We invited the leading manufacturers in golf to build a driver to the specifications of senior tour player Tony Johnstone (average swing speed 106 mph) and then we went to out to test them.
Choosing a driver is a very personal thing to all
golfers. Along with your favourite putter and a
couple of prize wedges, it's a club that you
actually get very attached to, and one that's
hugely important in terms of your ability to get
the ball in play and put yourself in a position to
A good driver is worth its weight in gold.
The first thing I look for is the head shape – the sex appeal, if you like. It's important that
you like the look of a driver. That alone breeds
confidence. In that respect I'm a bit biased. I
grew up with persimmon drivers and soft balatas
, and I do prefer a more traditional look. A
pear-shaped head, and preferably on the
smaller side. I don't mind if the back of the
clubhead is packed with technology – I can
live with that. It's the look of the face that matters.
I like the face to be square, but then I'm a
professional golfer. For many amateurs a
slightly toed-in face can be an obvious benefit
for its draw-inducing qualities. Personally, I'm
looking for a neutral to slight fade, so I want a
club that's neutral, one I can 'work'. These
days a growing number of manufacturers can
tweak this for you, adjusting the hosel. They
have different sleeves they can put in to adjust
the face angles, so there's a terrific variety out
For the purpose of this exercise, I supplied
my current driver specs to the mainline manufacturers
invited to take part and the majority
have played ball, making up a driver for me.
But we need to stress up front that not all manufacturers
use the Grafalloy ProLite, which is
the shaft I have used for a few years now, and
so we're not always comparing like with like.
But all of the drivers on test are available to all
golfers – they are not made up on the tour van
with the sort of components that are simply not
on the open market.
I want to stress that point.
I'm not going to tell you what a great club such
and such a model is....then tell you you can't
The Grafalloy ProLite shaft I use suits my
swingspeed (around 106mph average) and the
way I 'load' the driver. It's a 65 gram shaft, Sflex.
I've used that for several years now,
although I have recently been testing the Aldila
Voodoo shaft in a TaylorMade r9 and really like
the feel and performance that gives me. (I actually
have two shafts for the r9 – the Grafalloy
and the Voodoo – and simply change them as
and when I need a different flight. So modern
technology is even helping an old fart like me!).
Set up-wise I use a standard length shaft,
44.5 inches, and don't like to see too much loft
– 8.5 degrees max. I also like the grip to be a
Golf Pride Tour Velvet, size 60 round, with
extra layers of tape under the right hand. That
feels more comfortable to me and helps me to
feel and release the right hand. That's something
to talk to your pro about. Most amateurs
don't take grip thickness into account.
My swing & ball flight
I have always tended to hit the ball pretty low,
but I've also tended to be quite steep on it at
impact. So I tend to launch low with high spin
– a climber, which is not what you need off the
tee. I don't generally get a lot of run on the
ball. So I'm looking for a cub that will launch a
little bit higher but with a low spin rate and –
hopefully – come down at an angle that will
give me a few yards extra run (the 'Vertical
Descent' angle, as it's known).
And you know,
I've been astonished in recent weeks and
months at the difference working with this type
of equipment – the Flightscope – actually
makes. I could stand on the range hitting drivers
all afternoon, then pick out one I think is
right, only to use a Flightscope and discover
that the spin and the behaviour of the ball at
the end of the range is nothing like I thought.
These things are invaluable devices.
No third party test can ever really help you
to identify precisely the make and model that
might best suit your game. But I hope that
some of my observations and suggestions do
help you to ask the right questions when you
go to speak with your pro. That really is the
key to getting fitted with the right gear. And if
your pro happens to have a Flightscope system,
then you're in for a treat as it's better than
any golf lesson.
My current ball is the Titleist Pro V1, and the
difference between that and the Pro V1x is I
actually hit the Pro V1 slightly further, if anything.
I prefer the softer ball for around the
greens. When I was with Callaway I preferred
the HX rather than the HX Tour. (The ball I
loved was the Rule 35 – I nearly had a heart
attack when Callaway cancelled that ball six or
seven years ago. So did Monty – but I digress.)
Coming up are the results I experienced
hitting half a dozen balls with each model. It
was a lot of fun, and I hope that you identify a
couple of models here that you get to try this
Looks & feel: A little lofted (this is a 9 degree) and also a
fraction toed-in, which doesn't suit me. Otherwise I like the
shape of the head. The Nanospeed i model tested is fitted
with a proprietary Yonex shaft, and it feels good in the
hands. The club sits well and ‘frames' the ball nicely.
Performance: First impressions are that I'm getting a lot of
spin off the clubface (as confirmed by Flightscope), even
though the toed-in face promotes a draw, which brings the
spin down. A solid feel at impact and the shots were flighting
through the wind quite nicely,but the launch angle was
fairly low, which didn't help the carry. For the golfer looking
for a high, right-to-left flight this driver – fitted with the
right shaft – would be well worth looking at.
