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Chasing Distance: Optimizing Golf Tee Height

optimizing tee height

Amateur golfers often struggle with maximizing their drive, usually due to inconsistency and lack of control. One overlooked factor contributing to these woes is improper tee height, something even seasoned players can get wrong. Tee height may seem trivial, but it can significantly impact carry distance with your Driver. This article will delve into scientific research reported in the book Evidence-Based Golf that revealed some interesting things about tee height, carry distance, and accuracy off the tee.

The Science Behind Tee Height

Understanding tee height’s impact on your golf game isn’t just anecdotal; there’s solid science behind it. Several studies have been conducted to find the optimal tee height for maximizing carry distance and accuracy. We’ll be tapping the book, “Evidence-Based Golf,” by Eric Apenfels and Bob Christina for the second time (we previously cited their study on grip size) for their findings with low and high-handicap players. For more tips on increasing your yardage off the tee, see our Chasing Distance Series,” where you cam learn about speed training tools like The Stack System, and get some insights on the training routines of players like Rory McIlory.

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The Experiment

In their study, the authors of Evidence-Based Golf tested golfers of varying skill levels and asked them to set the tee at different heights throughout the process. The key takeaway? Higher tee heights resulted in significantly longer carry distances. The reason behind this isn’t as mystical as you’d think; it’s all about launch angle and spin. Golfers were directed to follow their standard pre-shot routines and replicate a round as if they were in a high-stakes game.

  • Randomly assigned tee heights to test carry-over effects
  • Nine golfers in each handicap group (high, mid, low)
  • Each golfer played multiple drives with various tee heights
golf study

The Results

Teeing the ball higher can increase driving distance thanks to a higher launch angle. The study also found that the increases in average carry distance did not significantly affect driving accuracy, with minimal impact on shot dispersion, so there’s little risk involved.

  • For the group of golfers in this study, teeing the ball higher increased average carry distance by 7% over teeing it low.
  • Launch angle also increased with tee height, from 11.4 degrees with the low tee to 14 degrees with the high tee.
  • Backspin decreased slightly as tee height increased.
  • Accuracy was not significantly affected by tee height. The percentage of fairways hit was 60-62% regardless of tee height.
golfer books

Apply These Findings to Your Game

This testing can be performed in your personal practice area, hitting into a net or simulator, or at the range. You’ll need a Launch Monitor and Impact Tape, as well as your Driver and the ability to change tee height. For more on pairing impact tape with launch monitors for deeper analysis, see our post “Impact Tape: Enhance Your Swing With Visual Feedback.” By following these steps, you can determine the optimal tee height for your driving performance and potentially hit the ball farther without sacrificing accuracy.

  • Set up your launch monitor to measure your driving performance. This will provide accurate data to analyze and compare your results at different tee heights.
  • Choose three tee heights: Select three tee heights to test: low, mid, and high. These should be the most common tee heights on the golf course.
  • Hit five drives at each tee height: After you are warmed up, Tee up five drives at each tee height and hit them with your driver. Make sure to use the same club and golf ball for consistency.
  • Analyze the results: After hitting the drives, examine the data from your launch monitor. Look at the average vertical launch angle, ball speed, and carry distance for each tee height.
  • Compare face-impact locations: Replace the impact tape on your driver’s face and compare where the ball contacted the face (on average) in relation to the launch monitor measures (on average) of your five drives at the two tee heights.
  • Evaluate the impact on spin and distance: You should find that at the high height, the ball was hit higher in the middle of your driver’s face. This should enable the ball to be launched with less spin, resulting in a longer carry distance without sacrificing accuracy.
golfer carry distance evaluation

Next Steps

  • Select the optimal tee height: After analyzing and comparing your driving performance at the two tee heights, choose the one that gives you the longest carry distance without sacrificing accuracy. Based on the research findings, the higher-tee height is expected to enable you to drive the ball farther than your normal lower tee height.
  • Practice and adjust: Remember that additional practice playing drives from a higher tee height may be needed, especially if you have been used to playing drives from a lower tee height. The higher tee height encourages you to swing more up on the ball, and additional practice may be required to make this slight swing change. Side tilt at address, which the Reverse-K drill can promote, can help facilitate swinging up on the ball.
    golfer with instructor

Consider Course Conditions

A wet fairway offers less roll after landing, making a higher tee advantageous for gaining distance through the air. Conversely, a dry and hard fairway allows for more roll so that a lower tee height can capitalize on this added ground distance.

When facing a headwind, the air resistance against the ball increases, leading to higher spin rates. The wind “grabs” onto the dimples, magnifying backspin. This results in a higher trajectory and steeper descent angle, often reducing carry distance. There is also greater overall air resistance slowing the ball’s flight. Controlling distance and flight can be challenging with a headwind. Golfers often opt for lower-lofted clubs to reduce trajectory.

A tailwind can add yards but also cause issues if not adjusted for. Tees set too high may balloon shots, leading to an overly high trajectory and shots falling short. Tailwinds reduce effective backspin, lowering trajectory. There is less air resistance, so the ball maintains speed for greater carry distance. But less spin means a more horizontal landing angle and potential for increased roll. Tailwinds require lofted clubs to launch shots higher.

For more on playing in the elements and learn from one of the best of all time, see our post “Winning Ways,” on Tom Watson. We learn how he handled the wind conditions found at the Open Championship, and review his football themed alignment tecnhique.

wet and dried out fairways

While this study proves the adage “tee it high and let it fly,” you do have to be aware of the weather and course variables that could impact that decision and adapt accordingly. There are other variables to consider, such as the Driver loft, specifically in the adjustable Driver technology that allows us to tweak the loft and face angle. f you are in the market for a new Driver – take a look at the new and pre-owned offerings from our partner, Global Golf.

Also, various commercial tees are on the market and promise to help you hit it longer and straighter. Are those hype or help? We’ll get into those variables in a separate post.

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