallow attack angle is not the same as a coming over the top or getting below plane concepts. Furthermore, they are not mutually exclusive either. There’s a tendency for them to go hand-in-hand. The extreme over the top player may have a tendency to have a steep attack angle as well. But, that’s not always the case.


This concept was popularized by Trackman when they discovered that not only could one hit upward with the driver, that all things being equal the ball would go further as the attack angle got shallower or went upward. The ball will carry further and will spin less, thus meaning a long carrying shot that rolled more.

However, ‘that is all’ that hitting up does. It will allow the golfer to hit the ball further provided everything else is the same.

Obviously, hitting the ball further has an advantage. My statistical research on Tour shows that the expected score values go down as the Tour player gets his approach shot 25 yards closer to the hole. Meaning, if a Tour player were to play 2 balls and hit his first drive to 175 yards to the flag and the 2nd drive to 150 yards to the flag, on average the expected score value starts to noticeably get better on the 2nd drive which is 25 yards closer to the flag. Using that example, the 1st drive (175 yards to flag) may mean that on average the expected score value for the golfer on that hole may be 4.1 strokes. But the 2nd drive (150 yards to flag) may have an expected score value of 3.8 strokes. And while 0.3 strokes may not seem like a big deal, do that around the course for an entire round, it certainly adds up.

All of that being said, hitting up with the driver does not equate to any benefit as far as accuracy or consistency.


I asked a few of my sources who own either a Trackman or the FlightScope X2 model launch monitor to get their thoughts on hitting up. These sources included 4 current PGA Tour players and 4 current Nationwide Tour players. Along with 5 Trackman owner golf instructors, some of whom teach the Tour players and a few LPGA players (I didn't speak to the LPGA players).

A few of these sources were very much for hitting upward on the driver. But, the majority found some pitfalls with trying to hit up on the driver.

One of the common complaints was the fear of losing clubhead speed with the driver. Most of the sources claimed that they felt that there was a point of diminishing returns with trying to hit up and getting distance because they felt that any distance derived from hitting it more upward could be offset by distance lost thru lower clubhead speed.

Currently, there are 139 golfers on Tour who have driver clubhead speed measurements from Trackman in both 2012 and 2011. Two of the sources that I know have changed their attack angle in order to hit upward are in the top-10 largest drops in clubhead speed. And 2 of the sources who have stopped trying to hit up so much on the driver are in the top-10 in increased clubhead speed.

From talking to these sources and observing some clubhead speed data, I do believe that one can hit down too much and lose clubhead speed. However, I think those are situations where the golfer is just swinging poorly to begin with. So as far as hitting up and distance goes, there appears to be a situation where the golfer needs to understand that hitting up does not always equate to hitting it further if their clubhead and ball speed drops. Thus, they will need to determine if the distance gained from hitting upward can counter any possible distance lost from a lower clubhead speed.

Another common complaint was that hitting upward required a very different swing from hitting irons or even fairway woods. We know from the Geometry of the Circle that if you want to hit down and have a square path, the swing direction has to go left. But if you want a square path and hit up, the swing direction has to be pointing out to the right. Thus, the common complaint was making the switch from those different swing directions was often too difficult for the player to make.

There were other complaints as well as not feeling comfortable with the trajectory windows being hit on upward strikes versus their ‘normal’ downward or ‘flat’ strike (0.0° attack angle).


I utilize a metric called Advanced Total Driving that is a proprietary formula to help determine effectiveness off the tee for golfers on Tour. Advanced Total Driving consists of the following metrics:

Driving Distance
Fairway Percentage
Distance To Edge of Fairway (on shots that miss the fairway)

I have found that these metrics encompass the main attributes we look for in driving skill…distance, accuracy and precision.


From what I have observed, there is no real statistical correlation that can be draw with attack angle and Advanced Total Driving. Part of the problem is that there is a small sample size that I’m working with since I only have about 25 PGA Tour player’s attack angle recordings via Trackman.

However, the only correlation I tend to see is in golfers that hit more than -4.5° down with the driver. The correlation there is to perform poorly in Advanced Total Driving. But again, it appears that those are issues with the golfer just swinging poorly period. These golfers almost exclusively play poorly in each of the Zones (Birdie Zone, Safe Zone and Danger Zone) as well.

Boo Weekley ranked #1 in Advanced Total Driving in 2011 and is currently ranked #2 this year and he hits -3.5°. However, Bo Van Pelt is one of the better drivers on Tour year in and year out, ranked 10th in 2011 and currently ranked 26th and hits up about +2° to +5°.


The end game in driving the ball is about being able to hit the ball as well as you can from the perspective of distance, accuracy and precision. We want to blend all of those together. Obviously, there can be situations where a golfer may increase power but lose some accuracy or precision off the tee. It then becomes the golfer’s duty to be able to gauge whether the trade-off will be more effective in lowering their scores.

I do not think there’s anything wrong with hitting up on the driver if the golfer can execute it well enough to where they are more effective off the tee in doing so. However, the same goes for hitting down with the driver.

I have concluded that a golfer needs to understand that hitting up on the driver is not mandatory in any way, shape or form as shown by golfers like Boo Weekley and Hunter Mahan. Furthermore, the golfer should understand the potential dangers of hitting up on the ball versus the potential dangers of hitting down on the ball.

I think that all serious Long Distance driving competitors MUST hit up on the driver in order to succeed. But, those golfers are far more worried about optimizing the parts of impact that optimize distance rather than worrying about accuracy and precision as they are given 6 shots to hit the ball as far as they can and still find a grid that is 40 yards wide.

But for the average golfer, I think there are many factors to consider and hitting up on the driver is nowhere near being mandatory. There are some people who believe that the driver is ‘designed to hit upward on’, but I actually think that the driver is more designed for a ‘flat’ attack angle (0.0°) and the average attack angle on Tour is about -1° downward (measured by Trackman).

I think that closer to a flat attack angle probably works better for most golfers in terms of generating clubhead speed, accuracy, consistency and being able to transition better to swinging the other clubs as well. Obviously, some exceptions apply.



happyroman said...
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happyroman said...

It baffles me that there is such an issue with players that resist learning to "hit up on the ball" with the driver because they think it requires a change in their swing. The arc on which the clubhead travels should stay the same as their "old" swing. The only differences that are required have to do with playing the ball further forward in the stance so that the clubhead bottoms out and then catches the ball on the way up. The more forward ball position may then require an adjustment in thair alignment so that they are aligned a little more to the right. However, the basic swing does not need to change at all.