Two of the most important factors that affect distance are your swing speed and your launch angle. The swing speed aspect of distance is simple: the higher the club speed—with all else being equal—the higher the ball velocity and thus the farther the ball should go.
It seems logical, but when you consider variables like spin, angle of attack, launch angle and smash factor you come to realize that speed alone, while a good indicator, does not plainly equal distance.
However, when you observe the launch angle of your shots in addition to speed, you get a more accurate picture of what your golf ball is doing. Striking the ball consistently and lowering spin are important, but your launch angle can be the difference between a beautiful drive down the middle of the fairway and a rug burner that barely carries 150 yards. Let’s dive into some of the ways that your launch angle can affect your distance.
The launch angle is a measurement of the angle between the ground and exit path of the golf ball at impact:
Most golfers tend to launch the ball too high off the tee (driver) and too low off the ground on other lies (irons). This is a combination of poor contact, slower swing speeds, and poor setup.
When you are driving, the ball should be at the front of your stance, your weight should be distributed primarily to your back foot, and your lead shoulder should be slightly higher than your back shoulder. This will set you up to hit up on the ball—a swing that should lessen spin and raise your launch angle at the same time. If you can swing up at the ball you increase your launch angle by adding that extra upswing to the loft already present on your driver.
When you are hitting a wood, hybrid, or iron off the ground, the ball should be placed progressively farther back in your stance as your loft increases. You will also strike down on the ball, making contact with the ball first which helps you make crisp contact and gets the ball off the ground and at a higher launch angle.
The average PGA Tour golfer hits their driver with a launch angle of 10.9-degrees, LPGA is 13.2-degrees, and the average male amateur golfer has a launch angle of 12.6-degrees. If you are swinging up on the ball, you can actually have a slightly higher launch angle than the numbers above and still get good distance because swinging up on the ball reduces spin. Here are some other launch angles you should desire with each of your other golf clubs:
If you have ever gone driver shopping, then you know that you can find driver lofts, on average, between 8-degrees and 12-degrees of loft with the majority being either 9-degrees or 10.5-degrees. As a general rule, the higher your swing speed, the less loft that you need in a driver because your swing speed will assist with carry distance, but a lower-lofted driver will also produce more spin on mishits.
If you have ever tried to hit a 4-iron and an 8-iron on the same hole, then you’ll know the 8-iron is easier to hit. There is a lot more to the 8-iron being easier to hit than just loft, but it is one of the reasons, and that same idea can be applied to your driver as well. In general, a 12-degree driver will be easier to hit than a 9-degree driver, and the slower your swing speed, the higher the loft you would probably want to use. As a general rule, a driver with 10.5-degrees of loft will work well for the majority of golfers.
There is a lot of information about what the ideal launch angle should be for a driver, but the truth is that there is not an “ideal launch” angle that every golfer should strive for. Your ideal launch angle depends on your swing speed, and here are some general guidelines for what your launch angle should be at different swing speeds:
Many golfers have begun using launch monitors in an attempt to add distance, consistency, and accuracy to their game. Launch monitors measure simple things like launch angle, ball speed, distance and spin rate. All of these things work together to give a practicing golfer an understanding of what their shots are doing.
Launch monitors can assist in launch angle optimization, but they aren't the most accurate devices available. Golf simulators such as Trackman, Foresight and Full Swing provide a much more accurate description of shot statistics throughout a practice session.
Launch angle is not the only important aspect of carry distance, but it plays a huge role. If you do not hit the ball high enough, then you will miss out on true and accurate distance relying instead on bounce and roll. If you hit the ball too high, you will sky the ball and lose distance to height, making your ball more susceptible to wind and backspin. Ideally, you will find a launch angle that works with your swing and the spin that you produce on each shot. Swing analytics tools can help you find your best numbers, but a lot of it comes down to practice and feel, so be ready to spend some time in the lab working towards optimal results.