Early in the year, Callaway made a splash in the golf world with the introduction of their new drivers, the X Hot (which had a standard and Pro model) and the RAZR Fit Xtreme. Both clubs were solid offerings and gained big followings. When I wrote both the X Hot Pro driver and iron reviews, I mentioned how Callaway had decided to scale back on it's product line, which was in my opinion a good thing. They had too many products going at the same time and I felt that it led to a bit of confusion on the part of the consumer. Put simply, there were too many choices. It seems that Callaway is starting to go back that way already, as they have introduced a third line of drivers, the FT Optiforce. This driver isn't aimed at replacing either the RAZR Fit or X Hot line (in fact, we'll see the X2 Hot line in early 2014), but as a third choice for consumers.
The new club has a number of features, some of which haven't been seen before with a Callaway driver, including a new hosel design. Read on to find out if this is the latest and greatest of Callaway drivers or just another club crowding the shelf.
Test Model Details
For the purpose of this review, I received the 440cc version of the Callaway FT Optiforce driver. This club comes with a 9.5° starting loft, which can be adjusted down one or up two degrees. I recieved the Diamana (Blue) S+ shaft (one of two stock shafts) in stiff flex. For those interested the other stock shaft is the lighter (43g) Project X PXv.
Technology and Design
The new FT Optiforce driver comes in two basic versions; a 460cc head with a starting loft of 10.5° and a 440cc head with a starting loft of 9.5°. Unlike previous drivers from the company, you won't see multiple loft offerings beyond those two and that is because of the new Advanced Optift Hosel. Going back to the original RAZR Fit driver, Callaway has used the original Optifit Hosel which allowed the player to select either a square, open, or closed face at address. There was also a "tour authentic" version of this hosel which added a second ring and giving more sub choices. The new version of the hosel, however, is entirely different. While it still allows for face angle changes, it also allows for changes to the loft of the club; one degree down, or up to two degrees up, in one degree increments. So, for instance, if you normally play a 8.5° driver, you'd get the 9.5° and bump it down one. The nice thing about this new hosel is you can make these loft adjustments without effecting the face angle of the club, although if you wanted to add a draw bias, you can do that as well. It's worth noting that there is no fade bias.
Perhaps the only downside to the introduction of the new Advanced Optifit Hosel is that if you have a shaft from a previous Callaway driver you won't be able to use it in the new club as the new and old hosel designs are not interchangeable. However, it appears that at least the next few driver releases from Callaway will feature the same hosel design as this so going forward users will be able to swap out shafts.
While the new hosel may be the biggest change to the driver, there are a couple of other key features of the new driver, both of which focus around speed. The first is the Speed Frame Face which is a combination of VFT and hyperbolic face technology. This technology serves two purposes; first it creates a larger sweet spot allowing for more forgiveness and longer drives, even on mishits. The second purpose is that it saves weight which can then be redistributed to increase the MOI.
The second key feature is the Speed Optimized Technology. Basically all that means is that the club features a combination of a light weight head and shaft as well as an advanced aerodynamic head shape that helps reduce drag by 23%. This leads to higher swing speeds and more distance.
Even though Callaway touts this driver as being one that is full of new technology, it hides it very well and is one of the more traditional looking drivers you will see. The driver has a glossy black crown that is absent of any graphics, logos, or alignment aids. The crown transitions to a black PVD face which has a few grooves and a stylized X marking the sweet spot of the club. The sole of the club is also fairly simple, having only the Callaway logo on the toe and "FT Optiforce" on the heel. The starting loft of the club (9.5° in the case of the 440cc head) is printed on the hosel. The club has a nice black/grey/white color scheme that fits nicely with the understated look.
While the look is a simple one, it is one that I prefer. My previous driver, the X Hot pro, was nice, and I enjoyed the matte grey finish very much, but I like the black even better. It's simple and sleek and gives minimal distractions when you are getting ready to hit the big drive. Also, while the crown is glossy, I haven't noticed too much of an issue with glare at address.
