When T3 asked me what I was hoping for from the 2022 new driver launches, initially I was at something of a loss. It’s been so long since we’ve had anything really that different and groundbreaking that I no longer have any great expectations when it comes to new drivers. Sure they’ll be really good, I mean they’re good every year. Will they really be that different though? Call me a cynic, but no, they won't.
So what would I like to see? Honestly, other than a drop in price I don’t even know. I think we’ve virtually reached the limit in what the manufacturers can do performance wise, but of course we all still live in hope for that earth shattering new innovation that will change the game forever.
In some aspects of the game, such as the best GPS watches or home golf simulators we still get fancy new technological advancements year on year but with clubs it feels like the same thing only marketed differently. Unless the restrictions on allowable tech are lifted then advancements will continue at a snail's pace.
Nevertheless, it’s still exciting when new drivers are launched in a blaze of social media activity. I love all that and it’s always fascinating when you get that first look on YouTube when Rick Shiels, Peter Finch and of course our friends over at Golf Monthly review them.
Most major brands tend to bring out new products every year, or in some cases every two years, but nothing captures the golf world’s attention like a new driver. Let’s face it, new irons aren’t exciting at all, hybrids don’t tend to make much of a splash either and wedges are pretty much the same old same old. Putters are always interesting but it’s ‘the big dog’ that really creates the buzz in golfing circles.
After that initial novelty wears off though I’m usually left feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Why? A couple of obvious reasons come to mind. Firstly, as stated above, most major brands are bringing out a new driver every year so it just feels like overkill. It’s not really necessary and feels like a money grab, similar to the way Premier League football teams bring out new kits every year.
Interestingly PING have bucked the trend and have no plans for a 2022 model to replace their hugely popular G425 driver. I applaud them for that because you have to wonder just how much better any new model would be anyway. By leaving it two years they are not only rewarding their loyal customers by giving the G425 more of a shelf life, they are also ensuring that when do bring out their new model next year there’ll be added intrigue and anticipation as a result of the wait.
The other reason these new drivers don’t tend to blow anybody’s socks off anymore is that the technology has basically reached the limits of what is allowed and there isn’t really too much more the manufacturers can do, especially when it comes to adding more distance. Distance gains tend to be very incremental, usually around an average of one yard per year.
Most golfers won't notice that if they change driver every year, especially on the golf course. If you trade up a 20 year old driver for a new one, however, then you'll see big gains in distance, especially on the shots you don't hit so well. If you're upgrading from a 2020 driver? Not so much.
That isn’t a knock on the brands by any means as they’re almost working with one tied hand behind their back. An awful lot of hard work and research goes into producing that extra yard per year and there’s not really much more they can do while still staying within the parameters laid out by the sport’s governing bodies. Those restrictions are absolutely necessary of course, but they do make life difficult for the boffins looking to create something to give us that wow factor.
Don't expect any more game changers
I have no doubt that the leading manufacturers could eventually produce a driver that gives an extra 50 yards of distance while staying in the middle of the fairway every time. After all, you can buy a self correcting golf ball which is impossible to hook or slice. Sure, the ball is illegal to use in competition play but it exists, it works and I’ve used it more than once (please don't tell my playing partners!).
If they can do that with a ball it stands to reason that in time they would be able to come up with a club that produces similar results while simultaneously adding huge distance gains. Thankfully it will never happen because the integrity of the game of golf is at stake here. There have to be restrictions but when you reach the edge of those restrictions there isn’t much more you can do to improve on what you have, and that’s where we are now. For example, we’re almost certainly never going to see anything like the metal wood revolution ever again.
Some of us are old enough to remember when woods were actually woods. They were small headed, made of persimmon and when you hit them in the sweet spot there was nothing quite like it. When you missed the sweet spot though - which was often as that sweet spot was tiny - there was no forgiveness whatsoever. The heads needed to be small to keep the weight down and if the huge headed beasts we see today were made of wood then you’d need biceps like Hulk Hogan to even lift the bloody thing, let alone swing it.
The introduction of the ‘metal wood’ completely changed the game of golf forever. Driver heads became bigger and bigger, especially with the introduction of titanium instead of stainless steel which allowed the manufacturers to add even more head size while reducing weight.
With these new big headed monsters, tour players were suddenly hitting the ball distances that the legends of the past had never even dared dream of. Eventually golf’s governing bodies realised they had to do something about it. So head size was capped at 460cc and the total length of the club was not to exceed 48 inches. In 2022 that will be reduced further to 46 inches, which really annoyed Phil Mickelson but won’t really impact on 99.9% of golfers out there.
