Play Better Golf.
You will rarely know the real loft of your driver even if you are reading the loft engraved on the driver head or if you are reading the loft and face angle specifications on a company’s internet site. The only way to know the real or “effective loft” of any driver is to put it into a special golf club measuring gauge and measure it accurately with a special protractor.
The “Special” Golf Club Gauge in my studio is capable of accurately measuring loft, lie and face angle in 1/10th degree increments. The driver shown has 55 degrees lie angle, 12.5 (12½) degrees of loft and the face angle here is purposely adjusted in the gauge to 0 degrees so the loft can be measured in the square face (hit) position. The vertical bar you see resting against the face is measuring the loft and is touching the face at ½ of the face height. The two small protruding bars on either side of the vertical bar measure the face angle and are equidistant on both sides of the horizontal face center. If the driver has a flat sole from front to back you simply press it down flat on the gauges base and measure the face angle. However, many drivers now have curved soles from front to back, so you need to know where the manufacturer intended for the club to touch the ground before you can get an accurate face angle measurement. The lie angle is measured with the sole of the club touching the gauge at the clubs horizontal face center (most, but not all manufacturers use the center of the face scoring lines as the center of the face). Conclusion; if every driver was measured as shown here, it would be a perfect apples to apples comparison from one driver to another as far as the real or “effective loft” is concerned. Maybe I should go up to my local Golf Galaxy store and measure every driver in the store as I have shown here in the photo and provide a list of the real lofts for a reference to go by?
The reasons for this are a good starting point for this discussion. The first reason is that manufacturers vary in the method and way they measure driver loft. The second reason is that some manufacturers simply put a loft number on the driver head because it is a very popular loft with driver buyers; but they want you in a different loft that they feel works better with their driver. The third reason is that manufacturing tolerances for loft, even from the very best head manufacturing companies overseas, will be plus or minus 1 degree from the specification. The fourth reason is the amount of vertical face roll that is specified. Since most modern 460cc drivers are actually hit above face center, a driver with more vertical face curvature will have a greater loft at impact than a driver with less vertical face curvature. I threw in vertical face roll since it is “real world” with modern drivers but it has no effect on the stated or measured loft which is always measured at ½ the vertical face height.
The above reasons are why it is so important to get fit in a launch monitor or to actually see the ball flight on a driving range or the golf course. However, this does not solve our problem of comparing driver lofts before we actually test them and especially so when comparing more than one manufacturer’s drivers. This is a real grey area and a difficult one for the golfer.
Let’s bring face angle into the equation here. The face angle on a driver is basically defined as the clubface angle when the driver is soled on a hard surface with the shaft held perfectly at a 90 degree angle to the line of flight. So, the face angle can be perfectly square (0 degrees) to the line of flight, open to the line of flight (called slice face) or closed to the line of flight (called hook face). The face angle is used in a driver to help a less skilled golfer get a better (corrected) ball flight with either a problem they have in their swing or help a more skilled golfer get the desired ball flight (draw, fade or straight hit) from a driver. Keep in mind that hitting a ball straight, curving it to the right or curving it to the left is solely a function of the driver’s face angle and path at impact. Only three conditions can occur; the face angle can be square to the path (straight shot), closed to the path (hook or draw shot) or open to the path (slice or fade shot).
At one time, all drivers were measured for loft by using the angle formed from across the sole to the face. Irons were never measured this way; they were measured the correct way from the hosel centerline to the face in the square hit position. Today, to find the real or “effective loft” of any driver I always measure it from the hosel centerline to the face in the square position and at ½ the vertical face height. Of course as stated earlier, you need a precision golf club gauge to do it accurately. Notice I said the square position meaning the face is pointed directly at the target and the shaft is perpendicular to the target. This eliminates any built in face angle and makes it a square face. We need to know the real loft here and if we measured it with the face either open or closed; we would get a different loft reading. Manufacturers today are using both methods to state driver loft and you have no way to tell how they are doing it other than to measure the heads in a golf club gauge.
