Sunday, September 25, 2011

Today's drivers are more specialized than ever. Retail shops are flush with superlight sticks for golfers with moderate swing speeds, offset clubs for players who need help squaring the face, low-spin bombers for guys who generate serious spin, and many more. But in this age of specialization, the No. 1 question you face is: "Should I play an adjustable driver?"

With a few twists of a wrench, Average Joes are now able to adjust face angle, loft and lie angle without having to schedule an appointment with their local clubfitter—or having to buy a new club altogether. (We recommend that you work with a trained fitter whenever possible.) Golfers can alter the club dynamics to suit their desired ball flight or to pick up a few additional yards of carry.

34% of golfers polled own an adjustable driver.*
(*Percentages shown in red based on 2,337 respondents on

In 2011, Adams (Speedline 9064LS DFS), Srixon (Z-Star) and Titleist (910 D2/910 D3) each debuted their first adjustable driver, joining a growing list of converts, including Cobra, Nike and TaylorMade. What's more, Golf Datatech reports that the metalwood category is up for the first time in five years, spearheaded in part by sales of the adjustable R11 driver. Through June, two of the top three best-selling drivers (among new for 2011 clubs) offer adjustability.

Regardless of where you fall in the debate, understanding the pros and cons of adjustable and nonadjustable drivers will help with your next purchase decision. "There are many advantages to adjustability/interchangeability," says Chris McGinley, Titleist's Vice President of Golf Club Marketing. "You can adjust loft, lie and weight, and try different shafts at a fitting, which produces a more precise fit. If so desired, the settings can be adjusted later to improve the fit or ball flight. There really are no disadvantages [to our adjustable technology]."

The Titleist 910 series features an adjustable hosel that allows users to change loft and lie independently of each other (for up to 16 settings), while TaylorMade's R11 allows the independent alteration of loft, face angle and flight path to create a total of 48 different settings. TaylorMade claims it can affect left/right trajectory up to 100 yards, which is a huge selling point for slicers, who make up 85 to 90 percent of all golfers.

Cobra's adjustable models, which include the S3 and ZL drivers, let you tweak the face angle into the open, closed or neutral position, depending on which direction you want the ball to fly. The face angle is moved to the closed position to help a player who normally struggles with a slice. "It's one more variable that allows you to optimize the driver for your swing," says Tom Preece, Vice President of R&D for Cobra.

 54% see "noticeable" performance improvement with the adjustable driver.

According to Tom Stites, Nike's Director of Club Creation, "You're at a disadvantage if you're not playing with [Nike's] STR8-FIT
adjustable technology. One simple adjustment (up to 32 settings) can make an incredible impact."

Not every manufacturer is sold on the merits of adjustability, however. Callaway, Cleveland and Ping are a few of the companies that haven't jumped on the adjustability express. They cite the cost of adjustable drivers (typically $100 more than non-adjustable models), the additional weighting in less than ideal locations, and the confusion factor created by all those different settings as reasons that a golfer would stay with traditional nonadjustable technology.

"The adjustable offerings in the marketplace put too much weight in the wrong places," says Dr. Alan Hocknell, Senior VP of R&D for Callaway. "Many of the adjustable mechanisms in the hosel and elsewhere on the head weigh in excess of 20 grams, and they compromise performance more than they help golfers find performance."

"The additional weighting required for adjustable drivers makes it difficult to maximize swing speed and distance," says Nate Radcliffe, Metalwoods Development Manager for Cleveland. (In robotic and player testing, Cleveland found that a 10-gram reduction in weight led to an average increase of 1 mph of swing speed.) Its Launcher Ultralite XL270 driver, part of the Launcher Ultralite series, is 40 to 60 grams lighter than most adjustable drivers.

GALLERY: Golf Magazine asked eight readers to get custom-fit for new drivers—four with adjustable drivers and four with non-adjustable drivers. See how everyone got longer and straighter off the tee.

"Speed is the most critical factor in creating distance potential, and club weight is the most influential factor that's unrestricted by the Rules of Golf," adds Radcliffe. "Tour shafts are in the 45- to 60-gram range, and grips are half the weight of what was available only two years ago. This allows for weight reductions of 30 to 50 grams in drivers."

"We do see the value of adjustability for fine-tuning ball flight," says Marty Jertson, Senior Design Engineer for Ping.

"Currently, though, you have to sacrifice a lot by adding weight to the hosel, and we don't want to take a step back in performance gains. With our technology and fitting system, we believe we can maximize driver performance." Change can be intimidating, and this can deter consumers who've been playing a non-adjustable driver all their lives. The perceived complexity (How do I adjust the driver? What do all the settings mean?) of adjustable drivers prevents many traditional golfers from taking the plunge into the world of adjustability.

"We've gone to great lengths to simplify the fitting process," says Tom Olsavsky, Senior Director of Product Creation for TaylorMade. "We simplified the FCT sleeve to read higher or lower [versus closed or open in the R9]. While many golfers understand that if you close the face the ball flight will be higher, or that you open the face for a lower flight, we wanted R11 to be simpler to understand."

Critics of adjustable drivers point out that consumers make few, if any, alterations once they purchase the club. In some cases, the adjustments are comparable to pre-configured settings in traditional drivers. "The adjustable club is then burdened with the weight of the adjustability mechanism for the rest of its life, which can negatively affect performance," adds Callaway's Hocknell.

 70% adjusted the driver at least once.

According to TaylorMade's Olsavsky, "At least 80 percent of TaylorMade buyers adjust the drivers at least once. After the initial change, 10 to 15 percent adjust settings regularly." Cobra claims that 75 percent of its consumers who play adjustable drivers use the adjustable features. Most find a setting that works and rarely adjust again.

 47% would not consider buying an adjustable driver.

"The bottom line is that adjustability offers a customized option to every golfer on demand," says Nike's Stites. "That's the way of the world. You see it in all industries: People want to have it their way right now. Those who've adopted the technology find it empowering."

Non-adjustable or adjustable. The choice is yours. Whatever your decision, make sure to get custom fit for a new driver. The improvements to your game might shock you. We fit eight Average Joes—four with adjustable drivers and four with non-adjustable. Each guy now hits it longer, with an improved ball flight and greater confidence than before.


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