Is the hype around 2017's driver releases warranted?

This question is an obvious, and important one, given the amount of coverage, excitement and chatter around certain manufacturers releases for next year.

For the record, the products we have tested have not come from any of the UK suppliers, we have sourced them all at great expense from the US. It should also be noted that we are one of the few companies who do proper testing and by that I mean utilizing an extremely accurate launch monitor and ensuring that all the clubs are taken apart and rebuilt to exactly the same – same shaft, same CPM, same swing-weight, same length. We are just testing the performance of the club head.

At the start of last year, it looked as though TaylorMade were set to lose their dominance of the driver market as golfers seemed to be getting wise to multiple product launches with no discernable lift in performance. It was about time! After all, the equipment manufacturers have been right on the COR (Coefficient of Restitution) limit for over 10 years. There may have been advances in this time but not when it comes to the raw component of distance: ball speed.

Looking ahead to 2017 it appeared that Callaway were going to finally get the reward for their years of superior innovation and product design. Then TaylorMade whipped the rug from right under them with the launch of the M1 with forged composite crown, announcing that they had once again revolutionized golf with their great new innovation. Textbook TaylorMade. Callaway had pioneered this technology over eight years ago and have continued to evolve drivers around composite crown designs since then.

However, M1 is pretty good, not by any means a game-changer but a decent product. It’s definitely head and shoulders above their products in recent memory. Then along comes M2, the cheaper version without all the silly adjustable weights – and it’s miles better! Not such crazy low spin and a flatter lie angle (never mentioned in the blurb, IMO drivers have crept way too upright). The tour pros have gone mad for it, and after Nike’s pull out Rory has put one in his bag, then Tiger, you know the rest of the story…

So now it’s on, TaylorMade whilst being off loaded by Adidas for sucking the life out of their profits suddenly start performing and we have a battle going on to be top of the driver market for 2017.

Sadly it’s all noise. It’s not the real story, it’s just a little distraction for those bought into the soap opera. The 2017 drivers will distance, and what makes one a better product in reality will never be discussed. People will debate the speed and there will be nothing in it.

The real story is that golf’s governing bodies have moved from the old COR test to the CT test, citing the difficulty in getting the old test to work consistently and it being much easier to make the CT test mobile for driver testing at events. Both companies are saying the CT test means they can squeeze extra speed out of their club faces, but neither are really saying why. Well, I haven’t done a huge amount of research but I know a little bit about how the tests differ and having done proper testing with the new drivers I am pretty sure I have it worked out. The COR test fired a golf ball at the club face at a set speed and measured the speed it rebounded at. The ratio provided a number called a COR. The CT test essentially releases a metal weight on a pendulum onto the club face at far lower speed and there is some measurement of time on the face. The key to the change in terms of the company’s claims is the speed of the ball coming at the face and how much the ball actually flexes the face.

Based on our testing, golfers producing ball speeds up to 155mph are not getting any lift in ball speed with the 2017 models. Golfers producing over 160mph are getting around 1 to 1.5% – about 2mph. The reports from the tour are that tour players are experiencing about 3mph increase, which makes sense. The benefit of the new drivers is increased at higher speeds because those golfers are flexing the face more. This correlates with the new CT test because the CT test does not flex the face.

In the modern game there is a case to be made for bifurcation – controlling the clubs the pros can play whilst loosening the controls on the equipment amateurs play to make the game easier for them but keeping the great golf courses relevant for the pros. Potentially this change in the way drivers are tested means the opposite. The worlds best players are going to be hitting the ball 8 to 10 yards further next year, people are going to rush out and buy the new drivers based on the results of the pros. Unless their ball speed is over 160mph they aren’t going to get any extra distance. There are very few amateurs who achieve more than 155mph ball speed and to be honest until you get to 170mph the upgrade is pretty arbitrary.

We have to get a handle on this situation, I just do not understand how there is no meaningful information in the market place and no acceptance of the few things that need to happen to make championship golf sustainable and more entertaining. Great, historical, wonderful golf courses are being made irrelevant for pros and/or out of reach for the average guy. Creativity is being steadily removed from the game in exchange for one dimensional repetition and athleticism. The soul of the game is on the line.