Optimal Driver Launch Angle: What Loft Should I Use? (Best for Distance)

cartoon of a man about to tee off

Author Jamie Lewis - Golf PGA Teaching Professional

Author: Jamie Lewis – PGA Teaching Professional

How does driver loft affect distance?

What about launch angle, spin rate, club face impact position, and shaft position… how do they affect distance?

What loft should my driver be?

To obtain maximum distance, for any golfer, including the pros, certain criteria must come together perfectly.

As amateur golfers, depending on your swing speed, you need to choose a driver loft that fits your particular circumstances.

Too many times I’ve seen golfers who simply don’t have the optimal driver for their swing shape and swing speed. If your club has the wrong loft, and you swing pretty slowly, your golf ball is not going to travel very far, plain and simple.

After reading this article, you’ll understand EXACTLY what the optimal ball flight is, and how you can achieve YOUR optimal ball flight and distance by making a few minor adjustments.

Optimizing Ball Flight Trajectory

To have the absolute perfect golf ball flight trajectory (maximizing distance of course), there are two elements that need to be optimized… Launch Angle and Spin Rate:

1. Driver Launch Angle

What exactly is driver launch angle? This is the angle of the ball flight after impact in relation to the ground. This can basically be thought of as “delivered loft”.

graphic of launch angle in golf

  • Lower delivered loft = lower launch angle (the golf ball starts very low to the ground)
  • Higher delivered loft = higher launch angle (the golf ball starts much steeper off the ground)

There is definitely a sweet spot for launch angle and maximizing distance. Too far outside this sweet spot, and you’re losing distance. The ideal launch angle is around 13°.

This is NOT the same thing as the loft of your driver… more on that later, bear with me for now.

2. Spin Rate

What exactly is spin rate? This is the amount of spin (yes, backspin) that clubs produce on the golf ball just after impact.

Loft on the club is what directly produces this backspin. It’s pretty simple… the more loft a club has, the more backspin it can put on the ball.

Additionally, any loft added (or subtracted) due to your attack angle, face impact position, and shaft lean will add (or subtract) to the final spin rate as well… more on this in a bit, again, bear with me here.

3. How Do These 2 Elements Combine To Affect Ball Flight and Distance?

3.1 Changing the Launch Angle Alone

A high launch angle produces a high starting trajectory, and a low launch angle produces a low starting trajectory.

This chart below shows the effects on ball flight from changing the launch angle alone:

plot chart showing the ideal driver launch angle

Don’t worry about the numbers in this chart, simply observe what a higher and lower launch angle will do to the ball flight. There is definitely a sweet spot for max distance. (this chart assumes a constant spin rate among all the balls)

3.2 Changing the Spin Rate Alone

The higher the spin rate, the more the ball will “climb” into the air, go really high, and sort of “drop” out of the sky once it loses velocity, this is known as a steep landing angle… and not a lot of roll out.

A low spin rate will produce the opposite… simply not a whole lot of “climb” or lift, a shallow landing angle, and typically much more roll out once on the ground.

You can see below the effects on ball flight from changing the spin rate alone:

driver spin rate chart
All of these balls start with the same launch angle from where the ball is struck. The spin is affecting the total height, or apex, of the ball’s trajectory, as well as the landing angle.

3.3 Combining Both Launch Angle and Spin Rate: The Optimal Ball Flight

So there are essentially 4 ball flight patterns you can produce with the combination of a low or high launch angle, and a low or high spin rate:

optimal launch angle and spin rate chart
  1. (GREEN) – High Launch and Low Spin: optimum ball fight for driver, maximum carry and roll out = MOST DISTANCE
  2. (RED) – High Launch and High Spin: really high ball flight, steep landing angle = little carry and roll, least distance
  3. (BLUE) – Low Launch and High Spin: starts low but rises high late, steep landing angle = decent carry, little roll, 2nd worst for total distance
  4. (ORANGE) – Low Launch and Low Spin: starts low, never rises much, lots of roll out – 2nd longest, but very low carry

So it should be obvious from the graph above that the green ball flight pattern (high launch and low spin) is going to get you the most distance… BUT here are some numbers to back it up:

Optimal Launch Angle and Spin Rate Calculator / Chart

driver loft calculator chart

(Courtesy to Ping for this data chart)

This data chart from Ping confirms that you’ll get the most distance by combining a high launch angle with low spin. I drew a red circle on there for what is really the sweet spot of launch angle + spin rate.

The 5 Factors Affecting Driver Launch Angle and Spin Rate

Okay, we talked a lot about optimizing your driver launch angle and spin rate to achieve the perfect ball flight right? But how do you actually control those things?

Well I said to bear with me earlier… so here are the goods! These are the 5 factors you need to understand to optimize your driver launch angle and spin rate for maximum distance:

1. Clubhead Speed

This one is pretty straight forward… the faster you swing the golf club, the MORE SPIN you’ll generate on the ball.

