MyGolfSpy’s Most Wanted Driver Test – Beyond the Numbers
When we conceived of this test we wanted it to be about one thing; performance data – and not a damn thing more. So we gathered that data. Using our launch monitors we collected a ton of data to help us determine the longest, most accurate, and best overall drivers of 2013.
That’s pretty awesome stuff, but even data-heads like us realize that some of you want us to go beyond the numbers. For those who want to know what we learned about adjustability, the impact of paint, and all of that other stuff that’s part of a golf club’s design, we put together this post to give you a bit more insight into the testing experience, and a better idea of why each club performed that way that it did.
While I’m certain it would be interesting to have a variety of golfers test the R1 at every conceivable setting to find out exactly what the impact of adjustability is, that was far beyond the scope of this test. We did however leverage adjustability whenever possible.
Simple face angle (I suppose some would call them ‘loft’) adjustments proved very effective in those cases where we had the need and the ability to alter where the ball would initially start.
Finding the ‘right’ setting with the 3 all-in-one models (R1, Covert, AMP Cell) proved a bit trickier as each has its own nuances (AMP Cell performed better at lofts less than what were expected, while R1 performed better at lofts greater than expected). While there were no absolutes, and we can’t be absolutely certain we nailed the ideal configuration in every case, the changes we did make, even small ones, produced appreciable differences in ball flight.
The actual benefit to the guy who buys off the rack and may not fully understand the implications of each change might be is less certain, but given that most of these models now have supporting mobile apps (making them more golfer-friendly)…all other things being largely equal, it’s hard to make a strong argument for buying a non-adjustable model.
While quite a lot gets said about paint, the reality is it is seldom an actual issue. While paint and graphics and alignment aids were a big topic of conversation during the initial round of testing – and none discussed more than the pair of TaylorMade drivers, by the time testers got to the second round, most had stopped caring.
Blake probably summed it up best when he said, “After a few shot with the drivers that have the busy graphics; white, orange, blue, red, swooshes, aiming alignments, they really become a non-factor when hitting. You stop paying attention to them”.
The Other Subjective “Stuff”
When it comes to the subjective stuff (which we don’t score any more) we’ve always believed that looks mattered above all else, but as we got deeper into our testing what we found is that, as Blake suggested, there comes a point when the golfer stops caring what the club looks like.
The closely linked qualities of sound and feel proved much more indelible. If a tester didn’t like the way a driver looked, he got over it. If he didn’t care for the sound and feel we heard about it every session, and in some cases on nearly every swing. It’s the single reason why some testers didn’t like certain clubs.
Before performance even becomes a consideration, looks are what draw you to a club, but sound and feel are what keep you there.
I’ll touch on this a bit more when I discuss each club individually, but I think it’s worth putting up here at the top as well. If you look at the field as a whole, most of the drivers have more in common than not. Most have similar designs, shapes, swing weights, and even shaft lengths.
There’s an inherent equality to most of the designs that makes moving from club to club almost natural.
Of course, despite our best efforts to keep things level, my suspicion is that on those occasions when a club was noticeably different than what the testers hit before it, there were almost certainly performance issues that arose as a result.
The 3 clubs I suspect suffered most from our testing procedures are Wilson’s D-100, Geek’s No Brainer, and Wishon’s 919THI.
With the Wilson and Geek the issue is weight. The ultralight Wilson is unlike anything else in our test. It’s beyond ultra-lightweight, even compared to Callaway’s lighter-weight XHot.
The No Brainer is comparatively heavy…perhaps even Ultra-Heavy. We quickly learned that it simply wasn’t fair to ask our testers to hit the two back to back (a bit like moving from a pool noodle to a sledge hammer), so we did what we could to space them out. Nevertheless, transitioning to and from either after hitting anything else was clearly an issue for our testers.
Tom Wishon (who like Geek doesn’t really do “stock”) elected to send his drivers with 44” shafts. While initially the accuracy results were compelling (off-the-charts good, actually), over time our testers began to struggle a bit with the shorter shaft (which I know sounds counterintuitive).
When you consider that our Wishon samples were a full inch shorter than anything else in our test, and 1.75” to 2” shorter than the majority, it’s not unreasonable to think that being different (even to a degree that often benefits the golfer) in this case proved detrimental when hit alongside a multitude of longer models.
Tested differently, it’s likely each of the 3 could have performed better.