It is difficult to envisage anything so monumental happening in the future, so with the limits now imposed on distance, much of the focus for new technology is on forgiveness, which is of course important but not especially sexy, especially for the marketing people at the leading brands. Forgiveness just doesn’t grab one’s imagination in the way distance does.
It’s not particularly easy to quantify either, especially for those of us who can’t reproduce the same swing over and over. After all, unless you’re making the exact same swing, thereby producing the exact same strike with two different clubs how can you know for certain which one is more forgiving?
The more accomplished players need only hit half a dozen shots with two clubs to get a good comparison, but from personal experience I need to hit a bucket full of balls, discard all the bad shots from the launch monitor data and then look at the dispersion to give me a base guideline, but even then I wonder how reliable that data is as it could just be that I made more good swings with one club than the other. The bigger the sample size the more accurate the data though.
There are never huge differences between any driver produced within, say, a five year period, and those differences won’t be the same for everyone. So when golfers ask the question “which is the best driver?” it’s almost a “how long is a piece of string?” question. Such is the quality from all of the major brands now that it’s very much a subjective thing. The driver that is best for me will probably not be best for you, and vice versa.
To complicate things further, each new drivers usually comes in two, three sometimes even four variations. Invariably you will have a low spinning model for the pros and better players, there'll be a more forgiving option (often called a 'max') and then some kind of draw biased option too. Those will be different from eachother but very similar to their equivalent from the year before.
So, as shallow as this sounds, if I’m being completely honest the first thing I look for now when new drivers come out is how they look. Pathetic, I know. The aesthetics may not have any bearing on how a driver will perform, but like I say, most of them are going to perform really well anyway so how they look becomes increasingly important to me. I’m not proud of that, but when your game is as completely average as mine is then any little edge becomes more important. You might not envy my golf swing but maybe you’ll be jealous of the stunning driver I’m using to propel my ball into the trees 200 yards away?
Looks aren't everything, but they are important
Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder but I think we can all agree that the new TaylorMade Stealth drivers (see above) just look completely badass, right? So that’s a feather in their cap straight away, but there’s something else that separates the Stealth from the rest; it’s got a carbon head. It’s debatable how much of a difference that will make to performance but at least it’s something different and TaylorMade are trying to go in a new direction. Kind of new, anyway. Carbon heads have been done before.
Callaway produced a carbon headed driver 20 years ago and they were quick to remind people of that with a social media post that was clearly a little jibe at TaylorMade. It was light hearted and quite funny, but for whatever reason that Callaway driver was not a success and they quickly abandoned the carbon experiment. If TaylorMade have done what Callaway couldn’t, it’s probably not the smartest thing in the world to be drawing attention to that.
TaylorMade are leading the way in many categories these days, but their marketing is especially impressive. TaylorMade and Callaway both brought out their new driver on the same day but it was the Stealth that got the golf world much more excited.
TaylorMade’s social media content blows away the competition but it obviously helps when you’ve got Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and other superstars in your stable helping to promote the product. They recently posted a video featuring all of their top stars (minus Tiger) in a long drive contest using the new Stealth and no doubt that will generate even more interest, especially when you see what McIlroy was able to do with it (spoiler alert - he hit it miles).
So the Stealth will probably be the biggest selling driver of this year because of the brand reputation, marketing excellence, the cool look and the ‘carbon head’ angle, which might just be a gimmick but will still capture the imagination of golfers anyway because it isn’t just more of the same.
It was important that TaylorMade did something different this year because their last two offerings have been very ‘samey’. In 2020 they launched the SIM and then in 2021 came the, erm, SIM2. Both were terrific clubs but they looked similar, they had virtually the same name and the difference between the two in terms of performance was minimal. Indeed, Collin Morikawa never even bothered upgrading to the SIM2 and kept the original SIM in the bag throughout 2021. The Stealth is something completely different and is certainly the most intriguing of the 2022 drivers so far. For the record, Morikawa has ditched his old faithful SIM for the new Stealth.
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As mentioned already though, we are virtually at the limits of what manufacturers are allowed to do with driver tech so year on year we aren’t seeing too much difference in numbers. You only need to watch the leading golf content creators on YouTube putting new drivers through their paces to see that there’s rarely any real difference to the previous model. That goes right across the brands too. A yard or two here, a bit more forgiveness there, but all fairly negligible.
So because the difference between drivers year on year is so minimal, brands need to sell you on marketing spiel, gimmicks and talk of groundbreaking new technology. In some cases it’s relevant but the problem I always find is that comparisons are difficult because, quite frankly, I’m not that good at golf.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not bad and on a good day I’ll shoot in the mid 70s, but I can’t reproduce the exact same swing and contact shot after shot, which therefore makes comparisons more difficult.
