It seems difficult to remember that as little as 15 years ago most handicap golfers would be well advised to leave a 1-wood at home. This was for the very good reason that most us couldn't hit them, at least, not with anything like the accuracy or consistency needed. Two things have changed all that - space-age technology and materials that mean we get a far bigger clubhead and hitting surface for the same weight, and improved peripheral, or perimeter weighting, which also offers considerably more forgiveness of off-centre strikes.
We also tended to buy woods in sets of three, often as an afterthought to a set of irons but usually matching them (or at least, bearing the same name). Now we're discriminating purchasers and to see a matched set of woods is comparatively rare. And yet despite the improvements of fairways woods and hybrid or utility clubs, the most treasured club in our bag is often the driver. It gives us the greatest distance, and sets up the way we play the rest of the hole. It may be true that in the pro game they still 'drive for show and putt for dough' but for most us handicap players, if we were given a choice of holing a lot of putts or hitting a lot of long, straight drives in a round, we'd opt for the driving. It's just more satisfying, somehow.
And so to the Ram FX V series 450 Ti driver which, you have to admit, is a heck of a mouthful and which for clarity and brevity's sake we will reduce to the 450 Ti. Ram as a company has been rather over-shadowed in recent years by the larger conglomerates, which is a bit of a shame. It is now one of those names, like McGregor and Hogan perhaps, looking to find its niche again in a marketplace that seems increasingly dominated by fewer and fewer yet bigger and bigger companies. But also like Hogan and McGregor, Ram has a long history of innovation and knows how to put together a good club. In its heyday contracted players included Gary Player and Tom Watson when both were pretty much at the peak of their powers and in conjunction with Watson it was one of the first manufacturers to successfully market a specialist range of wedges. And of course, Ram Zebra putters were among the best mallet-headed putters ever made and were a mainstay of Nick Price's game for many years.
In the last year or so we have heard good things about the FX recovery club, one of those utility get-you-out-of-anywhere hybrids that have become so popular, and the company's Wizard irons have been gaining a reputation as a well-made, affordable bit of kit (although ScottishGolf has tested neither) so we welcomed the chance to get our hands on this latest driver.
First up and the most obvious comment to make is that the 450 Ti is remarkably easy to hit. Even in these days of over-sized clubheads this looks big but it sits nicely to the ball and begs to be swung. The impression is that you couldn't possibly miss - and so it turned out to be. We tried, at the driving range, to hit a number of balls deliberately out of the heel or off the toe (and with our testers that wasn't too difficult) and yet almost all the resultant shots would have been somewhere in play. The same applied on the course. Over the last couple of seasons the straightness of my driving has been one of my greatest (only?) assets but this Ram improved my stats by at least one fairway a round - from an average of eight or nine up to nine or 10. And that's significant.
I also tend to hit a low ball from the tee but that changed with the 450 Ti, which claims a high launch angle and in our experience this is no idle boast. For the first time in years I watched the ball soar high from takeoff and very pleasant it was too. However, there's a downside insofar that this higher ball flight, for me at least, translated into a loss of between 5-10 yards in distance. I do not generate tremendous clubhead speed and always depend more on accuracy than distance to keep my handicap competitive. But a player with a quicker swing or greater clubhead speed would really benefit from this driver.
It looks good, too, with a clubhead made from a mix of carbon-graphite and titanium but, because we like to tease you, we have saved the absolutely best piece of news for last - it costs £99 and for the money is a remarkably good piece of equipment. It is available in 9.5, 10.5 and 12 degrees of loft (we tested the 10.5) right-hand with a regular shaft but only 10.5 degrees, which we suspect will be by far the most popular option, in left-hand versions. The head on the comparable ladies club is 380cc.
There are, as we will continue to say whenever we get a chance, a number of not-so-big manufacturers out there producing extremely competitive golf equipment. Ram is one of them and this driver can only add to the company's reputation.
|| 20 - SEPTEMBER 2004