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The gift of golf: How to find the perfect driver

Planning to hit the green, or know someone who is? TODAY gear and technology editor Paul Hochman explains what to consider when buying the perfect club for you or your duffer.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Most technology is getting smaller. But in golf, the hottest technology is getting huge. Voluminous. Capacious. Big. Yes, the most you’ll use it is once every hole, but still, the big, bad driver gets most of the attention in golf shops.

As well it should: It’s the receptacle for some of golf’s most interesting technology. But beware: If you’re buying a driver for somebody else (a wonderful gift, by the way) or even for yourself, here are three key buying tips, along with a little sneak preview of what’s new.

First, the big picture — while literally hundreds (and maybe even thousands) of variables influence the way a golf driver performs, there are three main components to consider when you’re buying a driver, especially if you’re getting it as a gift for someone else.

1) Club head size2) Loft angle3) Shaft flexibility

Club head size
Club heads these days can measure almost 5” from face to heel and use up all of the U.S. Golfing Association’s (USGA’s) maximum volume of 460 cubic centimeters. If you’ve never seen one up close, they look like fat, metal popovers. Or UFOs.

If you’re buying a driver for an average golfer of, say, a 15-17 handicap (someone who hits in the 90s most of the time), they’ll often want a driver with that maximum 460 cc volume measurement. Why? Because average golfers want a bigger club head and its larger, wider face — the wider face means there’s a bigger, fatter “sweet spot” that, if hit, will make the ball travel a long way.

Consider Mizuno’s new MP-600, which has adjustable weights that glide along a track under the club head. The benefit: If you tend to hook or slice your shots, you can slide two 8-gram weights to one or the other side of the club head to compensate.

So how do you pick the right size club head for your favorite duffer? Check his or her handicap — again, most golfers will like the 460 cc club head, but if that handicap drops below 10, you should consider a 440 cc club head or lower. Expert golfers have more control over their club head direction and will want to “shape” their shots — intentionally drawing them or fading them — and the smaller the head, the greater the control.

Loft angle
If you look down the shaft of a driver, you’ll notice the face of the club head is slightly angled up at you. On average, that angle is about 10 degrees off of 90 (which would be straight up and down, and which would send your ball straight out, but not up). You’ll often see the exact number under the club head. Unless you’re putting, the goal in golf is to get the ball off the ground, and the right angle is key.

Again, this comes down to ability — the higher the handicap, the higher the loft. So if your pal is a 20 handicapper, he or she will need as much help (and loft) as possible to get that ball up in the air. But what you gain in loft, you lose in control. The flatter the face, the more you can control the direction of the shot. Under 10 handicappers might prefer an 8 or 9 degree loft.

Shaft flexibility
Finally, it’s easy to get lost in the forest of shaft choices out there. The basic rule of thumb is: The slower the club head speed (often the less-skilled golfer), the softer the flex he or she will want. The higher the speed, the stiffer the shaft. The reason — if you don’t swing hard, you’ll find it tough to get the shaft to “flick” upward at the end of your swing. Softer shafts give a little “whip” to the ball that a stiffer shaft won’t do — unless you swing really hard, in which case you’ll bend that stiff shaft. 

Paul Hochman is the gear and technology editor for the TODAY Show and a “Fast Company” magazine contributor. He covered the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Athens and Torino, Italy, for TODAY. He was also a three-year letter winner on the Dartmouth ski team and has a black belt in karate. Paul’s blog can be found at: