Golf Monthly’s Neil Tappin has put together his head-to-head driver test: TaylorMade M1 v Callaway Epic v PING G400 v Titleist 917 – to help offer some guidance for anyone in the market for a new driver.
Finding the perfect driver for your game can unlock a whole new level of performance. Whether you need to hit a few more fairways or find some extra yards, there is a driver out there with your name on it. Knowing which one, is the challenge we all face. In this head-to-head Driver Test: TaylorMade M1 v Callaway Epic v PING G400 v Titleist 917 – I have broken down the performance of all the drivers into six crucial categories. Aesthetics, forgiveness, power, feel, accuracy and value are the cornerstones of anyone’s buying decision. Hopefully the results below can help you make the smartest choice possible.
Head-to-head Driver Test: TaylorMade M1 v Callaway Epic v PING G400 v Titleist 917 – How we did the test
Each driver was set into a 9.5˚ head and we used an extra stiff or tour stiff shaft in each. We used the low spin versions of the Callaway Epic (Sub Zero), Ping G400 (LST) and the TaylorMade M1 was used in its’ low spin set up. Neil used the slightly higher spinning D2 Titleist driver because this was the model he was fitted into. He used the same premium golf balls with each driver and the results were captured using a Foresight Sports GC Quad launch monitor.
For me the driver with the biggest shelf appeal is the TaylorMade M1. It shows off its’ technology in a package that is modern and yet simple and fairly classic to look down on. It is also the most forgiving-looking driver of the four, with a sizeable head and face to look at at address. The Titleist 917 is more understated and for me lacked the excitement of the other drivers in this category.
The first thing to say here is that by forgiveness we are referring to the performance of the driver on off-centre hits. This is an area that all the manufacturers have focussed on since the ruling bodies placed a limit on golf club COR rates (how much the face springs at impact). As a result, all four of the models tested performed really consistently in this category. Picking a winner would be a matter of serious hair-splitting. One thing we would say is that if you haven’t upgraded your driver for a number of years, this is an area of performance you’ll find drastic improvements in.
For me there was a clear winner in this category. The Callaway Epic Sub Zero is a rocket. At 1600rpm the spin rate is very low but the launch was high enough at 14˚ to support that. The result was a medium ball flight that just hung in the air and was consistently carrying around the 296 mark. I hit one that carried over 300 yards, which is probably the longest drive I have ever hit. Both the TaylorMade M1 and PING G400 performed really well in this category too but it was impossible to ignore just how consistently powerful the Callaway Epic Sub Zero was.
This is another interesting criteria and one that threw up a surprise contender for me. Over the years I have preferred the feel of the likes of TaylorMade and Titleist over Ping because of the loud, sometimes tinny sound of the later. Ping has addressed this in the G400 and this driver sounds fantastic. It’s a far duller, more powerful contact and as a result the feel of the new G driver has been transformed. If I was to pick my favourite in this category, it would be the Callaway Epic SZ. That might be because of the power of the resulting flight but it feels very solid through the ball.
There was a winner for me in this category but it comes with a major caveat. I was fitted for the 917 D2 last year at the Titleist HQ in Carlsbad and came out with a fade biased version. As a result, I feel like I am more accurate with this driver and the results would back that up. Of course, you can move the weights in the M1 to deliver similar performance and so if I was picking one of these drivers purely on accuracy it would have to be one of these two.
The recommended retails price of the fours drivers is as follows: TaylorMade M1 £479, Callaway EPIC SZ £469, Titleist 917 D2 £450, Ping G400 £379. Obviously, the Ping G driver is considerably less expensive but that is in part down to its’ relative lack of adjustability. The Ping G400 sits more in line with the TaylorMade M2 in this category but having tested it extensively, Ping’s latest driver does offer excellent overall performance at a great price.
Head-to-head Driver Test: TaylorMade M1 v Callaway Epic v PING G400 v Titleist 917 – Verdict
As the results above show, finding the perfect driver for you is tricky. The good news is that all four models tested performed really well and I would happily put any of them in may bag. If I was going purely buy the numbers the Callaway Epic SZ would be the choice. It is long, feels great and provides plenty of forgiveness from a head that is relatively compact to look down on. However, for me the more pressing factor is accuracy and if I absolutely had to hit a fairway my choice would be the Titleist 917 D2. I felt more in control of this driver than the others.
One important point to make is that whichever brand you are leaning towards, we would thoroughly recommend a good custom fitting. This is the only way to dive into the numbers, test different set-ups and walk away with something that works both on the range and on the golf course.