Here’s what this loft and face angle stuff means in regards to fitting. We will use a tour pro for example; to hit the ball straight and apply maximum force to the ball, a tour pro has his face angle and clubhead path perfectly square. To hit a draw, the tour pro will either adjust the face angle or the path so that the face angle at impact is from 1 to 2 degrees closed to the path. Since face angle is more of a determining factor in initial ball direction than clubhead path (80% vs. 20%); the tour pro will almost always keep the face angle square to the target and swing from 1 to 2 degrees inside out. This starts the ball slightly right of the target and the balls slight draw spin curves it back toward the target. Easier said than done. 1 degree produces a very slight draw and 2 degrees a normal draw. Over 3 degrees is a hook and over 4 degrees is a terrible hook. So you see that controlling clubhead and path properly and consistently takes some skill because we are dealing with very small amounts of angle change that affect big amounts of ball flight change.
This is why the manufacturers make different face angles. The face angle in the design will automatically open up the face on an “open or slice face angle” and automatically close the face on a “closed or hook face angle”. Of course you need to set the driver head on the ground or some hard surface for this to occur. Regardless of the face angle, you can always position the face at any angle you would like when setting up to the ball. The one thing to keep in mind here is that as you reposition the face angle at setup with your driver, you also change the actual loft angle. In other words for every degree you hold the face closed you also decrease the loft by the same amount. Conversely, if you roll the face open you will increase the loft. If a manufacturer measures their driver loft across the sole and up the face, this will be the stated loft in the specifications and probably engraved on the head. Let’s assume the stated loft is 10 degrees. Also, let’s assume this manufacturer specified a 2 degree closed or hook face angle. If this were your driver and you were a lesser skilled golfer, the 2 degree closed face angle at address would help you get a more closed or hook face angle to clubhead path at impact and this could help out with your slicing problem. However, if the more skilled golfer would play the same club and actually rotated the face to square with the target at address, he would actually be increasing the “effective driver loft” by 2 degrees. Calculation; take the 10 degree stated loft angle and add to it the 2 degrees you rolled the face open to square it with the target, this gives you an actual total of 12 degrees of loft. So, once again you have no chance at knowing what the actual “effective loft” of your driver really is without an accurate measurement gauge.
Hopefully, this is helping with explaining driver loft and also with how you use driver face angle in fitting. My personal preference for face angle for all golfers who are not trying to correct a problem is to play with a square (0 degree) face angle. This makes the club sit square when you sole it on the ground and then you can adjust the face angle at address as desired. Most tour pro’s drivers I have measured are within ½ degree of square. For average women golfers, say over a 20 handicap, I would recommend 2 or 3 degrees closed face angle and an effective loft at impact of 12 to 15 degrees. The idea here is to keep the ball from starting right of the target (a tendency of women who have a difficult time squaring the clubface coming into impact) and also to help women hit the ball higher which will give them greater distance in almost every case. Of course this is only a general statement and does not replace a good launch monitor or driving range fitting for women or any golfer for that matter.
One of the difficulties when I get general driver questions on the forum is that I do not know the actual loft on their drivers. I get questions such as,” I play with a 7 degree lofted driver and I still hit the ball too high”. Well, many 7 degree loft drivers are actually 10 degree lofted drivers when they are actually measured. So, it is very difficult for me to look for solutions. If the 7 degree were correct, I would immediately go to the shaft flex, shaft weight and shaft tip stiffness. I would also look at the club length and the head weight and swingweight. You get the point.
The launch monitor can really help us through all of this and if no launch monitor or driving range is feasible, then you really need to be fit by someone who at least has an accurate golf club gauge to measure driver loft. As a matter of fact, while I am at it here, I will add in a frequency machine as another needed piece of equipment. This is the fastest way to determine one driver’s flex feel from another when comparing them. This is only one of the factors however in fitting a golfer to the best shaft for him.
For those of you who are really technical nuts and you want a lot more to read on driver face angle and loft; get a copy of my book, “The Complete Golf Club Fitting Plan”. This is the standard teaching manual for the Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA).