Bigger Might Not Be Better
I’ve written quite a bit about the advantages of blade style irons over most larger and “more forgiving” cavity back designs. I’m a fan of more compact irons, even for average mid-handicap players, as I feel like they promote the learning and grooving of a better swing, and they deliver more consistent distances, particularly in the shorter irons. So I guess I should have been surprised by a reader inquiry about the same holding true of driver size – can smaller actually be better?

Well, for my answer, you could take a look in my own bag. You’ll find an Alpha driver that is only 400 cc in size, 9.5* loft. I’ve been playing this club for about three years now, and regularly test it against the new stuff my buddies show up with at the club. I have yet to find a new whiz bang driver that is longer or straighter. Here’s why, in my opinion:

First of all, every driver, of any size, has a single sweet spot that is about the size of a dime at best. Probably more like a pinhead, actually. There is one single spot on every driver that maximizes the delivery of the mass. As you begin to move the impact away from this spot, you lose distance. The experts I trust tell me this loss is from 7-9% on a miss of only a half inch, and 12-15% on a miss of ¾”. So, regardless of size, the optimum performance will be on dead centers hits, and the size of the clubhead does not help you achieve this.

In fact, my opinion is that the large and long drivers cause golfers to hit the center of the face less often than most of them used to when they played the smaller drivers some time ago. I’ve written several times that if you will grip down on your driver an inch or two, you will most likely find your driving distance and accuracy to improve because you will hit it closer to this sweet spot more often.

But back to the comparison of the large 460cc drivers to one of a smaller size. They both will have a very definite sweet spot that is micro-small. Impacts off that sweet spot will still cause a loss of impact efficiency. They both have much of the mass moved to the perimeter to help mitigate the effect of those off-center hits. The big difference in my opinion is the shaft. Is it the right flex for you? Does it have the optimum weight for your swing? That’s where you will most likely optimize your driving, if you just have to tweak with it.

But might the smaller size driver actually allow you to swing the club faster due to reduced air resistance? Some driver brands make a big deal out of the aerodynamics of their designs, but wouldn’t a smaller aerodynamic design produce less resistance of a larger one? Something to think about.

The final thought on this subject is an analogy I make between a hammer and a fry pan. If you had a two pound sledge and a two pound iron skillet, which would most likely drive a nail faster? The sledge, of course, because you would have more of the mass focused directly behind the impact.

I know the same holds true for golf clubs.
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[ comments ]
crowdan says:
I completely agree with your article. I still use the old Callaway Steelhead driver and 3 wood. I love them both, but they are rather old at this point. Iam looking for new ones with the same size/feel. These over-sized clubs throw me off. Any suggestions?
8/23/11
 
TheBrownCrayon says:
I play a smaller driver head, and when I look down on a huge driver head it just feels awkward. But back to the choking down on the driver, when I tried it I hooked everything pretty drastically. Is that normal or did I do something wrong?
8/23/11
 
birdieXris says:
I dont' like the 460CC drivers either. I still play a 440 but the size difference is noticeable in both feel and look. I wouldn't go much bigger than 360 and actually thought about picking up an older cobra TI model driver when i saw one. That thing was sweeeeeet. I just don't like how all the old stuff sits to a closed neutral instead of a true or slightly open neutral.
8/23/11
 
dartboss04 says:
Terry, great article. I completely agree. I just switched back to Titleist 983k this morning and was pleasantly surprised by the results. I'm hoping it wasn't just a fluke, but it felt so good and inspired much more confidence than the larger 460 cc clubs. I don't feel like I lost any distance either.
8/23/11
 
snuffyword says:
I use my 400cc more often than my 460cc. I had the shaft cut down to 44 1/2", adjusted to a D2 swing weight, and working on a better swing and tempo. I noticed that my ball strikes are more consistently in the center of the face and even though my fairway stats have not improved much, my distance has increased and my misses still leave me with a shot into the greens. I take my 43" persimmon to the range every now and then and I can hit it fairly straight but only 15-20 yards shorter than my titanium driver.
8/23/11
 
bkuehn1952 says:
The discussion involves several variables: clubhead size, club shaft length, sweet spot and distribution of weight (mass) in the club head. The one variable that most affects the ability to hit the sweet spot is the club shaft length. Use of a smaller headed driver with a shaft length equal to a 460 cc driver is not going to result in more on center hits. Hitting the sweet spot is all about club control and that is most effected by shaft length, among the variables we are discussing.

