The Local Knowlege


TaylorMade's SLDR brings white back

By Mike Stachura

To show how quickly attitudes change in the golf industry, ten months ago TaylorMade introduced a limited edition black version of its white R1 driver. This week, it's launching a limited edition white version of its SLDR driver, called SLDR White. 

TaylorMade changed perceptions three years ago by introducing an all-white driver that featured a black face. The idea was the white body contrasted with the black face enabled the golfer to better focus on the intended target line. They even included studies by an opthamologist suggesting the contrast better activated optical neurons and retinal ganglion cells. 

By contrast, the decision to launch a black version was meant to resonate with the segment of the golf population that was emotionally disinclined to playing white drivers. The company then followed the R1 Black with the SLDR, which was neither white nor black, but a charcoal gray, almost a throwback to the color of metalwoods in the 1990s. 

Interestingly, while TaylorMade drivers comfortably  lead in the number of drivers played on the PGA Tour, only a year ago that number was overwhelmingly dominated by white drivers. Now, there's only about a handful in play on a weekly basis. Most TaylorMade players are using the original SLDR, but Kevin Stadler won at Waste Management in February using the white-crowned Burner SuperFast 2.0, the last win on the PGA Tour for a white driver, and is still using it.

Tom Kroll, TaylorMade product evangelist, described the company's position on white last summer this way. "We still as a company strongly believe in the performance and technology of white and the contrast of a white crown with a black face, and how it aids alignment and the entire aspect that white represents. I think we’re definitely standing behind that. It’s a part of our culture, and people have come to associate TaylorMade with white." 

In referring to the R1 Black last year, though, Kroll said, "It's more that we’re tugging at a heartstring that’s emotional for the golfer so that when they set this thing down and look at it they just got to have it."

Now, SLDR White ($400) comes to market extolling the same technological benefits as the original SLDR but in a color the company believes will resonate with consumers who purchased white metalwoods since they were first introduced in 2011. And there were plenty of those purchased, given the company's dominance of the metalwood market over those years. It's what TaylorMade's Brian Bazzel, senior director of metalwood product creation, calls "a remarkable appearance at address."

In addition to the white crown, the club features a black "button back" feature in the rear of the crown, designed to aid in alignment.

The key platform behind the SLDR driver is a center of gravity position that is low and forward. The idea is that this location produces lower spin and a more efficient energy transfer. The company believes the low spin benefits are best experienced when players utilize a higher loft than they might normally play in previous drivers. SLDR also includes two levels of adjustability. The hosel can be rotated to one of 12 locations that increase or decrease loft by as much as 1.5 degrees. Also, a sliding 20-gram weight in the sole can be positioned toward the heel, center or toe to effect draw, neutral or fade ballflights.

SLDR White will be in stores May 2.

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TaylorMade's new driver is a 3-wood

For many players, the lowest lofted fairway wood in the bag, usually one with 15 degrees of loft or less, has become at best a club of compromise, and at worst, somewhat useless.

the-loop-blog-taylormade-mini-driver.jpgHere's the problem: As fairway woods have gotten longer (their typical shaft lengths are near driver length compared to clubs of a generation ago), they've become much more difficult to hit off the ground for average golfers. In addition, as better players are hitting the driver increasingly farther, the need to hit a 3-wood off the deck is far and few between, if ever. So there are two resulting scenarios: Average players have a fairway wood they struggle to hit from the fairway, or better players have a 3-wood they don't need to hit off the fairway. In either case, the newest versions of these fairway woods boast the technology of thinner, hotter faces that promise more distance through lower spin and higher launch. 

But the technology that would make these clubs an ideal choice as a secondary option for tee shots isn't as easy to use because many of these clubs have been designed for use primarily off the fairway. All the elements that make a club more useful off the fairway (shallower face, smaller overall size) are either unnecessary, counterproductive or even intimidating when you ask a player to hit that same club off a tee.

