Our annual drivers test is always keenly anticipated – but we can’t remember one quite as exciting as this year’s.
Technology has evolved so quickly in the last 12 months that almost every manufacturer has at least one totally new driver in their line-up.
If you’ve been following our launch coverage over the past six months, you’ll have seen the path manufacturers are going down. Funky crown designs are, for the most part, a thing of the past. Adjustability is now taking new forms and club faces are hotter and more forgiving than they’ve ever been. Trust us when we say we were as excited as you to find out which models were longest and straightest.
We can’t remember a bigger year in the most important product category for golf. Callaway has resurrected its Big Bertha in a revolutionary way. TaylorMade’s SLDR has gone down a storm on Tour, and its ‘loft up’ message is being widely adopted.
Meanwhile, Ping, Nike, Mizuno, Adams, Cobra, Wilson, Benross, Yonex and Cleveland all have new launches.
Adjustability. Low spin. Fitting. More loft. These are the buzzwords for all these products in 2014. Club-fitters now have so many options when it comes to finding the best driver for your game, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of the offer.
But where do you begin your search for a new big dog? Well, we think this is a pretty good place.
We tested 28 of the latest models at The Belfry, with a range of club golfers and a professional. Unlike other magazines, TG doesn’t shy away from rating and ranking products to really help your buying decision. The driver market is very competitive, so we gave out multiple winners in the three following categories:
Gold Award: Total ranking of 9 or more.
Silver Award: Total ranking of 8.5.
Bronze Award: Total ranking of 8.
Meet the Testers
Longest carry: 268 yards
Clubhead speed: 110mph
Current driver: Ping Anser, 9.5°
Driving traits: Fairly accurate, struggles with a block to the right. Likes to draw the ball.
Longest carry: 228 yards
Clubhead speed: 92mph
Current driver: Callaway X Hot, 10.5°
Driving traits: Swings down and across the ball with limited speed, launching the ball low with high spin.
How we tested the drivers
We’ve made some additional improvements to the way we will test equipment in 2014. To make the verdicts more relevant to you, we have introduced readers back into our testing panel.
Along with Equipment Editor Joel Tadman, we have continued to enlist the feedback of TG pro James Ridyard from the Bedford Golf Club. James is an expert in the laws of ball flight and has no brand affiliation, ensuring he is able to offer honest and uncompromised club advice.
For our driver trial, testing took place over two days in one of The Belfry’s custom-fit bays using a Trackman launch monitor.
Each tester was given balls to warm up with before testing started and was allocated as much time as they needed to test the clubs. They hit as many balls as they felt were required to provide a fair representation of the club’s performance before we recorded the statistics. The testers then gave their feedback.
The ranking process
We based our rankings on opinion, feel and facts. For opinion we looked at three areas the manufacturers value when developing the club. Cosmetics may not necessarily affect performance, but can make a dramatic difference to the confidence we feel when we look down at address. They can also influence our ability to aim the face. Feel is similarly subjective, but we all instinctively know the sensation we want at impact. Forgiveness is, again, hard to quantify. Only the user knows how well the club has rescued a poor strike. But it’s a vital part of a club’s DNA. Our testers were asked to rate each club out of 10.
As for facts, we wanted to compare the performance of each driver fairly. Golfers of different abilities are better suited to one driver over another, so rather than comparing the performance of the drivers from person to person, we used our performance stat (see right) to rank each driver against the player’s best drive of the day using a sliding scale. That way, clubs are ranked against each other for each individual. We also recorded and published the average distance and dispersion of every driver for each tester.
We not only invited all the major manufacturers to be involved in our test, but on this occasion we gave them all the opportunity to come along with a technical rep and fit our team before testing commenced.
James – a fully-qualified club fitter – was also on hand to fit the appropriate loft, lie and shaft spec to each tester, as well as himself where applicable, to ensure the spec of each model tested was as well-matched as possible to each tester based on their swing characteristics and what they currently use and prefer.
Manufacturers supplied us with an array of lofts and shafts for each 2014 model they wished to appear. We limited the number of models to two per brand, but Tour versions did not count as one model alone.
This test aims to provide you with a guide to the strengths and weaknesses of each club, so you can decide which is likely to suit your game or offer the best value. But if you’re thinking of making a purchase, get properly fitted. This will ensure the driver is right for you.
The drivers we tested were: