“Drive for show, putt for dough” is what they say, but very few of us are playing for money which means that ‘show’ is all we have. Your best putter is the club you will use the most – well, hopefully – but it’s that sweet drive up the middle with ‘the big dog’ that really gets the juices flowing. Therefore choosing the best driver for your golf game is the most important purchase you can make. Getting it wrong will hurt your score and hit you in the pocket too, as drivers tend to be the single most expensive club in the golf bag. Fear not though, as T3 is here to help.
There are so many drivers to choose from that is can be quite daunting for new or even casual golfers to know where to start. While every golfer is different and will therefore have their own individual requirements, there are some important things to know that will make it less complicated and narrow your search down.
Here, then, is my handy guide to choosing the best driver to suit your game.
Don't be fooled by the name
When the big brands bring out a new driver, it usually isn’t just one club. There are almost always two, three, sometimes even four variations of it, aimed at golfers of different ability levels so it is vital that you don't mistakenly buy the wrong one.
Let’s use TaylorMade as an example. This year they launched the SIM2 range (see above photo) which is probably the most popular driver out there currently. Maybe you’ve heard about it and fancy going out and buying yourself a SIM2, but it is not quite that straightforward. Why? Because there are actually three variations of it and they all bring something different to the table.
There’s the standard SIM2 that you’ll see in the bags of some of the world’s top players (although they will have been heavily customised to suit those players and won’t be the same as one you pick up off the shelf), there’s the SIM2 Max which is a more forgiving club aimed at mid-high handicappers, and there’s the SIM2 Max D which is like the Max only it is draw biased and designed to aid golfers who struggle with a left to right miss.
So straight away you’d need to decide which of those suits you best and if that isn’t complicated enough, TaylorMade also recently brought out a ‘mini driver’ with a smaller head and slightly shorter shaft for golfers who struggle with a traditional driver. The best way to explain the ‘mini driver’ is this is what would happen if your driver and 3 wood ever got together and had offspring.
It’s a similar story with most of the other leading brands too. Any new driver that comes out has at least three and sometimes four variations aimed at different types of golfers. Callaway has the Epic Speed, Epic Max, Epic Max LS and Epic Speed Triple Diamond LS! Before that it was the Mavrik and before that it was the Epic Flash, which both also offered numerous variations with specs to suit a range of golfers.
This year Ping brought out their G425 driver and again you have a choice of three different models. Titleist are the same. I could go on but you get the picture - lots of different drivers with lots of variations on each of them. It can be mind boggling.
So sure, you can go out and buy one of the top of the range latest drivers, but you need to know which model suits you or you will be wasting your money. This is why getting a proper fitting is so important.
We won’t bore you with a deep dive into the technology that goes into the modern driver (there’s a LOT of it) but there are a few things worth explaining. Firstly, modern drivers tend to have massive heads in relation to how they used to be made back in the day, but despite the increase in size they’re much lighter due to the materials used.
Virtually all of today’s drivers are made from titanium and/or carbon composite. They may look huge but when you pick them up they are incredibly light.
The size of the head is measured in cubic centimetres and 460cc is the biggest allowed under the current rules of golf. Modern drivers tend to be either 440cc (for better players who like to be able to shape their shots) or 460cc for players who need that bit more forgiveness. Currently the vast majority of new drivers, even the ones used by the tour pros, will be 460cc.
Today's drivers produce much greater distances than the older wooden, persimmon or steel clubs because of several factors, one of which is club face technology. The face of the modern driver acts as a spring, giving a trampoline effect that will send the ball hurtling off the club face at greater speeds than were previously possible. When combined with the right golf ball for your swing type this will help you to squeeze every last inch out of your drives.
In addition to the extra distance, perhaps the biggest advancement in new driver tech relates to forgiveness. Drivers are designed now to have a larger sweet spot which means even off centre strikes will still go almost as far as a well struck ball and they will also go straighter than they previously would.
MOI (Moment of Inertia) is a big factor in this. In layman’s terms, this relates to how much twist resistance the club face has at the moment of contact. This determines how forgiving the driver is, so ideally you want something with a high MOI.
Centre of gravity (CG) is important too as this has a big influence over the flight of the ball. Some drivers will have the CG weighted towards the back of the club, while others will be located nearer to the front. Weight located near the back will promote a higher shot while weight near the front will increase club speed but reduce forgiveness.
Weights can also be located in the heel of the club or the toe which can help golfers who slice or hook the ball. A weight in the heel will result in a draw bias while a toe weight promotes a fade. Some drivers even have movable weights that allow you to play around with them until you find a setting that you are comfortable with. Having a professional fitting will help you figure out the ideal weight setting for you based on comparing data you get from hitting balls into a simulator.