TaylorMade's new SLDR Mini Driver is the company's answer to the issue of making a fairway wood that acts more like a driver. SLDR Mini is among the largest fairway woods on the market, checking in at 260 cubic centimeters. That's larger than the titanium drivers of the mid-1990s. (Both Callaway and Ping also have  introduced oversized fairway woods recently.) The extra size is designed to make the club more stable on off-center hits compared to most average fairway woods, which typically are a third smaller in size or more. The larger face also makes it easier to achieve a larger area of maximum flexibility for the highest ballspeeds and more distance.

“Tour pros and better amateurs often hit their 3-wood off the tee more often than from the fairway,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s senior director of metalwood creation, indicating the company's research says. “We embraced that fact to create a metalwood that’s sized between a 3-wood and driver and is designed to be easy to hit off a tee.”

While Phil Mickelson made headlines using his 3-wood and completely eschewing the driver last summer, including during his British Open victory, this week it appears Justin Rose will be the story, after reports have him adding the SLDR Mini Driver to his bag for the Masters. 

SLDR Mini is made of high-strength steel and features the similar low-spin-producing center of gravity location found on the SLDR drivers. The idea with a low-forward CG is that shots launch higher with less spin, two keys to optimizing distance at any ballspeed. In addition, the low-forward CG is better aligned with the center of the face to produce better energy transfer. The higher loft of a fairway wood might even make it easier for average golfers to get shots launched more optimally than with a driver. The shorter shaft vs. the driver (43.5 inches on the SLDR Mini vs. 45.5 inches on the SLDR) might also help average golfers more consistently contact the center of the face and return the clubface to square at impact. 

The club also features the now familiar slot in the sole near the leading edge that's designed to improve ballspeed on shots hit lower on the face. 

SLDR Mini is available in three lofts (12, 14 and 16 degrees) and two versions. The standard version ($280) features the same Fujikura 57 shaft found in the SLDR, though two inches shorter. A TP version also is available ($380) and features a Fujikura Motore Speeder 7.3 shaft and is built to a heavier, D5 swing weight.

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Gear & Equipment

Callaway lets the tech do the talking with Solaire Gems women's clubs

By Mike Stachura

loop-equipment-callaway-solaire.jpgToo often the talk regarding women's clubs centers on color and the number of pockets in the bag that come with the set. Although the latest Callaway Solaire Gems line has easy answers to those questions (two and eight, respectively), it also offers technology upgrades that include thinner faces and reduced offset.

The metalwoods are designed with a flatter roll on the faces to increase launch angles by 1.5 degrees. The irons feature a deeper undercut cavity (similar to last year’s X Hot irons) for a faster-flexing face. Offering a higher loft on the sand wedge (56 degrees) improves greenside versatility.

The seven-club version ($700) includes a driver (13.5 degrees), 3-wood, 5-hybrid, 7-iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge and putter. The 12-club set ($1,000) adds 5- and 7-woods, a 6-hybrid and 8- and 9-irons.

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Gear & Equipment

PowerBilt tees up its Air Force One DFX driver

By E. Michael Johnson

Its pretty persimmon drivers and noticeably bright-orange staff bags are no longer PGA Tour staples. But PowerBilt remains part of the equipment landscape and hopes to reconnect with golfers with the introduction of its latest driver: the Air Force One DFX.

Blog-PowerBilt-AFO-Driver.jpgThe DFX stands for Deep Face Extreme. The head is five millimeters deeper than its previous driver.

PowerBilt engineers have embraced a change in philosophy on center-of-gravity weighting by placing six grams lower and more forward in the head. The company says nitrogen pressure inside the clubhead reinforces the clubface without adding weight, increasing ball speed off the titanium-cup face.

The driver ($300) comes in two models (High MOI, Tour) in lofts of 8.5, 9.5, 10.5 and 12.5 degrees.

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Gear & Equipment

With Masters approaching, Cobra introduces limited-edition green BioCell driver

By E. Michael Johnson

A year ago, Cobra celebrated Masters week by introducing a limited-edition green-colored AMP Cell driver. Now the company is at it again, offering a green version of its Bio Cell in time for the year's first major.


The club (2,014 of them available on March 15 at $400 each) features the Bio Cell's technology, including an adjustable hosel that provides eight settings. It also comes with the Lamkin Ace 3GEN 360 grip and Aldila ATX Tour Green shaft.

