The Best Golf Driver For Beginners – Making the Right Purchase
One rarely finds a true “opinion” column on golf gear. Magazine and online golf articles lecture in an omniscient voice. Not only does the writer know
what equipment you should buy, she seems to know everything about your game already. But while there might be thousands of people reading her know-it-all tutorial, there’s only one of you!
There is no correct way to acquire golf equipment. The great American golfer “Slammin” Sam Snead began by carving clubs out of tree limbs, while two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Trevino spent time as a youngster hitting long, accurate drives with a souped-up soda bottle. You can always buy or borrow an old set of clubs, maybe get a copy of Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book and start happily hacking around a municipal course. Plenty of fine golfers have gotten started that way.
But even a beginner wants to play from the fairway. The driver is one of the most crucial clubs in anyone’s bag, but for the novice it is absolutely the most important stick. Good drives build confidence and set a tone for the entire round. Owning a driver you can hit solidly is a great way for a beginner to get more out of the sport, and not feel like quitting before the fun even begins.
So let’s look at some tactics for selecting the best golf driver for beginners, be they you or a friend, son or daughter just getting into the royal game.
Things to Consider
Before getting into the price of a new driver or the length of a driver’s “shaft,” or handle, let’s begin by looking at where ball meets club. The “head” of a driver is the solid, usually oblong semi-sphere at the bottom of the shaft. The “face” is the (almost) flat surface which strikes the golf ball.
A hot-button word in golf retail is “forgiveness,” which refers to a club design that will compensate for bad swings and still offer a playable shot if poorly hit.
Originally, drivers and other long-hitting clubs were crafted out of persimmon or maple wood. Some stubborn professionals still use wooden drivers today, claiming that the feel of an old-fashioned club is superior. Lumber also produces a sound close to the satisfying CRACK! of a wooden baseball bat hitting a home run, instead of the metallic TINK! of a metal driver or aluminum bat.
But a club with a wooden head is not the best driver for beginners, not even close. Why? Because there is no way for the club to offer forgiveness.
The mass of a wooden club-head must be distributed evenly. Therefore, such drivers have to be swung expertly for the ball to sail straight. Unless a newbie is very adventurous (and doesn’t mind searching the forest for lost balls) she should run away from any wooden-headed driver.
Most modern drivers are made of metal – steel, for instance, or titanium. These materials allow club-makers to redistribute the mass of the club head to its edges, meaning that if a poor swing leads to the impacting the ball on the inside or outside of the head, the shot will still travel a decent yardage, and fly somewhat straight.
A recent trend in drivers is oversized heads. Really, really oversized heads. When Calloway released its popular Big Bertha line of oversized drivers in the early 90’s, the golf industry rushed to release as many oversized drivers and fairway woods as possible.
Big-headed drivers offer the novice a large “sweet spot,” or area of the face on which impacting the ball should result in a solid strike. But large heads are not for everyone. Some golfers report bad experiences trying to control a large, bulky club in windy conditions, for example. An oversized head can still be embarrassingly mishit, such as a player pulling up erroneously during the swing and “topping” the golf ball along the ground.
Power vs Control
If there is an old public course or country club in your hometown, take a good look at the course map (it can usually be found illustrated on a club’s scorecards). Typically, most of the bad trouble (such as water or out-of-bounds areas) will be found to the right. Gentle, rolling slopes and shorter grass will be found to the left.
Why? Because once upon a time, golf belonged to the wealthy. Course architects knew that the rich neighborhood playboy, with time and money to participate in field sports, had toned his muscles for swinging golf clubs and tennis rackets. Golfers with fine upper-body muscles are more likely to “hook” the ball to the left, so a happy millionaire’s club involved members given decent chances to make par when their shots missed to the southpaw side.
Those days are gone, and new layouts usually have an equal number of hazards to left and right. But the phenomenon remains in the shot “pattern” of experienced vs. less experienced players. Pay attention to how your experienced golfer friends hit the ball – their tee shots will usually curve from right to left.
Other athletes with strong leg or back muscles but less-refined biceps will typically hit “slices,” or shots that curve to the right.
Country club members often instruct beginners to hit a controlled, gentle shot that moves right-to-left, associating a “slice” with long-and-wrong hackers. For such self-appointed professors, control is key – teach a junior golfer to hit it straight, and he or she will enjoy a lifetime of fairways.
If a friend from a country club gives your child a driver for Christmas, it will probably be a light weapon with a short shaft. Such drivers are excellent for control, with less club to swing and less weight to mishandle. If you haven’t played your first 18 yet, your golf shop pro is likely to advise the same for you.
However, the easy-does-it method has its detractors – notably Jack Nicklaus and the late Arnold Palmer, who have each spoken at length about the importance of developing power. Palmer wrote that the first rule of golf is to always hit the ball hard. “Big Jack” echoed that sentiment in a column for Golf Digest, titled Encourage Your Kids to Whale It.
