Maximizing Driver Distance using a Trackman or Flightscope Launch Monitor
Online Golf Instruction By: Chuck Quinton, Master Instructor • FULL BIO •
In today's golf world, maximizing your driver distance is truly a matter of science. No longer can you solely go on what looks right to your eye or even what feels right in your hands. The only way to get the most out of your drives is through the use of a launch monitor. But what do all those numbers on the launch monitor screen mean and how do you maximize them?
First off, there are only a few numbers that mean anything on a launch monitor. Hands down, the most important is Ball Speed.
You can have all the clubhead speed in the world, but if your ball speed isn't in proportion with your club head speed, you are wasting energy and losing distance. The optimum number is a 1:1.5 ratio between clubhead speed and ball speed. This number is referred to as the Smash Factor.
In other words, at 100 mph of clubhead speed, a solid blow will send the ball at 150 mph off the face of a legal driver. The lower the ratio, the poorer the quality of the strike and the more inefficient the impact. Not very many will get a full 1:1.5 ratio, most tour pros come in just above 1:1.47, but you should strive for this number.
You can do this by simply making sure you are contacting the ball in the proper spot on the clubface each time. We'll talk more about this in a moment.
The second number that is very important is Launch Angle, which is measured in degrees. We've all heard a lot about this number in reference to how the pros are trying to launch the ball as high as possible with very little spin. But the key here is that there is an optimum launch angle for your ball speed and spin rate, and that is critical.
Just because Tiger Woods launches at 12* doesn't mean you should. In fact, relatively very few golfers should launch at this angle. For average golfers, the highest launch attainable with a typical driver will provide the longest distance assuming the optimum spin rate. For reference, here are some numbers for you to ponder:
Driver Length - 44"
Clubhead Speed - 125 mph
Ball Speed - 194 mph
Ratio - 1.552 (incredible!)
Launch Angle - 15.5-17*
Spin Rate - 1865 rpm (super low!)
Carry Distance - 360 yards reported by Ping (Obscene!)
9* Upward Angle of Attack!!!
Clubhead Speed - 121 mph
Ball Speed - 170 mph
Ratio - 1.404
Launch Angle - 12*
Average Distance - 299 yards
Clubhead Speed - 125
Ball Speed - 185 mph
Ratio - 1.48
Launch Angle - 11*
Spin Rate - 2200 rpm
Average Distance - 302 yards
Me! - Chuck Quinton
Clubhead Speed - 117 mph
Ball Speed - 173 mph
Ratio - 1.48
Launch Angle - 12*
Spin Rate - 2588 rpm
Average Distance - 305 yards
Clubhead Speed - 106 mph
Average Distance - 289.6 yards
Sean Fister (Long Drive Champion)
These are his highest recorded numbers.
Clubhead Speed - 171 mph
Ball Speed - 218 mph
Ratio - 1.27
Distance - 515 yards
Ball Speed - 155 mph
Est. Clubhead Speed - 102
Launch Angle - 12*
Spin Rate - 2500 rpm
Average Tour Player
Clubhead Speed - 108-110 mph
Average Distance - 286 yards
|Ball Speed||Launch Angle||
Back Spin (rpm's)
|170 mph||11.5-15.5+*||2000-2400||289 yards|
|160 mph||12-16+*||2200-2650||271 yards|
|150 mph||13-16.5+*||2300-2800||252 yards|
|140 mph||14-17+*||2350-2950||233 yards|
|130 mph||14.5-17*||2400-3100||215 yards|
|120 mph||15-17*||2500-3300||196 yards|
The "Ideal Numbers" provided above have been compiled from various industry averages and should be used as guidelines that represent what is currently considered to be optimum according to Cleveland Golf.
As you can see, there is wiggle room to meet ideal launch conditions but there are numerous factors influencing these numbers. If you don't hit the ball in the sweet spot, have too much spin, too low a launch, etc., you will end up well short of your potential maximum driver distance.