"We always look to do something fresh," says Jose Miraflor, director of product marketing for Cobra-Puma. "This is a logical extension for us, and our customers and players enjoy it."

Blog-Cobra-BioCell-Green-2.jpg Last year Rickie Fowler took a few swings with the green-colored driver at Augusta National during practice rounds. 

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Gear & Equipment

Son of SLDR: TaylorMade shows off 'mini' driver to tour staff at Doral

By E. Michael Johnson

If you had your eyes open on the range at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, you would have noticed some players checking out a driver that wasn't really a driver. That's because TaylorMade brought its yet-to-be-released SLDR Mini to Trump National Doral to show to its tour staff.

Blog-TaylorMade-Mini-SLDR.jpgAlthough the company has been mum about specifics, the club was put on the USGA's list of conforming driver heads Feb. 17 in just one loft (12 degrees), and it has the words Mini Driver on the toe.

The word "mini" seems accurate: The clubhead looks to be in the range of 250 cubic centimeters, and the shaft length appears shorter than a normal driver and more like a 3-wood. Also, the club doesn't have the sliding weight of the SLDR driver or an adjustable hosel, and its color is more of a satin silver.

Blog-TaylorMade-Mini-SLDR-2.jpg No word on whether anyone will be playing it this week in Miami.

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Gear & Equipment

Bobby Jones targets women's market with Rouge driver/fairway wood line

By Keely Levins

There are two challenges female golfers frequently face, says Jesse Ortiz, club designer for Bobby Jones: getting the ball to launch higher and squaring the clubface at impact. Ortiz tried to address these when he designed the Bobby Jones Rouge series for women.

The set consists of a 14-degree driver ($250) and five fairway woods ($180 each) that vary in loft from 18 to 38 degrees. The woods have thin, maraging-steel faces to improve ball speed and reduce spin, and the hosel is slightly offset to promote better ball-striking.

bobby-jones-rouge-3W-400.jpgFrom the sole, the clubhead looks a little like a hybrid placed into the head of a fairway wood. The center of gravity is positioned low and deep. This helps the clubs have the functionality of a hybrid with the forgiveness of a fairway wood.

The clubs will be available starting March 1.

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Gear & Equipment

Accuracy, feel explain why some PGA Tour players have gone to heavier driver shafts

By E. Michael Johnson

There was some heavy lifting happening at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and Farmers Insurance Open.

Gary Woodland. Photo: J.D. Cuban

Sergio Garcia won in Qatar using a 100-gram Mitsubishi Diamana White Board shaft in his TaylorMade SLDR driver. Gary Woodland, meanwhile, was in contention to the very end at Torrey Pines with a 102-gram Mitsubishi Diamana S+ Blue Board. The hefty driver shafts are indicative of a movement, by some, away from the lighter weight shafts that have made inroads on tour the past few years.

It is easy to understand why drivers with lighter shafts became popular. One of the biggest benefits to tour players in the quest for distance has been the arrival of lightweight graphite shafts that could withstand the stress delivered by high swing speeds. The lighter the shaft, the faster the club can be swung. The faster the club is moving, the farther the ball goes. It is why the most popular weight for driver shaft-weights on the PGA Tour is still in the mid-60-gram range, with some players having tried shafts less than 50 grams.

But more and more, there are exceptions -- players opting for driver shafts decidedly heavier than most of their tour brethren. Yet with distance considered such a precious commodity, why would tour players consciously leave yards on the table by using a shaft that would contribute to a slower swing speed?

For most players in the "heavy" camp, the answer is control, Woodland included.

Related: 2014 Hot List Drivers

"I have plenty of speed, but I need to keep the ball in play to be successful," Woodland told Golf World last year when asked about using a weighty driver shaft. "The extra weight allows me to feel where the clubhead is during the swing and that helps me find more fairways. It's a plus for my game and not a negative at all."

Tiger Woods is also back to using a heavier shaft in his Nike driver. Woods was one of the last to forego a steel shaft for graphite and over time the weight in his driver shaft crept lower, eventually to less than 70 grams. However, at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in December, Woods went heavy again, switching to a Mitsubishi Diamana Blue Board 103-gram shaft. Woods said that as he became more comfortable with his swing, he felt he could handle the weight again and that it gave him a better feel of the club at impact.

