Drivers

Drivers are "interesting" because:
  1. They are always played off a tee, and
  2. They are the only club where distance is THE consideration.

In my opinion, the driver is the first place to consider graphite shafts, even if you wouldn't have them in any other club. The reasons are based on the two factors above:

  • Since distance is THE consideration, it pays to get lightweight components. Go for the lightest swingweight you can control and, keeping the components light, pad out the length of the club to that swingweight.

  • Of course, stick with a club length you can control. If you reach your maximum length of control before you're up to the swingweight you can control, then you can start adding weight back into the components.

  • If you need to add weight, weight added in the shaft increases strength and/or torsion resistance, or decreases cost.

  • If you need to add weight, weight added to the head increases momentum transferred to the ball at impact (that is, increases distance).

  • You can get away with all this because the ball is sitting on a tee. This is not a club that will routinely take a divot. Therefore ruggedness isn't an issue, and one objection to graphite goes away.

But doesn't adding length to the shaft put changing requirements on the lie angle of the clubhead? Well, yes. And frankly, few component clubheads have a flat enough lie to accommodate as much as one inch of extra length. I know of none that will handle two inches and still lie properly.

For this reason, I like a V-sole or keel sole driver. It is the ultimate in sole "rocker", If you scuff the ground at the bottom of your swing, the contact is directly under the center of gravity even if the lie angle is all wrong. This advantage is not theoretical; I have seen it work for me and for others for whom I've built drivers. A fat hit with a keel-sole driver loses a little distance, but surprisingly little and it still goes straight.

Don't worry about the change of direction of the clubface due to lie error. This is a serious problem with lofted clubs, but the error with a driver's loft is negligible.

Lets look at all the clubhead features that have been sold as driver improvements, and evaluate how much of an improvement they really are:

Jumbo clubheads
These increase the peripheral weighting, which does make them more forgiving. They also give more confidence to some golfers, though they are negative images to other golfers. They do have one danger: increasing size without increasing weight results in a weaker structure. No responsible designer would make the clubface substantially weaker, so the bottom and especially the big, rounded top of the clubhead is made weaker instead. The result is increased danger of denting it in handling (not in the normal use of hitting the ball), only cosmetic for most dents, but not all.

Sole design
As I said, I like a keel sole. Barring that, I like a sole with a lot of "four-way camber". But I have seen a number of variations on metalwood soleplates that are probably just advertising features whose major function is "product differentiation". A few may have a second-order improvement over a simple keel. (A possible example is the "Warbird" model of the "Big Bertha".) But none is a marked improvement over the basic keel sole.

Aerodynamic clubhead shape
There may be something to this, but I'm a skeptic. Until a rocket scientist (literally) comes along and explains it to me, I'm going to believe that dimples, bumps, and depressions are mostly advertising gimmicks.

Deep face
If you need it or want it, then it's important. It's one part psychology and one part swing consistency.

Grooves
Not a performance differentiator in a driver! Square grooves, V grooves, or no grooves at all: it just doesn't matter. The ball is compressed on the clubface for long enough so the friction between ball and clubface results in no slippage by the time the ball departs. All the spin, in both vertical an horizontal planes, will be imparted no matter what kind of grooves or non-grooves the driver has.

Face angle
Every metalwood head has (or should have) a specified face angle such as "1 degree open", "2 degrees closed" (or "hooked"), or "square". I don't believe that selecting a face angle is the right way to treat a golfer's slice or hook. Tom Wishon of Golfsmith disagrees. You're welcome to decide for yourself.

Loft
This is a biggie. Recent studies have show that you need more clubhead speed to get more distance from a steep-faced driver. John Daly may generate enough clubhead speed to get his optimum drives from a 7-degree clubface, but most of us need more loft for our maximum distance. I've seen a number of such studies; here's the result of one:

Driver Clubhead SpeedLoft for Maximum Distance


90-100 mph10 degrees
70-80 mph11 degrees
60-70 mph13 degrees
< 60 mph15 degrees

Other tables I've seen are similar, but offer even more encouragement to go to higher lofts. And note that these recommendations, though not so labeled, probably apply to low-CG metalwoods with graphite shafts. A high-CG metalwood or wooden wood probably wants even higher loft.

With the arrival of super-jumbo titanium and 15-5 steel metalwoods, it is possible to find unusually large LOFTED clubheads that were intended to "go with" these big drivers. For instance my wife has a very slow swing. Her "driver" is a super-jumbo 5-wood with a 200cc volume -- easily the size of the "jumbo" driver of five years ago. It's a very easy hitting club, and gets the ball up in the air even though her clubhead speed is VERY low.

So consider the golfer's swing speed -- and accuracy -- carefully in choosing a driver. Unless you're talking about a low handicapper with a lot of clubhead speed and the ability to square the clubface well every time, consider not using a conventional driver at all. When my driver swing isn't sharp, I get out my "strong three-wood" (14 degree loft and fairly high center of gravity) and my average tee shot improves considerably. My longest tee shots with this club are not quite the equal of my longest with the driver; but I'm close to that longest drive more than half the time, compared with maybe one a round with the driver. Several manufacturers have recently introduced a "Fairway Driver", "Strong 3", or "3+" (really a "Brassie" or 2-wood), to address just this market.


Last modified Dec 4, 1998