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Get In Gear | Drivers

Long Distance Calling

By: Tom Cunneff

This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of LINKS.

With improved adjustability and engineering, the new crop of drivers will help you optimize launch conditions and release your inner Bubba

Serious golfers—defined as those who play more than 24 rounds a year—buy a new driver about every three years. If it’s been that long, or longer, since you’ve replaced your trusty “1 wood,” then your wait will be rewarded. The latest models will really add distance to your drives—but only if you allow them to.

The key to more yards off the tee is the combination of low spin and high launch. Accordingly, equipment manufacturers are making clubs and balls that spin less, but most golfers aren’t taking advantage of them because they are sticking with their 8.5- and 9.5-degree drivers no matter what.

“If that’s the case, you’re leaving some distance behind due to a lack of understanding of what has been happening in the industry,” says Tom Olsavsky, Taylor- Made’s senior director of product creation for metalwoods, adding that most golfers need at least another 1/2 degree of loft. “If you’ve skipped three generations of drivers, a new model in the same loft will spin about 600 rpms less. And if you’re not getting a higher launch, you’re not getting the most distance.”

There was a time not too long ago that 12 degrees of launch and 2,500 rpms was considered ideal. Not anymore. Olsavsky likes “17/17,” as in 17 degrees of launch and 1,700 rpms. “Now, that’s a pretty hard launch condition to produce and only some tour players can do that,” he says, noting one of the longest hitters on tour, TaylorMade staff player Dustin Johnson, clocks in at 15/2,100. “He’s close to that optimum. The higher you go and the less spin you have, the farther you’re going to hit it.”  

With a ball cannon that can create any launch condition, the folks at Ping are aiming even higher—literally. “When you get under 1,000 rpms, the ball really starts to lose stability in flight. But if you could achieve 21-degree launch with 1,200 spin, everybody would gain significant distance, 20 or 30 yards even for average clubhead speeds,” says the company’s director of engineering, Brad Schweigert. “The problem is, most of what we do to increase launch angle with a club also increases spin. But that’s our job, to push the envelope in that direction.”

The key to maximizing a driver’s attributes is to lower the center of gravity (CG) as close as possible to the “neutral axis,” a tilted (due to the loft) 90-degree angle from the face back. “You want your center of mass directly behind where you’re hitting the ball on the face,” says Chris McGinley, the vice president of marketing at Titleist. “It’s not an easy thing to do because drivers still have a lot of weight up high in the crown and the hosel.”

Adjustable hosels can add even more weight, one reason Ping didn’t bring out an adjustable driver until last year (the Anser); their new model is the G25. “The adjustable features help fine tune attributes to get to a better fit, but one of the challenges is that they can hamper your ability to optimize CG,” says Schweigert. “Our goal was to develop very streamlined adjustable features that are weight neutral. We’ve been able to unlock the adjustability within the hosel but without adding any mass in that region,”

Titleist’s new 913D2 and D3 drivers feature lighter face-insert technology that allows for a lower CG, as well as a sweet spot that’s 11 percent bigger than the 910s. “The Holy Grail is to make the whole face a sweet spot,” says McGinley. “And you know what? We may get to that. It’s probably not likely, but that’s the ultimate goal of the designer.”

Of course, who would have ever thought that we’d see a one-size-fits-all driver? But Adams’s Super S, Nike’s VR_S Covert, and TaylorMade’s R1 models are just that—golfers can adjust them to almost any loft they (or their fitters) want.

“When golfers come into our MATT center at The Kingdom [TaylorMade’s fitting centers], 80 percent walk out with a different loft on their driver than they walked in with,” says Olsavsky. “So what we’ve tried to do is eliminate the idea of choosing a driver based on the loft number on the head. We want golfers to really think about what loft they’re playing.”

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