The first thing that should be gleaned from the chart is that pretty much everyone says they hit the ball further than they actually do! A 160 mph ball speed is about the Tour average and they are only carrying the ball 271 yards under absolute ideal conditions.
The next time your buddy tells you he regularly hits the ball 290, realize that he either hits the cart path frequently or is well above the norm in terms of swing speed and quality of strike. In fact, the average amateur golfer driving distance is a paltry 205 yards.
So, how do the tour pros hit it so far? There are a LOT of reasons. Let's start with one of the most overlooked reasons, the course itself.
Tour fairways are mown extremely short compared to the courses you and I play on on a daily basis and are dried out to make them firm and fast.
How much of a difference does this make? A ton.
If you've watched many tour events, you've no doubt seen balls roll 40, 50, 60, even 100 yards down the fairway. When was the last time your tee shot rolled 60 yards? Unless you hit a worm burner, the answer is probably never.
Firm, fast fairways are a big piece of the secret. Corey Pavin averages about 260 yards off the tee with an estimated clubhead speed of around 100 mph. If Corey catches his tee shot absolutely pure, he might get 150 mph of ball speed which would give him a carry distance of only 250 yards. That's assuming he catches it solid on each and every shot with perfect launch conditions which I can assure you, does not happen.
I've followed Corey around several tournaments on courses that I regularly play such as Bay Hill, and the truth of the matter is that he often only carries the ball in the 230 yard vicinity and gets another 20-30 yards of roll. Certainly, he can hit it farther at times as we all can, but these are his averages.
It's also important to realize that apart from playing in pristine fairway conditions, many of the "tour" tees are elevated above the fairway on many of the courses, providing for more distance.
What about the "bombers"? Are they really hitting it as far as the announcers say?
In a word, YES. The longest hitters on tour are completely different animals than the longer hitters of just 10 years ago. These guys are taller, stronger, more athletic and better trained and leveraging technology to the absolute maximum. These guys really can carry the ball 300 yards and then get roll on top of it as they benefit from the closely mown and hard fairways as much as anyone. If you look at a few of the bombers' numbers above, most notably Bubba Watson, the numbers are phenomenal.
Bubba's launch angle (LA) of 17* is at the extreme high end, and his Spin Rate (SR) at the extreme low end. His Ball Speed (BS) and overall numbers are great for distance but not for accuracy and are better suited for a long drive contestant than a PGA tour player.
Why? Take a look at Bubba's Fairways In Regulation statistic. Bubba is ranked 196th on tour in driving accuracy which is 4th from being dead last at 50%.
Now, there are numerous reasons for missing a lot of fairways. Many courses narrow out at this distance, the farther the target the less accurate you're going to be by default, swinging this hard is simply more difficult to control, etc.
But there's another reason that is often overlooked. Spin. That's right, spin on the ball is actually what gives you control over the ball and the less spin, the less control.
While Bubba's numbers are ideal for hitting the ball as far as humanly possible, he is hitting the equivalent of a "flyer" off his driver on every shot. Flyer's happen all the time from the rough on iron shots. It happens when grass gets trapped between the clubface and the ball and the spin is greatly reduced. This leads to shots that "knuckle" in the air and go much further than normal with obviously less control.
For a long drive, this is perfect. Bubba is also much more at the mercy of the wind with such a tremendously high launch angle and ball flight, so this will also decrease his accuracy. All of these factors completely disregard his swing technique which can obviously also cause him to lose accuracy.
So, How do YOU Hit the Ball Further?
The Tour pros are one thing, but I'm sure you want to know how YOU can hit the ball further off the tee. First, BALL SPEED is king.
Note that Bubba and Tiger's swing speeds are reported to be the same, but Bubba gets a tremendous amount more ball speed. The reason for this? In truth, it's impossible to say.