Last year I did a review of the TaylorMade SIM2 Max D and compared it with my own Cobra Speedzone, but it was tricky to put them head to head (especially out on the course) because I’m inconsistent. My club speed with driver averages somewhere between 95-98mph and I hit it roughly 235 yards. Of that, maybe 215 is carry on a good hit, but I can’t produce that shot after shot unless I’m having one of those rare days when everything clicks.
Comparing two drivers is tough for average players like me, even with the benefit of launch monitor data. I might hit a long straight one right out of the sweet spot with the Cobra and then not quite flush it with the TaylorMade. So quick comparisons aren’t really fair as spin rates will be different depending on the quality of strike and spin rate will impact on distance as well as accuracy
Therefore a larger sample size is needed, which, in theory at least, gives you more accurate data. You can compare your best shots with each club to get a comparison, but if you’re a mid handicapper like me you really need to know which one is going to be better on the strikes you didn’t hit quite so well.
It’s easy to second guess yourself too. For instance, the SIM2 Max D is a draw biased driver and I’d sometimes hit a really good shot that would fade a little, but then I’d wonder what would have happened if I’d made the exact same swing and contact while using the non-draw biased driver. Would it have been more of a slice? How do I really know if the draw bias is working? You can easily overthink these things so you really have to just trust the technology to a large extent.
If the leading golf brands are claiming a driver helps to promote a right to left flight then they will have done extensive testing to prove that. They all have machines that can reproduce the exact same swing speed, club path and strike over and over again.
But if you’re shopping for a new driver and comparing various models, don’t just rely on the data you get from the launch monitor either in store or on your local range, go with your gut too. Which one feels nicer on the good shots? Which one gives you better results on off-centre strikes? Which gives you the most confidence when you look down and address the ball. All of these things are just as important as the raw data, in fact probably more so.
I weighed all of that up and eventually put the SIM2 Max D in my bag last year and consigned the Cobra Speedzone to the garden shed. It pained me to do it as I was mightily fond of that Cobra, but while I noted that my best shots with it went a few yards further than my best shots with the TaylorMade, it was the ‘other’ shots that helped make up my mind. Basically I was less erratic with the SIM2 Max D and I’d rather be on the fairway than 10 yards further up but in the rough.
New or second hand?
I could sell the Cobra driver of course as the second hand driver market is thriving currently. You’ll still get a good price for most recent drivers and because they hold a decent value that is encouraging more and more golfers to upgrade each year. You can pay £450 for a new driver, use it all year and then sell for £280 and put that money towards whichever model takes your fancy the next year.
When you look at it from that perspective then changing driver every year doesn’t actually seem like such a costly exercise. Just don’t expect to see much change in your distance, unless you’re a long drive specialist for whom every mph of ball speed and every yard of carry means everything.
The added benefit of buying new is that you can be professionally fitted and try out a number of clubs to find the one you're comfortable with. Buying second hand will certainly save you money in the short term so that's what you need to weight up when deciding.
2022 drivers - the story so far
I mentioned the TaylorMade Stealth already but several of the other major brands have also launched new drivers already this year including Callaway, Srixon, Mizuno and Cobra.
Despite ditching my Speedzone for a younger model, I was really looking forward to seeing what Cobra brought out this year. As well as being a fan of the brand I’m also just a teeny bit obsessed with its most famous ambassador. No, not Rickie Fowler. Is he even famous anymore? Rickie is more known for his advertising than his golf these days and he’s no longer the main ‘face’ of Cobra. That honour now belongs to big hitting Bryson DeChambeau.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan especially, but DeChambeau certainly intrigues me and I take in far more of his content than I probably should. For several months he’d been testing Cobra’s new driver and teasing it in some of the videos on his YouTube channel. It was pixelated out so we didn’t know what it looked like until the big unveiling recently. As it turns out, the LTDx (which stands for Longest Total Distance) looks like a lot of other drivers. Nothing remarkable about it. It’s nice enough, but all the secrecy seemed a bit over the top.
Nevertheless, Cobra drivers in recent years have been as good as anything out there and, significantly, they’ve also been considerably cheaper. The F9, which was Cobra’s 2019 offering, is actually still our choice here at T3 for the best value driver out there currently. When that was first launched it undercut some of its competition by as much as £150. Cobra followed that up with the Speedzone in 2020 and Radspeed in 2021 but the F9 is still, in the eyes of many, as good as anything produced since.
