By Brian Sommer, PH.D
The golf industry is not short on marketing jargon as in the past decade the industry manufactures have released golf clubs with different driver head shapes, sizes, color schemes intended to help with alignment, shallower and deeper faces, face milling, internal weights, external adjustable weights, tracks and adjustability options for different face angles, lie angles, and lofts. As the industry becomes more reliant on Trackman and other data analyzing software to help golfers work with club fitters to “dial in” the best launch conditions possible. 2019’s word is “speed”, from golf balls, to irons, to drivers and fairway woods. Manufacturers are touting clubs that provide more speed for the golfers, resulting in greater distance. Even company’s like Titliest has gotten into the speed game, typically known for excellent design and clean looks, Titleist products which were preferred by lower handicaps and professionals have released a new series or metal woods aimed at providing more speed for golfers
Departing from their traditional two-year product development and release schedule, Titleist has now released four new drivers in 2019 alone. Starting with the TS 2 and T3 both 460cc head sizes earlier in the year, followed by the TS1 and TS4 a few months later, the TS4 coming in at 430cc. Not only is the number of clubs released in 2019 a departure for Titliest, so is the naming of the new line of metal woods. The transition from the D-series to the new TS series marks, perhaps a first for the company. T standing for Titleist and S indicating “speed”, Titlest is signaling its desire to stay relevant in the driver market by designing and releasing a driver that has more “speed”. The question really though is, does more speed really exist? In an industry that is so regulated by the governing bodies of the USGA and R&A, who have implemented the C.O.R. regulations for drivers, which limits the amount of “spring like effect” or “trampoline” effect the face can produce to 0.83.
The new 2019 lineup of Titleist drivers come equipped with the company’s SureFit hosel design, which allows golfers to “dial in” the loft and lie of the club to better match the golfer’s swing. The TS1 is a lightweight version of the other three drivers specifically targeted to golfers with slower swing speeds weighing in at a paltry 275grams, compared to the TS 2, 3 and 4 which are heavier. The TS2 replaces the old 917 D2 driver, which has the highest MOI, or moment of inertia theoretically reducing twisting at impact resulting in straighter shots. The new TS3 is the replacement for the 917 D3, it has the most adjustability and lower, more penetrating ball flight, resulting in the golfer having more shot shaping options. The TS3 is the same driver that is used by Justin Thomas, and Adam Scott, two Titleist Ambassadors and two of the best drivers on the PGA Tour.
The TS4 is Acushnet’s rebuttal to TaylorMade’s M5 Tour driver, each having a 430cc head size, and both being marketed as low spin alternatives to the larger 460cc driver heads. Titleist has reported that the TS4 can reduce a golfer’s spin rate by 300-400rpms, which could be significant for some golfers.
There are two things that I am very sensitive about when it comes to golf clubs, sound, feel. Each of these two aspects of golf clubs are critical in performance, as any frequency changes or feels changes can lead to manipulations of the golf swing to produce the desired sound and feel. Over the past 7-8 years I have been disappointed with the overall sound and feel of the golfer’s drivers available in the industry. So, when I decided to upgrade from the current model (TourStage X-drive, 9.5 degree) driver, released in 2008, I have had in my bag I was skeptical and apprehensive. Unfortunately, many of my worries were confirmed when I began testing newer drivers. I hit the latest from Callaway, Ping, PXG, TaylorMade, Cobra, and Titleist. Each driver I hit, was equipped with the Fujikura Atmos Tour Spec 7x, the Titiest drivers were each set to SureFit hosel setting B-1, to maintain consistency. After testing numerous heads, configurations I the decision came down to Titliest. I have used the 917 D3, TS2, and TS3 drivers. They were good, but I found each of them to be loud, (resembling an aluminum bat) hollow feeling and lacked head weight, compared to the TourStage/Bridgestone driver that I have used for more than a decade, which has a much softer face and more muted sound comparable to a wooden bat crack. Ultimately, I settled on the newest Titleist Driver, which I review here.
The look of the TS4: As a golf traditionalist, and a player who has never quite found the right driver since the OEM’s moved to manufacturing 460 cc driver heads almost exclusively. I was excited to look and test the TS4, the 430cc head is very nice, it reminds me of the old traditional golf clubs that weren’t too bulbous. In fact, the TS4 looks very much like a miniature version of the TS1, 2 and 3 drivers, with more roundness and less pear shape compared to its larger counterparts. I think that it is one of the better-looking drivers available on the market today. On looks alone, it has the chance to challenge my old gamer for a spot in my bag.
The sound and feel of the TS4 is a departure from other TS drivers and virtually all other drivers that have been released in the past couple of years. With the industry focusing on “speed” the new drivers are being designed with thinner, lighter faces, resulting in the tin-can sound and hollow feel. From my experience this is not a positive transition, with sound and feel being so important to me as a golfer, I lose the feel of the club through the swing, and at impact the sound and feel are misleading. All too often I have hit drives that felt solid, travel short distances and apparently poorly struck shots fly further than expected. The ball doesn’t stay on the club face for very long, so it’s harder to distinguish solid contact. Leaving me to yearn for the old forged faced drivers of years gone by. However, the TS4 has challenged the notion, that golf equipment was better when…the TS4 driver is the closest driver to mimicking the sound and feel of the older forged face of my TourStage/Bridgestone. Perhaps this is due to the smaller club head design and the internal CG. With the head being smaller the face cannot be thinned out quite as much and the CG is closer to the face resulting, I think, in better sound and feel.
I have used the TS4 for about two months now and have not seen a significant overall performance boost from my previous driver. The TS4, has a low, penetrating ball flight, that does not balloon, the trajectory resembles the old-style drivers which flew lower. Compared to the 2019 approach where drivers are built to fly higher and spin less. The smaller head size made it easier to find the center of the face more often, I know this sounds contrary to today’s approach. But when testing the larger 460cc heads, I found that the center of the face was harder to find, the faces are so stretched out and the club heads so large, that although you can see performance benefits from off center hits, finding the center was elusive. In my opinion, which bore out in my experience, the smaller head had less area to hit the ball with, resulting in more shots being struck in the center of the face, resulting in more solid contact and better shot dispersion. Ultimately, I found myself swinging with much more freedom, and certainly that the ball was going to fly at my intended target. The performance of the TS4 is excellent and is by far the best new driver I have hit recently. If you are a player that is looking for a modern day classic and want a driver that looks like they used to, with traditional looks, sound and feel, the TS4 is great option.
Brian Sommer is a former golf teaching professional and former Division II College Men’s and Women’s golf coach who has competed at the amateur and professional levels.
A scratch player, Sommer holds a holds Ph.D. with dissertation on methods of teaching and learning golf. He has created online groups/blogs that dive into the game of golf entitled “Uncommon Golf Conversations” and “Blind Spots.’’ Each is geared to discussing and exploring the nature of golf, learning, and coaching.
Photo: The Acushnet Company