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August 2010

Clash of the Adjustable Drivers!

A few months ago I set out on a mission at MyGolfSpy.  That mission was simple…to make the best golf club review process on the web…period!  I searched high and low for a partner that not only shared my work ethic but one also as passionate about helping the consumer as I was.  It took about a year but I finally hooked up with another incredibly passionate golf business mind that fit the bill and one that was happy to go on this mission to uncovering the actual truth about the equipment in the golf industry.  So we put our minds together and decided we were going to do it.  That was of course after about 50 phone calls and twice as many emails back and forth before we had the process down and were absolutely sure the reviews were ready to begin!
It was a big mission and one much more complicated then meets the eye…well that is if you don’t do like most other sites…and simply say that every club they review is awesome and awesomer and the most awesomest.  Too many of those sites on the web.  They got no kahunas to tell the truth is what it boils down to.  Well that’s not us…just not in the MGS DNA.

So…we knew we wanted to improve on the individual club reviews you see on the web….but….we also wanted to do some big golf club reviews as well.  Ones that golfers had questions about and ones that were not being answered by other media outlets.  And the first review we wanted to do was “The Best Adjustable Driver Review". We wanted to tell the golfing world what the absolute best new adjustable driver was and finally find out how much the adjustments for each head actually make on the golf ball.  Adjustability is here to stay so we thought it was a great place to start.

Sounds simple right…far from it…if you were only able to see the infinite amount of spreadsheets and miles of data that is on our computers from this review. If you want to do this right there are all kinds of formulas, equations and variables that need to be considered and included.  And after crunching all this data not once or twice but like 20 times…we came to a conclusion that is becoming more and more apparent when it comes to almost all drivers nowadays.

And that is the fact that:

  • Our review made it even more apparent that golf club technology has almost been 100% maxed out across the board when it comes to heads.  They might come in all different kinds of shapes and colors and materials but in the end only 8 yards separated the longest driver from the shortest in the field.
  • And want to talk accuracy…well…less then 5 yards separated all the drivers when talking about accuracy.
  • With this being said the power of personal opinions and subjectivity with golfers is becoming more and more important in their decisions on which clubs to buy.  If all the clubs are basically the same…then the golfer will need to like the look, feel and sound of the club even more when choosing a club to purchase.
  • And custom fitting…let me say that one more time…CUSTOM FITTING…is the most important factor.  We have preached this all along on MGS but as you can see the stock offerings from these OEM’s result in very similar outputs.  But getting custom fit for the right shaft, loft, length and BALL…can be the difference in 15-20 yards sometimes.
  • The custom fitting to tailor a club to your game is where you get the distance.  So our advice is to spend the money it takes to get properly fit before you buy your next driver.  No need to spend money on buckets and buckets of balls trying to make your swing fit a club go make your club fit your swing.
  • MAKE A COMMITMENT…GO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT TO GET FIT TODAY I almost guarantee you will see improved results.

Sorting Out the Adjustables
Adjustability isn’t so cut and dry when it comes to drivers.  No two OEMs are doing adjustability quite the same way.  TaylorMade integrates moveable weights, Callaway’s I-MIX features a system of interchangeable heads and shafts, and Nike offers up to 32 different configurations with in their Victory Red STR8-Fit driver.  Even Mizuno has gotten in on the action with their FastTrack Technology.  Comparing a group of clubs where subjectivity is backed up with actual data is a tremendous undertaking.  In the end we decided to narrow our focus to those clubs where adjustments are made at the hosel.  Unfortunately that means Mizuno got left out, and we wouldn’t be tinkering with TaylorMade’s moveable weights (although the R9 SuperTri is part our our tests).The entire review process took well over a month and involved more testers than any previous MyGolfSpy.com review.  Everyone who hit the 7 clubs we tested was asked to fill out a survey ranking each driver on

  • Looks
  • Sound
  • Feel
  • Value
  • And “Ease of Adjustability”

Then…when all was said and done, we asked our testers what we think is probably the single most important question, “If you were offered one of the drivers you tested today at no cost, which would you choose?”.
Once we completed preliminary testing, we selected a group of 6 golfers comprised of low, middle, and high handicaps and asked them to come back in for detailed testing on the 3Trak equipped simulators at Tark’s Indoor Golf in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Golfers were asked to hit the drivers in a random order.  The results of the performance tests were added to the subjective scores to determine what we think is the best adjustable driver on the market today.

The Drivers We Tested
Our adjustable driver testing included the following clubs:

For each model tested we requested, and received a 9.5º degree head with the stock shaft in stiff flex.  With the exception of the two Callaway heads which are 1º open by design, we collected performance data with the heads in the neutral, and where applicable, neutral flat position.

SpecCheck
You may recall that shortly after we announced our SpecCheck system, we announced that although we would continue to include it for reference purposes, it would no longer be incorporated into our scoring process.  The reason we gave is that each OEMs has a unique ways of measuring the various specifications of the clubs they produce.  One look at our SpecCharts and you’ll see that’s most definitely true.  Our results indicate that the OEMs can’t seem to agree on even the most basic of specifications; one manufacturer’s inch is measurably different than another’s.   We provide this chart for continuity’s sake, at least as it relates to how MyGolfSpy defines 1 inch (or 46 of them).

