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Callaway FT Optiforce Drivers: Editor Review
Summary: Sure, they're lighter and potentially faster. But we love the way the OptiForce drivers look, sound and feel.
Speedy and sexy
Pros: Two different head options, a 440cc version and 460cc version, allow golfers to choose between a lower-launching, more penetrating flight, and a higher-launching, more forgiving option respectively. New aerodynamically efficient heads and light premium shaft offerings create the lightest drivers Callaway has ever released. The Advanced OptiFit hosel allows golfers to adjust the loft and lie of the driver.
Cons: Similar to Callaway’s X Hot line, neither OptiForce driver contains adjustable weights. While both drivers have subtle graphics, the 440 doesn’t have any marks on the crown. That could bother some golfers who prefer an alignment mark.
Bottom line: Both drivers live up to the marketing promise. With two premium stock shafts to choose from, both drivers are lighter and offer more adjustability than previous Callaway models. Most golfers will find the 460 launches higher with more forgiveness and has more consistent ball speeds across the face. Better players will favor the lower, more penetrating trajectory offered by the 440.
Mid-season product launches seem to be all the rage right now, and Callaway became part of it with the OptiForce. The current strategy at Callaway is to focus on new innovation, not just iterative products, and the company has been willing to release new clubs more often this year. Even though the X Hot line is still dominating commercials during tournaments, Callaway is moving full-steam ahead to bring golfers more speed (and hopefully more distance) with its lightest drivers yet, the OptiForce.
Callaway engineers understand that trying to be everything to everyone in one driver head is almost impossible. With that in mind, the FT OptiForce driver comes in two different head sizes — a 440 cubic centimeter head designed for better players interested in a more penetrating ball flight and a 460 cubic centimter head for players looking for more forgiveness and a higher launch. This allowed Callaway to modify everything from the head size, moment of inertia, center of gravity position, weight and even bulge radius to produce optimal conditions across the loft options in each head.
Both drivers feature Callaway’s Speed Optimized Technology, which is a combination of a lightweight aerodynamic head, light shaft and grip, designed to produce more ball speed and distance.
Speed Optimized Technology is combined with Callaway’s Speed Frame Face technology that creates a larger sweet spot and maximizes ball speeds across the face, even on mishits.
The stock shaft offerings should be considered premium shafts. The extremely light Project X PXV shaft only weighs 43 grams at the stock length of 46 inches. A more standard shaft, usually paired with the 440 head, is the Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana S+, and weighs just 64 grams. Both shafts are available as stock options with either head in several flexes — 5.0, 5.5, 6.0 and 6.5 in the PXV 43, and R, S and X in the Diamana S+.
With the OptiForce drivers, Callaway also introduced a new Advanced OptiFit hosel that expands the ability of golfers to adjust loft and lie. All a golfer has to do is line up the desired setting with the white tick marks on the hosel and they’re set.
When I was looking for a new driver last year, I was disappointed that Callaway didn’t offer more adjustable loft and lie modifications. The company’s Razr Fit Extreme and X Hot drivers, which were released in early 2013, came in several different lofts and had a three-way adjustable hosel: neutral (N), opened (O) or closed (C). Those settings corresponded to a driver’s face angle — opening the face lowered loft, while closing the face added loft.
Each OptiForce head comes in one loft — the 460 is stamped at 10.5 degrees and can be adjusted down 1 degree or up 2 degrees in one degree increments. The 440 head is stamped at 9.5 degrees and also can be adjusted down one degree or up two degrees in one degree increments. The driver can also be set to neutral or draw, which makes the lie angle of the driver more upright and encourages a more leftward starting trajectory (for right-handed golfers).
Changing the driver’s loft will change the face angle slightly (more loft closes the face, less loft opens the face), but the Advanced OptiFit hosel was designed to minimize those changes, which to many golfers may not even be noticeable at address.
Both FT OptiForce drivers are available now for $399.
Since we all have different current drivers, different swing speeds and different needs, I wanted to test the performance of the stock options you’ll find sitting on the rack at your local golf store. The 440 head with the Diamana S+ and the 460 head with the Project X PXV.
I tested the clubs over multiple sessions outdoor at a driving range during calm conditions. My playing swing speed averages around 105 mph and I can max out at around 110 mph, but for the testing I was swinging with my normal playing speed. My first test was at the range without a launch monitor. My goal was to simply see if the ball flight matched Callaway’s claims.
I started with the 460 head in the stock 10.5 degree loft and neutral position. After just the first swing — and over the course of about 20 swings — it was evident that the 460 was launching higher, and although it had a tendency to balloon up, still traveled a bit further on average than my gamer. The dispersion of the shots was pretty tight, even when hit off the heel or toe.
When I started hitting the 440, it was instantly apparent that even though these clubs are made of the same material, they are not the same. The ball flight was noticeably more penetrating, and unfortunately for me, the mishits weren’t quite as forgiving. Not bad, but I could tell we’re dealing with a smaller, better players head. Based simply on my own eyes, these clubs are doing exactly what Callaway claims.