Looks & feel: I actually have the previous model, the Mizuno
MX-600, which is amore traditional shape and I like it a lot.
TheMX-700 (like the Yonex) is clearly geared to help golfers
eliminate a slice – it is toed-in and has a relatively shallow
face. The head is a little bigger than I would ordinarily go for,
but it sits well and certainly invites you to hit it. Right from
the first shot I was getting a big draw – no surprises there.
Performance: It does exactly what it says on the tin. I would
struggle with this model as my eye likes to see a left-to-right
shot, and it was tough to hit anything other than a high draw.
So again I can see this being a popular driver among a lot of
amateur players looking to get the right-to-left shape going
and achieve more distance. The acoustics are good, and
Flightscope recorded good carry and ball-flight.
Looks & feel: Although the G10 is a 460cc driver it doesn't
look that big and is really inviting behind the ball. I like the
crescent visual (aiming mark) on top of the head. All in all a
good looking stick straight out of Ping's top drawer.
Performance: And the figures back it all up: this club has
been made exactly to my specifications and the thing we
noticed first of all was that the carry of the drives went up. I
could play with this club. I like the launch off the face. And I
can work the ball with this club; I can move it with a fade or
a draw. It's solid across the face, and a serious sound.
Flightscope: The benefits of a club that has been made to
measure: not only did Tony achieve good carry with this club
but the ‘Decent Vertical' reading of 37 degrees – that's the
angle at which the ball falls out of the sky – is just about
perfect for the ultimate combination of carry and roll.
Looks & feel: I'm told that Padraig Harrington has tested
this model for his club makers,Wilson, and I can see why he
might like it: this is a more traditional club, more of a player's
club, and this one is perfectly set up with the Grafalloy
ProLite 65 g S-flex shaft, so it immediately felt like a club I
could use. It has a nice rounded head, but at the same time
a square face, which I like. For someone who grew up with
smaller-looking heads, this fits the bill.
Performance: Excellent feel off the clubface and a great
flight on the ball. The shaft feels just right for me, but the
launch angle is a tad higher than I would ideally look for
and it felt a touch spinny. But it feels solid and sounds
good, too. A bit like the Nike SQ Dymo, this would be a
good driver at altitude, where you are looking for a high
launch to maximise your distance.
Looks & feel: This is a nice strong head which suits my eye.
Leaving aside the bow at the back it's actually quite a traditional
shape and you immediately get the impression you
could work the ball with it.
Performance: A slightly ‘tinnier' sound than some, but a
great feel and a solid strike every time. The notable feature
was the trajectory – the ‘Descent Vertical' angle was 53
degrees (the highest of the day). Ideally, Richard Blamey
explained, you should be looking for a reading of around 35
degrees. This would be a good driver for me in calm conditions
– somewhere like Jo'berg at altitude. It's going to give
me plenty of carry, not much run (the hang time was also
top of the day at 7.1 seconds). I'd be happy with this in the
bag.With a little tweaking (I'd like to try it with the
Grafalloy shaft), this driver could work very well.
Looks & feel: Interestingly, those lines you see on the top
of the clubhead are there to assist you in taking the club
away on the desired inside path – a terrific idea that would
help 99%of amateurs. I really like the look of the clubface.
In fact, if you cover up the back two-thirds of the clubhead
the Diablo looks just like the FT9. Both get my vote.
Performance: First impressions are favourable – a strong
flight, nice solid sound. For me it tends towards a slight
fade, which suits my eye on the tee. It doesn't feel quite as
hot as the FT9 (ball speed was fractionally down) but was
still one of the longest drivers I hit all day. And it gives you
that high trajectory that still looks like it's just going to land
and go. Again, a very ‘workable driver' – perfect for hitting
the slider, which is a favourite shot of mine. Personally, I
prefer the look of the FT9; a youngster might prefer the
look of this. All boils down to taste.
Looks & feel: I like the fact that the face is prominent, well
forward of the shaft. Because the FT9 features a fairly long
head from front to back it doesn't look too wide from toe to
heel. But it does look very powerful behind the ball.
Performance: Sounds solid and the ball seemed to fly
straight through the wind with low spin. That sort of low
penetrating flight is a real bonus when you're steep on the
ball like I am. Probably the most solid sounding and feeling
of all the drivers on the test. I was able to work the ball
both ways, which is a hugely important factor for me.
Flightscope verdict: The FT9 is the lowest-spinning driver
Callaway has ever produced, so the guys on tour tend to go
up in loft to accommodate for that. The vertical descent
angle of 35 degrees is ideal for maximising the combination
of flight and roll – as it was, this registered the longest
carry on the day.