More than 25 players had driver shafts of 75 grams or more at the Farmers Insurance Open. Fujikura had 14 of those shafts in play. "Control is a big factor with our players using heavier shafts," said Pat McCoy, director of tour operations for Fujikura. "Some professionals when trying lighter parts have not gained enough swing speed the way they load the club, so they stay with a weight they are familiar with."

Although familiarity plays a role in opting for meatier shafts, so does fitness in some players. Those who regularly work out can more easily handle the extra weight. The number of tour pros opting to use hybrids as fairway-wood replacements is another. Hybrids can be heavy and players don't want such a big difference in feel between the hybrid and the driver.

Related: Editor's picks at the PGA Show

Consistent weighting is the reason Garcia takes on extra heft in his driver shaft. The Spaniard uses 100-gram shafts in his 3- and 5-woods. "Going with the same weight with the driver shaft keeps the feel similar," Garcia said at the 2013 BMW. "My swing speed is enough so I don't lose distance, and I feel like I gain some control."

Although those using heavy driver shafts remain in the minority, if a player is struggling with a lightweight shaft in the driver, it's not a bad idea to swap it out for a heavier version. Although swing speed will diminish, it is quite possible accuracy will improve. No matter how much you want to hit the long ball, fact is anyone's game will benefit more from finding fairways than gaining a couple of extra yards. Just ask those at or near the top of the leader board recently.


bubba-watson-gw-equipment-0203.jpgBUBBA WATSON // Striping it

It goes without saying that Bubba Watson is unique -- a trait that extends to his equipment. Watson, who likes pink on pretty much every club component, once saw a putter with an iridescent finish on a table at Ping's headquarters shortly after winning his first tour event and immediately wanted one. Given that, it's no wonder he had a special request for Ping to jazz up his pink Ping G25 driver.

 Intrigued with the racing stripes on the company's i25 driver (they are not offered on the G25), the 2012 Masters champ requested that the stripes (which assist alignment on tee shots) be placed on his driver. Although seemingly an easy request, getting the stripes just right on the crown was no easy feat. Indeed, it took the company nearly three years to get the stamping process down to where it could accurately place straight lines on the crown. Watson, not surprisingly, took things one step further. The iridescent finish on his putter is now also on the sole of his driver.


titleist-sm5-hero-v2S.jpgTitleist Vokey SM5
PRICE: $129 (21 loft/bounce combinations)

The wedges feature a new groove configuration with 7 percent more groove volume for added spin. Scott Stallings used a trio of the wedges in his win at the Farmers Insurance Open.


The putter Pat Perez used in finishing T-2 at the Farmers Insurance Open was an Odyssey Versa Jailbird. Although most designs today are done via computer assisted design (CAD), the putter's creator, Odyssey's Austie Rollinson, drew the first iteration on a co-worker's notepad. The sketch did not receive a lot of praise, but once a 3-D prototype was produced, the putter (which features a bar in the rear to provide four black-and-white stripes, hence: "Jailbird") was put on the production fast track. Perez ranked sixth in strokes gained/putting at +1.782 strokes per round. . . . Erik Compton had a solid T-19 at Torrey Pines with a new Titleist 913D3 (8.5 degrees) in the bag. . . . K.J. Choi's first outing with a set of Ping i25 irons went well as the eight-time PGA Tour winner nearly pulled out a victory at Torrey Pines. Choi settled for a share of second place, ranking T-8 in greens in regulation, hitting 51 of 72 greens. . . . TaylorMade's new Tour Preferred X ball was used by Jason Day at the Farmers, and the Aussie had a strong showing in his inaugural outing with the ball, finishing T-2, ranking third in distance and T-3 in GIR.

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Gear & Equipment

Phil finds a new driver . . . again

By E. Michael Johnson

Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Talking about his new Callaway Big Bertha Alpha driver prior to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Phil Mickelson said: "As I look back on 2013, I played some of my best golf and had some huge breakthroughs. But I did most of it without a driver. This year, we have the best driver I've ever hit that lowers my spin rate. It's a whole different weapon in my arsenal now. ... [In the past] I always had to have a different swing with my driver to accommodate the fact that I had no loft."