This doesn’t mean you need to try to swing faster or slower, it’s just a baseline of where you’re at and what else will need to be adjusted to get your optimum ball flight.

2. Driver Loft

Driver loft is the physical angle of the club face itself in relation to the ground. This directly impacts how the club will launch the ball into the air.

Typically a higher loft is going to be better, unless you swing your clubs really really fast.

Why is that? Let’s think about it… a really fast club head speed will generate more spin, giving you more eventual height on your trajectory, allowing for a lower starting point (lower loft).

Loft added by a Cupped Lead Wrist (very bad!)

Something else to be aware of here is actually adding loft to the club by cupping the lead wrist before impact.

You do NOT want to do this! 

Combine this with a downward angle of attack (explained in the next section) and you will create a TON of backspin resulting in what’s known as spin loft. This ultimately creates that dreaded high launch / high spin trajectory that goes nowhere.

It’s explained pretty well in this video:

3. Angle of Attack

What is “Angle of Attack”? This is the angle between the clubhead and ball at impact. It’s basically how “up or down” you’re swinging on the ball.

graphic of positive, neutral, and negative attack angles
  • A positive attack angle = high launch, less spin, more carry distance, and more roll out
  • A negative attack angle = low launch, more spin, less carry, and less roll out

So it should be obvious that we want to hit UP on the ball with our drivers. This basically means that we want to catch the ball on the up part of our swing, that’s why the ball is teed so far forwards for the driver.

How can we increase distance using this philosophy? Here’s an example…

Say you’re using a 9 degree loft driver and your drives are going out 270 yards. By raising the attack angle (and ultimately the launch angle) another degree or two, if everything else stays the same, you could increase your drives by another 15 yards or so.

This example assumes you were hitting down, level, or just slightly up on the ball. There is a sweet spot. You want to be hitting up about 5° with the driver.

Here’s an interesting chart that proves that increasing your angle of attack (or your ball speed) increases your total carry distance.

driver spin rate chart

(Courtesy to Ping for this data chart)

Again, props to Ping for performing this test and releasing this data! They are doing some great research over there for sure.

4. Clubface Contact Position

Where you contact the golf ball on the face of the club is going to impact both spin rate and launch, as well as ball speed (which indirectly impacts spin rate even more)

As you can see in graphic below, higher on the face promotes higher launch and less spin… lower on the face promotes lower launch and high spin:

face and ball contact position effects

Here is the takeaway though… you may simply just need to work on your ball striking and learn to control where the ball is contacting the clubface to obtain the optimum driving distance for your swing speed.

Here’s a great article if you’re simply looking for tips on how to swing a driver.

Also, it’s important to note that the loft actually changes on  the face depending how high or low the contact is. This is going to affect both the launch angle and spin rate:

driver loft chart

 

5. Shaft Lean at Impact

When a golfer goes from the backswing into transition to the downswing, the shaft and club head are behind the golfers’ hands. This is caused by the flex in the club shaft.

As the downswing continues, the shaft begins to recover until it’s actually leaning slightly forward at impact. Again, this is the cause of the shaft flex and is sometimes referred to as “the kick” in the shaft.

A high, mid, and low kick point will affect the launch like this:

shaft kick point effects

Basically, if the shaft is too stiff for your swing speed, you’ll get a decrease in your attack angle (and ultimately your launch angle). If the shaft is too soft, just the opposite, an increase in launch (a more positive attack angle).

How to Change Those Numbers With a New Driver

So we’ve talked about the 2 elements affecting ball flight and distance, AND the 5 factors directly affecting those elements.

But what are the equipment changes available to actually achieve all this stuff?

1. Driver Lofts

The loft on your driver will directly affect the launch of the golf ball.

If you’re doing the other things we talked about correctly… you hit the ball in the center of the clubface, and you hit the ball with a POSITIVE attack angle, and you’re still not getting the desired launch you’d like… then changing the loft on your driver is the next step.

Most drivers loft are somewhat adjustable these days, so you could start there by adding a little bit of loft and see if that results in your optimum ball flight trajectory.

image of an adjustable loft driver

If that’s not enough (or you don’t have an adjustable hosel), perhaps a brand new driver is the best way to go for you.

2. Driver Head Design

The technology that goes into driver head design these days is quite insane actually. Some drivers are specifically designed to lower the spin rate. These are typically for the faster swinging players who generate so much club head speed and ball speed that they NEED a low spin driver head.

If you’re generating a ton of spin with your current swing and driver, then this could be the one thing to look into with a new club.

Additionally, some driver heads are designed specifically to have lower launch.

3. Weight Magnitude and Position

Many drivers these days have adjustable weight to change the identity of the club. Some may simply have these weight positions built in

Adding more weight towards the face lowers the spin rate and launch… while adding more weight towards the rear (away from the face) raises the spin rate and launch.

