Drivers: 12 tips for choosing the right one

From loft and launch to CG and COR, there is plenty to learn about golf drivers

Andy Roberts's picture
Thu, 3 Sep 2015

The driver is typically the most expensive club in the bag and the one we use most frequently off the tee on a par four or par five. It therefore makes sense to find one that is right for you. 

With no such thing as a one-size-fits-all driver, given the variety of heads, centre of gravity positions and adjustable gadgets now available, the driver selection process is often one of the toughest to decipher for players. 

Tested: Best Drivers 2015

From loft and launch to CG and COR, there is much to learn about the club labelled the "big dog."

1. Clubhead size

The size of a driver head is measured by volume in cubic centimetres and the maximum size allowed by golf's governing bodies is 460cc.

All of the latest drivers sit between 440cc (drivers suited for players who like to shape the ball more in the air) and 460cc (drivers suited for players who crave more forgiveness). 

Related: Wedges - 10 things to know

2. Materials 

Gone are the days when we used persimmon woods or metal woods made of steel. The latest drivers on the market are either made of titanium or carbon composite heads. 

Titanium has become a particularly popular choice for driver heads because it is a strong, light and durable material. 

As a result of using either titanium or composite materials, golf companies can design 460cc drivers without increasing weight. This means players can swing the club faster and hit the ball further and more accurately because of the larger sweetspot on the face of the driver.

When used on the crown or the rear section of a clubhead, carbon can reduce the overall weight of a driver. 

3. Moment of inertia (MOI)

MOI is a common phrase in golf, particularly when it comes to the driver. It refers to a club's forgiveness, specifically its resistance to twisting at impact.

A driver with a high MOI means it it is less likely to twist or rotate when you strike the ball outside the centre of the face.  

Read: A bluffer's guide to golf terminology

4. Centre of gravity (CG)

CG is another common phrase and it refers to the single balance point of the driver. Different brands have opposing views on where best to place the CG in their drivers. 

The CG of a driver can be moved vertically, horizontally, or back and forward in a clubhead by moving fixed or adjustable weights inside the head. 

Companies such as TaylorMade place the CG of their drivers low and forward, PING opts for a low and back CG, while Callaway offers adjustable vertical CG. 

Related: Putters - 10 things to know before buying

It's a minefield, and the only real way to find out which CG location works best for you is to get custom fitted. 

In general, the lower and further back the CG is, the higher the ball will launch as the spin is increased. The driver will also be more forgiving as the MOI will be higher. Moving the CG forward will increase ball speeds but reduce the ball spin and the MOI.

A balance of high launch, low spin is the holy grail.

5. Loft and lie 

Driver loft refers to the angle of the face in relation to the vertical, and each model is typically available between eight and 13 degrees. 

Lower lofted clubs (e.g. eight degrees) have a slightly lower trajectory, but go a little further in the hands of players who can generate plenty of clubhead speed. 

Higher lofted clubs (e.g. 13 degrees) are better for player with slower swing speeds or players that need extra help to get the ball airborne. 

Lofts in between (e.g 10.5 degrees) are for the vast majority of players who have neither particularly fast or slow swing speeds. 

Related: Golf Balls - six things to know

With a plethora of adjustable drivers now available, however, it means you can tinker all day and play about with your loft. To do this, you simply remove a screw in the heel of the club, connect the shaft to the clubhead and replace it to a predetermined setting.

However, be careful when adjusting the loft of your driver because that will sometimes also change the lie angle - the angle of the shaft to the ground at address. A change to the lie angle will affect your ball flight horizontally left or right.

But remember, you cannot change the set-up of your driver during your round.

6. Face angle

Another area where driver adjustability can be your friend is changing the face angle - the angle of the face at address.

The face is "square" if the face sits perpendicular to the target, the face is "open" if the face turns away from the player, and the face is "closed" if the face sits towards the player.

An open face angle will reduce the loft of the club and a closed face angle will increase loft of the club.

Players who tend to hook the ball will therefore want to contemplate an open face angle to help straighten them up. Similarly, players who tend to slice the ball will want to think about a closed face. 

7. Weights

Using weights in the clubhead of a driver can have a significant impact on improving a player's ball flight as it changes the club's CG and MOI properties.

Of the drivers that feature weights, you can expect to see sliding weights or plugs from anything between one and 20 grams on the sole of the club. 

The benefit of using more weight in the heel is that it will create a draw bias, while placing more weight in the toe will produce a fade bias. 

And if a player craves a higher ball flight, they can simply place weight in the back portion of the head.

8. Coefficent of Restitution (COR)  

COR is not the noise you make when ripping a drive down the middle of the fairway. It is the measurement of the energy transferred - and is also known as Characteristic Time (CT).

Without going into too much science, if the COR was equal to 1.00 then all of the energy from the clubhead would be transferred to the ball.

Golf's governing bodies have set the COR limit at 0.83, meaning that there can be no more than an 83% energy transfer from the clubhead to the ball.

9. Smash factor

Quite possibly the coolest phrase in golf, "smash factor" is similar to COR but it is used primarily by launch monitors to measure how efficient you are at transferring energy from your swing to the ball. 

To calculate your smash factor and impress your pals in the process, you simply divide your ball speed by your clubhead speed. 

So if your ball speed was 150mph and your clubhead speed was 100mph, your smash factor would read 1.50 - which is regarded by club fitters as perfect. 

10. Swingweight

Knowing how much your driver weighs (total weight), and of that weight, how much of it is in the head (swingweight), is becoming a critical part of improving a player's driving.

TaylorMade: The importance of swingweight

The total weight and the headweight of your driver have to be matched to your physical strength, your swing tempo and your golfing athletic ability.

Play with too light of a total weight or swingweight for your strength, tempo and ability and your percentage of off-center hits increases.

11. Shaft flex

Shafts are important in all clubs, but especially drivers.

Using lighter, less stiff shafts will produce a higher, right-to-left biased ball flight, while heavier, stiff shafts will launch the ball lower with a higher tendency to shape the ball to the right.

The right shaft can help players hit the ball further, straighter and more consistently. Most manufacturers will offer drivers in regular (R), stiff (S) and extra stiff (XS) shaft flexes.

Other flexes include light or ladies flex (L), senior (A) and more extra stiff options (XXS, XXXS).

12. Shaft length

Although the legal limit for the length of a driver is 48 inches, most drivers have a shaft of around 45 or 46 inches to strike the best balance of distance and control.

While longer drivers will typically increase speed and help players hit the ball further, the additional length of the driver will sacrifice an element of control and accuracy. 

So unless you are a basketball player, anything around 45 inches in driver length will typically suit the vast majority of players. 

What is the most important aspect you look for in a driver? Share your thoughts in the forum, on Twitter, on Facebook or visit us on YouTube.

 

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