Zach Johnson typically hits upward into the ball with his driver, creating a high launch angle that helps maximize distance for his swing speed. (PGA Tour/Stan Badz)
Many manufacturers have in recent years touted extremely low-spin drivers as if they were some kind of just-made-legal, performance-enhancing drug that can unlock more distance and lower scores.
Better materials and manufacturing techniques make them possible, but a simple question begs to be answered: How much backspin does any player really need with a driver?
Matt Rollins, a PGA Tour rep for Parsons Xtreme Golf, laughed in a way that immediately indicated the opening of Pandora’s Box when asked that question a few weeks ago at TPC Boston.
“There’s a bunch of things that factor into that,” Rollins said. “If you have a low-launch guy, say 8-, 9- or 10-degrees, you’re going to want to stay in the 2,400 to 2,600 spin rate. But if you have someone like Zach Johnson, who launches everything around 13- or 13.5-degrees, we’re trying to hit 2,000 or 2,100 to maximize his carry distance.”
From a physics perspective, any player’s ideal driver spin rate will determine launch angle.
Compared to his peers, Zach Johnson does not swing his driver exceptionally fast. To maximize how far his tee shots fly, he needs to send the ball high into the air. Johnson’s high launch comes from the 9.3 degrees of loft on his driver and a slightly upward swing path into the ball – known as a positive attack angle. His ball will balloon if he creates too much spin in combination with his positive attack angle, robbing him of both carry distance and roll.