2015 Driver Roundup: An Staff Review
01 Feb 2015
by Rusty Cage

see also: Equipment Reviews

In the battle to maximize distance, the latest and greatest driver offerings from the major equipment players in the industry have all gravitated towards a strategy that emphasizes a one-two punch of high launch and low spin. As to how to deliver that combo, there is very little agreement. Some companies, like TaylorMade, are committed to a low and forward center of gravity position. Others believe in pushing the CG back to increase a club’s forgiveness. Then there’s the question of whether it’s better to have a single flagship driver serve the needs and wishes of each and every golfer, or offer a selection of clubs precisely tuned for varying levels of skill.

If you’re in the market for a new driver, you may grouse at the number of options available to you at the pro shop, but the shrewd player will realize that there isn’t a one-size fits all approach that works. With a proper fitting, a brand- new driver will almost certainly help a golfer pick up a few extra yards - especially on off-center strikes. And given what we know about the growing importance of the long game for setting up scoring chances, who among us doesn’t want to shave a few strokes?

Below you’ll find a list of drivers that have been released late in the year that will be on every player’s radar at the start of the new season.

Titleist 915 (D2 / D3)

The company’s new tagline to describe the 915 lineup is “distance without compromise”, but they could’ve easily stuck with “old faithful”. Titleist isn’t exactly known for making technological leaps between releases, but the new drivers are certainly bucking that trend. The new Active Recoil Channel that undercuts the sole of the club allows a wider region of the face to flex at impact and imparts less rotational energy when the ball leaves the face. This leads to higher launch and lower spin, an improvement over the old 913 drivers that had a tendency to spin too much, according to some players.

The 915 D2 driver has a 460cc head. It launches higher and is a little more forgiving than the 440cc D3 that emphasizes a more penetrating flight and greater workability. Titleist was able to save weight up front allowing them to move the CG low and deep to increase MOI. Both drivers feature the Active Recoil Channel and a Radial Speed Face that improves distance on shots struck towards the toe or heal. Want to go deeper? Read the Titleist 915 D2 and D3 Driver Review.

Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 815 and Double Black Diamond

Make no mistake, Callaway didn’t trot out the Big Bertha brand a little over a year ago simply because they were feeling nostalgic. Other than the name itself, Callaway’s flagship drivers are pushing the technology envelope. Both drivers make use of the company’s innovative gravity core pin that allows golfers to adjust the CG lower or higher in the club head simply by flipping the weight. Representatives at Callaway believe that a low CG position isn’t for everyone. Some players, like those who tend to contact the ball high on the face might benefit from having more spin.

The idea that there isn’t a single driver for everyone extends to the fact that Callaway released two Big Bertha models. While both clubs are designed to reduce spin, the Double Black Diamond is extremely low-spin. Most golfers won’t be adding a Double Black Diamond to their arsenal, but highly skilled players who produce a ton of club head speed require less forgiveness and can take advantage of the low spin attributes to really bomb it.

As far as looks, the aggressive styling of the grey and jet black color way is, in my opinion, an improvement over last year's models. If you’re still not sold on giving these sticks a look, perhaps Callaway’s commitment to offering premium shaft upgrades at no additional charge might help change your mind. Want to learn more? Read our full Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 815 driver review.

Callaway XR and XR Pro

The Callaway XR and XR Pro drivers, both of which have been award a gold medal in Golf Digest’s 2015 Hot List feature lightweight materials and aerodynamic head designs to increase ball speeds across the face.

A more efficient energy-transfer is achieved through several technologies including the use of the same R Moto face design found on the company’s Big Bertha Alpha driver lineup. Callaway also included the Speed Step Crown (on the regular XR model) which reduces drag to maximize speed. The XR Pro, on the other hand, uses a forged composite crown which lowers the center of gravity by 53% as well as the total spin by as much as 300 rpm over the pre- existing X2 Hot Pro driver.

A simple matte crown, traditional head design and an authoritative sound at impact will appeal to plenty of golfers searching for more distance from their driver, particularly one that is designed to lower your spin rate. Read our full Callaway XR driver review.

Ping G30

How do you follow up the G25 - one of the best reviewed drivers in the industry? Simple. You make it better by improving forgiveness and lowering spin. And you do this with technology that’s easy to comprehend, though perhaps not easy to spell.