Of course Mickelson has been down the "best driver I've ever hit" path before, and the problem areas the five- time major champion identifies are not new. Mickelson went with the dual-driver strategy in 2006 (and won the BellSouth Classic and Masters in back-to-back weeks) because it allowed him to change ball flight without altering his swing. Finding the right amount of spin and having the ability to square up the face at impact have been ongoing issues.

So Mickelson has a new driver that supposedly can counter much of what ails him off the tee -- concerns that last October Mickelson said were partially borne out of driver technology "going down one path that has been great for the average player, but terrible for me."

Related: Video: Phil's new driver

As driver head sizes got larger, the weight moved farther back in the club and the moment of inertia (MOI) increased. MOI helps keep the head stable through impact, but it can also make the clubface more difficult to close. So for someone like Mickelson who has an inside-out swing path, the face not closing sometimes results in a dead push. Also not helping was the fact that Mickelson often used such a low-lofted club to combat spin. A low-lofted club also is more difficult to square at impact. As a result, Mickelson went to playing a specially-built 3-wood off the tee for most of the second half of 2013, including during his British Open win at Muirfield. Despite the success he knew he was leaving something on the table, and he had questions.

"What I didn't understand was why that technology didn't carry over to the driver -- why I would have a club that was 4 or 5 degrees less in loft [than the 3-wood], but spun over a thousand revolutions per minute more? That made no sense to me. So by taking this technology that's in the 3-wood, moving the CG forward and low and limiting the MOI, it combated the problems I've had with the driver for the last nine years."

What has helped Mickelson put driver back in the bag is the Big Bertha Alpha's "gravity core," an adjustable component that can alter the vertical CG of the driver. Putting the core in the "low" position (more weight in the bottom and closer to the face) helps reduce spin without having to reduce loft.

The results in Abu Dhabi were promising. Mickelson ranked fifth in driving distance at 296 yards and was T-35 in accuracy (out of 71 players) while finishing T-2.

Related: Mickelson on how to bomb it

Of course, Phil finding a driver is a bit like Elizabeth Taylor finding a husband -- it happens fairly easily but never seems to last very long. Less than a year ago Mickelson proclaimed after winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open that, "The fact that this club [Callaway's RAZR Fit Xtreme driver] is so easy to hit now, I think it's going to change the rest of the year for me. I really do."

Mickelson did indeed have a pretty good year, but the driver was gone by summer. Whether the Big Bertha Alpha is the game-changer Lefty says it is will be something to keep an eye on as his season progresses.


gary-woodland-shaft.jpgGARY WOODLAND // Shaft seeking

Shafts have always been a bit of a difficult fit for Gary Woodland. One of the reasons is that the fast-swinging (122 miles per hour) Woodland tends to launch the ball high (his 13.1-degree launch angle is 16th highest on tour) but with slightly more spin than is optimal (2,663 revolutions per minute, well within the top third on tour). As such, Woodland was on the lookout for a mid-launching, lower-spinning shaft at the Humana Challenge.

In Palm Springs, Woodland tested a new Fujikura Pro prototype shaft in his driver and 3-wood. The blue-colored, mid-launch, low-spin shaft, which had Woodland's initials etched into it, weighs a hefty 100 grams (a driver shaft in the mid 60-gram range is considered standard), allowing Woodland to better feel the club at the top of the swing. This isn't the first time Woodland has tried a heavier shaft. Last year he put a True Temper Dynamic Gold steel shaft in his fairway wood.


metal-x-milled-6-hero-2014-putter.jpgOdyssey Metal-X Milled
PRICE: $300 (Three blade styles)

Patrick Reed used the #6 model of this putter (made from 1020 carbon steel) that has oval dimples chemically etched into the face to increase friction for a better roll.