The most obvious reason would be that Bubba is hitting the ball more on the sweet spot than Tiger. But, this IS Tiger Woods we're talking about, so you have to imagine he's pretty close to hitting it solid every time.
Bubba's driver could be "hotter" than Tiger's as well. Yes, all drivers are supposed to be at the same COR, but the truth of the matter is that some drivers seem to be able to produce more ball speed than others while still "passing" the test.
There could also be the theory that Bubba's clubhead doesn't lose as much clubhead speed at impact as Tiger's does. There are some people that believe this leads to more ball speed and then this would be a matter of technique.
Lastly, Bubba could simply be going after it more than Tiger while actually on the course. Tiger's numbers may be lower on average than what is published, and Bubba's could be higher on the course than what is published.
No matter what, the bottom line is that YOU need to hit the ball in the sweet spot more often, period. Very little else matters if you don't.
So, how do you hit the sweet spot more often? First, get a shorter length shaft. If Bubba can hit it stupid distances with a 44" shaft, then it seems a little silly for you to have one at 45" as they come off the shelf.
Trust me, if Bubba thought he could hit it further and still have some control with a 45" shaft, he would have one. Playing with a driver length that you can control, and thus, hit more often in the sweet spot, is rule number one in driver fitting. Getting a shaft flex and weight is also critical, but those topics warrant a completely separate article to cover them in-depth.
Once your ball speed ratio is above 1.4, you know you are making solid contact. Now you are ready to tackle the next two obstacles - Launch Angle (LA) and Spin Rate.
Here's where things become a bit more complicated. And unfortunately, they go somewhat hand in hand, and trying to dial them both in takes a lot of testing and certainly some adjusments.
First off, LA is a by product of the Angle of Attack (AOA), clubface loft and clubhead design. The AOA is critical because it also directly affects spin, as does where you contact the ball on the face and the type of golf ball itself. The folks at Titleist recommend an angle of attack of 0-2*, meaning that you want the driver coming into the ball either completely level or ever so slightly on the upswing. This is in direct contrast to every other club in the bag where you want to hit down on the ball to create spin for control. So, how we do achieve this AOA?
Achieving a level or even upward angle of attack is not the same as hitting "up" on the ball. It is important that your hands be in line or slightly ahead of the clubhead at impact. Note I said "clubhead" and not the ball. There is a big difference. In other words, you never flip your hands at the ball in order to increase your angle of attack; rather, you need some spinal tilt away from the target to achieve this position. Observe the photo below of Tiger Woods at impact:
First, observe the blue triangle formed by his shoulders and arms. The light blue line represents Tiger's spine angle and bisects the triangle, and the red line is his shaft angle at impact, which is at about 90*.
When I am referring to the clubhead getting past your hands, the shaft would be just past the light blue line in this photo. If Tiger didn't have any spine tilt away from the target at impact, it would be necessary for him to "flip" his hands and the clubhead through impact. As it stands, Tiger can still use his body to apply power, but once the clubhead gets past his hands, all the energy has been released and he is no longer in control. The main point of this is that all golf swings with the driver need some "axis tilt" away from the ball at impact in order to ensure the ball is caught on a level or slightly upward AOA.
Second, it is critical that your head and chest stay behind the ball at impact. You can easily see this in Tiger above, as his head is well behind the ball due to his axis or spinal tilt at impact. If your head and chest are more on "top" of the ball with the driver, you are going to end up with a steep angle of attack and a low launch with too much spin.
Third, the ball MUST be contacted fairly high on the face. This one is interesting. The sweet spot on modern drivers is higher than it used to be, usually sitting somewhat above the center of the face. However, this is generally NOT the place you want to contact the ball for maximum distance.
Remember at the top of this very long article where I said you have to do some things that may not "feel" right? Well, this is one of them.
If you watch the super slo mo video of PGA tour events these days, you will notice that the longest drivers of the ball always catch the ball above the true "sweet spot" of the club. But why?