Looks & feel: Again, a traditional looking pear-shaped driver
from Nickent, but this time with the option of two interchangeable
shafts for two distinct ball flights. UST Proforce
V2 and V2 High Launch, a simple twist with a wrench doing
the job. A quite nice looking head, reminiscent of the Titleist.
Pear-shaped. Sits square to a fraction shut, but loft is good
for me. Looks good.
Performance: Quite a deep head which will inspire confidence
for a lot of golfers, and I snag the base a little on the
turf – there's a lot happening on the bottom of the club. Not a
lot of play for me, in the stiff shaft, so we switched. Lighter
shaft better. Good strike felt very good. High launch but not
too climby – reasonable distance. I picked up significant distance
by teeing the ball up higher.
Looks & feel: A good looking head, sort of what you get
used to with Titleist. A genuine player's club, a traditional
sort of shape, not too big. Like the look of it. Great aiming
device on the top of the head. A club I could put straight in
the bag, especially as this is fitted with the Grafalloy I like.
Performance: Beautiful launch angle and flight, slide fade,
but overall felt very good. Sound a little more muted compared
to some – quite a solid, serious, sound, which you do
tend to get from Titleist. Very consistent results.
Flightscope: The carry is immediately up, ball speed up and
spin moderate. Launch angle around 11 degrees and good
vertical decent. This is a traditional low-spnning driver. All round
Looks & feel: By some margin the smallest head of all the
drivers on test, which reflects Muira's positioning as a company
that aims at the better player who likes classic shapes
and values the ability to work the ball. To me, the head sits
a little ‘shut' behind the ball. It also appears a little more
lofted than the 8.5 degrees stamped on the sole, and the
high flight would seem to confirm that.
Performance:While the ball off the face feels extremely
solid, it was clear within just a couple of shots that the
shaft does not suit my swing. The Muira achieved the accolade
of highest (109 feet) and also longest hang time (7
seconds). Distance, though was pretty good.With the right
shaft (this one had too much ‘kick') and slightly more neutral
face, this would be one I'd like to experiment with. I like
the sound of it and a terrific feel.
Looks & feel: Settling the club behind the ball, the first
thing that strikes you is the degree to which this model is
toed-in, and it's also significantly more lofted than I would
use.What you have to remember, of course, is that the
Seve Icon from MD Golf is designed as a game-improvement
club aimed at higher handicap players. This model is
fitted with a UST V2 shaft, which is the standard shaft at
the quoted price.
Performance: A slightly tinny, hollow, sound off the face,
but surprisingly solid feel and ball flight. Moderate spin
rates and respectable carry. A solid performer which would
work better for me with a shaft that I was accustomed to.
But overall a very good performer at the price point. The
overall results showed slightly less carry than the leading
models, but you know it really was not that far behind.
Looks & feel: The r9 is one of my favourites out there right
now. This one was made up for my and I've been using it on
tour for the last couple of weeks. TaylorMade understand
what better players are looking for and this is a reasonably
small, traditionally-shaped head. The chief talking point
surrounding the r9 is its adjustability – there are just so
many combinations you can put into this baby. But I do like
the look of it. The technology is fascinating. And it works.
Performance: A joy to hit, I just love the ball flight with this
club. It delivers a relatively low flight, very neutral, easy to
work in either direction. Both the clubhead speed and ball
speed are up at the upper end of the table – which just
goes to show how you can maximise performance with professional
custom fitting. I hit my longest carry of the day
with the second ball.
Looks & feel: This was one of the big surprises on the day –
the Nicklaus Dual Point retails for a significantly lower price
point, but you'd never know it. I really like the look of this
head, it's a traditional driver with a gently rounded face. Sits
well behind the ball. I would add an aiming mark on the top.
Performance: A little on the loud side – not ear-shattering –
but produced a good launch angle and the ball felt solid off
the clubface. The data reported 2,800rpmspin, 10.8 degree
launch. [This was fitted with the Grafalloy ProLaunch as opposed
to the ProLite –maybe I've been using the wrong shaft
all these years!]. A really pleasing launch angle, and a neutral
flight. Again a club I feel I could work with a quality flight. For
the money, just shows how good the modern clubs are today.
Flightscope: Respectable distance – carry is just 6 yards
behind the Callaway FT9, and shot dispersion was very tight.
Looks & feel: I really like the look of this Cobra model, with
its retro-style shape, a smaller, traditional-looking head, with
a notably deep face (a shallow face version is also available).
The black face is unusual, but contrasts well with the white
lines and this helps you to centre the ball at the set up.
Performance: The Cobra S9 was fitted with a Grafalloy
ProLite shaft, and it felt good. I knew just looking down at the
deep face I would fade it...and I did – with a pleasing launch
and a solid, reassuring sound. Flightscope registered the
flight as being a little spinny, but the couple I nailed seemed
to sail through the wind, regardless of the spin and high
launch. This is an all-round professional club, though in this
guise the 9.5 degrees was too high for me. A lower loft and a
different shaft would change the flight overnight.
