As you probably know by now, we rely on data and nothing but to determine our Most Wanted Drivers each season. Data is cool…it provides a really solid indicator of how a driver can be expected to perform for a range of, or even a specific type of golfer(s).
Of course, sometimes it’s interesting to go beyond the data. Does adjustability really matter? Did any drivers suffer because of their looks? What performance issues were actually fitting issues?
Today is for talking about some of the things we encountered during our test for which the numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
If it wasn’t already apparent, this year’s test suggest that adjustability is here to stay (how’s that for stating the obvious). Of the 23 drivers we tested, only the ONOFF (Type D & S), PowerBilt Airforce One DFX, Wilson D100, Tommy Armour TA845, Sinister Agent Orange, Cleveland Altitude, and Krank Formula 5 don’t feature some form of hosel-based adjustability. The Formula 5 and ONOFF Type S do feature interchangeable weights, and both Wilson and Cleveland submitted other models that are adjustable.
The days of the glued hosel are almost certainly coming to an end.
What cracks me up is that we still hear from guys who think adjustability is stupid and that if guys would only take more lessons, or “learn to hit the ball” they wouldn’t need the crutch that is the adjustable driver. The fact of the matter is that for some golfers…many probably, the ideal fit (whether your fitting approach is face angle first, or loft first) falls somewhere in the middle of a driver’s adjustable range.
It’s always preferable to have options.
I’ll also add that I’d like to see more (every) company move away from the 3°-4°s of loft in a single head approach currently in use by Tour Edge, Cobra , Nike, and Wilson. Nike is slightly different in that they claim independent adjustability of loft and face angle. For everyone else, without dispute; as loft goes up, the face closes. As loft goes down, the face opens. What we’ve seen time after time in our tests is that, more often than not, golfers can handle relatively minor changes to the face angle without issue, but as you get closer to the extremes, particularly in a 4° range (8° and 12° in most cases), extremely closed or open faces can become a real issue.
So with that in mind, more often than not guys who fit into those 8° and 12° heads will be better off with a stamped loft as opposed to the all-in-one approach. PING’s .25° change is the outlier on the low end of adjustability, but certainly is true to the PING philosophy. What Callaway, TaylorMade and others are doing (~1.5° in either direction) with several differently lofted heads available is extremely effective because of the fitting options the range provides. Assuming a 9°, 10.5°, and 12° head, you have 3 different ways to fit a 10.5° golfer. Square face (10.5°), Open Face (12° delofted), and closed face (9° with loft added).
With no adjustability, limited adjustability, and extreme adjustability, it’s much harder to dial in optimal (or close to) launch conditions.
Year after year aesthetics have become less of a talking point. White is basically gone (for now), matte blacks and dark greys are all the rage, and between Nike and Cobra, we’re at a point where there are almost no limits. That has paved the way for bold aesthetics like Sinister’s (Agent) Orange, Krank’s neon green, and Callaway’s midnight blue (Big Bertha/Big Bertha Alpha).
Basically anything goes now, and while our testers have been more or less conditioned to look past anything, arguably it’s the greys (PING i25, Wilson FG Tour m3, and even SLDR) that proved the most popular with our guys. That said, there was plenty of love for the visuals provided by Cobra’s BiO CELL and BiO CELL+, and of course, Nike’s VRS Covert 2.0 (still my favorite).
Other Subjective Stuff
While we don’t grade on it, sound and feel are remain a constant point of discussion among our testers. Based on the feedback I heard, I think the favorites are the Tour Edge XCG7 and ONOFF Type-D. Both PING offerings were highly regarded as was everything from Callaway. Yonex’s I-EZONE TX and Cobra’s BiO CELL also received nearly universally positive feedback.
Opinions were mixed on TaylorMade’s SLDR and JetSpeed. Most everything else was generally regarded as more or less average, but the two singled out most often in a negative sort of way were the Krank Formula 5 and Cobra BiO CELL+. The Krank is higher pitched than anything else in the test, while our testers felt that the BiO CELL+ felt overly firm. My own perspective on the latter is that I really wanted it to feel like last year’s Amp Cell Pro (my personal best feeling driver of 2013), and it’s most definitely not that.