This is perhaps the most important factor when choosing a driver. If you have the wrong flex shaft then you aren’t going to get good results from the club, at least not consistently.
The type of shaft flex you need depends entirely on your swing speed. Ladies and senior flex shafts are bendier and aimed at golfers who tend to swing the club more slowly. At the other end of the scale would be the extra stiff flex for those who swing the club at very high speed. In between - which is where most golfers are - you have regular and stiff. When you know what your swing speed is then you can determine which flex you need in your driver.
If your swing is too fast or too slow for the flex in the shaft, this will cause inconsistency in ball striking and accuracy as it will be difficult to square the face of the club at impact.
A rough guide to knowing what shaft flex you need is that a swing speed under 75mph would require a ladies or senior flex. Between 75-95mph is regular flex, 95-110mph is a stiff flex while anything above 110mph is extra stiff. The very fastest swingers (long drive competition specialists) may even require a XXXS flex shaft, but that is not something the average human need concern themselves with.
You can find out your swing speed by getting a fitting or having a golf lesson with a coaching professional who has access to a launch monitor, but there are also portable devices you can buy, such as the Garmin Approach G80, that will give you the information you need. Most casual or beginner golfers will require a regular flex but it’s always best to check your speed just to be sure.
You may also have heard people talk about the ‘kick point’ of a shaft. While this is generally not something most amateurs need worry about too much, if you hit the ball low and feel like you need assistance gaining more height, a shaft with a low kick point could help. Conversely, if you hit the ball too high then a high kick point shaft can reduce that. A professional fitter can advise you on that if they feel it’s necessary.
Loft & Lie
Loft is very important in a driver but there is no “one size fits all” setting. As a rule of thumb the better the player, the lower the loft, but that isn’t set in stone. High handicappers and golfers with slower swings tend to need a higher loft to help them get the ball airborne whereas low handicap players and those with higher swing speeds will often have extremely low lofts which gives a more penetrating ball flight and greater distance.
Big hitting Bryson DeChambeau for example has only 7.5 degrees of loft on his driver but most amateur golfers would struggle to get the ball off the ground with so little loft. 10.5 degrees would be a fairly standard setting but as most modern drivers are adjustable it’s worth moving the loft up and down a couple of degrees until you find the setting that gives you the best results. For most average players though, the higher the loft the more carry you will get, especially with a slower swing.
Another good thing about adjustable lofts is you can change them depending on wind conditions. On a blustery day you may want to have a lower flight to power through that wind, so dropping the loft down allows you to do that. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to change the loft during your round so you would then be unable to take advantage of a nice tail wind, although if you are not in a competition (and you aren’t holding up the group behind) then who cares, right?
Looks & Sound
How important these factors are depends entirely on the individual. Some golfers don’t care what their clubs look like as long as they do the job. Others are more concerned with aesthetics than performance but ideally you want the right blend of both. You may like a plain black design in which case the latest Ping or Titleist drivers will fit the bill. For those who like a bit more colour and flash then the TaylorMade Sim2 or the Cobra Rad could be just the ticket.
Then there’s the crown. Do you want a shiny or matte finish? Both are readily available depending on the driver you choose. There is something for everyone and as previously stated, there is very little difference in quality of performance with any of the established brands so you needn’t be stuck with something you don’t like the look of.
One thing to be aware of though is the shape of the head and the effect that has on your shot shape. A rounded driver with less distance from front to back of the head may be more pleasing on the eye but they are designed for shot shaping rather than for forgiveness. A more triangular shaped head that rests lower to the ground and has a larger footprint from front to back will be easier to launch and more forgiving.
As for sound, this is an under-rated aspect of choosing a driver. They may all produce a similar a similar level of performance but they don’t all sound the same. Some drivers will have a metallic ‘ting’ on impact while others will be more of a dull ‘crack’. This is another reason you should try before you buy. You don’t want to spend big on a driver only to discover you can’t stand the noise it makes when you tee off!
Does Brand matter?
Again, this will be important to some golfers and completely irrelevant to others. Perhaps you want to use the same brand as your favourite superstar golfer, or maybe you have a brand loyalty having always used clubs from a certain manufacturer. If you are new to the game then you may just want a brand that you have heard of so you know you have that reassurance you are getting a quality product.
There is no right and wrong here and the truth is it doesn’t really matter which established brand you choose because here’s the thing; they’re all really good and there’s very little difference between them.
It isn’t about one driver being better than another as when it comes to the top end of the market they are all much of a muchness. You should buy the one that feels, looks and performs best for you and - other than looks - the brand doesn’t really factor into that.
