Bigger Might Not Be Better
I’ve written quite a bit about the advantages of blade style irons over most larger and “more forgiving” cavity back designs. I’m a fan of more compact irons, even for average mid-handicap players, as I feel like they promote the learning and grooving of a better swing, and they deliver more consistent distances, particularly in the shorter irons. So I guess I should have been surprised by a reader inquiry about the same holding true of driver size – can smaller actually be better?

Well, for my answer, you could take a look in my own bag. You’ll find an Alpha driver that is only 400 cc in size, 9.5* loft. I’ve been playing this club for about three years now, and regularly test it against the new stuff my buddies show up with at the club. I have yet to find a new whiz bang driver that is longer or straighter. Here’s why, in my opinion:

First of all, every driver, of any size, has a single sweet spot that is about the size of a dime at best. Probably more like a pinhead, actually. There is one single spot on every driver that maximizes the delivery of the mass. As you begin to move the impact away from this spot, you lose distance. The experts I trust tell me this loss is from 7-9% on a miss of only a half inch, and 12-15% on a miss of ¾”. So, regardless of size, the optimum performance will be on dead centers hits, and the size of the clubhead does not help you achieve this.

In fact, my opinion is that the large and long drivers cause golfers to hit the center of the face less often than most of them used to when they played the smaller drivers some time ago. I’ve written several times that if you will grip down on your driver an inch or two, you will most likely find your driving distance and accuracy to improve because you will hit it closer to this sweet spot more often.

But back to the comparison of the large 460cc drivers to one of a smaller size. They both will have a very definite sweet spot that is micro-small. Impacts off that sweet spot will still cause a loss of impact efficiency. They both have much of the mass moved to the perimeter to help mitigate the effect of those off-center hits. The big difference in my opinion is the shaft. Is it the right flex for you? Does it have the optimum weight for your swing? That’s where you will most likely optimize your driving, if you just have to tweak with it.

But might the smaller size driver actually allow you to swing the club faster due to reduced air resistance? Some driver brands make a big deal out of the aerodynamics of their designs, but wouldn’t a smaller aerodynamic design produce less resistance of a larger one? Something to think about.

The final thought on this subject is an analogy I make between a hammer and a fry pan. If you had a two pound sledge and a two pound iron skillet, which would most likely drive a nail faster? The sledge, of course, because you would have more of the mass focused directly behind the impact.

I know the same holds true for golf clubs.
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[ comments ]
CN_Roger says:
For what you say for a hammer and a frying pan I agree, but when you compare between a sledge and pan, it isn't the same. You say one thing than another, make the compare between a hammer and a sledge, I don't think you would get the same difference of hit. And as what you say about the sweet spot, if you miss the spot by 0.5" to 0.75" that is a lot. I agree for one thing, being smaller is more aerodynamic. But by having a big sweet spot by a bigger head make's it more forgiving... This is my opp. maybe good maybe not???? Roger D.
G.C. says:
The frying pan analogy holds if the driver face does not flex or compress during the hit. I don't know the answer to that one, but given that the ball does compress, it may well be that the driver face remains inflexible at impact.

hoonunya says:
I think a lot of golfers would be amazed at how rarely they hit the sweet spot within a half inch. They need to try some face tape or labels or such. Trying to get that big headed driver around to that little ball is a chore. I can make better contact with a tiny 3 wood head then I can with a 460.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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