Give Callaway Golf some credit. While it's easy to get lost in the count of drivers on the shelf at any given time, the company has done an excellent job differentiating its various models. If you don't have a pretty good idea which Callaway driver is right for you, you probably haven't been paying close enough attention.

For the Forgiveness Crowd: Big Bertha Fusion

Callaway's most recent release is the Big Bertha Fusion. Noteworthy for its Exo-Cage construction, Triaxial carbon crown, and its resemblance to the FT-iZ, the Fusion is arguably Callaway's  most aggressive foray into the easy to hit, high MOI category.

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All of that, which stems from Fusion's low back center of gravity, would usually make the Big Bertha Fusion driver a solid option for those looking for more forgiveness and a bit of help getting the ball in the air. And while that's certainly true, Callaway has added an extra (and intriguing) variable to the fitting equation.

In addition to the standard 45.5" shaft offering, Callaway is giving golfers the option to choose a shorter, and presumably more playable 44.5" offering. The theory - and it's supported by nearly every reputable fitter I know - is that the shorter shaft will provide better control. You'll hit more fairways and shoot lower scores because whatever distance you lose from shaft length, you'll get back from more consistently centered contact.

Is that true? What are the trade-offs? To find out, we put Big Bertha Fusion to the test with both 44.5" and 45.5" shafts.

HOW WE TESTED:

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  • Testing was done using a stock Callaway Big Bertha Fusion Driver with UST Recoil 450|F4 stiff flex shaft.
  • Head weights were changed with shafts to make testing, more or less, swing weight neutral.
  • Testing was done with drivers in the neutral (9°) loft position. The same head was used at both lengths.
  • Eight golfers with handicaps ranging from 0-15 and driver swing speeds between 80 and 110 mph participated in this test.
  • Head data was not collected for one tester. As a result he could not be included in the impact charts.
  • Each tester hit 12-14 shots with each club (frequently rotating between clubs).
  • We used a less aggressive outlier detection methodology to provide better insight into shaft length related differences.
  • All testers hit Bridgestone B300-RX Golf Balls.
  • Ball Data was recorded using a Foresight GC2 Launch Monitor.

THE DATA

We've segmented the data into three main categories.

Distance - Our standard launch monitor chart provides insight into the performance parameters (ball speed, launch angle, spin, total yards, etc.) you're accustomed to seeing.
Accuracy - Dispersion graphs illustrate differences in accuracy and dispersion (shot area) between the two shaft lengths tested.
Consistency - Face impact plots and deviations in ball speed and carry distances provide quantifiable metrics for forgiveness.

DISTANCE

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OBSERVATIONS:

  • Club speed for the 44.5" shaft is appreciably slower than the longer option Shaft.  This is to be expected as there is a direct correlation between length and head speed. It's why we swing our wedges slower than our driver.
  • While still below the 45.5" Ball speed and Total Yards deficits are again only marginally smaller with the 44.5" shaft; with the 44.5" shaft producing 2.5 yards more carry and 3 yards more total distance on average.
  • Launch angle and spin differences are insignificant.
  • The shorter shaft produced shots that were, on average, roughly 2.57 yards closer to the center line than the 45.5" model.
  • Using an average of the Top 3 drivers as a metric, testers were 3.67 yards longer on average with their best drives, with 6 of 8 testers producing longer drivers with the longer shaft.

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DOWN-RANGE DISPERSION

To provide a better visual of shot area and downrange dispersion, we created this chart showing the comparative performance from 7 of our testers, along with a composite average of all testers.

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OBSERVATIONS:

  • For 5 of the 7 testers shown, dispersion was tighter with the 44.5" shaft.
  • The composite average shows dispersion for the short shaft was tighter than the stock shaft.
  • While left/right dispersion (offline) was tighter across almost all testers, vertical dispersion (distance) appears marginally more consistent with the longer length shaft.
  • Using our shot area calculation as the metric, the 45.5" length shaft produced landing areas (meters squared) nearly double that of shots hit with the 44.5" shaft.

CONSISTENCY

OBSERVATIONS:

  • The above chart shows the relative impact areas for each tester, along with a composite average.
  • Face impact dispersion on the composite average suggests the 1" shorter shaft led to more consistent ball striking.
  • 5 of the 7 testers shown produced appreciably more consistent striking with the shorter shaft, 1 tester (JB) showed nearly identical results, while 1 tester (SR) was significantly more consistent with the longer shaft.
  • Using the Standard Deviation of Ball Speed as a metric for consistency, the results were nearly identical, with the data suggesting a very slight advantage for the 45.5" shaft.
  • Using the Standard deviation of Carry as a complimentary metric, the longer shaft also produced more consistent ball speed, with 5 of 8 testers being more consistent with the 45.5" shaft than with the 44.5".
  • Noteworthy, the two double-digit handicaps who participated in this test, produced more consistent ball speed with the 44.5" option. We believe this advantage be more pronounced with higher handicap golfers.

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THE VERDICT:

So, does the shorter shaft produce better results? As with many things in the golf equipment world, it depends.

  • Performance data suggests negligible differences between the stock length (45.5") and the shorter (44.5") shaft.
  • While the longer shaft can offer ball speed and distance advantages, the shorter shaft provides a significant reduction in short area, and by extension, accuracy.
  • For a majority of testers, and on average, the face impact area was shown to be significantly smaller and more consistent with the 44.5" shaft.
  • The data we collected suggests that for those looking for improved accuracy and consistency, the 44.5" shaft is the better option.
  • Golfers willing to sacrifice accuracy and impact consistency for a few extra yards should consider the 45.5" shaft.

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