4. Best Golf Drivers

If you’ve decided that a new driver is something you seriously want to look into, we have a really in depth write up and review where we actually went out and tested (yes with a launch monitor) the best golf drivers available today. There’s some surprising findings in there you may not want to miss.

So What Loft Driver Should I Use? Putting It All Together

I’ve thrown a LOT of info at you, and it can be confusing, I know. There’s just not a “best loft” simple answer.

At this point you might be thinking, “Okay this is really good info and all, but what does it all mean? How can I apply this to me and my swing to get the maximum distance on my drives? That’s what I came here for.”

Finally, the info we’ve all been waiting for!

The best place to start is by analyzing your current ball flight trajectory… is your launch angle too high, too low.. is your spin too high, too low?

And then deciding what needs to change in order to reach the optimum ball flight trajectory…
  • It could be simply working on your ball striking skill (if you’re contacting the ball too high or too low on the face)
  • It could be an equipment adjustment (either with the driver loft, an adjustable weight, etc.)
  • It could be an equipment upgrade (a new driver, a new shaft, maybe both)
  • It could be a combination of some or all of the above

cartoon image of a guy hitting a driver

Final Thoughts on Driver Loft

Use the knowledge presented in this article to analyse your current ball flight trajectory. Then, reverse engineer what can be fixed or what can be improved.

We talked about:
  1. The 2 elements that combine to produce ball flight trajectory (launch angle and spin rate)
  2. What the optimum ball flight trajectory is for maximum distance (high launch + low spin)
  3. The 5 factors that ultimately change those 2 elements (clubhead speed, club loft, attack angle, contact position on the face, and shaft kick points)
  4. AND the golf equipment changes and technology that are available to help you achieve that perfect max distance type of ball flight

I know this is a complicated article, and there is a lot to understand that goes into optimizing ball flight trajectory.

Hopefully you got a lot out of this and you’ll soon outdriving your golf buddies right down the middle of the fairway.

Cheers!

FAQ

Note – Some of these FAQs were covered throughout the article, but I still get these questions a lot… so here are the “short and sweet” answers to the most common questions:

What Loft Should My Driver Be?

In general, the loft of your driver should match your swing speed. This is going to be the best loft option. If you swing slow you’ll want more loft, and vice versa:
  • Swing speeds below 80 = Driver loft as high as 12° or 13°
  • Swing speeds of 80 to 90 = Driver loft of 11° to 12°
  • Swing speeds of 90 to 100 = Driver loft of 10° or 11°
  • Swing speeds of greater than 100 = Driver loft as low as 9° or even less loft

The best loft on your driver is one that helps you create the optimal ball flight pattern. This is typically going to be a high launch + low spin type of ball flight. This is determined by several factors, but the biggest is your swing speed.

Are Higher Lofted Drivers Easier to Hit?

In most cases, yes, higher lofted drivers are easier to hit. However, each individual golfer has their own quirks that will decide what lofts are best for them. Check this out for our complete list of the easiest driver to hit.

Is It Harder To Hit a Lower Loft Driver?

Yes, a low loft driver, for the average player, is going to make it harder to hit the ball. Lower loft tends to add quite a bit more side spin, creating those hooks and slices more prevalent than the higher lofted drivers. The higher lofted drivers tend to create a more straight backspin on the golf ball.

What loft driver is most forgiving?

A higher lofted driver is generally going to be more forgiving, but that is not always the case due to the added spin rates of high lofted drivers. Check this out if you’re looking for a list of the most forgiving drivers.

What Is The Average Loft of a Driver?

The average loft of a driver ranges from 9 degree loft to 10.5 degree loft right off the shelf. It’s also easy to find drivers of higher lofts if needed. Drivers with really low lofts (below 9°) are usually only custom made.

Does Driver Loft Affect Slice?

Driver loft does affect slice spin. Typically, the lower the loft of any  golf club, the more likely you are to put side spin on the ball. If you’re looking for drivers specifically designed to mitigate the dreaded slice, check out this article here.

What Is The Ideal Launch Angle for a Driver?

The ideal launch angle for a driver is between 15° and 17°. This is NOT the same as loft. Launch is defined as the angle between the ground and the ball flight just after impact, and is the result of the clubs loft and attack angle.

What Loft Driver Do Pros Use?

Most PGA/LPGA pros are using a driver loft from 9° to 11°, unless you’re Bryson DeChambeau who uses 8° (and sometimes even less). The pros swing REALLY fast, so they can afford to use a little less loft.

What Is an Adjustable Loft Driver?

An adjustable loft driver is a driver that has an adjustable hosel. You can typically change the loft to around 1° below and up to 2° above from the stated loft.

What Is Better 9.5 or 10.5 Driver?

In most cases, a 10.5 degree loft driver will be better than a 9.5 degree loft. Since average amateur golfers have a swing speed of somewhere between 75 mph and 100 mph, a high loft driver is usually better. But it also depends on the individual golfer, his/her swing speed, and other factors affecting launch (such as where contact is being made on the fact, the attack angle, etc).