Well, let's first define sweet spot. The sweet spot is generally considered the point of the club where the center of gravity is directly in line with the spot that provides the highest coeficient of restitution (COR) with no twisting. In other words, the place where the clubhead can transfer the most energy directly to the ball and the face can provide the highest "trampoline" effect when launching the ball. This is generally right around the center of the clubfacem but the longer hitters hit the ball well above this spot. Observe the photo of Tiger Woods at impact:
In the photo above, the green line represents the spot just above the center of the clubface where the theoretical sweet spot of the face is located on most drivers today for the maximum COR. However, the red line represents the approximate center of Tiger's ball at impact.
You can see that this is very, very high on the clubface, well above the center. In the old days, we'd pretty much consider this a "sky-ball" and a poor mishit. But not today. The reason for this high contact is two fold: Spin reduction and LA.
The higher you make contact on the face of the ball, the higher the intial launch will be for a few reasons, none of the least of which is the simple fact that the center of gravity (COG) is below this spot and the driver face is not perfectly flat. It has a slight bulge from top to bottom referred to as "face roll."
But the most important aspect of this impact is that it significantly reduces spin and produces the "flyer" affect I mentioned earlier. The interesting thing about this is that a shot correctly struck high on the face such as this does not feel as solid with most drivers as a ball struck lower on the face, just slightly above center.
This is from my own personal testing on Vector launch monitors using impact tape which clearly demonstrated the drastic affect hitting the ball more in the center of the face has on my launch angle and spin rate. While the one struck closer to the center feels more powerful, the "knuckle" ball hit higher on the face comes out at the optimum launch angle with as much as 1,000 rpms LESS spin. This equates to a ton of a distance, especially when hitting into a head wind.
I guess it doesn't pay to the hit ball solidly in the center of the club face anymore! Just as interesting was the fact that my ball speed was unaffected by not hitting the ball more toward the "sweet spot". While manufacturers have clearly stated that the sweet spot is above the center of the face and Golf Digest measured the sweet spots to be just above center, the long bombers are clearly hitting it even higher on the face and their spin rates and launch angles clearly justify this. I suppose you could consider this the "new" or "true" or "other" sweet spot, if there were such a thing.
Ok, so we are now making contact very high on the face with a level to slightly upward angle of attack in the "center" of the clubface, what else do we need to worry about? In a word, Loft.
If you are getting the proper LA for your ball speed with the correct amount of spin, then you have nothing to worry about. But I can assure you that only a very small percentage of the average golfers are doing this.
First off, you need to be honest about what your clubhead speed really is. The average golfer's clubhead speed with the driver is about 89 mph. Given a really solid contact, that equates to a ball speed of about 126 mph. If you look at the table above, this means that you need to launch the ball at 16-17* for maximum distance with very low spin. How do you launch a 9.5* driver that you just bought at the local golf store because that's all they have, at 17*? Answer - You don't.
Unless you moved the ball way up in your stance and had the ball sitting on a 4" tee, you're probably no where near this angle. But that does bring up one important fundamental with today's drivers, that is, ball placement.
In order to encourage a level to 2* upward AOA, the ball must be positioned further up in your stance and likely need to be teed somewhat higher for most. This can be very difficult to get used to, but now you know why you must do it. But let's get back to that $400 driver you just bought...
I just happen to have some numbers using my golf swing that demonstrate the state of today's OEM equipment found at your local golf shops. Unfortunately for you and me, the golf club manufacturers sole purpose for building golf clubs is not to make you a better golfer but to make more money. Period.
As noble a game as golf is, they are a business, and all businesses are in the business of making money. In other words, they only care about whether or not you buy their driver and rant and rave to your buddy that you are 2,000 yards longer than you were with your old XYZ driver. And, maybe you are now longer on 1 out of every 10 drives that you catch just right, but why?
