I need more help but I don’t want to give up distance: The best mid-handicap drivers of 2024

Modern drivers are built for either power or forgiveness, but what if we need both? Today’s Golfer reviews the best drivers for mid-handicap golfers in 2024

Picking from all the models of new drivers in 2024 as a mid-handicap can be a more difficult experience than expected. We aren’t struggling to hit the driver so much that the ridiculously forgiving head is going to be a game-changer for us but we also know we can’t stand up there with something super low-spin and still get the most out of it with consistency.

So what should we be looking for from a new driver? It may sound obvious (and somewhat unhelpful) but something that sits in the middle of everything is our golden zone.

And by ‘golden zone’, what we mean is it has to help with our shortcomings. We need a product that can provide the confidence for us to swing freely but shouldn’t also spin up to the moon as most weight-back/high-MOI heads might do. We need a driver that keeps the ball moving as far down the fairway as we should expect from our speed but not something that ends up dropping out of the sky like a Roger Federer forehand, largely the remit of weight-front/low-spin designs.

With that in mind, as we begin our search like the young, blonde-haired child of the fable’s fame, which metaphorical bowl of porridge could be just right to satiate our particular tastes?

TG Test Pro Neil Wain testing the latest golf equipment

How we tested drivers

Here at Today’s Golfer, we make sure that you understand why we’ve decided on our selections, so we have exact criteria for choosing our ‘best of’ equipment. The short of it is that we’re looking at as many data points as we feel are necessary to create a fair appraisal of each club – in this case, drivers.

For drivers, the testing spec is 10.5° loft with a stock option stiff flex shaft. A launch monitor analyzes impact location and records where shots go and how they fly along the way.

For every model, 12 shots are collected all of which our test pro is happy with strike on. Only once all clubs within a test have been hit do we start looking to analyze the data. If a driver is spinning significantly higher than the optimal level we move both loft and weight until the setup is as optimal as it can be for our testing pro. Where this happens, we show both the optimized and non-optimized data sets so golfers can see differences in the chosen settings.

The exemplar of the mid-handicap driver

Best Overall
Callaway's Ai Smoke Max may well be the exemplar of the mid-handicap driver category. The tech story is, in simple terms, the idea that you don't need to sacrifice speed for forgiveness.

Utilizing a new supercomputer, Callaway have tasked their machine with reiterating the face design of 2023 Paradym's successor to focus on creating more consistent ball speed across the entirety of the hitting area. This means that the help for off-center strikes on the Smoke comes from the front of the club, not by pulling weight further back in the head - the traditional way of raising the Moment of Inertia.

Callaway says, and based on our testing we also believe, that this allows the Center of Gravity (CG) to stay closer to the face and increase ball speed on middle strikes while letting the 'Ai Smart Face' take care of the lesser strikes we can sometimes be on the other end of.

From personal experience with this club, I struggle to find a fault with it. It does everything I'd want from a middle-of-the-series performer: I got great ball speed and carry distance, the bad shot stayed straighter and didn't see the drop-off I expected them to, and they've even approved the visual appeal by going from the navy blue to an easier-to-look-at dark, carbon fiber-style grey.

Read our Full Review of the Callaway Ai Smoke Driver.

TG Test Pro Data (Tensei S shaft):
Ball Speed: 161.5 mph | Backspin: 2212 rpm | Carry: 272 yds | Shot Area: 210.6 yds2

Pros

  • No difficulty achieving good launch
  • 'Ai Smart Face' retains ball speed across the face
  • Improved crown visual from last year's Paradym

Cons

  • Not easy to flight down when required
Loft 9º / 10.5º / 12º
Stock Shafts Tensei AV Blue 55g / Denali Black 60g, 70g / Cypher 2.0 40g
Stock Grip Golf Pride Tour Velvet 360 50g

Maximum forgiveness

Most forgiving
I know we started this article by saying that maximum forgiveness isn't always what's needed for a mid-handicap golfer but this is my exception.