A small-head driver's one advantage over a larger head is the ability to place more mass behind the sweet spot. A larger head has to spread the mass out just because it is so much larger. However, this advantage quickly dissipates if one is not skilled enough to hit the sweet spot.
8/23/11
 
windowsurfer says:
I've tried a bunch of smaller head drivers. Many are more accurate - few have equal distance to newer 460s, but continue to search. My best dist/accuracy combo so far is older Cally Hyper X (a 460) with the stock R shaft. 44.5". I put a midsize grip on, which helped. The KIND of drive you hit must be in the equation too, yes? I play a longish, flat, firm, windy links layout and I like to play low draws. Terry - you've talked about your Alpha before -- may we have more specs? Shaft, etc. Maybe some discussion about what set-up favours what result.
8/23/11
 
bkuehn1952 says:
So why do pro golfers use large-headed drivers? They are obviously skilled enough to come close to the sweet spot on a regular basis. I suspect that the pros know that, on average, their drivers are going to be longer and straighter using the large-headed driver. While the small-headed driver might get them a bit more distance on a perfect strike, the large driver delivers better performance on slight mis-hits. So rather than reduce the size of the driver head, many pros have gone with shorter club shafts.

Disclaimer: I know absolutely nothing about making clubs or the physics behind club performance. ;)
8/23/11
 
TeT says:
With ya' on this one... nice article.
8/23/11
 
TeT says:
@ Brown Canyon: You picked up the hook because along with choking down, you probably eased your tempo along with a different swing path (more in to out) I am betting that you keep your club face closed normally(just a WAG)... Play with it on the range while hitting 10 balls about 125yds (nice and easy) and work out from there to a full swing. Put a rubber band on the grip where the heel of your left hand rests(if you are a righty) to keep consistent grip position while your practice.
8/23/11
 
Banker85 says:
thats what she said.
8/23/11
 
larrynjr says:
@bkuehn, the biggest reason the pro's use the big head drivers, they are paid to use them.
8/23/11
 
bkuehn1952 says:
@larrynjr: I hear you. In many cases money trumps performance. However, if the pros really thought a smaller headed driver would give them an advantage, we would start to see them on tour. This would be especially true on the Nationwide, where I suspect winning is more important than some money from a clubmaker.
8/23/11
 
Bryan K says:
While I agree with Terry in respect to irons (I'm working my way into a set as we speak), I don't necessarily agree in regards to a driver. With an iron, when I just miss the sweet spot, the ball isn't going to land where I want it whether I'm using a blade or a cavity back. The driver, however, is the most difficult club in the bag to hit. Therefore, most players, even pros, can use a little bit of help because we don't hit the sweet spot enough. Rest assured, I know when I hit the sweet spot on my 460 cc head driver. And I know when I just miss it. Hitting the sweet spot and just missing it can make a 70 yard difference. However, I can still end up with a decent shot when I just miss the sweet spot. The difference is, it only goes 230 instead of 300.
8/23/11
 
larrynjr says:
I do know from personal experience that my 13 degree 3w will give me just as much distance and often more then my 460cc 12 degree driver.

I certainly don't know the physics of this but isn't it possible to have a smaller driver head size with the same mass as the 460cc heads? As Terry's artile points out, it's all about the mass not the size. Are the older smaller head drivers the same mass as the big head drivers?
8/23/11
 
bkuehn1952 says:
Older small-headed drivers weighed much more (more mass) per cubic centimeter. Wood heads were solid with lead or brass weights inside and a brass or steel plate on the bottom. When steel replaced wood, the club head could be hollow (usually with a foam insert). Stronger, thinner steel allowed larger heads without increasing the weight. Titanium and other exotic materials allowed clubmakers to increase the size even more but with the same or less overall weight.
8/23/11
 
birdieXris says:
I think we're forgetting about the USGA limits here. MOI and COR are limited. You can make a smaller head with the same mass but it will affect these criteria.

