In equipment circles, the push for drivers with extremely low spin is a more common topic of conversation than Tiger Woods' return. Nearly every driver introduced in 2015 has a center of gravity (CG) lower than in past generations. The latest to do so is PowerBilt's new Air Force One DFX Tour.
The club has a nine-gram weight angled forward in the front of the sole. The result is a lower, more forward CG compared with the company's regular DFX MOI driver to produce tee shots with less spin.
The DFX Tour ($300, 8.5, 9.5, 10.5 degrees) also uses pressurized nitrogen gas in the clubhead to reinforce the metal walls without needing added material for support (the valve houses the nine-gram weight). This helps designers create a more flexible, thin face for more ball speed.
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Non-conforming equipment may already have been used in tournament play by amateur golfers in Japan. That's part of a statement provided to Golf Digest by the Japan Golf Goods Association. The organization announced last month its support of the manufacture and distribution of non-conforming equipment in the Japanese marketplace.
The JGGA says there is "an increasing number" of non-conforming clubs being distributed in the Japanese market "because there is a demand for them among golfers." Its research says that 8.7 percent of golfers in Japan were using non-conforming equipment, and that the demand for non-conforming equipment is even higher in South Korea.
The JGGA says the intent with last month's announcement was not to recommend non-conforming equipment but to clarify its place in the market. "Even now there is a concern that non-conforming clubs are being used by amateur golfers in local tournaments as they or the tournament organizers do not recognize those clubs as such. Our press release intends to improve the current situation to the extent practicable."
The JGGA says it wants to guide manufacturers "to provide consumers with a clear indication and appropriate explanation when they sell those products to avoid any confusion by consumers."
Though it took nearly six weeks for the organization to respond to a series of questions sent by Golf Digest via email, the JGGA also reiterated its position that non-conforming equipment strengthens interest in golf. The responses can read somewhat convoluted, but the ultimate direction is clear. The JGGA says, "There is a clear desire or preference among amateur golfers in general for more distance from a driver shot or more back spin from an iron shot that makes a ball stop or come back on a green as professional players do. JGGA believes that it will contribute in the healthy growth and revitalization of the Japanese golf market to create an environment in which each golfer may choose and use golf equipment that matches his or her unique goal and needs."
The JGGA says it offered a proposal to the R&A to regulate non-conforming equipment but the "R&A did not accept our proposal." The JGGA says it is concerned that without any clear distinctions in the marketplace about non-conforming equipment "it could result in the further unregulated, disorganized expansion of the non-conforming golf club market."
In fact, the JGGA is stopping short of endorsing equipment that fundamentally alters the playing of the game, preferring instead that non-conforming equipment remain within the range of clubs that "were previously considered as conforming but became non-conforming only due to the tightening of the equipment rules over the past decade or so."
The R&A, USGA and several U.S. golf manufacturers have not commented on the JGGA's statements.
TaylorMade's Nov. 13 launch of two new drivers -- the movable weight, multi-level adjustable R15 and the lightweight, swingspeed-focused AeroBurner -- makes the same case about what kind of driver you should buy that the company first made nearly a decade. The idea, which hearkens back to previous twin-driver introductions like the R9 and the Burner SuperFast, is that there are two kinds of golfers looking for two types of clubs: the technician and the bomber.
The technician is about dialing in precise launch conditions and navigating his way around the golf course strategically, with planned routes and trajectories. The bomber prefers high, far and straight, a less subtle approach that might be phrased as "swing first, ask questions later."
But both new drivers will build on the company's primary metalwood technologies of a center of gravity positioned more low and forward for less spin and improved energy transfer. Both also will feature a channel in the sole designed to enhance the way the face flexes for improved ballspeed all over the face.
The R15, which will be made available in both white and black versions, is the technician's driver. It features a sole channel with two independently movable 12.5-gram weights. The sole channel, or "speed pocket," is similar to the predominant feature on the successful SLDR drivers. It allows players to position weight in draw or fade settings, as well as positioning the weights in either a middle position or extreme heel and toe locations for improved stability. Compared to the SLDR, the R15's sole channel has been shifted slightly closer to the face (12 millimeters) to contribute to the way the face flexes at impact. That movement forward also helps further push the center of gravity forward. According to the company, more than 75 percent of the clubhead's total mass is in the front of the driver.
The R15 also utilizes an updated version of the company's adjustable hosel, which now accommodates 12 settings and a loft range of plus/minus two degrees. It's available Jan. 9 ($430, 9.5, 10.5, 12, 14 degrees) and will be offered in both a 460cc and 430cc head size. Golfers can pre-order the R15 starting Dec. 12.
The R15 line includes fairway woods ($280, 15, 16.5, 19, 20.5 degrees) and hybrids ($220). The adjustable fairway woods feature the same sole opening but with one sliding 25-gram weight to effect a draw or fade bias. Like the driver, the adjustable hosel can be set to one of 12 positions at plus/minus two degrees of loft. The hybrid or Rescue features a more compact 99cc head size and the neutral bias preferred by better players.
Although the R15 offers plenty of adjustability, some players simply want distance -- and at a more palatable price. That's where TaylorMade's debut of its AeroBurner line fits in.
According to Brian Bazzell, TaylorMade's senior director of product creation for metalwoods, AeroBurner "drastically improved the performance of the sole's speed pocket and significantly improved the aerodynamics to deliver maximum speed" compared to the successful RocketBallz line from a couple of years ago.
To assist with the aerodynamics, the club features a small fin -- present on drivers, fairway woods and hybrids—in the heel area of the club to reduce drag. A raised center on the crown, as well as a more rounded toe, also are designed to help get the club through the air more efficiently.
In the driver ($299), the speed pocket is twice as large as on the JetSpeed model. By not adding adjustability, the pocket could extend across the entire sole. Also helping speed is an overall lightweight design -- the total weight is less than 300 grams -- with a 50-gram Matrix Speed Rul-Z shaft.
The fairway woods ($229) and hybrids ($199) continue the company's pursuit of woods with low, forward centers of gravity, as well as a sole slot, something the company has been focusing on since its RocketBallz line.
The hybrids, called AeroBurner Rescue, also have the speed pocket as well as a shaft length that has been shortened a half-inch from the JetSpeed rescues to provide more consistent contact.
As with the R15 line, the AeroBurner, also available Jan. 9, comes with a new matte finish, "pearlized" white paint clubhead. TP options are available for all the metalwoods.