Beyond the Numbers
While you’ve seen the numbers, obviously they can’t tell the entire story. We thought it might be beneficial if we took you behind the numbers to hopefully give you a better idea of how our testers perceived certain clubs, and perhaps explain some of the reasons why each club performed the way that it did.
Adams (Speedline S and Speedline Super S)
In my estimation the Adams Speedline Super S was one of the bigger surprises of the test. Our slower swing speed players hit it very well, and despite a design that doesn’t allow for lofts lower than 9.5° our higher swing speed players posted better than expected numbers – and for my money, it’s one of the straightest drivers in the test, and for whatever reason it looks bigger than anything else we tested. If big gives you confidence, nothing will make you more sure of yourself than the Super S.
I’ve got an Adams-tipped Matrix 8m3 on-hand, which is all the incentive I need to see what can happen with a more customized Super S combo.
A few testers were put off by the sound (easily the loudest driver in the test), and as you might expect there were some grumblings about TaylorMade ruining Adams with white paint, but overall there’s little not to like about the Super S.
Surprisingly the Super LS didn’t fair quite as well as we expected. Like the Nike VRS Covert, and Cobra AMP Cell Pro, it’s entirely possible the LS suffered from the Kuro Kage problem (not saying it’s a bad shaft, it’s simply not a good fit for our testers). Much to my surprise, given the proud tradition of the LS line, it turned out to be a driver that excited no one.
While not quite as loud as the Super S, it’s clear that Adams driver design has gone in a different direction the last couple of years. Guys who loved Adams drivers from previous generations may find themselves nostalgic for the good old days.
Callaway (XHot and RAZR Fit XTREME)
By now you probably know that Callaway drivers performed insanely well for us. While for other drivers we’ve spent time trying to figure out what went wrong, where Callaway is concerned, the bulk of my time has been spent trying to explain why things went so right.
For its part the RAZR Fit Extreme was an exceptional performer for the higher swing speed players. It proved insanely long for a subset of our testers, and when a driver is long, it’s almost always fun to hit. And oh man, is the RAZR Fit XTREME fun to hit.
Despite the all the positives for the higher swing speed player, it’s not a driver we’d in good faith recommend to slower swing speed players. Our testers in that category suffered a bit, and XHot left little (ZERO) argument that it’s the better choice for the sub-100 MPH crowd.
For the right golfer, however, RAZR Fit Xtreme is full-on beast mode 24/7, which is why it makes my personal Top 5.
And then, of course, there’s XHot.
One of the late arrivals to the test, XHot basically stole the show (and first place overall). Slower Swing speed players hit it really long and straight, while higher swing speed players hit it almost as long, and every bit as straight.
If you’re looking for an explanation for what separates XHot and RBZ2 (the other real star of this test) from the pack, the answer is pretty simple; they outperformed the heard at every ability level and every swing speed…and Xhot hot did it just a little bit better.
Cleveland Classic Custom XL
The Cleveland Classic XL Custom is arguably the under-appreciated workhorse of our test. The one word description is steady. The thing is a Clydesdale (without the affiliation to lousy beer).
Apart from telling us they liked the “classic” looks (duh), the truth is there wasn’t much conversation about the Classic. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why when you look at how consistently accurate it was across the board. Everybody found fairways with Classic.
Distance didn’t prove to be in the upper echelon for our testers, but there’s definitely something here.
It’s a special driver; I just haven’t been able to prove it yet. It’s an easy lock for my personal Top 5. I just really enjoyed swinging it.
Toss the Classic in with the VRS Covert as one of the few I’d be extremely interested in putting a few different shafts in to see what improvements we can find.
Cobra AMP Cell
Cobra’s AMP Cell (and AMP Cell Pro) proved to be one of the more interesting drivers in our test. While a couple of testers asked why – if Cobra was making the driver in so many colors, why couldn’t just make it in black – most actually found something they liked among the selection (I still love the blue).
What’s probably most interesting about the initial fitting process we did was the discovery that almost to a man, our testers did better with lofts lower than that what they would normally play. 10.5 guys did better at 9.5, and 8.5 guys did better at 7.5.
While the AMP Cell was one of the top performers for accuracy, from a distance perspective it would appear to lack the pop of some of the others (the Pro model did fair slightly better than the standard). Given that the Pro model comes stock with the Kuro Kage, there’s some suspicion here that a shaft change could have a significant impact.
