Drivers Buyer's Guide 2006

The modern driver can hold the contents of a 16-ounce can of soda and, with its heightened technology, offers much more pop than that. Check out the newest big sticks and find one that fits your game.

Improve Your Driving Record
Find the fairway more often—with the right equipment
By Jeff Jackson

Arguably the most important shot in golf is the first one on every hole, and finding the fairway with your drive is one of the best ways to improve your game. But in order to improve your driving, you must first honestly evaluate how well you currently drive the ball. Do you try to be like the long-drive king when you step on the tee? You’ll be much better off if you think like a straight driver like Fred Funk than a long bomber like Tiger Woods. Think about it: Which will lead to lower scores more quickly— drives 20 yards longer in the woods or drives 10 yards shorter in the fairway?

That being said, even if you do all the right things and play smart golf, your rate of fairway-finding success will dwindle if you don’t have the proper equipment. With a driver suited to your game, your smarter play will be enhanced through your equipment. Soon you’ll be hitting more fairways, lowering your scores and maybe even adding a few yards to your tee shots. Here’s a five-step evaluation of how to select a driver that’s right for you.

Step 1: Look To More Loft
The key to distance in today’s world is high launch and low spin. The longer the ball can stay in the air, the longer the resulting drive. Since balls are designed to stay in the air longer, you need a driver that will maximize current ball technology. Less than a decade ago, a majority of PGA professionals used drivers with 8 degrees or less. Now, it’s the rare player who hits something under 10 degrees. The reason is simple—the faster you can get the ball in the air, the longer it will travel. If you’re among the shorter hitters in your group, give a higher-lofted driver a try. Adding a few degrees of loft could add a noticeable amount of yardage to your drives.

An added bonus of higher loft is the potential for straighter shots. Think about why you hit your 3-wood straighter than your driver (and sometimes as far, too.) One reason is the higher loft. If you’re currently playing a 10-degree driver, try a 12-degree model. If that works well, maybe even look to a 13- or 14-degree driver. If you need more convincing, find a fitting center that has a launch monitor. The fitting experts will be able to provide quantitative proof that higher is better for most players when it comes to loft.

Step 2: Get Shafted
It has been said that the shaft is the engine that drives the clubhead. The shaft is certainly a key element in selecting the proper driver. Shaft technology allows a player to choose a component that will hit the ball higher or lower, straighter or longer and one that will provide positive feel and feedback. Shafts with lower bend or kickpoints will tend to hit the ball higher and will feel softer to most players, while those with higher kickpoints will feel stiffer and will hit the ball lower. Shaft stiffness is another key factor to consider. Most players choose a shaft that’s too stiff for them—and it’s hard to tell for sure what exact flex your driver may be since not all manufacturers test shafts under the same conditions!

Shafts that are too stiff may cause both distance loss and control problems. In addition, if a shaft is too stiff, it won’t feel very responsive. If you don’t think you’re driving the ball far enough, adding distance might be as simple as trying a softer shaft. While you’re at it, think of the length of your driver. Longer shafts offer the potential for longer shots, but they might be more difficult to return squarely to impact. A good rule of thumb is to choose the longest-length driver that will allow consistent, repeatable impacts. The launch monitor fitting previously mentioned will quickly narrow your shaft choices and will almost guarantee better drives when you get your new club.

Step 3: Go Big
Size is “in” when it comes to drivers. More and more PGA Tour pros are switching to the USGA’s maximum-sized 460cc drivers due to their “hotter” face construction and better balance on off-center hits. The same technology—especially the better balance on off-center hits—can definitely benefit your game. In essence, the larger drivers have more “miss area.” You don’t have to make a perfect swing to achieve good results when the clubhead gets larger. The scientific term given to the improved stability of larger-sized drivers is Moment Of Inertia, or MOI. The bigger the head, the higher the MOI and the better results when you don’t find the sweet spot every time. Plus, the look of a 450cc+ club inspires confidence at address—a factor that’s likely to carry over to the swing itself.

If you haven’t explored the world of the big drivers, there’s no time like the present to prove that bigger (at least when it comes to drivers) is definitely better! Plus, as you can tell from this guide, big is in!


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