How to Get Your Driver Backspin Under Control

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Since the advent of Trackman a couple of years ago, we have replaced old ball flight 'dogma' with a set of new set of ball flight laws.  Most golfers, even professionals, are still not aware of the differences.  Even if they are, they don't believe them.

Today let's focus on backspin, because it can be so troubling for people looking for optimal distance off the tee.

Generally speaking, golfers with slower swing speeds of say, 80 mph and below, need a bit more backspin to keep their ball airborne a bit longer.  This group can grab a driver off the rack, either 9.5 or a 10.5 loft with a regular shaft and be fairly close to optimal spin.

The problem begins with golfers at 105 mph or above, because the local golf supermarket no longer has optimal fiitting drivers readily available anymore.  Going with a 9.5 stiff shaft will often result in loss of distance because of too much backspin.  You know the shot - the ball that balloons way up in the air and comes down with no roll.  A lower spinning drive looks more like it tumbles its whole flight rather than climbs.  It penetrates - especially into the wind.

And of course, the 3rd group, the professional golfers and long drivers, who need specialized equipment.  For these golfers, optimal backspin can potentially mean hundreds of thousand of dollars per year and can make or break a career.  This article focuses more on you.

Let's take a look at the three factors that make up driver spin:

1.  Loft.

2.  Speed.

3.  Angle of Attack*

We used to think that angle of attack was the primary cause of ballooned drives, but this just isn't the case.  Fredrik Tuxen of Trackman reported that AoA has virtually no effect on backspin, as you don't change the spin loft on the driver.  Notice that he didn't say "no effect" but "virtually no effect".  This is because AoA adds about 26 rpm per degree.  For almost all golfers this can just be ignored.  Even for the longest drivers on the planet, it may only affect up to 150-200 rpm.  Not a lot, but at 140+ mph, it may make a slight difference in your efficiency.  However, we should primarily focus on points 1 and 2.

Since club head speed is the friend of the long driver and skilled golfer, we will eliminate this variable.  Sure if you're a PGA pro trying to control distance on a scoring shot into a headwind, speed may be your enemy - but we're always interested in going FAST.  We want more clubhead speed - not less.

So we are left with the main culprit - loft.  Spin loft to be exact.  The following diagram shows irons - but pertains to drivers as well.

Here you can see how angle of attack may change dynamic loft, but does not change spin loft.

To reduce your spin rate, you must reduce spin loft.  You can do this four ways:

1.  Use a lower lofted driver.  I see many fast swinging amateurs (110mph+) still using a 9.5 lofted club.  If angle of attack is even decent, this will most likely result in too much backspin and reduced distance.  But 8.5 drivers and less are not widely available.  Many long drivers use 5 and 6 degree drivers to reduce spin loft.  Joe Miller, the reigning world champion, used a 3.5 degree driver to win.  Don't be afraid to experiment with a lower lofted driver.

2.  Use a driver with a higher center of gravity.  Many major club companies have lower the CG of their drivers to promote the idea of getting the ball up in the air easily.  Your 10.5 might actually be playing like a 12 degree driver!  This works well for a hacker, but poorly for a skilled golfer who swings faster.  Often times, major club companies give their tour players a completely different weighted head to play on tour than what is sold in stores! 

Geek Golf makes a driver head that is proven to reduce backspin.

3.  Use a stiffer shaft with a higher kick point.  Some long drivers still have big problems producing too much backspin, even with a 5 degree driver.  The shaft of a driver can add several degrees of spin loft by bowing into the ball.  If you are using a shaft flex too soft or with a low kick point, which off the rack drivers usually have, you will create more backspin.

A student of mine was launching a 9.5 degree driver at over 18 degrees on average!  He had a stock stiff shaft that was just too whippy for his speed and tempo. 

Usually, you will have to upgrade to an aftermarket shaft like a Matrix or a House of Forged, but the investment will be worth it, as these shafts often reduce side to side dispersion.  This translates to longer straighter drives.

4.  Tempo can affect spin by loading the shaft less on the way down.  A very quick transition can result in higher launch angles because of the way the shaft can curve into the ball.  Someone with this type of more violent tempo often has a hard time finding the fairway consistently because he can't always time the release and the squaring up of the shaft. 

A golfer with a smooth, pendular tempo will put less load on the shaft and therefore can reduce launch angle and backspin in some cases.  One long driver I know has gone down to a single X shaft even though his swing speed is up to 142 mph.  He has fantastic tempo.

So there you have it - a primer in how to control your driver backspin.  If you are in the 110 mph range, you are generally looking for 2200-2300 rpm of backspin to optimize your drives.  At 140 mph, 1700-1800 may make the ball go the farthest, given you have the correct launch angle and angle of attack.

The best way to know for sure if you are putting the correct amount of backspin on your driver is to get fit on a Trackman Pro Golf Launch Monitor.  If you are in the Southern California area, consider coming out to see me and get fitted correctly for your best drives!  You can email me through the site.

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