I wanted to get on a FlightScope launch monitor and run a series of tests with multiple different settings. The Nike Golf 360 Fitting Center at Bentwater Golf Course in Acworth, Ga., was the closest option, and the teaching pro Justin Tackett was nice enough to let me take over the center for a few hours.
Most golfers know that so much goes into a proper fitting and the shaft plays a very large role. Since we’re all different, I decided to test four different configurations in each of the two clubs, throwing out mishits or misreads and looking at the averages. I also dialed in my launch conditions, but wanted to be able to report on results in multiple configurations. I tested both heads in the Neutral and Draw positions with 9.5 degree and 10.5 degree lofts.
Performance: FT OptiForce 460
I wasn’t surprised by what I found. FlightScope confirmed that the 460 head (which is 3 grams lighter than the 440 head) launched 1 degree higher on average, generated 1.5 mph more club-head speed and 1.1 mph more ball speed. Mishits off the toe and heel still resulted in really good ball speed. Hits off the toe only lost 1-to-2 mph of ball speed and the heel averaged a drop of 1 mph.
That sounds great, until we factor in spin and carry numbers. For my swing, the 460 was generating a whopping 600 rpm more spin on average, which resulted in some serious balloons, less roll and 2 yards less carry. Those don’t sound like big numbers, but it was a completely calm day. Put this driver in my hands with any wind, and I’m in trouble. Sure, the shaft plays a role, but the head is playing its part, too. To get closer to optimized launch conditions with the 460, I needed to adjust the loft down 1 degree to 9.5 and keep the lie adjustment in the neutral setting.
Performance: FT OptiForce 440
Unlike the 460, the 440 head performed very well across a wider range of settings. The launch angle was more consistent and the spin numbers were much more acceptable. Although the 460 head and shaft combo generated more speed, I was actually generating a more consistent and higher smash factor throughout the test. While that number isn’t always the best indicator, it is a good data point to reference. Mishits with the 440 resulted in slightly worse shots than the 460, which was expected, but it still generated good speeds. The 440 head will perform better for me in any condition and the optimal configuration is the stock setting of 9.5 degrees and neutral lie setting.
Both clubs, once I dialed in the launch conditions, outperform my current gamer in total carry. Golfers of all skill levels can find something good in both options, especially golfers looking for a higher launching more forgiving club. The 440, with its more penetrating flight, will be going straight into my bag.
Looks and Feel
Looks are subjective, but the FT OptiForce drivers are sexy.
On the 460 head, the black and red graphics on the crown, primary and secondary surfaces all tie together to create a sense of motion even when the driver is just sitting in your bag. The large, aerodynamic head shape sits nicely behind the ball and gives you a confident feeling that you’re not going to miss the sweet spot. The subtle graphics on the perimeter of the crown aren’t a distraction and the alignment mark creates symmetry as a clever representation of the design on the bottom of the club.
The 440 head is more traditional in shape and markings and should appeal to the purists. At address, the solid black head has a more traditional shape and although it is smaller than the 460, doesn’t look like a tiny driver.
In fact, the shape and size gave me the feeling that I would actually have more control over my shots and be able to launch my drives down the fairway and get them to roll for days. The stock blue Diamana S+ shaft caught my attention immediately as well the attention of a few other golfers on the range. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the alignment mark on the top of the 440 head, too. But if you’re used to having an alignment mark, not having it there isn’t a reason to write this club off. The club sits nice at address and still inspires a lot of confidence.
Looks aside, the first thing you’ll feel when picking up both clubs is the weight. Especially with the 460, the driver almost felt too light until I actually took my first swing. If speed is what you are after, you’ll start to believe this club will produce. The lighter weight on the 440 is still noticeable, but it wasn’t as stark as the 460.
It took me one hit to get excited about the OptiForce. The ball seems to jump off the face and the sound at impact is among the best out there right now. I recorded audio at the range of the OptiForce and a couple other drivers around me, and the sound of the OptiForce, even on mishits, was crisp and powerful. While the sound was consistent even on mishits, you can still feel exactly where you’re making contact, especially with the 440 head. The sweet spot feels like butter, but you know when you’ve mishit a ball, which is what I would want and expect in a good driver.
Callaway set out to create faster swing speeds and transfer that speed into faster ball speeds and more distance. We can debate whether lighter truly equals faster – and there are good debates on both sides – but there is no denying that the stock OptiForce offerings live up to the claims.
Instead of trying to offer a one-size-fits-all approach, golfers have two heads to choose from, both with different MOI and CG to optimize performance. Combined with the advanced OptiFit hosel, golfers of all skill levels can fine-tune their trajectory and maximize their distance off the tee. I suggest adding the FT OptiForce to the test list the next time you get fit for a new driver.