Ping’s turbulators, a series of fins that protrude from the crown, help to reduce drag and increase ball speed. Couple that with a center of gravity location that is the lowest and furthest back on any Ping model, and you end up having a driver that promotes a higher MOI and encourages a player to swing upward into impact. With just a single flagship driver offering, Ping is betting big that it’s rearward CG location and new tech is better suited for most players.

And why not?

Across the board testing has shown that the Ping G30 is one of the easiest drivers to put in play right out of the box and is appreciably longer than its predecessor. Visually, the combination of those turbulator fins that help frame the ball at address and the all black matte crown make Ping’s new driver one of the coolest and stealthiest big sticks in the game. To find out what our Player Staff thought of the G30, read the full Ping G30 driver review.

Srixon Z545 / Z745

Over the years, Srixon has been better known for its brand of golf balls than its clubs - at least in the U.S. But the company with a huge footprint in Japan is making a big splash with a new driver lineup that is making converts out of golfers who lean towards classic looking gear short on gimmicks and long on performance.

The new drivers feature what Srixon has dubbed its Quick Tune System. Plain and simple, it lets golfers easily adjust the loft, lie, face angle and center of gravity settings. The 12-way hosel tunes the face angle, lie and loft. The single weight port on the sole comes standard with a seven gram weight. Optional three and eleven gram weights lets golfers dial in their launch and spin numbers up or down as needed.

Srixon’s drivers also feature variable face thickness design which enlarges the impact surface of the clubs. The new Z series drivers have sweet spots that are up to 35% larger than the previous generation of woods, according to Srixon. The Z545 driver (460cc) is designed for mid- launch and forgiveness. The Z745 (430cc) will flight the ball lower and is the more workable of the two drivers.

TaylorMade R15

TaylorMade’s SLDR driver was the most talked-about club a year ago. It featured a center of gravity that was lower and more forward than any driver the company has ever produced. For some golfers it flat-out bombed the ball, but it wasn’t the most forgiving driver on the market. It isn’t wrong to call the new R15 a reboot of the SLDR. Like its predecessor, the R15 has a weight track system. It’s designed to launch the ball high with less spin. And it pushes the CG lower and even more forward than the SLDR. But unlike the driver it supplants, the R15 is designed for additional forgiveness.

The one-weight system in the SLDR has been replaced by two 12.5g weights which creates 25 grams of total adjustable movement. Sliding the weights towards the heel or toe will impart a draw or fade bias, respectfully. Sliding them to the center will max out the distance, while splitting them out to either side will increase the club’s MOI.

If you’ve already been fitted into the SLDR, is the R15 worth the upgrade? Probably not. But if you passed up on the SLDR or weren’t able to get it dialed in, the new, more forgiving R15 is your second chance to loft up and go long.

Nike Vapor (Vapor Speed, Vapor Pro, Vapor Flex)

It’s really easy to look past Nike’s driver lineup if you’re fixated with their bold choice of using a fluorescent green colorway they call “volt”. But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s time to give Nike and the club builders at The Oven their due - they’ve really stepped up their hard goods game.

All three drivers feature several technologies designed to maximize ball speed without sacrificing forgiveness. A compression channel along with a hotter NexCOR face work together to improve ball speed at impact on shots struck across the entire face. A cavity-back design with the new FlyBeam structure reinforces the club’s stability and lets Nike move discretionary weight around as needed. Lastly, the the FlexLoft 2 adjustability system offers 15 different launch options and is backwards compatible. The Vapor Speed, with it’s higher launch and more forgiving characteristics will appeal to most higher- handicap players while the Pro model which comes stock with a Mitsubishi Diamana S+ Blue Board shaft is geared towards tour level performance.

The third driver, the Vapor Flex, is Nike’s most compelling offering. It’s packed with innovative features such as using RZN in the crown. It’s similar to titanium in strength, but lighter and less rigid, allowing Nike’s engineers to shape the material in ways that isn’t possible with cast titanium. Then there’s the Flex Flight Module - a flippable 15-gram weight that shifts the center of gravity 2mm front to back. In layman’s terms, that little module impacts the launch angle, spin rate, forgiveness and workability. Most golfers will choose either the Vapor Speed or Pro drivers, but the Flex exists for those players who want (and sometimes need) additional bells and whistles to optimize their launch conditions. 

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