Of course length is only half the story.  Of equal (if not greater) importance is the impact that length has on the actual flex of the club.  We measured each driver on a DigiFlex, butt clamped at 5″.  You can see the actual measurements in the chart above.  The chart below shows the comparative flex of each driver in our test.

In our chart the dark red line represents regular flex, the green stiff, and the purple X-stiff.  As you can see, not all stiff flex shafts are created equal.  Surprising (to me anyway), the Aldila Voodoo in the Callaway FT-IZ measured as an extremely soft stiff (or if you prefer, a stiff regular).  The ZL, a “Cobra Aldila Voodoo” measured about a half a flex stiffer, which in our opinion is still a bit soft for a stiff shaft.  The Cobra S2 (Cobra Fit-On Max 65), Nike Machspeed (SQ UST Proforce AVIXCore), Nike Victor Red (Aldila Voodoo), and Callaway FT-9 (Fujikura ZCOM) all measured true to flex.  Finally, the TaylorMade R9 SuperTri (Fujikura Motore F1 65) measured out as a strong stiff, or as some might argue, a soft x-flex.

Interestingly, a few of our testers commented that the Nike shafts felt comparatively soft (an assertion not supported by our testing).  While not a single golfer commented on the relative stiffness of the TaylorMade R9, a couple testers did comment that the Cobra S2 felt softer (almost wobbly) in the tip section than the others.

How Much Difference Does Adjusting The Head Actually Make?
When I originally decided to do a review of all the name brand adjustable drivers I really wanted to be able to show golfers which was the absolute best driver when it came to adjustability.  But since no one driver in the competition approaches adjustment in quite the same way…it made it next to impossible for us to test them apples to apples and declare a clear winner.  But there was one thing I still wanted to try and that was to finally show golfers how much of a difference it actually makes to the ball flight when you make the actual adjustments to the heads.

Some of the heads have an almost infinite amount of adjustments so the only way to make it uniform across all the drivers being tested was to test them in 3 positions (1 Degree Open, Neutral, 1 Degree Closed).  Since these seem to be the most common changes a golfer makes to an adjustable head.  And also if you know how much it changes with a 1 degree change you can better understand how much a difference there would be if you made lets say a 2 degree change.

For both Nikes, the Cobra S2, and the TaylorMade SuperTri, shot clustered how we guessed they would.

  • Open the club face a degree and our testers favored the right side of the range.
  • Close the face, and the ball has a tendency to find its way to the left side of the range.
  • We also observed that initial trajectories increased as the club face opened, and decreased as it closed.


Of course, by now you’ve probably glanced at that chart 7 or 8 times and are starting to wonder if we made a typo with the Cobra ZL.  We didn’t…not that I can necessary explain it.  While not as far right as as an open configuration, when we put the ZL into the closed position, our testers clustered their shots right of  where they clustered them in the neutral configuration.

I spoke with our testers about the results to see if they had any insight, and while none could concretely explain it, a couple of our testers mentioned that when the ZL is in the open position, it still appears to be neutral (which they like), but when it’s in the closed position, it looks really closed; really, really closed (for what it’s worth, I agree).  I have no doubt that regardless of how it may appear, both open and closed are only a 1 degree  from neutral.  Our only explanation is that our testers, either intentionally or subconsciously, made an adjustment or two as a reaction to the illusion of a very closed face.  Maybe they manipulated the clubface at address. Maybe they manipulated their swing path.  I’ve got nothing for you beyond conjecture.  I did take a few swings myself, I did in fact catch myself first opening the face, and then making a real effort to come at the ball from the inside.  Think of it as hook prevention…and it worked.

Anomalous ZL results aside, we’re inclined to say that the technology is for real, and works as pretty much as advertised.  As with most things, however; it’s important to be realistic in your expectations.  While closing the face may help to reduce the number of slices, it’s certainly not going to eliminate them.  We love the technology, but our take on the big picture is this; adjustable face technology makes for an excellent fitting tool, and is no doubt useful on those courses that favor a draw over or fade (or even a fade over a draw), but it’s not a cure all for your swing faults.  Thinking otherwise is a $300 (minimum) recipe for disappointment.

Though not included in the chart because it isn’t true adjustable face technology, we spent a good bit of time with the Callaway drivers mixing and matching heads and shafts.  As you might expect, swapping shafts did in fact lead to a measurable changes in launch angle, trajectory, and distance.  Callaway gets a bit of a bad rap for having what some have called a comparatively limited set of interchangeability options.
When taken at face value, I’m inclined to agree, and my guess is it’s only a matter of time before Callaway gets in on the adjustable face angle technology action.  That said, we were somewhat surprised to learn that in addition to what I mentioned above, swapping I-MIX shafts had a measurable effect on where the ball ended up.

While the impact of changing I-Mix shafts was not as dramatic as with adjustable face technology, it’s worth noting that, with some tinkering, there is some real opportunity to move the ball from one side of the fairway to another.

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