First off, your driver that says 9.5* of loft on the bottom...well, I've got some bad new for your ego, it isn't actually 9.5*. In fact, most drivers today are made with 1-2*+ more loft than what they say on the sole. This is done explicitly to protect the poor golfer's old ego because no male "crusher" of the ball wants to show up to the tee on Sunday with a driver that says 15* on the bottom, although they should. Haven't you ever wondered why 99% of golfers hit their 15* 3 woods further than their driver? Hmmm...
In truth, they're doing you a favor by "secretly" building in more loft to the club because it will help MOST, but NOT all golfers hit the ball further. In essence, they're building you an extremely forgiving 3 wood with a very long shaft. That's basically what today's driver off the shelf is.
Ok, so more loft is good because you have to achieve a higher launch angle in the vicinity of 15*+ for maximum distance, and the manufacturers are "helping" me out by covertly building my club with more loft, why else is my new club longer than my old one? There are a couple more main reasons apart from simply being more forgiving on mishits.
The two main reasons are the length of the driver shaft and spin. On average, drivers sold off the shelf today are about 1.5-2" longer than the drivers sold just 5-10 years ago. A longer shaft will give you slightly more swing speed and significantly increase the probability of mishits.
Which club do you hit solidly more often, your wedge or your 3 iron? Most tour pros play with a driver length of 44", some as short as 43.75" (Sergio Garcia). Enough said.
Remember the golden rule above? Hit the ball solidly in the center first, so you'll likely need a shorter shaft to accomplish this! Don't worry, the fact that you will be hitting the ball more solidly will make up for any potential slight loss in clubhead speed, if there even is any.
Now for the manufacturers next dirty little trick. For the average golfer, once again, they're doing you a small favor, but for the better golfer, you're getting completely hosed.
Driver heads made for the mass public are designed to spin MORE than their tour issued counter parts - SIGNIFICANTLY more. For a golfer with a slower ball speed and low launch, this is great as it keeps the ball in the air longer and helps maximize height and minimize directional misses. In other words, more backspin equals less side spin and more carry distance for longer drives. But for the stronger player with swing speeds above 100+, it is almost certain that you are losing a significant amount of distance due to excess spin. To prove this, I cruised down to Golfsmith and tested out numerous drivers against my own on their Vector launch monitor. The results were astounding...
Back Spin (rpm's)
|Infiniti - 9.75*||15.4*||2432|
|Tour Edge - 9.5*||15.9*||2955|
|Taylor Made R5 - 9.5*||17.3*||4128|
While I only added the results of one OEM club, all the clubs I tested proved to have very similar results in regards to higher launch with higher spin, so I only used the R5 in this article because it is a popular model.
As you can see, the R5 in a stated 9.5* loft with stiff flex Diamana shaft launched the ball almost 2* higher than my normal club (Infiniti 440 Propulsion with V2 shaft). But most importantly, the spin was extremely high, over 1,600 rpm's higher than my Infiniti.
The ball speeds of all the clubs were the same as were the club head speeds. This tremendous amount of spin on the ball would cause all my shots to rise very high into the air and land very softly, well short of my normal distance. While slower swinging golfers need the spin to keep the ball in the air longer, the faster swingers out there would lose a ton of distance simply be using this clubhead.
The sad truth for the better golfer is that clubs produced in mass are not made for you at all. The manufacturers target market is the slow swinging slicer of the ball, as that makes up the vast majority of golfers.
Unfortunately, that means there is no option but to get fitted properly by a very good fitter and to take the time to find the proper head and shaft combination for your swing because you almost certainly already put too much spin on the ball due to the high clubhead speed and likely ill-fitted equipment. With an OEM club off the shelf, very few better golfers will find anything that can come even close to producing good numbers with low spin, so what are your options?
For the Better Golfer
The high swing speed golfer has several options that he has to consider for reaching his driving potential. First, let's look at the clubhead. The first option is a club with more loft to produce the higher launch angle.
