Speed – that’s the new name of the game in golf. Don’t laugh. It’s not a joke, because while golf’s pace of play can sometimes be glacially, painstakingly slow, speed doesn’t necessarily concern how quickly a player gets from the first tee to the eighteenth green. We’re talking club speed and ball speed. Specifically: How fast and far can a club make a little white ball sizzle down a fairway?
That’s the question designers evidently sought to tackle this offseason, particularly so off the tee. The newest crop of drivers, from Callaway’s Great Big Bertha to the Cobra King F6 to the Nike Vapor Fly/Pro, have all been modified so as to create more ball speed, which subsequently adds more distance to cater to increasingly longer courses.
And, though the old adage is “drive for show, putt for dough,” peruse the rankings from the 2015 season and you will find an inextricable link between driving distance and top 10 finishes. Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Bubba Watson finished one, two, three, respectively, in driving distance in 2015. The trio also combined for 32 top 10 finishes and eight victories. So no, speed may not be a word typically associated with golf. From the looks of it, though, it’s not a bad place to start.
Callaway Great Big Bertha
One of the first characteristics that Callaway boasts about the latest iteration of its famous driver is the implementation of its Next Gen R Moto Technology. Put simply, it provides a thinner club face, which promotes higher ball speeds and bigger drives off the tee.
More than that, the shape of the head has been slightly tweaked to make it more aerodynamic – hence allowing for higher club speeds – and Callaway even offers weight classes from 295-325 grams. There is also an adjustable, 10-gram sliding weight on the perimeter of the club head that can be positioned to promote a draw or fade, depending on the golfer’s preference. This is the key difference between the Great Big Bertha and their XR model, driving about a $70 price difference.
Cobra King F6
Similar to the Great Big Bertha, the Cobra King F6 has added a speed-inducing aspect, though in more simplistic terms. The F6 features what is called a “Speed Channel” around the perimeter of the face, which increases ball speed on mishits. Where Callaway thinned the face of the club, Cobra thickened it up to make for a more forgiving model, an appeal to higher handicaps looking to add distance even on awkwardly struck drives.
It differentiates itself with a wider, shallower face than the Cobra Fly-Z, and also with an adjustable sole weight, which the golfer can place either in the back or front. A front-placed sole weight would lower the launch trajectory, whereas a back-placed sole weight would raise the launch. The King F6 also features three additional draw settings, as well as the MyFly8, an adjustable hosel in which the golfer can shift the loft setting from nine degrees to 12. And, if appearance is a concern, the F6 comes in either black, white or blue.
Nike Vapor Fly/Pro
Rory McIlroy ate up, on average, 311.5 yards off the tee in 2015, good for tenth on the PGA Tour. He finished third in strokes gained from tee to green. He’s currently the No. 3 golfer in the world, behind Jordan Spieth and fellow bomber Jason Day. When he tees up his ball, he uses the Nike Vapor Fly/Pro.
As Callaway did with the Great Big Bertha, Nike cut down on the weight of the clubhead, reducing it by as much as 30 percent. McIlroy subsequently saw an increase of three miles per hour in ball speed, up to 186 miles per hour, adding an extra four yards of carry per mile per hour. Nike’s adjustments to the club goes by the name of Project Max, tailored specifically for McIlroy to increase, or “maximize,” his distance off the tee.
The lower center of gravity promotes higher launching shots and, thus, further carry. But it’s also easier to hit flush, thanks to the edges of the face being .3 mm – or 30 percent – thinner and the cavity back design that boosts head stability. The loft is also adjustable, allowing the golfer to go as low as 8.5 degrees and as high as 12.5.
As it goes with most Nike equipment or apparel, it’s loud. The Vapor Fly/Pro features a lime green and electric blue design, which doesn’t make it incredibly appealing for traditionalists, though when ball speed is up and distance is added, it’s easy to forgive the club’s appearance.
TaylorMade got a little technical when describing its newest line of drivers, the M series, which will have considerable expectations after the wild success of the R series.
“The crown is precision-formed and built ultra-thin, ultra-lite and high strength to maximize weight savings,” the description reads. “This savings was repositioned to build a weight-loaded sole, moving overall clubhead weight lower and to the center for a more efficient power transfer.”
Or, in short: the club is lighter, which will allow for higher club and ball speed and increase distance off the tee. After all, it is being promoted as TaylorMade’s longest driver yet, which is no small claim as TaylorMade is as ubiquitous with woods as Titleist is with balls.
The M1 has two adjustable tracks – or a “T-track” – one being for a draw, fade or neutral bias, the other, in the back, for launch and spin settings. The idea behind the T-Track system is to increase the weight of the sole for a more efficient power transfer and higher ball speed. There’s that word again: Speed. And if you’d like more of it, the optimal placement of the weight on the back track is at the back.
It seems to be working. It’s the preferred driver of Jason Day, who finished in the Top 10 in the final three majors of the season, claiming first at the PGA Championship.
It’s not uncommon to find dragonflies on golf courses. What is uncommon, however, is to find them being remarkably useful on said golf courses. Which is exactly what PING has done with its latest driver model, the PING G. Designers at PING have taken a scientific approach to the manufacturing of their latest driver, using a concept called biomimicry as the baseline of the driver.
Biomimicry is abundant in society – there are sharkskin inspired swimsuits, office buildings designed after termite dens, replicating burrs to create Velcro – but it is a new concept in terms of golf. PING’s engineers claim to have used a dragonfly’s intricate wing patterns to design an extraordinarily thin clubhead crown. That design results in a whopping eight grams weight savings over that of the G30. This drop in crown weight allows Ping engineers to re-position that weight and keep the G’s center of gravity the lowest of any manufacturer, making it one of the most forgiving models.
It also has a feature called the Vortec, which was designed to promote a more aerodynamic clubhead path and therefore increase swing speed. The end result is a driver that accomplishes two very important things: more forgiveness and more distance.
Where every other company is zigging – emphasizing club speed and overall lightness of a driver – Srixon is zagging. While the race has been on to minimize weight while maximizing length to appeal to higher handicappers, Srixon has flipped the script with the Z355. Using what it calls “Action Mass Technology” to induce higher ball speeds, the Z355 has a heavier head – 211-grams of titanium – counterbalanced with a 54-gram shaft designed for a combination of consistency, distance and forgiveness.
It doesn’t stop with the zagging there, either. Whereas the vast majority of drivers feature an option for a draw or face bias, the Z355’s CG is fairly neutral, producing a higher launch with flatter trajectories, protecting against those ballooning shots golfers often see on mishits. The underlying premise of the Z355 seems to be consistency and forgiveness without sacrificing performance.
This list, of course, does not feature every new driver of 2016, and there is a chance these are not the sticks for you. The optimal method for choosing a driver – the biggest, baddest, most expensive club in the bag – is to physically go hit it. Just don’t be surprised, however, when the local pro or rep begins discussing speed in a conversation about drivers.
– Travis Mewhirter