Along with the club is the standard sock style head cover, which is what I prefer. Some of the magnetic style ones are cool, but they tend to get knocked off easily in my experience. The one included with the FT Optiforce goes on and comes off easily and, like the club has an understated look to it.
For me, looks are an important part of any club, as the right looking club will help to inspire confidence, but at the end, what it really matters is if the club performs. At one time I swung one of those huge, ugly, awful sounding square drivers because it was working for me at the time. So, does this club perform, or does it just look good?
Overall, I would have to say that this club performs very well. At the time I got it, I was very happy with my X Hot Pro driver and honestly anticipated using the FT Optiforce enough to write this review and then putting the X Hot back in the bag. I was very happy with X Hot Pro with my only complaint being that I was starting to hit it just a little bit too high. In fact, that is what led me to trying out this driver, I wanted something with a little less loft and thought that the 9.5° of this club vs the 10.5° of my X Hot Pro might help. I also liked the fact that I'd have the option to bump this back to 10.5° if I wanted. However, at this point I've played more than enough with the club to write the review and yet it's staying in the bag, and that is because in the end, the thing works, and it works well for me. Just as two examples, at our recent Sand Trap outing at Oak Quarry in October, I hit driver on every par 4 and 5 and I found the fairway 11 times. Yesterday was an even better day as I found 12 of 14 fairways, and the two I missed were only by a few yards. There is a current thread on the forum, what is more important the short game or the long game, and I can tell you 100% it's the long game, and for me that starts off the tee. When I can find the fairway off the tee and set myself up for a straight forward approach, it leads to lower scores and lately I've been playing well.
For me, distance wise, this club really isn't anything special. Compared to previous drivers in my bag it's as long but not really any longer than any of them. When I really square one up I can get it out there 260 or so and I've seen my averages hover around 240. Pretty typical for me and nothing I'm complaining about. I've never been a long hitter, so for me the accuracy becomes more key, and like I said above, this club has it for me.
One thing that I mentioned earlier was that part of the reason that I wanted to review this club was the loft of 9.5°. At the time I got it, I was doing something different in my swing, and I was seeing some very, very high drives and thought that it might help. With the club at 9.5° I have seen the trajectory come down a bit, however I did end up putting it up to 10.5° over the last week or so just to see how high the ball would end up going and while the ball flight is higher, it's not nearly as high as it was.
Another important aspect of a driver to me is the way that it sounds at impact. As I said earlier, I use to use one of those big, ugly square things that sounded like you were at a college baseball game when it was it. While that driver performed for a while, part of the reason why it got booted from my bag was the sound. The good news with this driver is that it sounds good, especially on center strikes. Hits out towards the heel or the toe of the club sound a little bit thinner but still not bad. This is kind of nice, actually, as combined with the feel you can tell where you missed. On a sound related note, the only annoying thing I've found is depending on which way the wind is blowing, when you take the club back there is an audible whoosh towards the top of the back swing. It's not something that I've ever noticed with my other drivers and suspect it is due to the aerodynamic design of the club head. However, that is a very minor complaint.
While I think Callaway is getting dangerously close to having too many concurrent products with this, the RAZR Fit Xtreme, the X Hots, and the upcoming reintroduction of the Big Bertha line, they definitely have a good one with the FT Optiforce driver. In this driver, they have created a big stick that has a great, simple look at address and one that is easy to keep the ball in the fairway. Off the tee it sounds great and it is on par with other drivers I've hit as far as distance. Add in the new Advanced Optifit Hosel, and I think you have a real winner. It has always been nice to be able to adjust the loft and face angle of the club but isn't something that I ever really did because doing one always effected the other, with the new hosel, it can be done independently of one another so as your swing progress and changes, you can still have a driver that fits your needs. While they may be coming out with new clubs, it's going to be hard to kick this one out of the bag.