Unfortunately, the more loft, the more spin, so this is not ideal. A club with less loft will produce less backspin, but you will then need to change your angle of attack and likely where you catch the ball on the face. By moving the ball up in your stance and teeing the ball higher to catch it high on the face, you will be able to maximize launch angle and reduce spin, the winning combination for distance.
Another option is to get your hands on a tour issued head. While these can be pricey on the "grey market", they can be had, and they will produce lower spin and are generally better quality overall anyway.
So, let's say you find a tour issued driver head with 9.5 degrees of loft but it's too much loft for you, now what? As you'll quickly find out, most manufacturers cutoff is 8.5*, and getting your hands on anything lower than that is extremely difficult to come by.
There is hope for you super fast swingers out there. You can either find a clubface that has an open face angle (most tour issued heads ARE open) or find a specialist who can bend them open. Either way, by opening the face angle at address, you effectively deloft the club as it will need to be rotated closed through impact to return it to square. All of which brings me to another important fact for the better golfer.
That is almost all OEM driver heads are built with a closed clubface to help the slicers out there. This, of course, effectively adds loft at impact to return it to square which will increase spin and launch angle.
Your last option is to go with a component club manufacturer such as Infiniti, Wishon, KZG or the numerous others out there. Many of the better companies have tighter tolerances on their manufacturing than the big companies do, and you are likely to be able to get a clubhead that is just to your liking. Square, open, closed, exact loft, weight, lie angle, etc. This opens up the door to get exactly what suits your game best.
On a personal note here, both myself and my students have found the Infiniti 440 Propulsion head to provide some of the lowest spin rates of any driver head out there, so you might want to check them out at www.InfinitiGolf.com.
The next thing to explore for the high swing speed golfer is the shaft. While the shaft may not come into direct contact with the the ball, it has a significant effect on both side and back spin of the ball. While this topic is too broad to discuss in depth here, note that a swing speed in the 100+ mph hour range is going to need a stiff to x-stiff and beyond shaft for control and spin reduction.
The stiffer tipped, lower torque shafts are going to have the most significant impact on this. If you are looking at graphite, there are a million options, and the only limitation is your wallet.
The problem with graphite for golfers with high swing speeds is that it is very expensive to build a low torque shaft. It's easy to build one that is very resistant to bending, but twisting is much more complicated.
There are numerous shafts on the market that are well suited for you, however, that aren't that pricey. The UST ProForce V2 shown below is a great shaft for high swing speed players and offers low torque (1.9 to 3.6) at a reasonable price, around $65 retail. This is the shaft I currently use in my driver, and I have several of my students who have switched to it with great success.
If money is no object and you are looking for the ultimate in performance for ALL skill levels, the Matrix Ozik shafts are very impressive with a stated rating of essentially zero torque, which is lower than steel. I have hit these shafts, and they have a feel that is very smooth and unique and of ultimate control. But, at $1,000+ retail, they aren't for the light of wallet.
A Matter of Loft and Spin
While I mentioned loft earlier, the basic rule of the thumb for the AVERAGE golfer is more loft is better. So, if your swing speed is around 90 mph or lower, more loft is going to help you hit longer drives.
But, no one ever talks specifically about the golfers with swing speeds over 100 mph because, percentage wise, there simply aren't that many. However, there are plenty out there, and a lot are members of this site. So, I want to address the loft and spin issue with them directly.
First off, more loft = more spin. That's BAD for most better golfers. At these swings speeds, there's little you can do to NOT put a lot of spin on the ball and having more loft will simply make matters worse.
So, here's where the challenges come in for maximum distance. If you are trying to match a certain launch angle, one of the first places to look is the loft angle of the face. But, if your launch is too low and you add loft, you will increase spin and get more of a ballooning flight.
So, you can next simply look at your ball position. Moving the ball up slightly in your stance can help you catch the ball slightly more on the upswing, and this also helps to reduce ball spin. This combination allows you to use a club with less loft to help reduce spin.