If there was one driver that was so much better than all of the others, then every top pro would be using it and they wouldn’t be signing contracts with ‘inferior’ product manufacturers.
You’ll see a variety of brands represented at any PGA Tour event. TaylorMade, Ping, Srixon, Callaway, Titleist, Cobra, Wilson Staff… so that tells you there’s very little difference in the quality. You can’t go wrong with any of them providing they are fitted to the your required specification, which is why - unless you already know your specific requirements - it’s always better to be professionally fitted. I know, broken record, but seriously, getting fitted is the only way to be sure you aren’t throwing your money away.
Should you look at lesser known brands? If your budget doesn’t stretch to the latest offering from Ping, Callaway, TaylorMade etc then fear not, you can still find a driver within your price range and it will still be a high quality product. If you are looking to find something significantly cheaper than the top priced latest drivers then you could go for an older model from one of the big names, or alternatively you can get something brand new from a less glamorous brand.
Wilson Staff and Cobra make high end clubs at a lower price point than Ping, Callaway and the rest, while Ben Ross come in at an even more reduced price while still offering genuine quality. For most mid-high handicap golfers, the difference between shots hit with the latest Titleist or Ping driver compared with a Ben Ross is going to be minimal at best. The pros will see a significant difference but an average golfer won’t, providing of course they are both configured correctly to their individual swing.
Should you buy the latest model?
Because of limitations imposed by golf’s governing bodies, manufacturers are virtually at a point now where there isn’t a great deal more they can do when it comes to technological advancements. If the rules were scrapped there’d be a free for all and you’d no doubt see balls flying further and further each year.
Thankfully that isn’t the case but this means that advancements in driver technology are currently measured more in forgiveness than distance. There’s very little manufacturers can do to add extra distance so the focus is on making drivers more forgiving.
What this essentially means is that when new clubs are released they aren’t really that much better than the previous year’s offering, if at all. If you have a ten year old driver and upgrade to a new one, you will definitely see a difference. If you have a five year old driver and swap it for a new one, you should also see some noticeable difference. If your driver was made in the last two or three years, however, don’t expect much to have changed.
So for example, if you have a Cobra F9 Speed Back driver from a few years ago, you will not see any real improvement in the Speedzone or Rad Speed drivers that have followed it each year. You can pick up a two or three year old driver for considerably less than you would pay for a new model but the trade off is that you are not going to be custom fit for it. If you know what shaft flex you need then that helps, especially as most modern drivers come with adjustable lofts so that’s one less concern.
If you can afford it though it’s worth buying the newer model if only because it will hold a higher resale value if you want to trade it in for a newer model in a year or two. Plus let’s face it, it is a nice feeling when you have something brand new that makes you the envy of your playing partners.
So to answer the question, there is a lot to be said for buying the latest driver on the market but it isn’t necessarily going to perform any better than something that is two or three years old and considerably cheaper.
The most important thing is not that you have the latest or most expensive driver, it’s that you have one that suits your swing and will give you the best chance to hit those boomers right up the middle that keep us all coming back for more.
But when it comes to buying a driver the one single best piece of advice anyone can give you is to - yes, you guessed it - get professionally fitted and try as many drivers as possible until you find the right one. That might be the most expensive or it might be the cheapest. It doesn’t matter as long as it suits your game.
So get a fitting!
Fittings are usually free and you can get them in any of the major golf superstores and often your local course will also provide this service.
The likes of American Golf and similar retailers usually don't charge for fittings because they are banking on you buying from them. There is no obligation to do so but it can be a little awkward if you spend an hour with a fitter, using their equipment and then you walk out without buying anything.
Alternatively you can pay for an independent fitting because that way you are not under pressure to buy from them. An independent fitter is less likely to try and talk you into buying a more expensive club that is not necessarily the one for you and their main purpose is to offer advise rather than a sales pitch, which is a risk you run when getting fitted in a retail outlet.
A good fitter will be able to recommend the type of driver and shaft you need based on launch monitor data that will show them everything they need to know about your swing and ball striking. Some of the things they will look at include swing speed, launch angle and spin rate.
These things help them determine which shaft flex you require, the ideal loft and lie to maximise distance and they will also be able to compare the forgiveness of each club based on the spin rate. Ideally you want the right balance between high launch and low spin and that is something you will only get from launch monitor data.
So yeah, you could just pick up a driver on ebay or straight off the shelf without testing, but unless you know the specifications of what you need then you're essentially just taking pot luck and are not giving yourself the best chance of success.
Get a fitting, find the right club and then have fun splitting those fairways.