Looks & feel: The obvious design feature of this driver is
the pronounced elongated head from front to back. But
again, if you cover the rear two-thirds of the head, the face
is reminiscent of quite a few of the more traditional (and
more expensive) clubs in this test. Stamped 10 degrees on
the sole, to my eye looks a tad more.
Performance: In just three or four balls I didn't even notice
the elongated head shape – I was more interested in the
flight, as this one goes. A fairly high launch but good trajectory.
I can shape it but I found that I lost a fair bit of distance
doing that. But when you consider the price point –
sub £150 – it's a great performer.
Flightscope: Low spin – 2,800 – and very healthy carry. Even
the mishits achieved a pretty good distance, so this is a forgiving
Looks & feel: First impressions are that this is a fairly bigheaded
driver, though with good clean lines and a square
clubface, which I like. No aiming graphic on top of the head,
which is something I do prefer to see and would add.
Performance: Feels good and sounds good, but I can feel the
shaft ‘kicking' at the bottom, at impact, and the result is a
high flight, and a draw shape. The shaft – a Snake Eyes proprietary model– is just a little too soft for my liking. The
beauty of dealing with the Golfsmith outfit, of course, is that
they specialise in custom-fitting and so you would have your
choice of the leading shafts on the market. I would be interested
to see what the results were with the Grafalloy 65g Sflex
that is my regular choice, as the head itself feels very
solid. This is a tour-standard driver competitively priced.
THE TOP PERFORMERS
BUT ONLY BY A WHISKER
The TaylorMade r9, the Titleist, the Ping G10 and the Callaway
FT9 – these are the drivers that topped the overall stats table.
Which just shows that at the premium end of the market you do
get what you pay for.
The surprise, however, is just how closely these manufacturers
are being pushed by the other companies. That, to me, says
everything you need to know about the state of play in modern
club-making. All of the manufacturers these days are using quality
components and – rather like the car market – it's actually tough
to buy a poor model.
At the premium end you will always be paying for R&D budgets
and promotion on tour, that's the way of the world. But isn't it
interesting that of all the drivers tested, the four models that came
out on top, for me, are probably the ones you would have nominated
as being 'tour-standard'. But, most telling of all, they were
also the clubs that were made up exactly to the specifications I
requested, while the ones just behind – such as the Cobra S9,
the Wilson Smooth, the Nicklaus Dual Point and the Benross
Innovator – were all made up for me. In other words, they were all
fitted with the shaft that I know suits my swing characteristics,
they featured the loft that I like and the grip was built up to give
me the feel I am used to.
The only conclusion to be draw from this is that if you are really
serious about your golf you get in touch with a pro or a retailer
who can offer you this type of analysis and a full custom-fit service.
You know, the shaft really is the key. At the end of the day, all
of the figures that you see on the accompanying Flightscope
read-outs relate to my swing characteristics, and have no bearing
on your game. Our intention has not been to identify a specific
club that will work for you, rather to highlight the questions and
the issues you need to address when buying a new driver. So get
down to your pro shop, and tell them TJ sent you!
DECIPHERING THE NUMBERS
Richard Blamey tells you what to look for to optimise performance
As more and more golf professionals invest in radar based
equipment that tracks the ball in flight, so there's a
greater opportunity for you to invest in real game improvement.
Once you have identified three or four
models that suit your eye, Flightscope (or Trackman)
analysis will help you to fine-tune your selection as it provides
valuable data on the key performance factors of
spin, ball speed, launch angle and the Descent Vertical'
measurement (the angle at which the ball falls to the
ground from it's apex – ideally 35 degrees) that determines
the overall combination of carry and roll.
Ultimately, it's a case of using this technology to get
real consistency off the tee. These days, with manufacturers
offering so many different shafts, and the facility to
alter face angles, loft and lie, or change the centre of
gravity to get a spin bias, there is just so much scope.
And one thing this exercise will certainly do is make your
bad shots better!
For the amateur golfer it's about optimising launch
angle and backspin. These numbers are a factor of your
clubhead speed and the way you strike the ball (and
indeed the type of ball used). Loft and clubhead design
are the key features you need to match up with your
speed and favoured type of shaft/flex to optimise these
numbers. Another important number is ball-speed – the
speed of the ball off the clubface. Increasing your ball
speed gives you the potential for more distance, and this
can be achieved via experimentation of shaft and clubhead.
The tour average is around 115mph clubhead
sped, a launch angle of 10-11 degrees and around 2,000-
2,500 rpm. Optimising launch and spin will maximise your
carry and distance potential.
So you have your work cut out!
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International.