Callaway’s Paradym Ai Smoke driver and woods helped me find powerful forgiveness | ClubTest 2024
Welcome to GOLF.com’s ClubTest Proving Ground, where Managing Equipment Editor Jonathan Wall and Senior Equipment Editor Ryan Barath — along with a cast of GOLF writers and editors — put the latest designs and groundbreaking technology in the equipment space to the test on the range and the course.
For 2024 ClubTest, we paired members of our staff with the latest gear from manufacturers to give you, the potential club buyer, real insights from real golfers and their firsthand experience testing new clubs.
TESTER: Tim Reilly (Head of Digital Programming) | 9.4 HCP
GOAL: I need to solve my gapping issues from 5-iron to driver. There has never been much of a difference in my 4- and 5-iron, and my 4 is predominantly used as a “punch out” club. I can get my 3-wood up in the 225-230 range and my hybrids put me in the 185-195 range, without much difference, but the 200-to-220-yard range has been a black hole for my game.
THE LOWDOWN: Last year, I spent a fair amount of time stabilizing swing changes and getting to a position where I was pleased — but not satisfied. I had two handicap goals last year: 1, get below a 10 handicap again, and 2, get down to a 7.
I’m halfway there.
This had me anxious for the Callaway club-fitting. Plus, it was my first time at Callaway’s training facility. It’s hard not to get excited about an opportunity like that. This is where Jon Rahm gets dialed in… and me, a weekend warrior looking to break 80 consistently.
If I’m being honest, I always enter club-fittings as a bit of a skeptic. I’m not the type of golfer who puts the latest releases in my bag year after year. For example, my Callaway XR 3-wood was released nearly 10 years ago. Last year, I made a driver change to the Callaway Paradym, and I don’t have a bad thing to say about it. It’s my favorite club in my bag right now.
Is there really going to be something just one year later to entice a switch?
Nonetheless, I went into my fitting excited at the thought of getting the help I need to accomplish the goal I failed to achieve last year.
FITTING PROCESS: GOLF’s gear guru Ryan Barath and my Callaway club-fitter asked me the same question before I started hitting balls: “Why do you have two hybrids and not a 5-wood?”
I didn’t have a good answer.
The truth is, I jumped on the hybrid bandwagon years ago and never looked back. For too long, I’ve gone with the setup of 5-iron, 5-hybrid, 4-hybrid, 3-wood, driver. I hit some shots with both of my hybrids, and turns out I hit them essentially the same distance. It wasn’t a shocking result, but it was disappointing to know I’ve been putting myself at a disadvantage this whole time. I had assumed a larger gap would exist rather than testing and studying the data.
Then my club-fitter put the new Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke Max 5-wood in my hands. It was like catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. Within a few swings, I wondered why we drifted apart. There was a noticeable difference in my ball flight and distance with this 5-wood vs. my hybrids. The launch, surprisingly to me, was higher and had a great spin rate to hold greens.
Why did I fight hitting a 5-wood for so long?
After that, we worked backward quickly to test out an Ai Smoke 4-hybrid. This outperformed my pair of hybrids — yes, pair — in ball height and spin rate. For years I’ve struggled to get my hybrid to hold greens. While the distance increase was subtle, those figures are what I needed to see most.
Next up was my 3-wood. Like I said earlier, I don’t move on from clubs easily. This XR has been old reliable for nearly a decade. Whenever I swing another 3-wood, I think I subconsciously half-ass my efforts to ensure it doesn’t surpass my status quo. It’s one of those clubs I don’t want to see outperformed.
But all good things come to an end.
While my XR still holds up quite well after all these years, there is no doubt the Ai Smoke 3-wood is a far superior club. The ball flew off the clubface and was giving me an added 10-15 yards with a better spin rate. I decided the XR was going to leave my bag but it won’t leave home. (It’s safely in my garage to get used to bang balls into the backyard net.)
Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke TD Custom Driver
When it was time to put a new driver in my hands I actually thought, “What’s the point of doing this?” I have a one-year-old driver that I love already. But after two swings, I kid you not, I was convinced the Ai Smoke driver is what I should be playing.
I knew because they were both mishits. These weren’t normal mishit results though. These were balls off the crown of the face and toe of the club that found the middle of the fairway at my old club’s standard distance. When I flushed a few, I was gaining significant yardage.
The extra yardage is nice. The extra forgiveness is better. That’s what stood out to me most from my driver fitting — and my entire fitting, for that matter.
MY FITTED GEAR:
THE RESULTS: Numbers speak for themself. It’s hard to argue against data. But just as important as the data is what I felt and saw. There’s something to say about the sheer comfort you have with a club in your hands when looking down before starting a swing. I had that throughout my fitting.
Again, I must repeat that I am not the type of golfer who replaces clubs every year. Not by a long shot. The Ai Smoke driver is the exception to that rule for me.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world when it comes to the future of A.I. But if it keeps helping to create clubs of this caliber, I’m in for more.