Hot List

The most forgiving drivers, according to low-, mid- and high-handicaps

February 23, 2024
80341347

Ryan Pierse

Part of our expanding efforts to take deeper looks at all the clubs on the Hot List in 2024 involved asking our player testers to rate clubs on various scales for things like sound or trajectory or feel. But one area golfers instantly gravitate toward and increasingly demand, regardless of whether they’re scratch players or regular schlubs trying to break 90, is forgiveness. That’s particularly the case with today’s drivers, which by any measurement are pursuing the idea of forgiveness more intently than any other aspect of performance. As Brian Bazzel, vice president of product creation at TaylorMade, recently explained, “Even Rory McIlroy is using a much more forgiving driver today than he ever has before.”

We ask our players at the Hot List testing summit to assess forgiveness on a sliding scale, where a “1” might be something like a muscleback blade iron (where it is much more “workable” rather than “forgiving”) and a “5” might be more like as easy-to-hit a club as they’ve ever used. It isn’t simply a measurement of some collection of mass properties in the head; rather it’s how easy it is to make the ball go where it's supposed to go, in a playable direction and distance, even despite our occasional mis-hits. As we instruct our players, we’re looking for a rating that reflects “how little and how rarely mishits are penalized.”

Of course, the driver is the club where we generally are seeking the most forgiveness. Of course, there are a lot of elements in driver design that might prompt a player to suggest this new driver is more forgiving. Certainly, where the ball is going is paramount, but it’s also how easy it is to control the club, how often it might make good swings happen, how consistently pleasing impact feels, and perhaps most directly, how likely it is that they will still be in the hole after a swing that isn’t so good.

With that in mind, here are the drivers our players found to be the most magnanimous with their mis-hits. Each list is based on the choices of our three handicap groups: low, mid and high.

Low-handicap

Cleveland Launcher XL 2
$450 | Golf Galaxy
4.5
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$450

The big update in this Everyman kind of driver is a new face-thickness pattern that includes a thinner section in the middle that saves mass to improve perimeter weighting. What jumps out, however, is the clubhead's massive size and largest-in-class face area that exude forgiveness, helping to transfer more energy to the ball. Our favorite thing continues to be how the design builds in extra flexibility at the front of the crown and sole to boost the size of the face’s most flexible zone.

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Titleist TSR2
$600 | Golf Galaxy
5.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$600

This is Titleist’s most forgiving and welcoming shape. It features a larger face area and most importantly a unique face-thickness pattern that emphasizes performance on mis-hits. All that is enhanced by the overall larger footprint that makes for the most stable head in the line. The sleeker external lines and curves make that larger shape sail through the air a bit smoother to let players generate more clubhead speed.

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Cobra Air-X
$350 | Golf Galaxy
4.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Silver
$350

A lighter weight overall, including a lighter head, shaft and even grip, makes Air-X a speed-enhancing alternative for moderate to slow-swinging golfers with a smooth tempo. The design also helps average golfers avoid the slice through extensive heel-side internal weighting that’s deep in the perimeter to increase launch. Furthermore, the face angle is closed, and an offset option provides more draw effect than past versions. As one final distance bonus, the face features the same thinner, 15-point variable-thickness design found on the company’s flagship drivers.

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Tour Edge Exotics C723
$500 | Golf Galaxy
4.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Silver
$500

The more compact of the two options (445 cubic centimeters), the C723 incorporates four carbon-composite sections on the crown and sole. The weight saved adds stability and creates discretionary mass for movable weights (15 and five grams) in not only the rear of the sole but the front as well. Either weight can fit in a back channel that slides to draw, fade or neutral positions, and placing the heavier weight up front further helps to lower spin. Its taller face is fueled by the largest collection of diamond-shaped indentations on the back for better ball speed.

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Wilson Dynapower Titanium
$430 | Golf Galaxy
4.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Silver
$430

The objective of this all-titanium model is forgiveness. The key is a 16-gram weight that sits deep in the rear perimeter. It stabilizes the head so that it loses less energy on off-center hits. Its depth also produces a higher trajectory to help average golfers get more carry distance. That weight’s position also slightly favors the heel side, which will make it easier to square the face at impact and add draw spin to counter a slice.

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Mid-handicap

Cleveland Launcher XL 2
$450 | Golf Galaxy
4.5
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$450

The big update in this Everyman kind of driver is a new face-thickness pattern that includes a thinner section in the middle that saves mass to improve perimeter weighting. What jumps out, however, is the clubhead's massive size and largest-in-class face area that exude forgiveness, helping to transfer more energy to the ball. Our favorite thing continues to be how the design builds in extra flexibility at the front of the crown and sole to boost the size of the face’s most flexible zone.

