Written By: Andrew Rice

What advantage does modern driver technology actually provide the golfer over a steel shafted persimmon club?

A few months back I had an old steel shafted persimmon club out on my lesson tee. I had one young female student ask about the club and she stated she had never before seen a wooden club (she was born in the very late 90's) let alone hit one. This got me thinking. Firstly, that I really must be old, and secondly how much of a difference do these newer and far more technologically advanced drivers really make? I had to test this!

Here is what I came up with:

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Test Parameters

  • Driver data was collected for 8 golfers (6 males and 2 females)
  • 2 golfers had swing speeds in the 70's, 2 in the 80's, 2 in the 90's and 2 in the 100's
  • Each golfer hit series of shots with their own driver and another with the persimmon driver
  • Any shots that had a total distance variance of greater than 25% from the norm (all shorter) were eliminated and replayed
  • Golfers would hit 2 shots with their own, 2 with the persimmon, 2 with their own, until we had collected enough shots for each
  • We used new Titleist NXT Tour Practice golf balls and the data was normalized
  • Handicaps ranged from Professional (plus) to 15 and included a golfer that has played in the Senior US Open, a former General, a Ladies Club Champion, a girls junior golfer, a teaching pro and a former CEO

DATA

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The primary point of interest for me was that all the golfers had drivers that were, not surprisingly, physically longer than the persimmon club (yes, even the ladies) and all their shaft weights were lighter than the heavy steel shaft in the persimmon club.

We've all heard that lighter and longer means faster. As you might expect the differences led to a substantially faster club speed with their personal drivers (88.3 vs 81.1).

How did that translate into total distance?

With their own drivers the testers averaged 220.8 yards while with the persimmon they averaged 198.2 yards - a sizable difference, but when you factor in the decreased length of the club and the increased weight there wasn't as much difference as there may appear to be.

Calculating yards per mile per hour - the modern drivers hit the ball 2.50 yards per mph, while the wooden club hits the ball 2.44 yards per mph. Also keep in mind that the persimmon club was not "fitted" to any of the test subjects nor had any of them ever hit a shot with the club before.

In my opinion this could easily account for the relatively small differences in yards per mph. In fact if the modern titanium clubs were of similar length and weight relative to the wooden club thus resulting in the same club speed the average tee shot would have traveled 202.8 yards - less than five yards longer!

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MY TAKE

So what can you take from this? No, I don't want you digging around the garage to find that old MacGregor Tourney driver you had, but I do want to be clear on the following:

  • The length of your driver should be a length that you can swing fast and control. The next time you get fitted please try shafts of different lengths.
  • The weight of the shaft in your driver shouldn't be extreme - not overly heavy (90+ grams) or overly light (less than 45 grams).
  • With regard to the performance of titanium, it's the not the material itself, but rather what that material makes possible from an engineering standpoint. Titanium allows for lighter and longer shafts and larger, more forgiving heads.
  • Physics makes the ball GO! Higher launch (commensurate with your club speed) and lower spin (1900 rpm - 2400 rpm) work very well, no matter what club you're hitting.
  • A well positioned strike on the clubface will do wonders for both your distance and control.

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If you're a competitive golfer I would encourage you to find an older, small-headed driver to practice with. Wood or metal it doesn't matter. It will help you hone in on making a centered strike on the tee ball on a more regular basis.

Good driving is less about the club and more about how you deliver the club to the ball.

Find a club that works for you and then work towards getting the most out of it. The club - titanium or wood - makes less of a difference than you might think.