[PHOTO: Mike Ehrmann]

Question: I saw that Nelly Korda is using the most forgiving driver she can. I’m a good player with above average swing speed. Should I consider switching to a more forgiving driver, too?

Answer: There was a time not too long ago when the best players in the world gravitated towards the least forgiving drivers with the lowest launch angle and the least amount of spin with no built-in draw bias. Then came 2024, and the two best players on the planet right now, Scottie Scheffler and Nelly Korda, showed that it’s possible to play world-class golf using a driver that, in Scheffler’s case, is designed for the masses (the TaylorMade Qi10) and, in Korda’s case, is designed for maximum forgiveness (Qi10 Max). Fellow TaylorMade staffer Rory McIlroy, who leads the PGA Tour in Total Driving, also uses the standard Qi10 model as opposed to the more compact, low-spinning Qi10 LS.

Nelly Korda plays the TaylorMade Qi10 Max, which is designed for maximum forgiveness. [Photo: Andy Lyons]
Dig a little deeper into the weekly driver usage on the professional tours and you find that drivers designed for maximum forgiveness are gaining popularity. Both Akshay Bhatia and Alex Noren have used the Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke Max D (draw). Cameron Champ has played Ping’s G430 Max 10K, which like the Qi10 Max has an ultra-high moment of inertia (stability on off-centre hits). Chandler Phillips is even using a Ping G430 LST that has a stock build, including the standard 55-gram shaft.

Is there something for more advanced, faster-swinging golfers to learn here? It’s clear that most professional players are using drivers with greater stability on off-centre hits than in the past. The reason isn’t because they decided to stop practising. What has happened is that driver designs have gotten better. In the past, drivers that were designed to be forgiving often compromised playability because of their size and a centre of gravity that was further away from the face and higher to stabilise the head. A high centre of gravity means more spin on all shots – even dead-on-the-screws blasts. That’s a big negative for players with faster swings. At average tour speeds, too much spin can cost a player 10 metres or more.

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However, this is changing. Thanks to the widespread use of weight-saving carbon composite in the body of new drivers, the centre of gravity isn’t drifting back and higher as much as it used to, and that results in this combination of forgiveness with low spin. Scheffler, for example, is playing a more forgiving driver this year than he did two years ago, and his average spin rate has barely changed.

Although these forgiveness-focused drivers are certainly not the standard on tour, what their presence in the bags of some of the game’s best players suggests is that there is no right driver for a certain player skill level. Let’s repeat that: there is no handicap level or swing speed that eliminates considering almost any kind of driver. With dozens of models and multiple choices within the same brand, one of the things we stress during our Hot List player testing every year is this: throw away your assumptions. Be prepared to be surprised.

As a matter of fact, when we look at how our high-swing-speed, low-handicap players at the Hot List fare with these game-improvement drivers, we find that some players did really well, and some did not. For example, Josh Macera, a 1-handicapper with a swing speed of 119 miles per hour, averaged nearly four more metres with the game-improvement drivers compared to all others. Jack Bingham, another 1-marker who plays a natural fade and swings at 110 miles per hour, saw more ball speed with the high-forgiveness drivers, including 11 more metres on average with the draw-biased Ping G430 SFT. Conversely, Wesley Gilmore, a plus-1 handicapper, hit the forgiving drivers almost 10 metres shorter with a spin rate on one model that was more than 30 percent higher than his average across all drivers.

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What this tells us is that the driver has become as individualised a club as the putter. Each player’s swing is going to find a driver with a particular shape and centre-of-gravity location that makes his or her delivery more efficient, leading to a more explosive ball flight. This is what is called optimising performance. You cannot find the right driver by guessing or assuming that what has always been your go-to isn’t going to change.

Chris Marchini, director of golf experience for Golf Galaxy and Dick’s Sporting Goods and the lead fitter at the Golf Digest Hot List, put it this way recently: “My advice is to go into a fitting totally agnostic. We see it at the Hot List Summit every year. We’re putting a club in someone’s hands that is far better optimised than what this player’s handicap, swing speed or skill level might suggest, but it ends up producing the best ball flight for them.”

In other words, be open to the possibilities. It’s certainly worked for the two best players in the world.