Game Changer or Placebo?
Movable weights in drivers is a topic almost as contentious as bifurcating the rules of golf. Some golfers won’t buy a driver without them. Others find them overly complicated, intimidating even.
Regardless of your opinion, movable weights seem to be here to stay, so we decided to explore whether or not they make a real difference in the performance of a driver.
Myth #1 – Movable weights affect launch and spin
Myth #2 – Movable weights affect shot shape and dispersion
Myth #3 – Movable weights affect forgiveness
Myth #4 – Movable weights affect feel
How We Tested
For this test, we brought together five testers, all with single digit handicaps. Each player hit the same driver (TaylorMade M5) with the weights in four different positions: forward, back, heel, and toe. Each player selected a shaft that fit their swing and used it throughout the test.
We collected data on every swing but only counted five drives per setting, each with a smash factor above 1.44, toward our totals.
All testing was done at, and with the help of, Club Champion.
Though the results were not always predictable, there is no question that launch and spin were affected by the position of the weights.
In comparing their highest launching setting to their lowest launching setting, our testers had differences of 3.2, 3.7, 2.1, 2, and 2.8 degrees. It is worth noting that the forward weight position, which should be the lowest launching, produced the expected result for only three of our five testers.
The movable weights had a large impact on spin as well. On average, our testers had a 728 RPM difference between their lowest and highest spinning setting. Four of five testers did have their lowest spin with the weight forward, and three had their highest spin with the weight back.
Since the movable weights impacted launch and spin so significantly, it follows that they also affected distance. On average, our testers gained 15 yards of carry distance by shifting the weights from their worst fit to their best.
One of the major selling points of adjustable weight drivers is the idea that you can fix a slice or a hook by moving weights. Our data suggests that it’s not that simple. We did not see our players’ shot patterns move to the right or left when the weight was moved to the toe or heel.
That said, there is a plausible reason why we didn’t see a strong correlation between shot shape and weight position: all our testers were good players. When these players felt the club change, they made compensations to offset the change in weight. Some of the testers even stated that they felt themselves manipulating their swings to produce the shot they wanted.
While we didn’t see the movable weights shift shot patterns cleanly left and right, they had a large impact on dispersion. You can see the shot patterns of the five testers above. Each player clearly had one weight setting that was much better or much worse than the rest.
Though the MOI of the driver is highest with the weight back, we found the boost in forgiveness difficult to prove. Only two players had their highest average ball speed with the weight back. Similarly, moving the weight back was no guarantee of tighter dispersion.
Some players did report that the club felt more forgiving with the weight back. One player said, “That shot definitely would have been a dud if the weights weren’t back.” Without tracking impact location, however, this is only anecdotal.
What we concluded is that the change in forgiveness is less significant than the player’s feel preference, at least for better players. If a player preferred the feel of the weight forward, no amount of extra MOI would offset forcing him to play a club that’s uncomfortable in his hands.
Of our five testers, four felt strongly that the movement of the weights changed the club’s feel. Their feedback was not always what they, or we, expected, nor did they all agree with each other. One player said they only felt the difference at impact; others felt it throughout the swing. Though everyone felt something different, it seems clear that movable weights did impact feel.
For Future Testing
One thing that we’re interested in is how different the results would be with mid or high handicap players. We favor testing with low handicap players because the data is much cleaner: there are far fewer wild shots and mishits. However, it would be interesting to see if higher handicap players would be more or less sensitive to the movement of weight.
Our hypothesis is that high handicap players would be less able to compensate for a weight position that did not fit them, and thus the differences between weight positions would be more dramatic.
We are also interested in testing other movable weight drivers and zeroing in on exactly how much weight needs to be moved to make a difference.
This test provided at least as many questions and opportunities for further testing as it did answers, but one thing is very clear: if you have movable weights in your driver, you can gain a lot by having them positioned correctly. Don’t settle for the weight position that is supposed to work for you. Book some time on a launch monitor, preferably with a club fitter, and test a variety of weight positions to find the one that gives you maximum distance and accuracy.