More on this club

Cobra Darkspeed X
$550 | Golf Galaxy
5.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$550

Designed to offer lower spin and forgiveness on off-center hits, this model balances front and rear weighting to appeal to a range of swing speeds. The front and back adjustable three- and 12-gram sole weights tweak spin and launch. A 13-percent larger face area extends the most flexible sections to the outer edges, and an internal bridge-like weight bar is now more forward and lower than before without touching the sole or face. This means better all-around distance potential through lower spin and more direct energy transfer.

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PXG 0311 Black Ops
$600 | Golf Galaxy
4.5
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$600

The standard model—the most forgiving of the two—features more stability on off-center hits from heel to toe (by a little) and top to bottom (by 25 percent). This means some off-center hits have ball speeds consistent with center hits. The way the new titanium alloy in the face deflects at impact yields higher flight with less spin. Meanwhile, the lightweight carbon-composite sections on the crown and sole result in a lower and deeper center of gravity compared to last year’s extra-forgiving XF model.

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Cobra Air-X
$350 | Golf Galaxy
4.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Silver
$350

A lighter weight overall, including a lighter head, shaft and even grip, makes Air-X a speed-enhancing alternative for moderate to slow-swinging golfers with a smooth tempo. The design also helps average golfers avoid the slice through extensive heel-side internal weighting that’s deep in the perimeter to increase launch. Furthermore, the face angle is closed, and an offset option provides more draw effect than past versions. As one final distance bonus, the face features the same thinner, 15-point variable-thickness design found on the company’s flagship drivers.

More on this club

Tour Edge Exotics E723
$450 | Golf Galaxy
4.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Silver
$450

The larger footprint of the two models exudes off-center-hit forgiveness, which is enhanced by a 20-gram sliding weight in the rear perimeter. That positioning pushes the center of gravity deeper for off-center-hit stability, the highest in company history. Still, letting that rear weight slide to draw or fade positions can soften those kinds of mis-hits by as much as 10 yards, per the company. The face-thickness pattern, which features rows of interwoven diamond shapes, gets thinner on the E723 for extra forgiveness where the target player often makes contact.

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High-handicap

Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke Max
$600 | Golf Galaxy
5.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$600

The largest chunk of the golfing population should fit into this model. It has the most stable head in the family for extra forgiveness on mis-hits across the face, and Callaway has added a rear perimeter sliding weight to more tightly fine-tune mis-hits and swing patterns. Expect a mid-range ball flight compared to the other models in this family, and the ideal target player is a swing speed from 90 to 100 miles per hour.

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Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke Max D
$600 | Golf Galaxy
5.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$600

With the most expansive clubhead in the family and featuring the largest face area, this model is intended to help inconsistent ball-strikers. The head has a built-in anti-slice bias (Callaway estimates 10 more yards of draw compared to last year’s Paradym X), and the fixed rear weight is lower than past models for extra stability and the highest launch in the family. The golfer with a swing speed from 80 to 95 miles per hour and a swing path that features a steeper downswing that cuts across the ball will benefit the most from this model.

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Ping G430 Max 10K
$600 | Golf Galaxy
5.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$600

In a family of wide-body, ultra-forgiving drivers, the Max 10K is the beefiest, nearly filling the size and shape limitations set forth in the rules. That size, along with a heavy and fixed tungsten weight in the back of this massive head, pushes stability on off-center hits to the highest in company history and the edge of golf’s rules. Those limits regulate how stable a head is from heel to toe, but this driver goes another step by stabilizing how the head resolves mis-hits high and low. A carbon-composite crown section keeps the center of gravity low to control spin, too.

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TaylorMade Qi10 Max
$600 | Golf Galaxy
5.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Gold
$600

Easily the most extreme step in size and shape of the three models, the Qi10 Max is not only longer front to back but incorporates a heel-biased shape. That weighting helps to make the larger head easier to square and still provides the highest stability in company history on misses in the heel and toe as well as high and low. The ultra-oversize design controls distance-robbing high spin through its extensive use of carbon composite in the face and body, including stretching the crown piece to meet the top of the face.

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Tour Edge Exotics E723
$450 | Golf Galaxy
4.0
GD SCORE GD HOT LIST SCORE
Hot List Silver
$450

The larger footprint of the two models exudes off-center-hit forgiveness, which is enhanced by a 20-gram sliding weight in the rear perimeter. That positioning pushes the center of gravity deeper for off-center-hit stability, the highest in company history. Still, letting that rear weight slide to draw or fade positions can soften those kinds of mis-hits by as much as 10 yards, per the company. The face-thickness pattern, which features rows of interwoven diamond shapes, gets thinner on the E723 for extra forgiveness where the target player often makes contact.

More on this club