The G430 10K is the most forgiving driver on the market, baring maybe the Taylormade Qi10 Max, but it's not actually the forgiveness that has this model included in the list. We wanted to include the 10K over its cousin, the G430 Max, because of the profile of the head. Looking at the shape of both of these Ping drivers, you can really notice the stretched-back design in the 10K, helping pull weight into the rear of the head to achieve the 10K MOI rating.

What isn't as obvious, though, is that to maintain that shape while also staying inside the 460cc size limit, the profile has also had to have had some depth taken out of it. This shallower setup has also pulled CG lower down, and with lower CG, we get lower spin.

This was exactly the case in my time with 10K, and why it's the recommendation over the G430 Max. Pairing a driver with this much forgiveness, along with the naturally lower spin of the head shape, makes this a formidable product for many golfers.

The only downside is that, with the shallow face, it may not suit golfers who miss high as much as it helps with heel-toe misses.

Read our Full Review of the Ping G430 10K Driver.

TG Test Pro Data (9°):
Ball Speed: 163.1 mph | Backspin: 1993 rpm | Carry: 270 yds | Shot Area: 542.4 yds2

Pros

  • One of the most forgiving drivers on the market
  • Lower spin than most models in it's category
  • Sneaky long

Cons

  • Shallow face height may not suit every golfer
Lofts 9º / 10.5º / 12º
Stock Shafts Ping Alta CB 55g / Tour 2.0 Chrome 60g / Tour 2.0 Black 65g
Stock Grips Golf Pride Tour Velvet 360 50g

Still a great product after two years

Most Adjustable
Although due for a replacement later this year, I still think this is a great product to consider for a mid-tier golfer.

The TSR2 boasts a multi-plateau face design, built around creating consistent ball speed across the whole area of strike, made from high-grade ATI 425 titanium, as well as a 16-way fitting sleeve, and adjustable weights that range from -6g less than standard to +6g. The shaft options available both from stock and custom ranges are some of the most varied on offer from a major manufacturer.

The TSR2 has gained its position on the list for us because of the incredible range of setups that are achievable in just one head. Trust me, if you can't find a configuration in this range of options to suit you, it's no longer the club's fault!

The TSR2 is also on the list over the TSR3 because of said face design. The TSR3 is fantastic in its own right, but the premium with that model is based on finding the middle, and as we're mid-range handicaps, we know we don't always have a guarantee of that much-needed contact.

Read our Full Review of the Titleist TSR2 Driver.

TG Test Pro Data (10°):
Ball Speed: 161.1 mph | Backspin: 2266 rpm | Carry: 271 yds | Shot Area: 792.3 yds2

Pros

  • Highly customizable for individual needs
  • Shaft options are industry-leading
  • An all-rounder in performance

Cons

  • Maybe too much of a Jack-of-all-trades
Lofts 8º / 9º / 10.5º / 11º
Stock Shafts Tensei AV Blue 55g / HZRDUS CB 55g / HZRDUS 4G 60g / Tensei 1K Black 65g
Stock Grip Golf Pride Tour Velvet 360 50g

Offers a ton of performance

Best for Personalizing
The Qi10 feels like the forgotten middle child in its family but it really shouldn't. Okay, it's not quite as forgiving as the Max or as distance-orientated as the LS but I only think that helps the case for putting one of these in your bag.

The standard model still offers a ton of performance in both categories mentioned above, while not sacrificing in either direction. The feeling that comes to mind when hitting this driver is similar to how I felt when I first hit the OG M2 in 2016 - a real unicorn offering that you'd be hard-pressed to find a golfer that this doesn't work for.

A respectable variety of stock shafts (and the ability to order this with Tiger's upcharge Tour AD-VF shaft) adds to the appeal that the crowd of golfers playing Taylormade drivers already are well aware of. The carbon face, now in a midnight blue instead of bright red, has a more subtle muted sound and feel compared to other brands out there helping it to stand out in the bay when you first try them.

A small bonus, for those who like to stand out amongst their peers, is that Qi10 is available in multiple colors in what Taylormade is calling 'Designer Series', giving you the chance to make the driver truly yours.

Read our Full Review of the Taylormade Qi10 Driver.