Geek No Brainer
Joining Wishon from the custom/component market was Geek’s No Brainer. As you might imagine, the bright orange head that our slower swing speed players tested generated a fair amount of chatter, and some of it wasn’t completely positive. Our senior tester joked, “I couldn’t play this when I wear my green outfit, it would clash”. I’m pretty sure Lou doesn’t even have a green outfit.
Most telling with the Geek is that our testers missed predominantly to the right (more so than with any other club in our test), and for some the No Brainer simply wasn’t competitive for distance.
As I mentioned previously, the bigger issue for the No Brainer is the heavier than normal weight. Transitioning from lighter weight drivers wasn’t easy for our testers, and I think it’s reasonable to speculate that the No Brainer’s numbers suffered for it.
With more time to adjust and with the right shaft we think the No Brainer could perform much better. If nothing else it offers classic driver feel and exceptional feedback. It’s definitely worth a look if you can get your hands on one.
Not completely unlike the Wilson D-100, the Mizuno JPX-825 definitely suffered from a lack of fitting options. While Mizuno does offer an X-flex stock, the lack of an 8.5 head proved detrimental to what is one of the higher launcher, higher spinning drivers in our test.
This was especially true for our 2 highest swing speed players who unquestionably would have seen better results with less loft, and perhaps a second stock shaft offering to compliment Mizuno’s Orochi.
On the positive side, many testers loved the aesthetic qualities of the JPX-825, and the fastest of our sub-100MPH testers not only loved the club, he put up the numbers to back it up.
Nike VRS Covert
Expectations were high for Nike’s mystery wrapped, red enigma. It’s hard to pinpoint why the VRS Covert didn’t produce the kind of numbers many (including nearly all of our testers) expected it would.
Like the Wilson D-100 the VRS accounted for some of the longest drives in the test, but it struggled to maintain any consistency, especially among our slower swing speed players.
In all we tested 4 clubs with some variation of the Kuro Kage shaft in them; none cracked the top 10, and as we’ve hinted, the suspicion is the shaft might be the larger part of the issue.
Without question a few of our testers would love to try the Covert again, albeit with some different shaft options.
You can count me among them. As just about every Nike driver in the VR Series has, the Covert actually performed pretty well for me. It also happens to be one of my personal Top 5.
PING (Anser and G25)
Not surprisingly PING offered up a couple of very strong, well-round performers for our test. The G25 was by far the more popular of the two (and arguably the most popular driver in the entire test). While it’s not a surprise that it found its way on to all 3 of our sub-100 swing speed players’ short lists, it’s telling that our higher swing speed players also thought very highly of the G25. Despite being the highest launch, highest spinning driver in the current PING lineup, our higher swing speed players posted some absolutely monster drives with it. In my estimation, it’s the most well-rounded driver in the current PING lineup.
While it wasn’t shown the same amount of love as the G25, overall the Anser actually produced the better average result for our testing pool. Not one of the longest in the test, the Anser hovered around the top group for accuracy at every level, and was far and away the most consistent driver in the test. You might not get every bit of possible distance on a solidly struck ball, but you’re not going to lose much of anything on mis-hits either.
What always impresses me about PING is that as other manufactures continue to get mixed results out of the “designed for” shafts they put in their drivers year after year, PING engineers continue to produce homegrown TFC shaft after TFC shaft that outperforms many high-end aftermarket shafts.
PowerBilt AirForce One DF
PowerBilt’s original AirForce One is a bit of a cult classic around here and truthfully I don’t think anybody who was involved in that test would have been surprised to the see the new DF finish #1 overall. As it turns out, a couple guys did struggle with the AFO, while another (Blake) put up what were arguably his best numbers of the entire test. While PowerBilt hasn’t been on the tip of many tongues in quite some time, there’s some performance evidence that suggests that maybe it should be.
What our testers didn’t like about the AFO were some of the aesthetic choices.
“It’s named after the most important plane on the planet, and they gave it tramp stamps”?
There’s also a brandwashing/brand aversion (fallout from the infomercials for the original) that clearly impacts how some testers perceive the brand. As one tester told us, “I might play it, but I’d put a Titleist headcover on it so none of my friends would find out”.
It’s not fair to PowerBilt given how well the club performed for us, but it’s a great illustration of how far beyond performance the buying equation extends.
