Cleveland Launcher XL Driver: If you like “long and straight”

Cleveland Golf is historically known for its wedges and putters. Recent Cleveland driver offerings have also been extremely strong, however. In 2021, Cleveland’s Launcher Driver line literally expanded Cleveland’s august reputation with the Launcher XL.

The Cleveland Launcher XL ($399) lives up to its moniker. The driver head is 6.7% deeper front to back, which adds an 11% in MOI (5,200 g*cm²). The effect of this design on performance is a 27% tighter dispersion over the previous generation of Launcher Drivers. The company promises “long and straight” drives with the Launcher XL. And hey, I like long and straight. So I decided to give it a test.

Playing the Cleveland Launcher XL Driver

The Launcher XL boasts a number of features both visible and invisible to the naked eye. Most visible is the adjustable hosel, which allows tinkerers to optimize launch angle, distance, and shot shape with up to 12 different loft settings. Invisible features include a Rebound Frame, described by Cleveland as “alternating zones of flexibility and rigidity [that] direct more energy into the golf ball.” Another is called “Action Mass CB.” The “CB” bit stands for “counter-balance,” and refers to an 8g weight in the grip-end of the shaft. Some all-time greats—Jack Nicklaus, for example—swear by counter-balancing. Average golfers like me (or, likely, you) might not notice the effects of counter-balancing, but if Jack likes it, it can’t hurt.

Sure, these features are swell and all, but for me, press releases pale in comparison to actual hands-on performance. So I played the last few rounds of the 2021 golf season at Lake of the Woods Golf Course with the Launcher XL. Late-season rounds in central Illinois can mean cold temperatures and plenty of wind. The testing would not be easy.

As it turns out, “long and straight” is not an empty promise. Despite the conditions, I hit some of my best drives all year. For example, the 13th hole is 330 yards from the white tees. It plays fairly steeply uphill from the tee to the 150 yard marker, where it flattens out until the green, which is another 6-feet uphill. OB runs tee-to-green on the left, and trees lurk to the right. I’ve hit some big drives here this summer with the driver I put in my bag this spring, ending up just 20 yards short a couple times in hard, dry, fast conditions. With the Launcher XL, in soft, wet, cold, windy conditions, I came up just 30 yards short. With only a few yards of roll. Dead straight, too.

“But,” you may say, “I want to work the ball. I don’t like long and straight.”

To you, I say, “There’s always one.”

Seriously, I enjoy shaping shots. But I don’t enjoy fiddling with adjustable hosels. So the real test is whether the neutral settings of the drivers I test still allow for draws and fades (like, intentional draws and fades—I know they all can handle the unintentional ones). Fast-forward to hole 7 during the penultimate round of the season. The 7th at Lake of the Woods is just 292 yards from the white tees, but over a pond, uphill, and with a right-to-left bend around towering trees and an awkward fairway bunker to a green surrounded by more sand. The prudent shot from the tree is a hybrid to the 100-yard marker. It’s more fun to try to bust driver around the corner, which is precisely what I did with the Launcher XL – ended up 25 yards short of the green, despite a persistent headwind. Even my HS golfer son, who now hits it past me nearly every time, uttered the word “Beautiful.” Eat your hearts out, Tiger and Charlie Woods.

Cleveland XL Driver: The verdict

2022 is going to be tough at the beginning, because I am going to have to decide whether to keep the Cleveland Launcher XL in my bag. Its performance is comparable to the $500 driver I’d been using most of the 2021 summer. Tough call.

If there is one knock against The Launcher XL, it is the sound at impact, which is a big “clangy” compared to some other drivers I’ve tested over the past year. One of my son’s friends broke his driver during the fall, and I lent him a couple to choose from for his final junior tour event. He loved the XL’s distance, but didn’t like the sound.

As for me, well, I’m older, and my hearing is not as acute. It would be nice to have a driver that matches my wedges and putter. And, Hogan help me, I do like “long and straight.”

(NOTE: The Launcher XL also comes in LITE and LITE Draw versions ($349), for golfers who want extra swing-speed with or without draw-bias.)

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