How much has the distance really increased? I hit drivers from 5 different years
Welcome to GOLF.com’s ClubTest Proving Ground, where Equipment Editor Jonathan Wall and Equipment Editor Andrew Tursky tested the latest designs and groundbreaking technology in the equipment space on the range and the course.
The distance debate is seemingly endless in golf. Those who govern the game, those who play the game, and those who make a living from the game all have an opinion. People on the “more distance is bad” side view technological advancements as a villain that ruins golf courses and professional competitions. Those on the ‘more distance is good’ side say that better technology helps make the game more fun and enjoyable for everyone, and ‘we do not care?‘if the pros shoot a few lower shots.
Fair points on both sides.
For this test, I wanted to see how much driver technology has actually increased distance over the years. To perform the test, I took five TaylorMade riders from different years to True Spec Golf in Scottsdale to hit shots, using a modern 2021 golf ball, on a Foresight GC Quad Launch Monitor to collect data.
Let’s take a look at the clubs I used for the test before getting the full results and my conclusions below.
For this specific test, I decided to hit drivers all made by TaylorMade. Why did I choose them? Well, I’ve played with many TaylorMade drivers in my golfing career, so I already had a few lying around, and they all have similar neck profiles. A quick trip to the local thrift club store helped me buy a few more to complete the lineup. While I could have used drivers from different companies, I didn’t want to make it a business-to-business test. Maybe we’ll do one in the future, but this test is just to see how far the technology has advanced, not how the technology stacks up against the competition.
Here are the drivers that I have chosen:
In 1979, TaylorMade released their very first driver, the original Pittsburgh Persimmon metalwood. It was less than 200cc, had 12 degrees of loft, and it was a one-of-a-kind design that was part of a change in the driver market landscape.
A few years later, TaylorMade released a Pittsburgh Khaki “A Fort” version of metalwood which measures 10 degrees of loft. I used this “Strong One” driver, equipped with its original steel shaft, as a reference driver for the test.
The next driver I hit is a certified classic; the Quad TaylorMade R7 which was made public in 2004. The titanium-headed 410cc driver was a game-changer with its four interchangeable weights in the sole, allowing golfers to tweak parameters such as pitch, spin and trajectory bias. If you look across the industry today, many companies continue to use adjustable weights in their club heads, proving that the concept does indeed work.
Then the driver that I used throughout my college years: a TaylorMade R9 460 released in 2009. This 460cc driver had a number of notable technologies still in use today, including TaylorMade’s flight control technology which allowed for hosel adjustments controlling face angle, lie angle and loft. It also features reverse cone technology for faster ball speeds on off-center shots and a unique weight that shifts the center of gravity toward the back of the head for more forgiveness.
Then we have the TaylorMade SLDR S released in 2014. TaylorMade’s SLDR series drivers were notable for their sliding adjustable weights in the sole and extremely low, forward CG (center of gravity) locations. Due to the design of the SLDR heads, they were among the lowest rotations of all time, and also one of the most polarizing.
This brings us to one of the current models of TaylorMade on the market, the SIM2 Max released in 2021. This pilot uses technologies that have been refined and refined over the past 40 years, including some new designs. The SIM2 Max is a 460cc head that has TwistFace for off-center hits, a 24 gram inertia generator for forgiveness, a Speed Injection port to ensure maximum ball speed, a Speed Pocket for hits struck low on the face, a forged aluminum ring at the back of the head, and the crown and sole are made of lightweight carbon composite (rather than the titanium material used in the past).
But the question is, to what extent have these technological advancements actually impacted distance over the years?
To perform this test, I took the five pilots to True Spec Golf in Scottsdale, using a Foresight GC Quad launch monitor to track the data. This 2-handicap golfer was looking to hit three solid shots with each driver, eliminating any obvious outliers. Here are the results:
For an overview of the testing process, check out the @FullyEquippedGolf TikTok video below.
Analyzing driver data can be somewhat subjective, so it’s best to seek the advice of a trusted installer or golf professional when performing your own tests. Personally, here are 3 of my main takeaways from the results:
1) Differences in rotation
First of all, the spin speeds on the “Strong One” were well below expectations at 2526 rpm; I guess that’s why it’s called the Strong One. Over the years, however, the spin has definitely declined overall, which is especially beneficial for high-speed, high-spin golfers. The SLDR S, one of the lowest spin riders of all time, didn’t disappoint as it produced the lowest spin rates in the pack at 2,097 rpm. The SIM2 Max, producing around 2100 RPM, probably has the most optimal spin window for me. The biggest drop in rotation rates occurred from 2004 to 2009, when the rotation fell from 2,634 rpm with the R7 Quad to 2,262 rpm with the R9 460.
2) Speed increases
Ball speed, which shows how fast the ball is coming out of the face, has increased by almost 13 mph from the 1980s to date, and over 5 mph since 2004. Keep in mind that 1 mph of ball speed generally equates to about 2+ yards of distance. This is definitely one of the main factors contributing to the huge increases in distance that I saw during the test. Plus, as ball speeds have increased dramatically on off-center shots over the years, the newer models are much more accurate as well. While the SLDR S seems to show high distance figures, even compared to the newer SIM2 Max, the bad shots with the SLDR S are severe (to me that meant an unplayable low hook).
3) Ready for launch
Watch how far the SIM2 Max comes out of the clubface compared to the rest of the riders. With high launch and low spin as the target for distance and accuracy, the SIM2 Max finds the most optimal performance data of the bunch, launching at 12.1 degrees and spinning at 2,127 RPM. Compared to the R7 Quad which throws at 9.1 degrees with a spin at 2,634 rpm, it’s no surprise that the bullet now goes 24.4 yards further.
My advice to golfers who are currently playing with older technology is to take this test for yourself. Contact your local club professional or installer and ask if they offer demo days or try-on appointments. The only way to know if a new technology is worth it is to test it. Is more ball speed and better forgiveness worth the price of admission? I can’t answer that for you, but I can say for myself with certainty that the new technology produces more distance (and forgiveness) than the old technology.
Tune in for more Proving Ground testing in the future, and don’t forget to submit your testing ideas to @FullyEquippedGolf on Instagram.
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