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Japan manufacturers endorse non-conforming clubs

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The Japan Golf Goods Association, the trade organization for golf equipment manufacturers in Japan, today announced that it would support the distribution of non-conforming golf equipment. 

“JGGA believes that it is desirable for the stimulation of the golf market to have a wide variety of golf equipment available in the market from which all types of golfers may choose in order to find one that really fits their respective purposes and needs, hoping that more and more golfers will enjoy playing golf as a result of such improvement in the golf equipment market,” an English translation of the JGGA statement reads.

“From this point of view, JGGA has left it to the judgment of each member company whether to manufacture and/or sell golf equipment that doesn’t fully conform to the specifications set forth in the Rules of Golf promulgated by R&A.”

A recent study by Golf Datatech and Yano Research Institute of Japan, the world’s two leading organizations studying the global golf retail market space, Japan is the No. 2 country in golf sales in the world with 24 percent of the global golf market. The JGGA sponsors the Japan Golf Fair, Japan’s version of the PGA Merchandise Show, which will be held Feb. 13-15 in Tokyo.

In its statement the JGGA acknowledges that an influx of non-conforming equipment “could create confusion among golfers and tournament organizers. JGGA considers it very important for the healthy development of the industry that all relevant parties make efforts to prevent consumers from buying nonconforming equipment without knowing that it is nonconforming, and to avoid any confusion or trouble due to the inability of tournament organizers to determine the conformity of each equipment at the tournament site.”

The JGGA is advocating that products be clearly marked as nonconforming, although it has not indicated what specific efforts or product labeling will be made. Its main motivation seems to be to cater to golfers seeking more enjoyment without performance limits imposed by the rules.

Several U.S. manufacturers contacted for this story have either declined comment or not returned inquiries. The R&A also has not returned an e-mail request for comment.

U.S. manufacturers have not embraced non-conforming equipment, and while the JGGA's Japan Golf Fair routinely has nonconforming equipment on display, no major U.S. company has introduced non-conforming equipment to date. Smaller companies have introduced non-conforming clubs and balls, like Hireko, which last year introduced a 515 cubic centimeter driver called the Juggernaut (above). After much talk about non-conforming equipment at the last two years' PGA Shows, fueled largely by former TaylorMade CEO Mark King who launched a grow-the-game, alternative rules golf initiative Hack Golf last year with great fanfare, there was very little discussion on the topic this year. 

This news from the JGGA clearly reopens the discussion.

“For the most of amateur golfers, nothing give[s] more pleasure than long driving distances and control of a golf ball on the green with a back spin as professional golfers do,” the JGGA statement reads. “That is why quite a few of golfers are still using and wanting nonconforming golf equipment and why nonconforming golf equipment is still available on the market in response to such demand. Some golfers may be using or buying nonconforming equipment without knowing that they don’t conform to the Rules.”

What’s not clear is just how much advantage non-conforming equipment might provide for amateur or recreational golfers, or whether there's expressed interest in playing clubs that don't adhere to the rules. A 2014 survey by Golf World suggested less than a quarter of golfers surveyed would be interested in "a nonconforming driver that promised an extra 15-20 yards." John Spitzer managing director for equipment standards of the USGA told Golf World last year, “To think nonconforming clubs would somehow increase participation, I don't see that. It's not 1,000cc drivers or a ball that goes 30 yards farther that's going to grow the game."

But it is clear that there are certain elements within golf equipment manufacturing willing to go down the road of selling clubs outside the rules. In that stame Golf World story, Bob Philion, president of Cobra-Puma Golf, told Golf World, "There is a sense of urgency in the industry, whether from our competitors or the PGA of America, to be less intimidating and more fun. Do I think nonconforming drivers will be out there in 10 years? I do. Three years? I do. I think the street signs for the game aren't positive enough for someone not to try it." 

The JGGA’s statement clearly is endorsing manufacturers be free to take a more relaxed approach to the rules.  It concludes, “Through a variety of actions and initiatives, JGGA is committed to providing a market environment where all golfers are able to choose and use the most appropriate golf equipment for every situation.” 

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Drivers

Callaway's "X" line gets its broadest launch with XR's nine new products

xr-driver-sole-b.jpgCallaway’s “X” family of products goes back to the late 1990s and the introduction of the X-12 irons 17 years ago. Back then, the story was the revolutionary thinned out cavity construction and extreme low center of gravity on the cavity back oversized iron. Big news that almost immediately set sales records for the company.

But there may never have been a broader range of new technologies in the history of the X family than there is this year.

Callaway today announced nine new products under the new XR moniker, including two drivers, three fairway woods, two hybrids and two irons. The theme consistently across each category seems to be speed. Whether it’s the lighter face in the XR drivers or the metalwood-like face cup on the traditionally-shaped, cavity XR irons, Callaway’s engineers are chasing new ways for golfers to produce both more ballspeed and, in some cases, more clubhead speed. 

