To help golfers hit the ball further, golf club manufacturers have stretched the limits of driver design by inflating the size of club heads as far as the rules allow and stretching the shafts as well. In the 1990s, the average driver was about 43 inches long. Today, the standard is closer to 45 inches. Whether the extra 2 inches really helps you hit the ball longer is a matter of debate.
Longer Shafts, Longer Drives
Many manufacturers have promoted the theory that longer shafts will help golfers hit longer drives. Their claim begins with the fact that the distance you hit a ball is the result of club head speed, which is at least partially a product of how far the club head travels. In the swing, the club head travels in a circle. A wider circle, or swing arc, produces greater club head speed and longer shots. A 5 mph increase in club head speed may net you an extra 10 or 12 yards off the tee, enough to give you one less club into the green and a good chance to out-drive your partners.
Longer Shafts, Lighter Club Heads
Today’s club makers can use longer shafts in drivers because the modern club heads are not only bigger but lighter. A decade or two ago, if you swung a 45-inch driver, it would probably feel like you were swinging a heavy weight at the end of a whippy shaft. That’s because longer shafts increase a club’s swing weight, which is the amount of weight you feel at the end of the club. The same club head on a 43-inch shaft will feel lighter on a 45-inch shaft. Lighter club heads, and light graphite shafts, allow you to use a longer club.
Longer Shafts, Forgiving Club Heads
You may like a 45-inch shaft if you feel like you are getting every bit of club head speed out of your swing but still need more distance. While you may worry that a longer club could create some control problems, the 460 cubic centimeter club heads on most modern drivers are designed to forgive your mishits. The weight distribution in the large heads creates a wider hitting area -- or “sweet spot” -- on the face. The club head will resist twisting off line if you make contact toward the heel or toe of the club.
Longer Isn't Always Better
Not every expert agrees that longer shafts are better. Custom club makers at Henry-Griffitts and Tom Wishom Golf Technology argue that longer drivers are more difficult to control than the traditional 43-inch models. A 45-inch shaft may reduce your margin of error on mishits, particularly if you have a fast swing. Andrew Rice, a South Carolina-based teaching professional, tested the same club head with a 43-inch shaft and a 45-inch shaft. He found that he actually hit the ball longer with the shorter shaft. Rice believes his launch angle and the spin rate on the golf ball were better with a 43-inch shaft.