Have Cobra been able to up the ante again this year with the LTDx? DeChambeau is claiming that they have but then he’s being paid millions of dollars a year by Cobra so I guess he would say that. Plus he’s still trying to make up for his little faux pas at the Open Championship last year when in a fit of pique he declared “the driver sucks”.
Given their relationship with Bryson and his buddy, World Long Drive King Kyle Berkshire, it was inevitable that Cobra’s focus was going to be on distance. It makes sense as you don’t pay the big bucks to Bryson to have him market wedges. Every golf fan wants to see Bryson hit driver so if you are the brand that makes said driver you’re going to generate a lot of interest.
The LTDx was launched in mid-January and will retail at £399, which is still cheaper than many of the other leading brands but considerably more expensive than when the F9 came out. The low price of the F9 generated a massive amount of goodwill and made it arguably the most popular driver of recent years, so I’m left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the LTDx.
Is it really going to be much different than the top quality drivers Cobra have released over recent years? And if not, why the higher price point? For Bryson it will be an upgrade but for the rest of us? Probably not. The tweaks and technological advancements we see year on year are generally not making that much difference to the average golfer.
Ask Bryson to hit shots with an LTDx, Radspeed, Speedzone and F9 and there will be a difference because his swing is so finely tuned and so repeatable that even the tiniest difference in weight or balance will show in the results. He’ll certainly get more ball speed with the LTDx than he will with the F9. Would the rest of us though? A little maybe, but it won't be noticeable as we aren’t swinging the club at 140mph.
So while I have no doubt that Cobra’s latest offering is indeed their longest ever driver (Bryson wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t), those results are simply not going to be there for the majority of club golfers out there, especially as many will be using the Max version.
If you are looking for a new driver though then the LTDx will be as good as anything else out there and it is still slightly cheaper, so add that one to your list if you're getting a fitting.
Equally, the Callaway Rogue ST range will no doubt be a fine option for anybody looking for a new driver this year too, but there’s nothing especially new and exciting about that either. I don’t know what I was hoping for from Callaway but this probably isn’t it. It’s fine, it looks good, no doubt it performs well, but launching at the same time as TaylorMade was a mistake as they were totally eclipsed.
On the date of release Rick Shiels posted separate reviews of both the Rogue ST and the Stealth within a few hours of eachother (he actually posted the Callaway one first) but the TaylorMade review currently has well over a million views, which is more than double that of his review of the Callaway. Same reviewer, same day, yet a huge difference in viewing figures. There’s just a lot more buzz around the TaylorMade product.
Mizuno and Srixon have new drivers out this year too and again, you won't go wrong with either, while the Cleveland Launcher offers an interesting alternative for slower swingers who need help getting their drives up in the air.
Is it worth buying brand new for 2022?
In summary then, I didn’t expect anything mind blowing from the 2022 range of drivers and so far that’s the case. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t want to have any of them in my bag and I certainly wouldn’t try to put anybody else off investing in one. It all comes down to personal preferences and finances.
If your driver is five or more years old and you are thinking of upgrading then you will notice an improvement in performance with a 2022 product. Just know that you would also get that improvement with drivers from last year or the year before and at half the cost of a new model. You don’t always need to go brand new to get something better than you have, but it depends how old your existing driver is.
If you have a newish driver and you’re happy with it then the only reason to change is if you just enjoy having something shiny and new. There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s a lot to be said for treating yourself to a spanking new driver that nobody else has hit before. New clubs can reinvigorate a golfer and bring back that buzz and enthusiasm to get out there and play.
We all enjoy nice new things and for golfers there are few more exciting purchases than the latest driver, just don’t expect it to be transformational to your game. It won’t noticeably lower your scores but there’s more to golf than what number you shoot and spoiling yourself with a new club is one of the many pleasures the sport brings.
Try out as many as possible and if one club clearly outperforms the others then that’s an easy choice. If there isn’t much in it then that’s when other factors such as cost, looks and brand reputation come into it. The good news is that whatever you choose from any of the leading brands (and many of the less heralded ones for that matter) you are guaranteed quality because there really is no such thing as an inferior club these days.
As for which driver will be in my bag this year, I’ll soon be trying out the TaylorMade Stealth HD (the draw bias version) and the Mizuno ST-Z 220 for review purposes (stay tuned for those) so we’ll see if either of those can beat out the SIM2 Max D. I'm not expecting much difference in numbers so it will come down to feel, sound and how comfortable it feels over the ball. And yeah, looks are going to be a significant factor too. Don't judge me.