Driver test 2012, part one

March 19, 2012

Your monkey will not lie to you. He used to be a long hitter.

Back in the day, when I was young and stupid, I swung very hard. I used a blond persimmon driver custom made for me by Irving King and I was the only one I ever knew who actually drove it over the ditch in front of the 360-yard fourth (?? I think it was the fourth) hole at Andrew Querbes Park in Shreveport, Louisiana (which is where Tommy Bolt learned the game). Some people say I drove that green, but really it was just the front fringe. That was in the 1970s, when we had Mother Nature on the run, and hair down to our butts.

I was not only the longest hitter on my high school golf team, I was also the longest hitter I played against (and I played against Hal Sutton, who wasn’t all that long but whose shots were of a different order). But then hitting the ball long was always a point of pride for me, probably to the detriment of my game. It was not unusual for me to drop to one knee on my follow through, as I bounced the shaft off my back. My form was closer to Reggie Jackson striking out than Greg Norman, but when I managed to connect, I put a charge in the ball. I remember my teammates urging me to enter the first long drive contest I ever heard of — I didn’t win, place or show but I would have if I could have kept the ball in play.

I was a bomb-and-gouge player before the stereotype existed; power and putting was my whole game. I liked Nicklaus, but I wanted to be Mike Souchak.

I put my game on ice for about a dozen years beginning in 1984, and so I missed some of the big technological advances in drivers. I think I hit a couple of metal woods in the early 1980s, but I never owned or played with one. I went straight from my Irving King persimmon-headed, steel-shafted club that probably weighed about about two pounds And when I came back to the game — in the Big Bertha-era — it took me a little while to adjust to the new clubs. But before long I was driving it as long, and much straighter, than I ever had as a kid. I won a lot of long drive contests in the ’90s, and I went through a lot of drivers. (My favorite was a steel-shafted Titleist 976R. I wish I’d never gotten rid of that one.)

But over the past few years, as the technology has gotten even better, I found I lost whatever advantages I had with the driver. I’m no longer a big hitter — I’m long enough to play most tracks from the tips but I only carry the ball an honest 240 in temperate conditions. And I’ve always generated too much spin to get a lot of roll. I can still bust one occasionally — TMFW was playing with me last Fall when I cranked out a 329-yarder — but I’m not really long anymore. I probably do not average 260 yards off the tee on the courses I generally play.

And this, boys and girls, bothers me no end. Never mind that I am likely playing the best golf of my life right now — I still want to bang on the drum all day.

And so I took a bunch of new drivers out recently, to see if any of them could unseat the incumbent, which is a Titleist 910 D3 with an UST ProForce V2 shaft. (I’ve got an 8.5 degree head set up to 10 degrees, and as open as it will go.)

The challengers were the new Cleveland Classic, the Ping G20 and i20 models, a TaylorMade RBZ and an Adams Speedline 12. (I also threw in a 2009 Krank Rage because I thought I might benefit from an ultra low-spin head.)

And I’ve come to the conclusion that you really can’t buy a bad driver these days — though you certainly can buy the wrong driver. The most important thing is probably to find a head you like — the styling, the feel, the sound — and then get fitted for a shaft. But you probably already know that.

The best performing driver for me might have been the Ping i20 — I say “might” because it’s been so wet here that I couldn’t really judge it fairly before I had to send it back. I got decent carry, but where the club looked promising on the monitor — I was getting 30 or more yards roll, an unheard of amount for me on the courses I typically play — but I couldn’t really putb it to test in real life. The trajectory was boring, and the carry distance fine but I got better real world performance out of the G20, which isn’t nearly as sexy as the i20 but probably a club that would work for most people. (I was hitting the G20 with the stock stiff Ping TFC Tour shaft; the i20 had Ping’s TFC 707 D Stiff in it. Both had 9.5 degree heads.)

I hit the G20 very high and very straight and longer than I thought — it kind of feels like hitting a 250-yard wedge. I found I could move the ball both ways, but not only was the G20 harder to manuever than its sleeker brother, it’s pretty much the straightest driver I’ve ever hit. You can take that as an endorsement if you want, but sometimes I want to curve the ball.

While I liked the Pings — I could definitely play the Pings, I can even imagine a scenario where I could carry both of the drivers, switching off depending on the kind of shot I wanted tom hit — my favorite driver was the new Cleveland Classic. It’s a beautiful club, and even if you think there’s something a little cheesey about a big-headed titanium club trying to mimic the look of an old persimmon head, the styling is understated and the finish is great. And it’s a very solid club.

Cleveland sent me a 290 gram model (it also comes in a 270 and 310 gram models) with the stock Miyazaki C Kua 39 series shaft — in a regular flex. (I know some of you big boys just can’t hit a regular flex at all, and it’s probably not optimum for me either, but really it’s close enough.I heard a reliable report about a Callaway demo day where Graeme McDowell — who has since signed with Cleveland/Srixon — hit a stock 10.5 degree Razr with a regular shaft and hit it just as well as a driver made up to his specs.)

I was reluctant to take the club out at first, because it’s really pretty and the conditions were sloppy (and cold). I finally unsheathed on a 470-yard par four in a light rain, with temperatures a touch under 50 degrees. My first swing produced a soft draw that carried about 260 yards — about 40 yards past the drive I’d just hit with my gamer. It rolled out another 10 yards.

I couldn’t reproduce this drive the rest of the day, though the Cleveland performed about as well as anything else I hit. I was pretty relaxed and may have been a bit smoother with that first swing simply because of the “R” on the shaft — I certainly didn’t hold a lot of expectations for the club. Relax, swing smoothly — what can I tell you? The best shot of the day.

And the driver feels solid, buttery through impact. And I like that it’s not adjustable — while I’m using an adjutable driver now, I’m still not sold on the screw-through-hosel system. I’d rather find a driver set up right than tinker with the setting. (Though I do like the ease with which shafts can be changed out.)

A few weeks later I stopped by our local Edwin Watts and tested a 310-gram Tour model with an extra stiff Miyakazi Kusala shaft. And according to the monitor I killed that (though my club speed is nothing special — especially indoors). If I were to buy a new driver based on the testing I’ve done so far (and it is ongoing — I’ve got that RBZ and the Krank and I’m planning to take one of the new Callaways and an R11S out for a spin) I’d buy the Cleveland 310 Tour, probably with a stiff Kusala.

Look for part two of this in a week or so — if the rain lets up.

1 Comment

  • Comment by J Hawg 3 — Mar 19,2012 at 7:41 pm

    I think the new Cleveland drivers look like sex. I need to try one, because by my current 3-wood is a Cleveland and I swear it is the most explosive club I have ever hit. I will try one this weekend. (But my Ping G-15 is the most consistent and accurate driver I have ever hit.) By the way, the thought of you swinging like Reggie Jackson has me smiling.

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