Driver technology is evolving rapidly, with brand-new high-tech features appearing every year. There is one main focus pushing innovation in the driver-manufacturing industry, a desire every golfer can understand: increased distance. All golfers want to add length to their tee shots, and the more the better. But fear not, driver engineers and designers at the top club manufacturers are hot on the case.
With ClubTest 2015 just around the corner, we're previewing 13 new drivers that will be hitting store shelves in time for the heart of the golf season. Learn all about the new longsticks, and come back next month for full reviews from ClubTest.
Thin is in. The J715's crown is only 0.5 millimeters at its thinnest and features springlike ribs on the interior that company officials say can increase ball speeds by 2 mph and launch angle by as much as 2 degrees at Tour-level swing speeds. A process called "power milling" creates a rougher clubface so that the ball doesn't roll up the face as much as it normally would and thus stays there longer. The combination reduces spin by up to 350 rpm at higher launch angles [12.5°] and by 200 rpm at lower launch angles [10.5°] for a longer, more penetrating flight. Two removable weights in the sole—one behind the center of the face and the other more rearward and heel-biased—are used to alter the club's center of gravity [CG]. From the factory, the J715 driver comes with a 10-gram weight in back and a 4-gram weight in front, but flipping them will lower launch angle by as much as 0.75° and decrease spin by up to 200 rpm. A weight kit [$80] sold separately includes 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-and 12- gram plugs for more customization. The club's hosel offers further adjustability, allowing face-angle changes from 1° open to 1° closed, as well as lie angles from standard to 2° upright.
Lofts: 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5°, 12°. Available February 15.
Last year, Callaway reestablished itself as a leader in driver technology with its Big Bertha and X2 Hot lines. The company looks to keep the good times rolling with the debut of the XR.
Callaway believes the XR can help you swing faster, generate more ball speed and hit longer drives. The club's thin, lightweight face insert contributes to a low CG, and more efficient transfer of energy across the hitting area while the aerodynamic crown reduces drag during the swing. In addition, the Project X LZ shaft is designed to maximize shaft load during the downswing. The company's well-known OptiFit hosel enables you to change loft (from 2° stronger to 1° weaker) and lie to optimize launch conditions. Lofts: 9°, 10.5°, 12°, 13.5°. $349. In stores on February 20.
The lower-spinning XR Pro ($399), for better players, features many of the same technologies. It has a more traditional shape plus a forged composite crown, which contributes to lower CG and less spin. Lofts: 9°, 10.5°. In stores on March 20.
Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 815
Callaway's reborn Big Bertha topped its class in our ClubTest earlier this year. Its replacement, the Big Bertha Alpha 815, takes the signature feature of the equally acclaimed Big Bertha Alpha driver and puts it to work in a model that average Joes can enjoy. The industry-first "gravity core" rod has 10.5 grams of tungsten at one end and 1.5 grams of nylon at the other. You place the rod into the head to move the club's CG higher or lower to optimize launch, spin and ball speed. The high-CG position [nylon end is closer to the sole] plays like a "mid-spin" driver, while the low-CG position generates 300 rpm less spin. Compared to the current Big Bertha, the Alpha 815 delivers similar mid-spin drives when the rod is in the high-CG position, and 300 rpm less spin in the low-CG position.
The Alpha 815 has the same light, forged composite crown as before, along with a thinner, livelier titanium face that's made possible by stiffened ribs on the crown and sole, inside the body. Also, removable plugs in the heel and toe [7 gram and 1 gram] can be used to create fade or draw bias. Like its predecessor, the Alpha 815's adjustable OptiFit hosel provides loft options [from 2° stronger to 1° weaker], as well as neutral or draw setting. Lofts: 9°, 10.5°, 12°.
Cobra's Fly-Z+ driver, for scratch players to 15-handicappers, utilizes a clever front-back weighting system to optimize CG location. The 15-gram weight [an aluminum shell filled with tungsten nickel] can be moved between the middle of the sole and the rear. According to company testing, the forward CG position [with the gold-colored weight closer to the face] creates a penetrating, low-spin flight, while the back position launches the ball higher with 300 rpm more spin. To enhance ball speeds on mis-hits, the thin, forged titanium clubface includes a "Speed Channel" around the edges. You might think the channel creates more speed because of increased face flex on those shots. Not so. It actually boosts speed because mass that's removed from the face gets redistributed, which increases the club's MOI by approximately 10 to 15 percent on mis-hits. The 460 cc head features "MyFly" technology, which allows eight loft adjustments between 8° and 11°, plus the "SmartPad" sole, which is designed to maintain a square clubface angle even as loft adjustments are made. The club comes in five head colors: red, orange, blue, black and white. Available February 1.
The Fly-Z [$329] features the same adjustable hosel with eight loft settings [9° to 12°] and color options as the Fly-Z+, but not a "flip weight." Built with mid-handicappers in mind, the Fly-Z produces 300 rpm more spin and is more stable on mis-hits than the Fly-Z+ in the back-weight position.
