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As the old saying goes, drive for show, putt for dough. Well, maybe that’s true at the highest level but for the vast majority of regular golfers, if you’re struggling to get the ball off the tee it doesn’t matter how much of a magician you are with the flatstick. For most of us, driving the ball better lies at the heart of shooting lower scores.
Over the last few months we have tested a lot of drivers. We’ve hit the new 2022 models up against each other and against older generations to see how the latest technologies have moved things forward. With some exciting new products about to hit the market that will certainly be among the best golf drivers of 2022, many people will be pondering whether or not to invest. The question is, what can you expect from the driver market this year if you do?
Will You Get More Distance?
The majority of golfers thinking about investing in a new driver in 2022, will want to see an improvement in their distance. From our experience, a good fitting, no matter how old your current driver is, is likely to help. But what about the technology within the drivers themselves, can that make a difference? Well, yes but exactly how much is likely to depend on how old your current model is. If you are using something from four or five years ago, the evolution of the technology is likely to deliver you some more yards. However, in our testing the distance gains have been fairly minimal when comparing this year's models to the previous couple of years. Improvements in aerodynamics seem to be helping clubhead speed and as sweetspots get bigger so consistency of distance is moving in the right direction. All in all, we have noticed an increase in average distances… but it's hardly night and day.
Can You Expect More Consistency?
The bigger area of improvement is with spin rates. In years gone by, mishits would either see a big drop off or a drastic rise in spin. Resulting ball flights would be significantly different depending on where on the face you made contact.
In the last couple of years in particular, things have really improved. We recently tested PING’s G425 Max driver on Trackman using Titleist Pro V1x golf balls and noticed that shot-after-shot, the ball was flying the same way despite variations in strike. When we looked at the data, there was a difference in spin rate of just 101 rpm between all the shots we hit.
And it’s not just PING who seem to have improved this aspect of the performance. There appears to be a trend towards a better consistency of spin among the latest models.
Have The Looks Improved?
There are two parts to this.
Firstly, we all want to use something that looks good and that, frankly, has our playing partners glancing over with envy. In this regard, the drivers we see today certainly deliver. Callaway, with its’ Rogue ST models and particularly the TaylorMade Stealth driver line-up have raised the bar. In our opinion, the shelf appeal from these drivers has improved and in so doing, made some of the older models look a little dated. For some golfers, this is a non-issue but for those who like the latest and greatest, this year’s drivers stand out for their sleek aesthetics and is another factor to consider when asking how often should you upgrade your driver?
The second part is about confidence. Some drivers, like the PING G425 Max, PXG 0211 and Cleveland Launcher XL look generous in size, inviting to hit but still have that modern, sleek, matte black look. If you are currently using something that feels more compact and your confidence levels are low, then this seemingly superficial change could have material benefits.
What Can You Expect From The Sound And Feel?
Just as with the aesthetics, the feel of a driver is subjective. We recently posted a Twitter poll, asking our followers about what they search for in the sound/feel stakes and here is what they said:
What type of sound/feel do you prefer in a driver?January 31, 2022
Interestingly but not surprisingly, there seems to be a trend towards lower pitched, more muted impact sounds - this was certainly something we noticed from the Cobra LTDx drivers and Callaway’s Rogue ST models. However, it is also worth saying that for many players, a higher pitched sound creates a feeling that the driver is easier to launch, leading to smoother, better swings. The point here is that feel is part of the chemistry we have with a golf club and there are plenty of good, higher pitched models to test if that’s the way you’re leaning.
If the feel of your current driver doesn’t exactly match with what you want to hear, then you’ll never fall in love with that club in the way we all want to.
Is There Good Value To Be Had?
For the drivers you see used most commonly on Tour from PING, Titleist, Callaway and TaylorMade you’ll need to stump up somewhere between £400 and £500. For most people this makes any purchase a carefully considered decision but before we all start bemoaning the price of modern-day drivers, it is worth adding some context. In 2015, TaylorMade’s original M1 had a recommended retail price of £429 - this year the equivalent TaylorMade Stealth Plus is £499… That’s a £70 increase in seven years.
The next run down sees the Cobra LTDx drivers, Mizuno’s ST 220 models, the ZX drivers from Srixon and the Cleveland Launcher XL. Wilson’s driver offerings tend to be at around the £300 mark.
The final model to mention here is the PXG 0211. With an RRP of £205, it would be fair to say this is something of an outlier for a brand that’s products are usually towards the top end of the price spectrum. With a head that offers an impressive blend of power and playability, a good selection of shafts and the opportunity to get fitted, there is no doubt this represents excellent value for money.
Will They Help You Hit It Straighter?
The manufacturers understand what regular golfers need and that’s why each year we see new, draw biased models enter our best drivers for slicers buying guide. It would be fair to say that in the past, some of these have lacked the same level of desirability of the standard versions in the same family. Not any more. In recent times, the draw models have been very neatly refined. Easy to launch, forgiving and with the ability to fight shots that would otherwise drift away with a slice, we think this is where some of the biggest improvements have been made.
Any decision about whether to buy a new driver in 2022 is going to need an honest evaluation of your current equipment. Paying attention to how your driving game is developing will give you a better idea of a) whether you need to invest and b) what type of driver would be best. With the 2022 golf season on the horizon, there is plenty to ponder.
In his current role, Neil is responsible for testing drivers and golf balls. Having been a part of the Golf Monthly team for over 15 years and playing off a handicap of 3, he has the experience to compare performance between models, brands and generations. For 2022 he thinks the main trend in drivers is: "In a word, consistency. Whilst all the brands are talking about ball speed (and the new drivers are certainly long), my biggest finding has been how much more consistent the ball flights are. Mishits don't seem to be causing the same level of drop-off or increase in the spin numbers. This means that more shots seem to be flying the way you want them to!" As far as golf balls are concerned the biggest development is in the, "three piece, non-Tour, urethane-covered section. For regular golfers, these models offer superb performance at both ends of the bag without denting your wallet quite as much as the premium Tour-played options."
Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he is now the brand's Digital Editor and covers everything from Tour player interviews to gear reviews. In his time at Golf Monthly, he has covered equipment launches that date back well over a decade. He clearly remembers the launch of the Callaway and Nike square drivers as well as the white TaylorMade driver families, such as the RocketBallz! If you take a look at the Golf Monthly YouTube channel, you'll see his equipment videos dating back over a decade! He has also conducted 'What's In The Bag' interviews with many of the game's best players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Over the years, Neil has tested a vast array of products in each category and at drastically different price-points.
Neil is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth Plus Fairway Wood: Titleist TSi2 Hybrid: Titleist TS3 Irons (4-9): Mizuno JPX 919 Forged Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 46˚, 50˚, 54˚, 60˚ Putter: Odyssey Triple Track Ten Ball: Titleist Pro V1X