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Why does my golf ball not go far and straight?

Dr Ian Kenny: Few sports require such a range of equipment as does the game of golf. There are different types of golf clubs, such as drivers and irons, and balls, to suit different occasions and conditions -- and all are constantly being updated.

New materials and fabrication methods have enabled introduction of larger driver heads, as well as lighter and stronger shafts -- the stick part of the club -- with varying degrees of flexibility.

Statistics show that the average driving distance for the top 150 players in the US Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) increased steadily over the 1990s but has plateaued.

The introduction around 1995 of titanium driver clubheads, which were thin, hollow and large in volume, had been a major breakthrough in club technology.

But golf's governing bodies, the R&A and USGA, jointly ruled in 2003 to limit the 'spring-like', trampoline effect produced by titanium club faces -- the part of the clubhead that strikes the ball.

Control of the "spring-like" effect of the club face was the reason for the plateau in average driving distances.

Surprisingly, even the best players in the world miss the fairway one in every three drives. Elite players have the skill to rescue most wayward drives with their next shot, so fairway misses arise when they are striving for as much distance as possible, at the occasional expense of accuracy.

While the shaft of an iron is designed to give maximum control to the player approaching the shot, the more flexible shaft in a driver is developed with the aim of hitting the ball as far as possible.

A more flexible shaft will permit a degree of bend even at relatively low swing speeds, adding to the 'kick' by the driver on to the ball.

Clubhead speed is reported to be aided by increased muscular force, rotation of the hips and shoulders to a greater extent (known as X factor) and finally, delaying uncocking the wrists until late in the downswing. Simple!

The next challenge is to transfer this coordination to the ball.

Balls are designed to react differently to swing speed and spin rates, so choose carefully.

So, what launch conditions do I need to impart to my dimpled ball? Research suggests that hitting the ball at an angle of 9.5 to 10.5 degrees off the ground, low backspin of 1800-2400 RPM (aided by low club approach angle at impact, and ball type), square club face to the ball, all matched to an average, and low handicap swing speed of 100 mph will give you a good drive.

Deviate even by one degree of spin axis and you'll find the rough!

Irish Independent Supplement