The reasoning is two-fold. First, a beginner will have more fun if she is encouraged to hit the little white ball as hard as possible. After all, an allure of golf is the opportunity to smack an object as hard as you want in a big, wide open, safe space.
Second, it is much, much easier to learn how to control a powerful swing than to add driving distance to a controlled, compact motion. For instance, the same country club member who advises beginners to play an easy-going “draw” shot (curving right to left) is likely to have a story about attempting to qualify for the U.S. Open, but losing out to longer hitters who reached every green with less effort. Once a short-hitter’s swing is ingrained there is often no way to add power.
Therefore, a Nicklausian teacher may advise that the best golf driver for beginners is a long-shafted, heavy club. With enough practice using a hefty whoopin’ stick, golf muscles will develop in the shoulders, hips and wrists. Over time, the muscular player can learn to “shape” her shots and control the extra weight, to begin teeing off with distance and accuracy.
Ready to start shopping? With all of the above in mind, let’s look at three different strategies for choosing the best golf driver for beginners in your family – or your own brand-new hobby.
Be a Customer and Customize
Consumerism has become a dirty word, and the “scientific” approach espoused by club professionals and golf salesmen has taken a healthy beating in the sport’s folklore.
Stories abound about how overly-mechanical, precise, specialized instruction can ruin a talented golfer’s game, such as Greg “The Great White Shark” Norman’s ill-fated experiment working with technical swing guru David Leadbetter. “I thought David could take my game to another level,” Norman once said. “He succeeded. I ended up two, maybe three levels below where I started.”
Yet for the beginner looking for the best golf driver to purchase, a technical approach can still work reasonably well. Visit your local gear merchant and ask for measurements – height, reach, wing-span and so on. Hit some test shots into a practice net, ask and answer questions. You will soon be given options in a driver to fit your body type, swing tendencies and goals.
A current trend in customizable clubs is the “adjusted loft” driver, or a 1-wood with a head that can be reset to drive the ball with a lower or higher trajectory. One such product is the Nike Vapor Flex Driver, which retails for under $200. The Vapor Flex can be adjusted to as many as 30 different launch angles between rounds!
The carbon-enhanced head is weighted strongly toward the inside of its face, meaning if your arm muscles are already well-developed, the driver will help control hooked shots and keep you on the left side of the fairway instead of the rough.
The Natural Method
The “naturalist” is the archenemy of the technical golf wizard armed with tape-measures and video-feedback practice nets. Influenced by legendary, mythical books such as Michael Murphy’s Golf In The Kingdom, naturalists advise throwing your local pro’s complex jargon out the window and simply buying clubs that appeal to you, developing an instinctive swing based on feel and rhythm.
Naturalists often refer to golf legends about visualization and “Zen” philosophy, such as the apocryphal tale of the POW who imagined playing ideal rounds of golf to keep himself sane while captive, then lowered his handicap 20 strokes after being rescued. But for the beginning golfer, such poetry and romance are unnecessary. Instead, begin by finding a driver (and a putter) that appeal to you aesthetically and feel good in your hands when swung.
You may find that a simple, classic design is best, such as the XTD Ti driver by Adams Golf. The club is short and light enough to swing well without much practice, and (according to reviews) will power the ball well on its own if swung with rhythm and not haste. It retails for less than $100.
More Horse Sense, Less Headache
To discover golf as a recreational hobby, both the naturalist and the technical approaches may seem overwhelming. How about a dose of common sense? Lee Trevino has offered sage advice for new players without time, money or motivation to seek out gurus of either stripe – the “plain vanilla” method.
First purchase a simple, easy-to-hit driver that doesn’t cost much and is not customized for any specific type of body type or swing. The latter is very important – do not have the driver customized at all, even if the salesman looks at you like you’ve lost it.
Trevino then advises playing five or ten rounds of golf with the “plain vanilla” driver. You should see a consistent pattern emerge. Tee shots will fly high, low, left or right. Afterward you can visit that skeptical salesman again and explain what you’re up to. He can help you trade in the “vanilla” starter item for a new, customized weapon that will correct your usual misses.
The JetSpeed driver by TaylorMade is an affordable and helpful option for your test rounds. The simple design drives the ball with more “over” spin than backspin, meaning that your missed shots will bounce spritely through the rough and put you closer to the green. After all, there is no need for the experiment to be a miserable one. Have fun with your iron shots and carefully document where you’re hitting them from – soon you will have a made-to-fit driver to suit your swing.
What is the best driver for the beginner? It all depends! But exploring the tactics outlined above will help you reach your goal in golf, whether it’s simply to have fun slugging a driver…or to eventually win a match against that pesky salesman.