Welcome to Gear Questions You’re Afraid to Ask, a GOLF.com series produced in partnership with Cleveland Golf. In the latest installment, we discuss modern driver technology and what you need to know about it to make your next purchase and maximize your potential.
If you’re new to the game, or if you haven’t been shopping for a new driver in the past few years, you’re going to find a dizzying amount of newfangled technology built into today’s latest driver models. And, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be tricky to determine what model is right for your game.
Lucky for you, there’s us.
At GOLF.com, we strive to help discern, decipher, and make sense of what today’s equipment manufacturer’s claim, and provide you with the information you need to make an educated buying decision. To that end, we’ve put together a few notes on the various aspects of driver science that we think you ought to understand and know.
1. New club face technology is still hot
Most new drivers come with a titanium clubface that is either inserted and welded to the clubhead frame, or it comes in a cupface design that extends beyond the edges of the face. Some come in varying thicknesses to increase springiness, some have unique shapes and curvatures, and others have internal support behind the face to increase strength. The advances in just the last 3-4 years in face technology are legit—if you’re driver is older than five years, you’ll see huge gains with a new driver based on new face technology alone.
2. The crown plays a pivotal role, too
The crown is the top section of the driver that’s typically made of either razor-thin titanium or carbon, making it the lightest section on the club head. As to choosing a driver based solely on whether it has a titanium or composite crown, consider this: drivers with carbon crowns tend to have a more muted feel and sound at impact, whereas titanium models tend to have a louder snap.
One isn’t necessarily better than the other — both are lightweight and strong and serve to push weight lower (and sometimes further back) in the club head. Also, take note of how the crown is shaped. Driver designers go to great lengths to ensure their crowns are as aerodynamic as possible. Lastly, you want a driver that looks pleasing to your eye, and the crown plays a huge role in that.
3. Adjustable weighting is still a thing
For a while there, we as a collective group of golfers were switching and adjusting weights on the fly, and probably far too often. Adjustable weighting is still most definitely a thing, but it’s less complicated than it used to be, and we recommend it’s done sparingly to help dial in the exact launch characteristics you desire. That means doing it once — or rarely, if you can’t help yourself. And in case you’re wondering, it’s against the rules to make mid-round adjustments. So make sure you do your weight tuning before you play, not at the turn.
4. Adjustable hosel sleeves shouldn’t be overlooked
If you’re going to make adjustments to your driver, the hosel configuration is probably where you’re going to see and feel the most discernable differences. Some driver models offer multiple options for adjusting the loft and lie angle—two factors that can greatly affect your propensity to hit a draw or fade. Hosel customization is still sorely underrated in terms of what you can do to affect your ability to hit better drives. A degree or two in loft and lie angle differences can be huge in determining your optimal ball fight, so don’t overlook this critical fitting option.
5. Head shapes aren’t just for aesthetics
The overall design and shape of your driver greatly influences how it performs. For instance, pear-shaped drivers that have deeper faces and less distance from the back to front tend to have higher centers of gravity (CG) that are located closer to the face. This means they’re designed for tee shot maneuverability. On the other end of the spectrum, triangle-shaped driver heads that rest low to the ground with a larger footprint from front to back tend to have lower and deeper CG, making them more playable and easier to launch. A good way to see this is to compare the Srixon ZX5 to the ZX7 driver. The ZX5 has a triangular rear section for a lower and deeper CG, whereas the traditionally shaped ZX7 features a more rounded rear section for again, a more forward-placed CG that results in greater shotmaking capabilities.
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Srixon ZX5 driver
6. Don’t overlook shaft-fitting when choosing a new driver
Shafts obviously play a critical role in driver performance, but what you know about how they work might not be the whole story. For instance, you can have two golfers with the exact same swing speed but who are fitted for completely different shaft flexes. Your tempo, swing length, attack angle and your transition speed/how well you load the shaft also factor into determining the right shaft for your swing—not just your swing speed at impact. This is why we strongly recommend you get fitted, or at the very least, experiment with different shaft models at a local club demo day or on your local golf shop’s launch monitor to compare the data and results of different shafts.
7. We haven’t hit peak driver design just yet
We understand if you’re skeptical when it comes time to buy a new driver, especially with equipment manufacturers promising big gains over not only the competition, but their own previous iterations as well. The truth is, though, in our tests (See our 2021 ClubTest for more details) we’ve actually seen incremental gains in how new drivers perform every year. That’s amazing when you think about it, but also understandable considering the millions of dollars spent in research and development that goes into creating the latest breeds of drivers.
At some point we have to hit the ceiling of what’s possible—but we suspect that won’t be for a long time to come. So to answer any hesitation you may have as to whether or not you’ll see performance gains from a new driver versus one from five-plus years ago, the answer is unequivocally and most definitely — yes, you’ll see a big improvement.
Want to overhaul your bag for 2021? Find a fitting location near you at GOLF’s affiliate company True Spec Golf. For more on the latest gear news and information, check out our latest Fully Equipped podcast below!