This is the ‘optimal’ tee height for your driver, according to a Top 100 Teacher
Welcome to Play Smart, a regular GOLF.com game-improvement column that will help you play smarter, better golf.
Most golfers think that teeing it high and letting it fly with a driver is the way to go off the tee. While I’ve previously highlighted how to the consistently achieve the same tee height, I’ve also wondered how tee height affects driving distance.
As most players can attest, when your tee is too high, there’s a possibility that the clubface gets underneath the ball, making your drive look more like a pop fly in baseball — straight up in the air with little distance.
On the flip side, when you tee it too low, not only is there a chance that the bigger clubface on the driver digs into the ground — which risks causing a chunked shot — but it can also produce a low-trajectory shot that costs you distance.
So how does tee height affect driving distance? For today’s Play Smart lesson, I asked GOLF Top 100 Teacher Jim Murphy to lean into his experience, and to provide some guidance for amateurs who may be struggling with where to place the tee. Take a look below for Murphy’s insights.
How equipment is impacting driving distance
Whether you’re an amateur or pro, everyone wants to have the ability to bomb the driver and show-off their prowess from the tee box. Of course, that’s easier said than done, with plenty of elements required to add yards without losing accuracy.
In Murphy’s experience, his students’ obsession with driver distance comes from watching tournaments on TV.
“More often than not, when someone comes to me for a lesson, their thoughts and desires turn to ‘how can I hit my driver farther’,” Murphy says. “It doesn’t help that every time they turn on the TV, the commentators are telling them how far the players are hitting the ball.”
Murphy tries to quickly temper expectations by reminding his students that there are many factors at play for why and how modern golfers are crushing their tee shots: better equipment, hotter balls, improved mechanics, more athletic players and faster turf conditions.
“As far as equipment is concerned, the clubs are designed to get better launch conditions to optimize distance,” he said. “The balls are designed to optimize spin rates, helping get a better launch without spinning up and reducing rolling distance.
But don’t forget another piece of equipment that impacts your tee shos: the tee!
Understanding how tee height affects driving distance
“Teeing a ball high will optically make you want to hit up on it more, whereas a lower tee makes you want to hit down,” Murphy said. “Through launch monitors, we have learned that if you hit up on the ball, you’re able to create more clubhead speed than if you hit down on it.
“We hit down on irons to put more backspin on the ball, and the more backspin, the less side spin, and the straighter the shot.
“When you hit down on the ball, less speed is delivered to the ball compared to when you hit up on it. When we hit up on a ball, we get more extension, and use the ground more to create speed.”
This is where Murphy says optimal tee height can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of drives.
“The optimal tee height is to have the middle of the ball at the top edge of the club with your driver,” Murphy says. “This allows you to slightly hit up on the ball with a shallower angle of attack; creating more clubhead speed and still maintaining the accuracy needed to be able to play your second shot.”
If you’re someone looking for more control, Murphy said, tee it lower. For more distance, tug it up a touch higher — but understand that it could lead to a much poorer result.
“If you need more control, tee the ball lower than optimal, which will create a steeper angle of attack and more backspin and more control,” he said. “If you need more distance, tee the ball higher than optimal, which creates more speed and less spin for distance.
“So tee it high and let it fly, but remember that this speed usually comes at the cost of some accuracy.”
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