Adjustability. Low spin. Fitting. More loft. These are the buzzwords for drivers in 2014. Clubmakers have been preaching for years that a "high launch, low spin" flight path will lead to longer drives. Golf Magazine's exclusive player test reveals that new-for-2014 drivers are more "low spin" than ever.
As a result, you should consider a driver with more loft than usual to increase launch angle and maximize distance. Gone are the days when you were a "9.5° guy," regardless of make or model. A new era has dawned, so check your ego at the door when you're being custom-fit for a new driver -- your fitter might recommend an 11.5° loft (or higher) with a shaft weight or flex that you've never dreamed would work for you.
Next month, we'll bring you complete ClubTest reviews on 23 hot drivers. For now, here's a preview of some new models featured in the test.
Adams's brass boasts that its XTD driver has the hottest face in golf. In fact, the company measures the club's "characteristic time" (CT is a measurement of face flexibility and ball speed) on four separate occasions during the assembly process to ensure its liveliness. The XTD employs progressive face thickness plus cut-through velocity slots in the crown, center sole, and toe of the sole. This causes the clubface to flex on average 6 percent more (like a trampoline) than the company's Super S driver. As a result, shots struck on the low toe have a 19 percent higher CT than the Super S, which results in 1.5 mph faster ball speeds. Also, a thin, light crown saves 10 grams. Some of this weight is placed back into the body as "ribs" to help acoustics, and to lower the center of gravity. The XTD can be adjusted +/- 1.5° loft. The 45-inch club comes standard with a Matrix Red Tie 6Q shaft in 9°, 10.5° or 12° lofts.
Callaway Big Bertha
The newest Big Bertha is designed to max out distance for average players. The club has a 19 percent larger sweet spot (the face area that provides ball speeds within 2 mph of max speed) than last year's RAZR Fit Xtreme, and it features the same eight-way adjustable hosel (four lofts, two lies) as in Callaway's FT Optiforce drivers. The coolest update is an eight-gram weight that slides on a five-inch track along the back edge of the club. Moving the slider can shift the club's lateral center of gravity up to 0.138 inches. According to Callaway, this translates to a 360 rpm change in sidespin and a 15.6-yard change in dispersion. In addition, a composite crown helps keep the club light despite the rear track, while added perimeter weighting boosts forgiveness. Available in 9°, 10.5°, and 13.5° lofts with a 45.5-inch Mitsubishi Rayon Fubuki Z shaft.
Big Bertha Alpha [$499] has a first-of-its-kind removable carbon tube in the head -- heavy tungsten on one end and a light nylon on the other. Use it to alter backspin up to 600 rpm without changing loft. Positioning tungsten near the sole creates a low-spin head; tungsten higher in the head makes it a mid-spin driver.
Cleveland 588 Custom
So why did Cleveland call its newest driver the 588 Custom? First, there's a lot to fiddle with. Unlike its fixed predecessor (the SL290), this 460 cc, 305-gram club (15 grams heavier than the SL290) has an adjustable hosel with 12 distinct settings. You can change loft and lie within 1.5° up or down, while opening or closing the face up to 2.25°. In addition, an interchangeable screw in back (like the one found in last year's Classic XL Custom driver), lets fitters fine-tune swing weight. All that, according to the company, amounts to 30 yards worth of dispersion variation. The all-titanium 588 Custom also utilizes variable face thicknesses for slightly more pop than the SL290 (1.6 yards longer), and produces lower-launching, lower-spinning shots. The real gain, though, is accuracy; in company testing, the 588 Custom has a dispersion area that's 35 percent smaller than the SL290.
Cobra Bio Cell+
If you'll pardon the pun, Cobra had some lofty design goals for its new 440 cc Bio Cell+ driver. The club's engineers wanted to achieve a lower center of gravity (CG) than in the AMP Cell Pro, since a lower CG equals higher ball speed, higher launch and lower spin. To do so, the team used Venollum, a lighter, stronger material than standard titanium, which saves 8 grams (4 in the crown and 4 in the face). The weight savings gets distributed lower in the head. Bio Cell+ also has a larger "sweet zone" for more distance -- the perimeter of the face is more flexible (hotter) for a 10 percent increase in max ball speed on shots struck one inch off-center. The "MyFly" adjustable hosel has eight loft settings from 8° to 11°, including three draw settings. By contrast, the AMP Cell Pro had six settings from 7.5° to 10.5°, including three fade settings. The Bio Cell+ comes in five head colors -- silver, orange, red, blue or black -- with a 45.25-inch Matrix Red Tie shaft.
Nike VR_S Covert 2.0 Tour
For the second generation of its Covert Tour driver, Nike made the club bigger -- 30 cc's bigger, to be exact, up to 460 from 430. The result is a club with a 15 percent larger face, an 11 percent larger footprint at address, and an 11 percent higher MOI. That means more forgiveness on mis-hits. Nike testing reveals that the new model beats last year's club by 2 mph on shots struck low on the face. Additional tweaks include decreasing the club's fade bias, fine-tuning the multi-thickness "NexCor" face, and moving the bar that connects the crown and sole to stiffen the back of the club and reduce vibration at impact. These changes add up to a half-degree higher launch angle, with 200 rpm more spin and an extra mile-per-hour of ball speed on center hits. Most of the other technology -- including the cavity back design and the "FlexLoft" adjustable hosel, which switches independently among five lofts (8.5° through 12.5°) and three face angles (from 1.5° open to 1.5° closed) -- will be familiar to those who hit last year's model. With its stock 45.5-inch Mitsubishi Rayon KuroKage TiNi Silver shaft and Nike Tour Wrap 2G grip, it tips the scales at around 325 grams. Since the "FlexLoft" hosel remains unchanged, any shaft that fits the original Covert Tour will work in version 2.0.
A replacement for the i20 driver, the 460 cc i25 is aimed at players who require a slightly lower trajectory and less backspin than the G25 (about 250 rpm lower spin). Though the i25 isn't quite as forgiving as the G25, it is designed to provide a solid balance of high MOI and distance (8 percent greater inertia from crown to sole than the i20). Other features include a more aerodynamic shape than past Ping drivers as well as LeMans-inspired racing stripes on the crown to aid alignment at address. The i25 is built with an adjustable hosel (not available in the i20) that allows for 0.5° loft to be added or subtracted.
The new JetSpeed replaces the RBZ Stage 2 in a big way. JetSpeed is the first big stick to feature TaylorMade's "Speed Pocket," designed to increase ball speeds and reduce spin on shots struck low on the clubface. The "pocket" in the sole combines with a low, forward center of gravity location to produce faster ball speeds than the RBZ driver (2 mph more) and RBZ Stage 2 driver (+1 mph) on shots hit ½" below the center of the face. (There's no advantage over RBZ or RBZ Stage 2 on shots struck ½" above the center face.) A 12-position "Loft-Sleeve" allows for full adjustability (+/-1.5° from the stated loft) while a 46-inch Matrix Velox T shaft (49 grams) also factors in to greater head speeds and overall distance. The 300-gram JetSpeed comes in 9.5°, 10.5° or 13° (HL) lofts.