Golf Tips: Your driver is too long. Cut down your shaft and cut your scores

Modern drivers are hurting accuracy.
Modern drivers are hurting accuracy. /

In this edition of golf tips, we look at drivers. With all the technological advancements in drivers and golf balls over the last 20 years, why is virtually every golfer on the planet, from Tour pros down to you and me, less accurate off the tee?

True story: I cannot hit my driver straight to save my life. A good day is hitting two or three fairways in an entire round. Those I do find are the equivalent of a blind squirrel finding an acorn – I don’t know how it happened, but I’m thankful nonetheless. As with most golfers, we are always looking for golf tips to help our driver.

The more depressing part is, I’m a 13 index. I don’t totally suck. Before researching this article, I figured I should hit at least half the fairways I play. You might feel the same way if you carry a low-to-mid handicap.

Boy, was I in for a shock.

In 1997, more than 20 Tour players averaged 75% or better in driving accuracy (fairways-hit). In 2019, only Jim Furyk is above 75%. Funny enough, back in 1997, he was also one of the most accurate at 79%.

Before you try to convince yourself that you can or do hit 75% of fairways – or even 50%, consider this: the mean this year on the PGA Tour of fairways hit is 62%. Half the Tour is worse than that. Rory McIlroy, Tony Finau, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, and Dustin Johnson are all below 60%. Jordan Speith is below 50%.

Are you telling me you hit more fairways than these guys?

Let’s get real. Can we just agree that 2 or 3 more fairways hit a round would do wonders for the average golfer? If so, it all starts and ends with the big dog in the bag.

All the big manufacturers – every single one of them – tells us their latest driver is longer and more accurate than ever before. So why, since the 1990’s spawned a generation of 460 cc drivers, has accuracy gone down?

The evidence is clear, 20+ years of technology advancements in head materials, weighting, shafts, and grips have only made us less accurate off the tee. And let’s not forget the modern ball. It should also be much more consistent (read: accurate) than the balls back in the ’90’s. Everyone should be bombing it down the middle!

We’re booming it alright. That’s one thing we’ve all gotten out of newer and better driver tech – prodigious distance. No question, the big modern drivers produce gloriously long tee balls. It’s the down the middle part that we are missing. What’s the use of a long drive if you’re punching out your second shot most of the time?

So if everything about the modern driver – materials, engineering, manufacturing, shafts – to say nothing of the modern golf ball – is better, what’s going on?

That’s where today’s version of golf tips comes into play. The short answer has everything to do with length.

You may think that all the distance gained is solely based on better balls and better clubs, but you would only be partially right. I’d actually argue that’s mostly wrong. Club manufacturers have hidden, in plain sight, the secret to consistently making drivers that go further than the clubs of yore – the driver shaft.

I’m not talking about better shafts – certainly, they are better today. I’m talking about longer shafts.

Perhaps more than anything else, added shaft length has increased driver distances. In the last 25 years, the average driver shaft length has gradually moved from 43 inches to 45.75 inches.

A longer shaft produces more swing speed. More swing speed produces higher ball speed. Higher ball speed means more distance. That’s the equation. And that’s how they’ve been fooling us for years.

In fact, testing shows an inch of extra shaft length equals roughly 10 yards in distance. So a driver with a 43-inch shaft vs. a driver with a 45.75-inch shaft – same golfer, same club head, same ball, same shaft type – could equal 20-25 yards extra distance. That’s huge.

But guess what? Longer shafts are harder to control. That 2.75-inch difference between old drivers and current ones is more than the difference in length between your pitching wedge and your 5-iron. Tell me, which one of those irons is more accurate for you?

We’ve done it to ourselves, people. We fell in love with the long ball. And it’s actually made us worse off the tee.

Now I’m not some golfing Luddite about to sing the praises of persimmon and steel shafts. Modern drivers are light years ahead of that old stuff. But the facts show those tiny wooden drivers were more accurate even without perimeter weighting, carbon fiber, twist face, flash face technology, variable thickness faces, air turbulators, or any other mumbo-jumbo they sell us.

Everything about the old driver is technically inferior. The only plausible reason for their increased accuracy is that they were mostly 43 inches long.

On top of that, did you know most OEM drivers you buy in the store are an inch longer than what most tour players hit? Rickie Fowler averages over 300 yards with a 43.5-inch driver. Most pros don’t hit anything longer than a 45-inch driver.

Why do they use a shorter shaft? Accuracy. Sometimes the best golf tips are the simplest.

I’m moving to a 44.75-inch shaft. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll cut off another inch. What do I have to lose? The prospect of being 10-15 yards shorter in fairway sounds a whole lot better than going deep into the woods.

Ask your Pro if this might be right for you. Few will bring it up on their own. When fitting a driver, it’s important to get loft, lie, shaft, and grip sorted, but better driving may be hiding in a shorter shaft.

Youth golf: Why today’s big hitters are bad for beginners. dark. Next

In fact, a shorter shaft should help you find the sweet spot more often and may even add distance. Who thought the simplest of golf tips could make such a difference. If you can check your ego, you may find lower scores and more 19th hole payouts. Who’s not up for that?