You can also alter the shaft flex and kick point to change the effective dynamic loft at impact. But most importantly, if you are a high swing speed player and hit the ball solidly and are playing with a club "off the shelf", chances are that your spin rates are out of control. You will most certainly need to find a different head/shaft combo to get these numbers under control and possibly a club with less loft than what is readily available at your local golf store.
Golf Ball Technology
Perhaps more than any other single factor, the modern golf ball has had a significant affect on driver distance and spin rate. Today's golf balls are hotter off the face and spin far less than their old balata brethren.
Today's ball market has become inundated with so many balls it has become a very time consuming process to find the ball that is right for you. While finding the right spin rate is critical in choosing a ball for your driver, you shouldn't consider the golf ball solely on your driving stats.
A golf ball needs to perform well on and around the greens, and that makes choosing the right ball a bit of a compromise. While a Pinnacle Gold will certainly spin less and have a higher ball speed then, say a Pro V1, its performance around the greens would be unacceptable for better golfers. Thus, a compromise of sorts has to be made. You can read more about golf ball performance tests I have done by clicking here.
Now Back to Reality....
Ok, so I can hit it high with low spin and it will go further, right? Well, sort of.
There are numerous other factors to consider here. First off, reaching the absolute optimum numbers is very difficult to do and will almost certainly require you to change things in your golf swing. This can include your angle of attack, tee height, ball position, set up position, etc.
While striving to reach reasonable numbers is a good idea, trying to make them perfect is not necessarily a good idea. You don't want to have to make drastic changes to your swing just to hit the ball further and risk mucking up your swing overall and losing control of the ball. Just like all things in golf, trying to be perfect reaches a point of diminishing returns, just try and be reasonable.
Secondly, while all these club manufacturers are trying to sell you their clubs for further carry, they tend to disregard roll, and on many courses, taking advantage of roll is a very wise thing to do. If you are launching the ball at 17*, it's not likely to roll very far, not too mention launching the ball this high is very difficult to do without producing a ton of spin. At this launch angle with a driver, you will not be able to control the ball very well, and this is the most important thing of all in my opinion.
I've had the opportunity to spend a lot of time on a lot launch monitors and each time was able to make adjustments to my swing, that felt awkward, but matched what the reps told me I should be doing for maximum distance.
All of these were done while hitting the ball indoors. After I felt like I should be hitting the ball a mile with no spin and high into the air, I would go out and play and be all over the place for days. Launching the ball as high as they recommend is not ideal unless you only care about how far you can CARRY the golf ball, period.
In reality, position off the tee and control of the ball are paramount and outweigh the idea of hitting the longest ball possible, unless you are a long drive competitor. I'm not a long drive contestant, nor will I ever be, and I don't teach any of them. They're a completely different breed of animal and have entirely different priorities.
You need only go to a PGA tour event to see how the ball should be hit, and that is on a relatively low, flat launch with medium-low spin. Tiger Woods launches his tee ball 6* lower than Bubba Watson, and yet their swing speeds are the same. Why?
Simple. Tiger is more concerned with a blend of distance and control than Watson, who swings out of his shoes on most tee shots. And other PGA tour pros do the same. Spend time on the range at an event. You will see they are not launching the ball at the maximum or optimum LA's, they are in the middle to low end of that region in order to have more control over their tee shots.
Lastly, don't forget that while making some changes is ok, especially if your numbers are way off, the most important thing is quality of contact, PERIOD. Consider this:
At my average swing speed of 111 mph, if I catch it flush, my ball speed is about 166 mph, which will give me a carry distance of 277 yards.
Now, let's say I mishit it slightly, just ever so slightly, but still hit it very well. My ball speed drops down to 155 mph! I lose 11 mph ball speed, and now my carry distance is only 254 yards just because I "slightly" mishit it. That's 23 yards lost and I still hit it solid!