Last year we discussed drivers that were different enough from the pack that it might have impacted performance. As you may recall, Geek’s No Brainer was noticeably heavier, Wishon’s 919THI significantly shorter, and Wilson’s D100, significantly lighter than anything else in our test.
While Cleveland’s 588 Altitude certainly runs on the lighter side, the weight didn’t cause any issues for our testers. It’s light, but not problematically so. Wilson’s D100 is a different story. To mitigate the weight factor, we intentionally placed the D100 at the end of a 3 club rotation (tester’s hit 3 shots with 3 different drivers before taking a break while the next guy hits). Hitting at the end of a rotation eliminated most of the issues that we saw last year transitioning from ultralight to normal.
Yonex’s EZONE XP was also a bit problematic. As you might imagine, the counterweighted design offers a bit of a different feel, so it generally took testers an extra shot or two to adjust to, or away from the XP. That said, it’s a driver I think would do a lot of good for a lot of golfers.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of any specific performance issue, I think it’s fair to say that both the Wilson D100 and TaylorMade JetSpeed do suffer a bit because of their extra length (both are 46″). Each accounted for a portion of the longest drives we saw in the test, but the length proved difficult to control consistently.
There’s a logic in that for Wilson; the D100 is designed to boost clubhead speed through weight reduction and length. With JetSpeed, it is, in my opinion anyway, an unnecessary distance play. I’ve tested at 46″ and played it at 45.5″, and like it a hell of a lot more at 45.5″.
Being different isn’t always bad. If you look past the SLDR for a moment, you’ll see that two of the drivers that performed best for our high swing speed players also feature the shortest stock length in our tests. Both PING’s i25, and Tour Edge’s XCG7 Beta come stock at 45.25″. As we’ve seen (and any good fitter will tell you), shorter shafts almost always lead to more centered strikes, and more centered strikes lead to more distance.
An interesting side note as far as shaft length goes; TaylorMade measures a bit differently than many other manufacturers. Despite their reputation for stealing distance through longer shafts, TaylorMade woods habitually measure 1/8″ shorter than nearly any competitor’s club with the same spec. So if you look at the actual measured length (sole to butt of grip), our top 3 finishers for high swing speed players (both distance and overall) were outfitted with the 3 shortest shafts in our test (i25 and XCG7 Beta 45.25″, SLDR 45.375″).
I assure you, there’s a lesson in that.
While we don’t subscribe to the notion that the shaft is everything (sorry…you can’t tweak launch angle by 4° and shave off 1500RPM simply by changing shafts), having options is almost always a good thing (I think I said that already). Once again, some of the top finishers were those clubs that provided the most options.
The stock shaft options for the PING i25 include 3 different weights (55g, 65g, and 75g), along with two different bend profiles (standard tour). Tour Edge options include “made for” variants of the Fujikura Fuel and Matrix MFS series.
I’ve come to believe that weight is every bit as important (if not more so) than flex, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that in both of those cases, having a 30g range to pull from made a huge difference in properly fitting our testers.
Consider Cobra’s BiO CELL+ for a moment. At the time we kicked off our test (pre-retail), Cobra’s plan was to offer the Matrix 6Q3 (Red Tie) as the stock option. Cobra has since added the Diamana D+ (74g) and Project X PXV Tour (52g) as stock options. While the 6Q3 is a perfectly good shaft (actually, it’s really good for stock), I can promise you we’d have seen better performance for both high and low swing speed players with the other 2 shafts at our disposal.
How much better would Bertha and Bertha ALPHA have done with more options? Would SLDR have performed even better with a 75g shaft option? What about Nike’s Covert 2.0?
Have we told you to get fit recently?