Nike Vapor Flex
Over the years, various methods have come along to help golfers customize their drivers—adjustable hosels, interchangeable weights, and sliders on the sole, among others. Now comes the Nike Vapor Flex, whose combination of technologies makes it one of the most customizable models yet. Its new adjustable hosel, called FlexLoft 2.0, can set loft [+/- 2°] and face angle to create 15 possible launch and shot-bias combinations. The redesign is also 30 percent lighter than the previous FlexLoft, which allows more mass to be distributed elsewhere in the clubhead.
A second tuning technology, called "Flex-Flight," incorporates an unbalanced polymer resin rod—9 grams on one end, 0.5 grams on the other—that's placed in a tube in the rear of the head. Orienting the rod with the heavy end in the middle of the head moves the CG 2.4 millimeters closer to the face, which produces a 1° lower launch angle and decreases the spin rate by 300 rpm.
Nike has also built upon its go-to cavity-back design for enhanced ball speed and forgiveness. Designers updated the "Covert Cavity" with "FlyBeam" supports that stiffen the crown, sole and back of the clubhead for a greater transfer of energy to the ball. The cavity itself maintains MOI and forgiveness on off-center hits while moving the club's CG forward to reduce spin. A new channel along the sole close to the leading edge combines with the cavity to produce more face flex on mis-hits, a higher COR and increased ball speeds.
The Vapor Flex comes standard with Mitsubishi's Diamana S+ Blue Board shaft. The Mitsubishi Diamana S+ White Board, Mitsubishi Fubuki ZT50 or Z50 shafts are also available at no additional charge. Available January 30.
Both the Vapor Pro [$399] and the Vapor Speed [$299] feature a channel behind the face for greater flex, supportive FlyBeams to stiffen the head, and Nike's FlexLoft 2.0 hosel for loft-and-lie adjustability. However, neither model offers the Flex-Flight adjustable CG technology. The Vapor Pro is Rory's new stick, while the Vapor Speed is the most forgiving driver in the family and produces slightly more backspin than the other two models.
Ping G30 LS Tec
The newest, stoutest club in Ping's G30 driver series is the G30 LS Tec. It's best-suited for fast swing-speed players who'd benefit from a stick that produces lower spin rates than the standard G30 while maintaining reasonable levels of forgiveness. To accomplish this, Ping's designers moved the club's CG 8 percent closer to the face than in the G30, which decreases spin on center hits by up to 400 rpm. The CG is as much as 35 percent lower and 30 percent farther back in the head than many "low-forward" CG drivers, for added forgiveness on off-center contact. In addition, the high balance-point TFC 419D shaft allows for a marginally heavier club head and, thus, higher MOI. The redesigned adjustable hosel enables you to tweak loft stronger or weaker by 1° in half-degree increments. And, like the rest of the G30 driver family, "turbulators" on the crown are engineered to reduce aerodynamic drag during the swing so you can generate faster clubhead speeds. Lofts: 9°, 10.5°. Available February 12.
Price: $429; $499 with TP shafts
Tinkerers rejoice. The R15 driver has a pair of 12.5-gram sliding weights in the sole, providing five grams more movable mass than the single 20-gram weight in the current SLDR. Splitting weights between the heel and toe increases the club's forgiveness; moving both weights in the same direction adds shot-shape bias; and placing them both in the middle produces the fastest ball speed. A new adjustable hosel lets players increase or decrease loft by as much as 2°. [The loft sleeve previously offered +/-1.5°.] What's more, the 40-gram sole track is more flexible and 12 millimeters closer to the leading edge than in the SLDR. This creates a lower, more forward CG. Company testing reveals that the new track system—it acts like the "speed pocket" in JetSpeed drivers—produces shots that launch 0.7° higher, spin 100 rpm less, and have a marginally higher peak height than shots hit with the SLDR 460. It's more impressive when you consider that the R15 is nine grams lighter than the SLDR. The R15 comes in white or black and in 460 cc or 430 cc heads. Lofts: 9.5°, 10.5°, 12° or 14°.
TaylorMade's AeroBurner driver ($299; $369 with TP shafts) boasts subtle yet significant aerodynamic upgrades over the JetSpeed. In short, it's designed to reduce swing drag so you can generate faster head speeds. For starters, airflow is enhanced by a finlike piece along the hosel, while the club's rounded toe shape and crown curvature also help to lessen drag. In addition, the club's overall weight is under 300 grams. Testing conducted by TaylorMade shows that players swing the AeroBurner 1 mph faster than the JetSpeed and SLDR drivers. Plus, the updated "speed pocket" now extends the length of the sole, which increases face flexibility on shots struck low or on the heel or toe. The result is a sweet spot that's 10 percent larger than last year's JetSpeed driver. It's worth noting that the 460 cc AeroBurner has a fixed hosel. According to company officials, an adjustable loft sleeve that extends into the sole [like the one used in the R15 driver] would have impaired the speed pocket's performance.
Lofts: 9.5°, 10.5°, 12°, 17° [HL].