By the same token, the newer, larger clubs are made to withstand a MORE off center shot than the smaller clubs. Examine your club on a few mishits and where the ball hits on the face. For best results, put an impact swatch on the face. Once you hit a few, remove that impact tape and put it on a smaller driver head and see where some of those shots would have hit. It's not really pretty, at least in my case. I'm not great, but i'm not bad either. Larger heads on woods are more forgiving and should be rightfully so since you're going at it your "hardest". Small heads will not come back. If there's any benefit, it's miniscule at best because paid or not, pros would rather make $50,000 more per event by striking the ball better than $100,000 a year just to play a contract club.
8/23/11
 
birdieXris says:
to clarify above - the big headed drivers are maxxed out with the current technology to meet the very extremes of the USGA specs. Having a heavier, smaller head is not going to benefit you that much since you'll sacrifice in other areas.
8/23/11
 
TeT says:
Nice Pic Birdie!

@BKuehn: The Titleist 910D3 is a 445cc head. While the R11 & R11 TP are both 440cc heads... Going smaller with the 2 most used drivers on tour...
8/23/11
 
Banker85 says:
My Tour Burner is 440CC. Doesnt one of the Cobra drivers have 9 sweet spots.
www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=ZXePK6p2SOo
8/23/11
 
mjaber says:
There are 2 clubs in my bag that look at address is important to me. My driver and my putter. I've been shopping for a new big stick since I found a crack in the bottom of my R5-Dual. I don't really care how big/small the head is, as long as I'm comfortable staring down at it at address. Bottom line is, you can change a lot of things in your driver to help you- weight, shaft length, etc- but if you don't feel comfortable staring down at it on the tee, it's useless.
8/23/11
 
bkuehn1952 says:
"@BKuehn: The Titleist 910D3 is a 445cc head. While the R11 & R11 TP are both 440cc heads... Going smaller with the 2 most used drivers on tour..."

I was not aware the latest editions had shrunk 3-4 percent. If that trend continues, there might be something to smaller is better. I am still not convinced that for 98 percent of us, wielding a radically smaller-headed driver will result in improved performance. But as I have said before, I really do not know what I am talking about. ;)
8/23/11
 
mjaber says:
@Bkuehn... The R11 & TP are both 440. I just checked TM's website. According to my research, the R9 was 430, though they did make a couple 460cc versions. I think the R7 was somewhere around 400cc, and I know my R5 is 450cc.

I don't think they'll go much below the 400 again, unless the USGA and R&A decide to change that spec.
8/23/11
 
windowsurfer says:
440-445cc is still pretty big. 400cc is not tiny. (That's what she said.) But seriously, can a 15 HC feel diff btwn 400 and 460? (Asking , not being skeptical.)
8/23/11
 
John H. Tidyman says:
Off the tee, I use a Ping Eye 3-wood, the laminated maple. Had it reshafted. I'll never be long, but when a scramble needs to start with a ball down the middle, I'm it. Then I unchain the gorillas in the foursome. Same subject: Friend of mine was trying out drivers, including a maple Ping with the original shaft. Hit it farther than any other driver. In the fairway, too. I think we have drives the size of wheel blocks for one reason: We'll buy them. Well, you'll buy them, not me.
8/23/11
 
snuffyword says:
@windowsurfer... I think I can feel the difference, especially on the mishits. For my 400cc, I have a pretty good idea of where and by how much I missed from the center of the clubface. I can also see how from the effects of the ball flight. That's also true when I hit my persimmon. For my 460cc, I just know that I missed the center area but not quite positive of how far off I am, other than the extreme heel or toe misses.
8/23/11
 
Shallowface says:
I have mishit shots with my 460cc driver that would have been whiffs with a club like the Taylor Made Original One.
However, I can honestly say that I have never whiffed a ball in my life, not even at the very beginning. Some foul tips for sure, but no whiffs.
So there's no question in my mind that the larger clubheads can lead you to get sloppy with your swing if you're not careful.
8/23/11
 
bkuehn1952 says:
@John H: There is an author from Ohio with the same name. Any relation?
8/23/11
 
bkuehn1952 says:
@Shallowface: I tip my hat to you. You must be very good about taking a drop when faced with a shot that limits one's back swing, follow through or requires an odd angle of attack. My last whiff was when I was up against the back of a bunker. It required a very steep swing that I misjudged, harmlessly hitting the grass on the bunker's bank. About every other year I try an obstructed shot, flinch, and miss.
8/23/11
 