Now, let's say I catch one on the heel, still hit it well, but it's not a really solid strike, just a "good" shot, my ball speed drops to 144 mph. That ball is only going to carry 230 yards, all while my swing speed is still the same.
At the end of the day, finding the right shaft, the right ball, the right weight, flex, look, etc., are all meaningless if you don't hit the ball solid every time out, so don't bother going crazy with your numbers. Use them as a guide. If you are hitting the ball solid and getting at least at 1:1.4 ratio but your numbers aren't perfect, TAKE THEM! Take them and go work on other parts of your game because you are hitting the ball as solidly as the average tour pro.
From a completely personal perspective, I feel most comfortable and in control and hit the ball the most solidly when I am on the low end of my ideal LA. This for me comes in around 13* with a backspin rate of around 2600 rpms.
While my spin rate is a little too high, I am working on bringing it down through the use of a different shaft and head combination. These combinations give me a very penetrating ball flight that I never fear ballooning on me. The ball flies very flat and on a medium height and gives me a consistent distance under most all conditions. No, it's not my maximum distance, but it is the best compromise for my game between distance and control, especially on windy days.
The keys to maximizing driver distance are high launch and low spin, and now you have a more in-depth picture of how this is achieved. As a basic rule, all golfers should get properly fitted for their driver, and a launch monitor is the ONLY way to do this correctly.
You will need to spend at least an hour or more hitting different combinations of heads and shafts with different ball positions and tee heights in order to find the optimum numbers for your golf swing. It is best, although not always practical, to spread this out over several days so that you don't get exhausted hitting driver after driver, but in the end, it will be worth the time.
Do yourself a favor and leave your ego at the door and simply hit whatever loft/flex/head/shaft combo it takes to achieve the optimum numbers listed in the chart above. For most golfers, this will mean a softer overall flex and softer tipped shaft with a clubhead with a MINIMUM of 10.5*. In reality, it's going to need to be even higher than that, more in the 12*+ range, but most of the manufacturers have already taken care of that for you by building the club with more loft than it says.
Lastly, don't ignore the importance of how the club looks to you at address. If it looks closed or open or just plain ugly to you, you won't make your best swing possible consistently. Take the time to investigate all your options with the driver and test as much as you can. It's a big investment for many, as the cost of drivers these days has skyrocketed, so don't buy on impulse. Match your optimum numbers and start hitting your longest, straightest drives ever!
Addendum on Launch Monitors
One final warning the next time you go to your golf shop and get on a launch monitor. You should in NO WAY pay any attention whatsoever to the carry and total yardage numbers displayed. They are EXTREMELY off and are there to sell you a golf club.
I know, many of you aren't going to want to believe that, but there is plenty of proof for this. Let me give you a personal recent example.
When doing the test above at Golfsmith with my ball speed numbers of around 155 mph and spin rates of 4,000+ rpm with the OEM clubs, the monitor reported my carry distance to be 280+ yards with total distances of around 310+ yards.
Sadly, this is not even physically possible with today's equipment. And, let's be honest, I know how far how I hit the ball with my driver because I play everyday. So, even if I knew nothing about what those numbers meant, I would still have to have to some serious doubts that I all of a sudden and am now hitting it further than Tiger Woods thanks to this "magical" driver for $400.
At that ball speed and PERFECT launch conditions I would get no more than about 260 yards of carry and maybe another 10-12 yards of roll for a TOTAL distance of 272 yards. Now factor in the insane spin rate the Taylor Made and other clubs put on the ball and that tee shot would not only land well short of the 260 yard max carry distance, but it would probably even spin back a little once it landed!
So, go in there armed with the numbers listed in the chart above and don't let them sell you something based on bogus numbers; they are flat out WRONG! Take the spin rate, ball speed and launch angle and that's it. Like the club manufacturers, the golf shops are there to make money and sell you clubs, period.