TG Test Pro Data (10°):
Ball Speed: 159.2 mph | Backspin: 2338 rpm | Carry: 267 yds | Shot Area: 385 yds2

Pros

  • Plenty of power on offer
  • More forgiving than anything Taylormade has previously made
  • Designer Series is a cool way to stand out from the rest

Cons

  • Adjustability isn't as extensive as other brands
Lofts 9º / 10.5º / 12º
Stock Shafts Speeder NX 50g / Tensei AV Blue 60g / Tensei AV Black 65g / Diamana T+ 60g
Stock Grip Golf Pride Z-Grip Rubber 52g

More playable for the mid-level

Best Looking
I've found Cobra has been something of an all-or-nothing brand over the last few years. The drivers have been significant in pushing ball speed to the very limits, no doubt, but how usable the driver actually is seems to change every year. F9 was fast, the follow-up with Speedzone took the speed and added control, then RAD Speed went back to distance before LTDx returned the control.

So it was again with last year's powerful Aerojet. The difference for me with the new Darkspeed line-up is that it feels more thought out than before. There's a clear definition in your options this time, with the LS playing differently to the draw-bias Max and to the model we're interested in, the X.

With ball speed in the same zip code as the LS model but with a higher descent angle and more spin, it becomes a lot more playable for the mid-level golfer. The dispersion is extremely close to the Max head (and 1/3 of the LS) while increasing in distance when you compare them.

All this to say you get the consistency of the forgiving head but the power of the LS. What else do you need?

Read our Full Review of the Cobra Darkspeed X Driver.

TG Test Pro Data (Weight Back):
Ball Speed: 161 mph | Backspin: 2375 rpm | Carry: 268 yds | Shot Area: 370.8 yds2

Pros

  • More stable than last year's Aerojet
  • The matte black crown looks great
  • The softest-feeling driver this year

Cons

  • Slightly higher backspin compared to its peers
Lofts 9º / 10.5º / 12º
Stock Shafts UST Mamiya LIN-Q M40X Red 5 / UST Mamiya LIN-Q M40X Blue 6 / UST Mamiya LIN-Q M40X White 6
Stock Grip Lamkin Crossline Black 48g

FAQS: Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered a Mid-Handicap?
A Mid-Handicap golfer is considered to be someone generally shooting scores from 82-92 or a 10-20 handicap. These golfers are capable of playing good golf and don’t struggle to hit a club but haven’t reached the levels of control you see from single-figure golfers.

How do I choose the right driver?
The best way to know what works best for you is still to go and get custom fitted for a driver. A good fitting will find an improvement over your current driver and help you understand why the new one is right for you so you can trust your new purchase.

What is the most popular driver on the PGA Tour?
The most popular driver on the PGA Tour is the Titleist TSR series but that doesn’t mean its the best product for you. We’d still advise you go and get fitted, just like all the players on the PGA Tour have been.

How often should you change drivers?
A harder question to answer! Ideally, we’d like to see woods see 4-5 years of use before you change them (irons are a bit longer at 9-10 years), but it is also your hobby to invest in how you wish so there’s nothing wrong with changing your driver every year.

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About the author

Lewis Daff

Lewis Daff joined the Today’s Golfer digital team in 2024, having spent more than a decade in both big box golf retail and independent stores, working as a club fitter and builder.

Experienced with every level of golfer, from beginner to professional, he has achieved Master Fitter and Builder status with most major manufacturers, including Mizuno, Taylormade, and Callaway, helping him to cement both a wide and deep knowledge base. Lewis specializes in Clubs, Shafts, Training Aids, Launch Monitors and Grips.

In Lewis’ bag is Taylormade Qi10 Driver, Taylormade SIM Max Fairway Woods (3-15, 5-18), Wilson Staff D9 Forged 3-iron, Srixon ZX7 MKii Irons (4-PW), Titleist SM9 Wedges (52*, 60*), Toulon San Diego Putter, and Callaway Chrome Tour Ball.

Talk to Lewis about why steel shafts are now dead and graphite is the only way forward or any other equipment you’d like to debate via his email.

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