— June 29, 2015
Every year, equipment manufacturers tell us that their latest products are the longest, straightest clubs ever created, and every year, thousands of golfers buy new drivers in the hope that it’s true.
Along with our friends at Club Champion, we thought it would be fun to see how the best new driver in golf compares to drivers from five to fifteen years ago and a classic persimmon driver.
Myth #1: New drivers are longer than old drivers
Myth #2: New drivers are more accurate than old drivers
Myth #3: New drivers are more forgiving than old drivers
We brought together five testers and four drivers, each from a different decade – the 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s, and 2010’s. Each player hit each driver five times, and every shot was recorded.
Hopefully this is obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: this is meant to be a fun test. There are huge differences in the shafts of each driver, and that obviously had a large impact on the performance of the clubs.
All testing was done at Club Champion.
Unsurprisingly, we found that new drivers are significantly longer than old drivers. When looking at the group average, the modern driver was 30 yards ahead of the persimmon driver and 13 yards ahead of the driver from the 90’s.
Interestingly, the modern driver was edged out by our 2000’s driver. There are a couple reasons for this. First, the modern driver’s average was hurt by a couple of truly awful mishits. Second, the shaft in the 2000’s driver was, overall, a better fit for our test group. Our test group had a number of very strong players who really preferred the heavier, stiffer shaft. This further evidences something we say often: if you get fit for the right club and shaft, you can keep it for years!
You can see the data for each tester below.
While common sense certainly tells us that modern, high MOI drivers should be substantially more accurate than older drivers, our small sample size did not provide the data to confirm this fully. Overall, the dispersion from the 2000’s and modern drivers was better than that of the 1990’s and persimmon clubs, but some of our testers showed great accuracy with the older clubs. There’s something to be said for the focus that a tiny persimmon head commands.
You can see each player’s shot chart in the slideshow below.
Though our small sample size doesn’t provide overwhelming data, and some of our “proof” is anecdotal, we believe it’s fair to say that modern drivers are substantially more forgiving than old drivers. Of course, we know it’s fair to say this based on measurements like MOI, but we can also support it with what we saw in the testing.
Take Player 1 for instance. Though his shot circle with the modern driver is…well…terrible, the two short shots wouldn’t have even found the face of the persimmon driver. In contrast, he made reasonable contact with each swing with the 1990’s driver, yet hit some shots 100 yards short of his others.
Players 3 and 4 offer the best examples of the forgiveness of modern drivers. Their shot circles with the persimmon and 1990’s drivers dwarf those of the 2000’s and modern drivers.
The main thing that stood out while watching the testing was the direct correlation between the tester’s enthusiasm for a club and its performance. Many of our testers were very excited about the persimmon driver and the 2000’s driver, and this showed in their performance. A couple testers were nervous about the persimmon club, and this showed, too. Oddly, no one seemed too excited about the 1990’s driver.
Another thing that I noticed was that our best driver could use any club effectively. He hit every drive with the persimmon club over 200 yards! He still gave up a lot of distance compared to the newer drivers, but his accuracy and consistency with the older clubs was extremely impressive.
The next time you see an ad touting the latest driver as being the longest ever, remember what you’ve seen here: a driver that’s nearly 10 years old went toe-to-toe with the best driver of the year because of a well-fit shaft. It’s true that drivers do improve every year, but the improvements are gradual. If you want to really see a jump in performance, get fit for the best head and shaft combination, then play it until it falls apart.
Matt Saternus. Co-founder, Director of Instruction at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker at the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.