Golf Equipment Insights: Drivers, Like People, Have Different Personalities

Callaway XR-16 Sub Zero driver (Photo courtesy of Callaway Golf)

The design of drivers has changed dramatically. Today’s drivers are nothing like yesterday’s drivers.

Golfers who don’t recognize this are hurting themselves — often with inferior distance and questionable accuracy.

Calloway Big Bertha Fusion driver (Photo courtesy Callaway Golf)
Calloway Big Bertha Fusion driver (Photo courtesy of Callaway Golf)

Drivers went from wooden heads to metal heads. Driver shafts went from steel to graphite. Drivers, along with other clubs, grew lighter.  All this was important, but even more significant developments were to come.

What was next? Drivers with customized spin and trajectory characteristics. Welcome to modern golf. The future is now, and the responsibility to understand these new drivers is squarely on the golfers who use them.

Never before have golf club fitters been so important. They help us match our drivers with our driver swings. Golfers who are properly fit can often enjoy a tremendous advantage over golfers who don’t pay attention to the science of golf club design.

Jamie Sadlowski, the two-time World Long Drive champion, is one of the faces of modern golf. At 160 pounds, he can hit 400-yard drives under normal conditions with firm turf.

Callaway XR-16 Sub Zero driver (Photo courtesy Callaway Golf)
Callaway XR-16 Sub Zero driver (Photo courtesy of Callaway Golf)

What driver does he use? The Callaway XR 16 Sub Zero, which produces extremely low spin and is not suitable for most amateur golfers.

In August, the 28-year-old Sadlowski announced he was retiring from long drive competition in an attempt to become a successful touring professional. The Sub Zero is along for the ride.

Callaway provides a great example of a company building an arsenal of different drivers to fit different golfers — from the ball-crunching Sadlowski to the mighty mite Lydia Ko to the millions of average players in the world.

How many driver models are too many? There is no simple answer. Just look at all the Callaway drivers that have been featured in 2016. Sadlowski picked the Sub Zero. Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett and Ko won major championships with the XR 16. Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed went with the Big Bertha Alpha 816 Double Black Diamond. Always-ready-to-experiment Phil Mickelson played the newest version of the Great Big Bertha, generally considered a game improvement club.

By changing the shape and construction of the driver, as well as manipulating the location of the center of gravity, Callaway has created a stable of contrasting drivers.

Calloway Great Big Bertha driver (Photo courtesy Callaway Golf)
Calloway Great Big Bertha driver (Photo courtesy of Callaway Golf)

Why did Mickelson start playing the Great Big Bertha? Because he loves to hit sky-high drives, one of the hallmarks of the GBB.

As a general rule, low-spin drivers are best-suited for highly skilled golfers with faster swing speeds. Average golfers tend to lose carry distance with low-spin models. Most amateurs should start a driver search by looking at higher-spinning varieties.

Many golfers talk about overall distance but disregard the role of carry distance. Many players can use high-spin drivers to create a higher trajectory and extra carry — which can be an advantage, especially in wet spring or autumn conditions.

The center of gravity can have a direct effect on the trajectory, and modern golf club designers have become experts at moving the center of gravity to give each driver a particular personality.

Calloway XR-16 driver (Photo courtesy Callaway Golf)
Calloway XR-16 driver (Photo courtesy of Callaway Golf)

With science on their side, fitters are a crucial element in the modern golf club equation. With the correct fit, seniors can often recapture lost yardage. It is entirely possible to gain 10 yards with one driver over another. In extreme cases of poor fitting vs. spot-on fitting, the difference can be 15 or 20 yards.

Professional fitters remain the key to finding the the right driver. With the use of launch monitors, these fitters can identify trajectory, distance and accuracy.

Using the Callaway models as an example, the Sub Zero and Alpha 816 Double Black Diamond are earmarked for excellent players. The Great Big Bertha and Big Bertha Fusion are more forgiving and should appeal to a wide range of golfers. The XR 16 is a surprisingly versatile driver in the hands of professionals and seasoned amateurs.

When shopping for a driver, be careful. Be obvervant. Be meticulous. Be patient. In the end, you will be a better golfer.

—Jim Achenbach, Senior Golf Insider