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The Loop

Schwartzel's Masters driver not what you think it is

April 15, 2011

On first glance, Charl Schwartzel's win at the Masters looked like another victory for adjustable drivers. Schwartzel plays a Nike VR Tour driver, which was introduced to the marketplace last year as the Nike VR Tour Str8-Fit, whose hosel clicks into 32 separate settings. (You may remember the commercial extolling those options with goofy nicknames like the "High Cut Cowboy," the "St. An-draw," the "Texas Tee-Snapper," the "Apple Turn-Over," etc.)

But in actual fact, Schwartzel plays the non-adjustable version of the VR Tour, just like Tiger Woods. Indeed, three of the four majors have yet to have a winner play an adjustable driver (the winners of the last two PGA Championships played adjustable TaylorMade drivers). Is adjustability better than non-adustability? There's no clear-cut trend on tour, although seven of the 16 winners on tour this year used adjustable drivers. Overall, more than 40 percent of the players on tour are using drivers that can be manipulated by lie angle, face angle, loft, weights or some combnation thereof.

There are arguments on both sides, of course. Adjustability proponents will say it provides a sophisticated means of precisely dialing in the center of gravity location, loft and face angle to match the ideal launch conditions of individual players. Advocates for non-adjustable clubs believe performance sacrifices are made in the pursuit of adjustability, namely that to make a club capable of being adjusted you sometimes have to use mass in an area where you might not want to.

Several years ago, we demonstrated how the adjustability in a driver can improve a player's ballflight. Slices were lessened, ideal trajectories were more closely approximated. But we've also shown how a non-adjustable, draw-biased driver can dramatically correct a slice, with some closed-faced, heel-weighted models consistently landing 30 yards left of the center line.

We think there is merit in both approaches, and yet we also believe that just making a driver adjustable doesn't guarantee success. Our 2011 Hot List features 14 drivers. Six are adjustable, eight are not. Two years ago, only 25 percent of the drivers on the Hot List were adjustable. Here are the six in alphabetical order by Hot List medal, which combined account for 275 possible settings per loft.

Nike VR Pro[#image: /photos/55ad73e3b01eefe207f6a5d0]|||vr_pro_str8_fit_tour_small.jpg|||

Settings: 32Technology: A variable thickness cupface and a precise sole channel of this four-piece titianum construction are designed to improve performance on off-center hits.HOT LIST GOLD

TaylorMade R11 [#image: /photos/55ad73e3b01eefe207f6a5d3]|||r11_driver_small.jpg|||

Settings: 48Technology: The club head adjusts through a hosel sleeve that alters lie/loft angle, two sole weights that move center of gravity locations more toward the heel or the toe and a rotating sole plate that changes the appearance of face angle at address.HOT LIST GOLD

Titleist 910D2/D3[#image: /photos/55ad73e3add713143b4253cc]|||910d3_drv_small.jpg|||

Settings: 16Technology: The two-way adjustable hosel allows the club's loft and lie to be manipulated independently to optimize trajectory and spin. The crown is thinner to help lower the center of gravity.HOT LIST GOLD

Cobra S3[#image: /photos/55ad73e3add713143b4253d1]|||s3_small.jpg|||

Settings: 3Technology: The face has been designed to improve off-center hits in the low heel and high toe areas because Cobra research suggests that's where the majority of golfers mis-hit the driver. The three-way rotating hosel move the face angle 1.5 degrees closed to 1.5 degrees open from a neutral position.HOT LIST SILVER

Nike SQ/SQ2 Machspeed Black[#image: /photos/55ad73e3add713143b4253cf]|||sq_mchspd_black_rnd_small.jpg|||

Settings: 8Technology: The club's improved aerodynamic profile and lighter total weight (less than 300 grams) is designed to improve a golfer's swing speed. The hosel adjusts to three draw settings, three fade settings and two neutral settings.HOT LIST SILVER

Srixon Z-Star[#image: /photos/55ad73e3b01eefe207f6a5db]|||z-star_driver_small.jpg|||

Settings: 168Technology: Two sole weight ports with four different screws help alter center of gravity location, while the hosel rotates to one of 12 settings from draw to fade. The screws also can be removed entirely for a lighter overall weight club.HOT LIST SILVER

--Mike Stachura