Written By: Tony Covey
A Reference For The Rest Of Us
Let's clear something up before things even start to get foggy. This guide isn't for everyone.
If you obsess over every number on the launch monitor, this guide probably isn't for you.
If you're going to take the time and spend the money for a quality fitting, this guide isn't for you either.
If, however, you're new to the game, believe custom fitters are nothing more than sorcerers in polo shirts, or are absolutely committed to buying off the rack (or off the eBay), this short guide should arm you with the basic tools necessary to make a more informed decision about your next driver purchase.
1. Bring Your Gamer
If you're buying your first driver, well...welcome to golf. Also, you're going to want to skip ahead to #2.
For the rest of you...
Tiger Woods won't put a new club into his bag unless it's demonstrably better than what's already there. Why should you?
When you're serious about buying a new driver, testing side by side with your current driver is essential. It's no secret that retail launch monitors are often juiced to make you think you're hitting it farther than you ever imagined possible.
Bad news. You're not.
Hitting the demo clubs side by side with your gamer will give you a much better sense of what's real and what's electronically enhanced. It's the only way to know if the demo club is really longer than what you already have.
Just make sure to guy manning the launch monitor isn't engaging in any shenanigans that will ensure the club he wants to sell you will outperform the one you walked through the doors with.
And speaking of launch monitors
2. Don't eyeball it
Maybe your vision is better than Ted Williams' was, but I've yet to find a golfer who can consistently spot a 3, 5, or even a 10 yard difference when the golf ball is flying 220, let alone 300 yards. I'm telling you, you can't do it.
5 yards matters, and not knowing with certainty how far the ball just traveled opens the door for your perceptions to sneak past your reality.
It shouldn't be about which club you think is the longest. It's about which one actually is.
It's 2014. We have indoor plumbing, the internet, and most importantly, launch monitors. If you're not demoing drivers on a Foresight, Trackman, FlightScope, or something reasonably accurate, you're wasting your time, and probably your money too.
Don't be a chump.
This is the beginners guide so there's no reason for you to obsess over launch and spin numbers, but for the love of Bertha, at least make sure you know exactly how far you're hitting the ball.
Just about any reasonably decent launch monitor (see those listed above) is also going to tell you how far offline you are, and how tight your dispersion is (how close all those damn shots you hit are to one another).
That's more valuable information that you're not going to reliably get from your eyeballs alone.
3. Learn to think in averages
1 shot does not an adequate sample size make. Sure, we all remember the one or two bombs we hit, but what about the other 8 shots? And just a friendly FYI, if you're not hitting at least 10 shots, your sample size is too small to know much of anything.
How far you hit the ball one or two times is totally inconsequential.
Condition your mind to think in terms of your overall average and not your all-world best. Toss the garbage...the mis-hits, and the 60 yard slices (unless that's your regular ball flight), and then see what the numbers look like as an average.
Also pay close attention to accuracy and grouping. Smarter golfers will realize it's more than worth trading 3 yards of distance for tighter dispersion and ultimately more fairways.
4. Let Go of Your Loft Pride
Stuff you can't see matters. The center of gravity of the clubhead, the shaft, and your swing all play a role in determining how much loft is actually delivered to the ball at impact.
I won't bog you down with technical details today. The point is that two drivers with exactly the same actual loft can produce significantly different launch conditions.
Buying a 9.5° because you always played a 9.5° is a sucker's play.
Even for those who don't want to dig in deep to launch and spin numbers, simply comparing the trajectory (and good launch monitor will paint you a pretty picture of what that looks like) with that of your gamer (see...bringing the gamer is important) should help you figure out if you need to step up, or step down in loft.
One final note on the subject: There's is no good loft or bad loft. It's all about what achieves the best results. If that's 8.5°, great. But hey, 12° is pretty great too. Let go of the stigma, there's no such thing as an old man's loft.
5. More Adjustable Doesn't Mean Better...and definitely not better for you.
Everything on the shelf is pretty good. Differences are often subtle, and the reality is manufacturers often justify higher prices with increased adjustability.
The more things that twist, flip, click and slide, the more it's probably going to cost you.
Also keep in mind that with a wider range of adjustability...say 8°-12°, the more extreme the face angles get. You might want 12° of loft, but you might not want a face that's 2° (or more) closed.
Sometimes less is more.
While the right about of adjustability can help you get dialed in, chances are you'll mess with the various adjustments for a day...maybe two, and then you'll be over it.
Don't pay for more than you need and definitely don't pay for more than you'll use.