TaylorMade (R1 and RBZ Stage 2)
Having witnessed every moment of the test, I’m convinced the RocketBallz Stage 2 and R1 earned their respective spots in the overall Top 3. Not that one can really feel sorry for TaylorMade, but it’s a shame that there are some who believe TaylorMade is all about hype over performance. Based on our results, that’s anything but reality. The company did an absolutely outstanding job creating two well-balanced drivers that flat out perform.
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns of course. Even if we now know it ultimately becomes an afterthought, the paint scheme of each generated a fair amount of grumbling. Some liked one more than other, but overall, nobody really loved either of the graphics.
Some told us they think the R1, is too complicated (hosel, weights, sole plate), and that the noise (not quite as loud, but sharper than the Super S) is distracting (and slightly obnoxious). Nevertheless, pretty much everyone hit the R1 farther than most.
For me the RBZ Stage 2 is the biggest surprise of the entire test. I went into this thinking I wanted an R1, and came out of it certain that I want a RBZ Stage 2 in my bag. My numbers were insane (short of Mark’s performance with the JPX-825, it was the best individual result of the entire test).
In fact, when you look at the numbers across the board, you can make a legitimate argument that for those who weight distance (compared to accuracy) only slightly higher than we do, that TaylorMade’s RBZ Stage 2 was the best driver in this test. I’m not going to lie, it’s my personal favorite of the bunch (even if I don’t love the paint), and the one that will most likely find its way into my bag this season.
Titleist (913 D-Series)
With the possible exception of the VRS Covert the 913D was the club our testers told us they were most looking forward to testing, and I think it’s safe to say it didn’t disappoint. The 913 was mentioned more than any other club when our testers discussed the drivers they’d be most inclined to put in their bags. Perhaps more surprisingly given the Titleist rep, our slower swing speed players loved it as much, if not more than the higher swing speed players.
I haven’t been a Titleist guy since the 905 series, but if you were to ask me which club in our test I felt gave me the best chance to keep the ball in play, I’d almost certainly list the 913 first. It’s perhaps the most performance-balanced driver Titleist has ever produced, and the first since that 905 series that I’ve absolutely loved.
Given the multitude of stock shaft options available, most should find it possible to find a zero additional cost offering that fits their game.
Wilson largely pushes the D-100 as a game-improvement driver, which certainly supports the notion that Game improvement can be a load of fun. The downfall of the D-100 in our tests was the lack of either an 8.5° or even an X flex in the 9.5. That certainly hurt the D-100 as spin numbers for our higher swing speed players were on average just too high.
Controlling the lightweight design is also an issue for higher tempo players. As one tester told us, “I love hitting it, but I’d never trust it on a tight fairway”.
Those issues aside, it’s a driver that several testers mentioned they really enjoyed hitting. My take on the Wilson D-100 is that it’s the perfect driver for guys who just love to hit golf balls.
Debate about light vs. heavy is going strong, but the probable reality is that light is probably good for one guy, and heavy another, but what I can say definitively is that the Wilson D-100 produced some of the longest drives in our entire test – and it’s just so damn much fun to it.
Tom Wishon is well on the record about his belief that most golfers would benefit from playing a shorter shaft in their driver. Our own tests concluded he’s right. So how did a driver with a 44” shaft, at a minimum, not finish #1 for accuracy?
For a long while there it looked as if it would. As we got into the last rounds of testing, however, the 919THI’s numbers started to drop. My suspicion is that as our testers got more acquainted with the 45.5”+ shafts in the majority of drivers we tested, the shorter shaft in the 919THI started to feel awkward, and performance no doubt suffered as a result.
There was, however, plenty of conversation about the 919THI during the tests. Admittedly many of our testers hadn’t heard of Wishon, but most told me they were pleasantly surprised. A few mentioned that aesthetically the club looks dated, but for the other intangibles like sound and feel, the 919THI is nothing short of excellent.
Overall all it was a solid off-the-rack showing for a club that would otherwise be a custom-only build.
I’d like to wrap this up by publicly thanking all 13 of the golf companies who agreed to participate in our test. The cooperation and support of golf companies both large and small made this massive test possible. We look forward to doing this is again next year…bigger and better.
Also we’d like to say thanks to the 10s of thousands of you who’ve come here to read the results of this test, and a special thanks to the hundreds of you who have asked questions and actively participated in the discussion.
You’ve given us all the incentive we need to move forward with our next big effort.
We’ll have some details for you very soon.
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