Headed in the Right Direction
And speaking of the Covert 2.0…as we said earlier, while you can make a case for Mizuno’s JPX-EZ, the Nike VRS Covert 2.0 is our choice for the most improved driver. I’ll be the first to admit that my initial read was that changes are purely cosmetic, but apparently there’s something to Nike’s Fly Brace Technology, and that’s reflected in the performance. It’s still shiny. It’s still red. It still has a giant swoosh on the crown. Under the hood, however; this is a very different driver (even if I still don’t love the Kuro Kage TiNI).
I just mentioned it…Mizuno’s JPX-EZ is a huge step forward from last year’s JPX-825. Mizuno was able to mostly retain the feel that our testers loved while adding adjustability, with lower spin. There’s still no 8.5° option, but the adjustability helps mitigate that.
With the FG Tour m3, Wilson has shown that it’s capable of creating a driver with the potential to appeal to the “serious golfer” crowd. While the m3 was practically sneaky in stealing the top spot for accuracy among slower swing speed players, this is a driver that everyone enjoyed hitting, and it certainly provides plenty of incentive to take Wilson woods seriously again.
While certainly we saw standout performances from clubs that didn’t provide as robust a selection of options as others (ONOFF immediately comes to mind), there are without questions several clubs that potentially could have performed significantly better if we’d had more options at our disposal.
As was the case last year, Wilson doesn’t an offer an X-flex option in the D100. It’s one of the higher spinning drivers in our test anyway, and really wasn’t designed with the 8°, x-flex guy in mind. That said, it still offers an insane amount of fun for guys who just love to hit golf balls.
Yonex’s EZONE XP doesn’t offer an x-flex option, while we also didn’t have a regular flex or higher lofted version of the I-EZONE TX. Both are designed with specific golfers in mind, so practically speaking, it makes sense that they don’t offer a complete range of options with either model.
Like the D100, Tommy Amour’s TA845 also suffered from a limited selection. The TA845 is available in 9.5° and 10.5° only, and only in regular and stiff flex. Again, that’s to be expected given its position as Sports Authority’s house brand. Worth mentioning, for the players that it fit well, performance was on par with nearly everything else in our test. That’s impressive given that the TA845 retails for $149, and occasionally goes on sale for as little as $99.
We absolutely have to talk about the 3 Callaway drivers in our test. There’s not a doubt in my mind that with a few more options at our disposal, all 3 would have performed better.
While the X2 Hot performed reasonable well for us, Callaway was unable to provide a 13.5° (HT) model for testing. Our senior-most tester absolutely crushed the higher lofted model last year, and it’s reasonable to assume similar results this year.
When the results of our tests got out, a buddy sent me this: “You’ll never convince me there are 20 drivers better than Big Bertha“. He’s probably not wrong.
With Big Bertha we had both 9° and 10.5° models to work with, but as with the X2 Hot, no 13.5°. Once again that certainly impacted the results. I also believe the 50g shaft isn’t a great fit for some of our testers. It’s unquestionably too light for one of our stiff flex testers, and arguably too light for another. You can make the case that some of our guys almost certainly should have hit Bertha better than they did, in general, I think our guys – if forced to pigeonhole them – are probably more Alpha guys than regular Bertha guys. If you’re a 50g guy – or you’ve got the good sense to get a proper custom fitting, the Callaway Big Bertha is well worth a look.
The takeaway here is that issues with Big Bertha are almost certainly not about the performance of the club itself.
Of the clubs that many would argue underperformed for us, Big Bertha Alpha is the single most intriguing. Despite only having a 9° head at our disposal it still managed a top 10 finish. I can promise you this; whether it’s SLDR or G25, or anything else that performed well for us, if there’s only one loft available, none of them finish close to where they are. Given what we had to work with, I’d argue that Bertha Alpha overperformed, and that fact alone makes it extremely compelling (even at $499).
Callaway is now offering a 10.5° head (not available during testing). That alone probably gets into the top 5. When you consider the potential options should Callaway decide to make the 8.5° Pro model available at retail (and I believe they will), what you’re left with is a driver that could challenge the top of our rankings.
As it has been for the last few years, everything in the Callaway lineup is good, but Big Bertha Alpha looks to be special.