TeT says:
I count my whiffs; but I always glance around to see if anyone saw it, better if they dont and I can just quietly add a stroke and move on.
8/23/11
 
bkuehn1952 says:
"I count my whiffs; but I always glance around to see if anyone saw it, better if they dont and I can just quietly add a stroke and move on."

Ha ha ha - me too!
8/23/11
 
mjguzik says:
I started this season with a 983K found in a used bin moving away from a Ping G10. Initially I was a little shorter, yet a lot more accurate. It was nice to see the ball in the fairway or at least in a playable position instead of the woods. I got the idea when my wife found two Titleist 975F woods at a garage sale for $10. The 16.5 and 20.5 gave me an amazing feeling when struck well and are definitely smaller. Anyway, I haven’t taken the G10 out all season. You are definitely on to something with the smaller driver head.
8/23/11
 
mountaineer says:
Can you comment on the importance of the center of gravity when designing short irons? How does it affect ball flight, distance, and forgiveness? It appears that the center of gravity for the SCOR wedges is noticeably higher than the Eidolon series. Is that a result of a change in philosophy, new information, etc.
8/23/11
 
TeT says:
the 975 is a 260cc with a D4 swing weight... Heavier swing weight also promotes a smoother tempo throughout the swing
8/24/11
 
DaRupp13 says:
I'm not sure I agree with this. When your'e talking about hitting sweet spots, of course it doesn't matter. But the point is most amateur golfers don't hit the sweet spot regularly, if at all. If you miss 3/4" on a 460CC driver, you'll probably still get 75% of your distance with a relatively similar ball flight. You miss 3/4" with a stealhead, you've pretty much sh*nked it. THAT'S why amateurs go with the bigger drivers. As for the pros, no idea what their deal is - wish I did.
8/24/11
 
kingwood hacker says:
as an interesting note, the taylormade r9 was 435cc the taylormade r11, and the nike VR pro drivers are both 440cc heads, and the Titleist 910D3 is 445cc. These heads are all marketed as "Players" dirvers and none of them are 460cc. So while we may think that bigger is obviously better, it appears that some of the pros have a different opinion.

I'm sure that taylormade will have an r11 460 just like they did the the r9 460 (which I actually game right now and love). However, I have hit the original r9 and I hit it just as well as my r9 460. I haven't put them side by side on a launch monitor, but I might try to ebay an r9 10.5 head just to try them out side by side.
8/24/11
 
TeT says:
Both the R11 & the R11 TP are 440cc, the Burner 2.0 is their 460cc option...

Given the popularity they are not likely to adjust those numbers much for the R12or13(?) or the Burner 3.0(?)

@ Kingwood: take your driver to Golfsmith and find the other R9 from the used rack and use the monitor there. I go in there and work on my swing with MY driver on the machine all the time when it really gets whacked...
8/24/11
 
TeT says:
Terry; looks like you hit a nerve with this article... gonna hit 40 replies; nice work!
8/24/11
 
kingwood hacker says:
TeT, I was just thinking it might be kind of cool to test out with the same shaft as well. The stock shaft for the r9460 was different the one for the r9. I probably won't follow through with getting an r9 head to test with. Just a fun idea.

