Are New Drivers Really Better? – Golf Myths Unplugged

New Drivers Better

Does Newer Mean Better?

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.

Club Champ Banner 1

The Myths

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

New Drivers vs Old Drivers_0097

How We Tested

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.

The Results

mYTH #1 FINAL

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.

MYTH #2 FINAL

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.

mYTH #3 FINAL

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.

Other Findings

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.

New Drivers vs Old Drivers_0120New Drivers vs Old Drivers_0128

Conclusion

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.

The Data

Test Data

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief 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 in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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3 Comments

  1. hckymeyer

    Love this one, thanks for sharing!

    Just goes to show how far technology has come and how important a proper fit is!

  2. I’m still playing a Nike Sumo and I have more success with it than my new Cobra. I think ball choice makes a bigger difference.

  3. George Gorringe

    Hey Matt. I really enjoy your Golf Myths Unplugged. I’ve been going back through the series and came across this driver test which really caught my interest.
    I recently carried out my own test of old and new drivers at a driving range with Toptracer. I’m currently using a Callaway Rogue (2018) and I still keep a Taylormade R5 (2004) and a Taylormade R15 (2015) in my bag of spare clubs. I took all three to the range and hit about 30 balls with each of them. I saw huge differences: the R5 was shorter by 20 yards even if I hit it right out of the middle of the clubface. The R15 could match the Rogue for distance if I hit it right in the middle of the clubface but off the heel or toe it lost significant distance (and had greater sideways movement). The Rogue, on the other hand, barely lost a yard no matter where on the clubface I hit it. It was just so much more forgiving than the other two, both in terms of distance and dispersion. It’s so easy to hit long and straight (ish) it almost feels like cheating! I guess my findings pretty much agreed with yours.
    Having said all that, I wonder how much influence the shaft in each driver had. I was fitted for the shaft in the Rogue whereas I bought the others off the shelf with the stock stiff shaft. Another reason to get fitted, I suppose!

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