It feels a little ridiculous to put our Most Wanted Driver of 2014 on the list of clubs that underperformed based on the available fitting options, but I think the TaylorMade SLDR belongs here as well. Missing (unavailable at the time of testing) from what TaylorMade sent us were a 14° 460cc head and a 10.5° in the 430cc model. With the 12° set at 13.5° our senior/high loft tester was able to produce some of his best numbers to date. He’s a low ball hitter, and generally more loft brings excessive spin. With the 12.5° we saw improvement, with the 14° I’m all but certain we’d have witnessed insanity.
While one tester was able to take full advantage of the SLDR 430, our other higher swing speed players weren’t able to consistently get the ball high enough in the air with the 9° head (even at 10.5°). A couple of huge drives were hit, but on average the 460 provided better initial launch conditions. If we had a 10.5°, or possibly even a 12°, I’m all but certain we’d have seen bigger numbers from SLDR.
Perhaps the most puzzling numbers coming out of this test were produced by the Krank Formula 5. Most of you are familiar with Krank’s reputation (and their habit of winning long drive championships), so it would have been surprising to see Krank near the bottom for distance if the results hadn’t mirrored what we saw when we tested Formula 5 as a one-off over the summer.
The bottom line is that, nearly across the board, the Formula 5 produced a higher launch and higher spin than all of the other drivers in our test. For distance, low spin is imperative, so our results our out of character with what’s expected from Krank.
What’s up with that?
All we have are theories. Some readers have told us that the deeper face simply takes some getting used to. We’ve theorized that there’s something in the design that inherently works better for golfers with strongly positive angle of attack (your basic long drive swing). Without question, the guys who hit the Formula 5 best are the same ones that have positive angles of attack. For the level to negative guys interested in the Formula 5, the answer may come in taking less loft than you would with other drivers.
Also Worth a Mention
For those of you seeking to maximize distance, even if it means paying a fairly severe penalty for mishits, the Sinister Agent Orange is worth a look. It’s another that produced some absolute bombs for our testers (best to best it’s among the longest), but in our testers minds (and it appears the numbers back this up), the Agent Orange is excessively penal on mishits. More than any other driver in the field, our testers commented on the lack of forgiveness – although most said so after pointing out how insanely long it is when it’s hit on the screws.
The Adams XTD, despite a finishing well within our average range was a popular choice among our higher swing speed players. The most compelling story of the XTD is that Adams consistently tests COR during the manufacturing process to ensure that each and every XTD is right up against the USGA limit. With most any other driver manufacturing tolerances can result in some drivers running a little hot, while others run a little slow. With the XTD, you’re guaranteed to be right at .830.
I’m one of the guys who struggled a bit with the XTD. You can file my problems away under Looks Don’t Matter, Except When They Do. While I’m guessing many will find the crown slot off-putting, my issues with the XTD have to do with the total lack of contrast between the crown and the face. Maybe my eyes are just getting old, but the XTD simply just didn’t look right to me at address.
Finally there’s Cobra’s BiO CELL. During the fitting sessions, and even into the first day of testing, guys were producing consistently good (even outstanding) shots with BiO CELL. It was an early favorite among several testers. For whatever reason…maybe it’s day to day swing changes, maybe it’s a byproduct of hitting several different clubs in a single session, BiO CELL didn’t hold up as well as we initially thought it would. Still…our numbers suggest performance in on par with the bulk of what we tested. Needless to say, there’s nothing about BiO CELL that should discourage Cobra fans, or anyone else.
Full 2014 Most Wanted Driver Coverage
:: Coming Soon – MyGolfSpy’s 2014 Most Wanted Driver Test
:: 2014 Golf’s Most Wanted Driver – It’s Go Time
:: 2014 Most Wanted Driver – Distance Awards
:: 2014 Most Wanted Driver – Accuracy Awards
:: 2014 Most Wanted Driver – Overall Winners
:: 2014 Most Wanted Driver – Tester’s Pick
:: 2014 Most Wanted Driver – Beyond the Data
:: 2014 Most Wanted Driver – The Data