I really won't be surprised if they come out with an r11 460, then an at least an r11 superpenta or some other supersomething. They've done that with at least the last 2 rX drivers (r7 Quad, r7 425, r7 460, r7 superquad, r7 CGB Max, r7 CGB Max Limited, r7 limited, r9, r9 460, r9 supertri, r9 superdeep, etc...). The good news about their crazy driver release sku's is that you only have to wait about a year for their $400 driver to go down to $200. That's how I ended up with my r9 460 for $189.
8/24/11
 
dartboss04 says:
A lot of this personal preference. For me, I need the club to visually inspire confidence. If you are already beat looking down on the ball, you're probably not going to make a good pass at it. I briefly switched to titleist ap1's this year, but couldn't get over the thick top line. I know this isn't an iron thread, but I don't think all 460's are in the same class either. For me, I could never use a square driver because it was visually uncomfortable. I have tended to shy away from the larger clubs and to this day continue to go back to my Callaway steelheads on occasion. I think I found the right compromise with the 983k.
8/24/11
 
dartboss04 says:
I tested the Taylormade Superfast 2.0 and it felt like I was swinging a tennis racket with the headcover still on it. It was just too big and too long for me to handle efficiently.
8/24/11
 
DoubleDingo says:
I prefer my Persimmon Driver, unfortunately it is in need of repair and I haven't shipped it back to Louisville Golf to get that taken care of. My second choice is my Condor with a TX-90 shaft. It is 420cc, which to me is still to big but, it's better than the pan-sized Cobra that I only use in Four-Man-Scrambles. I hit the first two fairly straight and my scores don't suffer from being a little shorter. The Cobra is long but inconsistent, and that is with a two-inch choke down.
8/24/11
 
Shallowface says:
@bkuehn1952: Fortunately, I don't often find myself in those types of situations. When I do, I don't try to do more with the shot than I am capable of doing.
No different than how I think on the tee or from the fairway. Keeps me out of a lot of trouble.
I love dull, boring, down the middle, on the green, two putt par golf.
My post was in no way meant as a boast. Just using my personal experience to illustrate my agreement with Terry's post.
8/24/11
 
Matt F says:
I just picked up a KZG RBT 360 to test against my TM Burner tomorrow. It'll be interesting to see what, if any, difference there is.
8/25/11
 
Tim Horan says:
I read somewhere that 427cc is the optimum size based on the COR .83 restriction. for distance efficiency and anything over that is a trade off for forgiveness/ industry trends and ego massage. I have a 400cc Titleist 983, a 427cc Kane and a 460cc Diablo Tour. The 427cc is by far the longer. Both Titleist and Kane have the same Harrison 50g shaft although they have differing characteristics one being a thru bore and consequently plays stiffer at the tip. The Titleist is by far the most accurate and this maybe because the club plays at 43.5". The Kane at 46" is as wild as a pigs ear if I am not playing well. The change of shaft in the Diablo to a YSQ Tour 65 has changed it's character considerably reducing lateral dispersion and has increased distance. I am getting 270 yrd averages from it so good enough for the courses I play regularly. I am sure that shortening this shaft would also make sense. The diablo tour although a 460cc looks quite compact at address and how it looks is also important.
8/26/11
 
Matt F says:
Well, the 360 was worse than the Burner. I was pushing the 360 right all morning. I hit both, one after another using the same brand and type of ball...I'll be keeping the Burner for now, until I can find a Titleist 905S.
8/26/11
 
Backquak says:
I just had to try a smaller head, I bought an alpha 400 cc v2 and put a Attas shaft in it and I LOVE IT. not really much longer but so much straighter.
9/12/11
 
mabby says:
Modern drivers are made out of titanium plates forged or welded with a 460 cc carbon composite body. Titanium is far less dense than steel yet is very elastic and strong for it's thinness and size. The large head adds stability on all hits and combined with a 3 inch longer graphite shaft you have a 9 mph increase in club head speed. Drivers are a bit different than a blade 5 iron wich is made from carbon steel rods,cavity back 5 irons are casted from aircraft grade stainless steel. Modern drivers allow the user to add speed to make up for density on perfect hits added to the fact you get a small rebound effect from Titanium gets you more yardage. Theoretically you would probably need to swing a 5 pound weighted driver of pure carbon steel at 100 mph top achieve the same results as a 125 mph mis hit of super light weight titanium.
9/2/15
 
mabby says:
Knowing the fact there is a density ratio to 100% of energy transfer into the ball future drivers will be made out of tunsgten carbide maraged with steel or aluminum for elasticity.. The clubs will be 275 cc hollowistic like the hammer x

www.google.com/search?q=hammer+x&rlz=1C1AVNG_enU
9/2/15
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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