Patrick Reed won the Humana Challenge with Callaway's Big Bertha Alpha, but the most interesting aspect may be that the shaft used by Reed was just 44.25 inches -- more than an inch shorter than the tour average -- to gain better control off the tee. ... Roberto Castro made a huge leap in driver loft in Palm Springs, changing from an 8-degree TaylorMade R11 to a 12-degree version of the company's SLDR 430. ... Rickie Fowler had a prototype Scotty Cameron by Titleist putter in play at the Humana -- a version of the Fastback mallet called Fastback Plus. The putter features an orange plus-sign alignment aid on the flange that was done specifically for Fowler. ... A new glove will be adorning Bubba Watson's right hand this year, as the left-hander will wear Ping's soon-to-be released Sensor Sport at the Farmers Insurance Open, his first start of 2014. The offering is one of three new gloves from Ping (Sensor Tour and Sensor Tech are the other two) that feature a proprietary technology that helps wick moisture. As part of Watson's agreement with Ping, the company will make an annual donation to the Bubba Watson Foundation.

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Gear & Equipment

Callaway brings Big Bertha back, twice

While the excitement among golf industry insiders and golf chat rooms over Callaway's decision to bring back the Big Bertha name already has reached a fever pitch, what might be getting lost in the buzz is how the two new Big Bertha drivers easily represent the company's most ambitious foray into the technology of adjustable drivers.

Callaway announced today that it will launch two new multimaterial, adjustable drivers with the Big Bertha name, the Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha. It's the first time since 2007 that Callaway has introduced a driver with the iconic Big Bertha name. The company first introduced a Big Bertha driver in 1991, launching the oversized driver era in golf and setting the stage for Callaway to become the game's leading manufacturer in the 1990s. 


These two new drivers dramatically expand the company's approach to center of gravity adjustability. The Big Bertha driver will feature a sliding weight on the extreme perimeter of the driver and a center of gravity that can be characterized as farther back from the face, as well as a higher moment of inertia or stability on off-center hits. Meanwhile, the new Big Bertha Alpha driver will offer the capacity for the golfer to change center of gravity location not only in a horizontal direction but also in a vertical dimension, and its center of gravity in general could be thought of as being more forward.

The dual launch of Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha is not merely to offer different levels of sophistication, but also to more closely fit different types of golfers to a particular center of gravity location, says Alan Hocknell, Callaway's senior vice president of research and development.

"While loft and shaft flex and weight and total weight are usually addressed as primary elements when players are getting fitted for a driver, certainly in the first level of consideration among the second tier of significant variables is center of gravity position," Hocknell says. "It's a bit of a new stage for us to launch this into the consumer world, but our testing on players to this point suggests that there are good reasons for each one to be distinct from the other."

Both drivers will utilize an eight-way adjustable hosel derived from this summer's FT Optiforce driver. The dual-ring design of the hosel allows for loft to be changed to one of four settings (standard loft, minus-one degree, plus-one degree or plus-two degrees) while also allowing for two independent lie angle settings (neutral and draw). 

The Big Bertha employs an 8-gram sliding weight in a five-inch-long track at the rear perimeter that Hocknell says can change the horizontal position of center of gravity by more than 3.5 millimeters and sidespin by 360 rpm. The crown is made of Callaway's proprietary forged composite material designed to save weight. The result is the driver remains at a lighter swing weight of D2. 

The Big Bertha Alpha offers the ability to change horizontal center of gravity through movable heel and toe weights of 1, 3, 5 and 7 grams. But it also features a central tube the company calls the "gravity core" that lets the golfer change the center of gravity position vertically, too. The tube features a cylinder with a heavier tungsten weight on one end that when positioned toward the sole lowers the center of gravity. The change, Hocknell says, lowers the CG by more than 2 millimeters and reduces backspin by more 300-600 rpm. Traditionally, such a spin change might only be achieved through changing loft. Phil Mickelson, who played and won more tournaments in 2013 without a driver than with one, already has been talking about his plans to put the Big Bertha Alpha in play in 2014.  

The Big Bertha ($400) is available in three basic lofts (9, 10.5 and 13.5HT) and the lower-spinning Big Bertha Alpha ($500) is available in two basic lofts (9, 10.5). Both drivers are expected to be in the market in mid-February. 

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