But the breadth of offerings (at least two styles in the driver, fairway wood, hybrid and iron offerings) also seems focused on helping individual golfers better dial in the size and shape of head that’s going to produce the best results for them.

Evan Gibbs, Callaway's senior manager of product performance in metalwoods, was referring to the new XR fairway woods, but his summary could easily apply to the whole XR family: “We tried to understand where golfers use these clubs, how they use them and how to most effectively design a club for that situation.”

All clubs in the XR line are expected to begin to be available in shops by Feb. 20.

XR/XR Pro drivers
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The natural question with Callaway introducing its fourth and fifth drivers since August is how could it be any better. But Callaway is not shy about making its case with the new XR and XR Pro drivers ($350/$400). First, there’s a move toward improved aerodynamics. The XR features a pair of distinct speed steps at the front part of the crown designed to reduce drag. It also helps boost swing speed potential through a lighter overall weight (just TK grams on the XR model). According to Gibbs, the lighter weight features draw bias to help average golfers square the face and fight a slice. 

Second, the face on the XR is 10 percent lighter, and the center of gravity (CG) is 17 percent lower than last year’s X2 Hot. Similar to this fall’s Big Bertha Alpha 815 drivers, it utilizes a ribbed structure toward the front of the crown and sole to help increase the area of the face that yields the fastest ball speeds. Third, the XR Pro uses a forged composite crown to produce the lowest CG of any Callaway driver ever. 

“The advantage of having forged composite is you can create very aerodynamic shapes, which typically means the crown apex is higher and further aft, without paying a cg penalty,” Gibbs says. “You have such a lightweight material that you can pull the crown up and shape it to be aerodynamically efficient without the cg going too high.”

Each of the four lofts in the standard model (9, 10.5, 12 and 13HT) and two in the Pro (9, 10.5) include Callaway’s eight-way adjustable loft hosel. The hosel allows the user to reduce loft by one degree or increase it by one or two degrees and then also independently alter lie angle. One further benefit of the XR driver is its lighter weight. 

XR/XR Pro fairway woods, hybrids
The distinct shape differences in both the XR fairway wood and hybrid lines grew from how players of different ability levels use the clubs. The fairway wood line includes three varieties (standard, Pro and 3Deep) and the range accommodates 10 lofts, including the only stock 11-wood from a major manufacturer ($230 for the XR, $240 for the XR Pro and XR 3Deep). 

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“The standard XR was designed with an emphasis put on performance and utility from the fairway,” Gibbs said. “The Pro version was designed with more of an equal usage from the tee and fairway in mind. And the Deep version was designed with an emphasis of performance off the tee.” 

The club’s primary technology is a redesigned cupface that’s thinner and lighter to help boost ballspeeds and lower the CG. The internal weighting updates the wave-like feature toward the front of the sole, pushing more weight forward while still freeing up the area low on the face. This helps to reduce spin and improve ballspeeds for shots hit low on the face. 

The XR and XR Pro hybrids offer similar differences to the fairway woods in size and shape (the Pro is decidedly more compact to appeal to better players), and the cupface and low CG design have been updated. Gibbs says the CG on the XR is 46 percent lower than the X2 Hot, while the CG on the XR Pro is the lowest ever for a Callaway hybrid. 

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XR/XR Pro irons
The problem with creating irons with face structures that attempt to flex like drivers is that they end up looking and feeling more like drivers than irons. That means hollow construction irons that often are oversized and excessively wide-soled. 

Callaway’s effort with the XR iron line is to incorporate the flexibility in the face produced by its cup face design but wrap the technology in a more traditional, cavity-back iron shape. Both the XR and XR Pro feature a two-piece construction where the face cup wraps over the entire perimeter of the face and is fused to the sole and back of the iron. This allows for more control of how thin the face can be made to improve rebound across a greater area.

“The benefits of the 360 face cup that we see in an iron are very similar to what we see in a fairway wood or a hybrid,” said Luke Williams, senior director of  product strategy in fitting and irons. 

Within the cavity is an internal wave-like structure that improves performance on low-face impacts and lowers the center of gravity. The XR ($800) features more offset, while the XR Pro ($900) uses a thinner top line and narrower sole.
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Equipment

Ping boosts G30's long game, adds new short-game clubs, too

PING_Cadence_Anser2.jpgAnser2_Heavy.jpgPing enjoyed plenty of success on the professional tours and in the marketplace with long game clubs like the G30 driver this fall, but it's starting the new year off with a focus on where golfers spend the majority of their strokes: the short game. While there will be a line extension to the G30 driver family with the new G30 LS Tec, it's the Glide wedges and Cadence TR putters that are the big splash.

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Glide wedges
The groove rollback’s greatest effect may have been in inspiring equipment companies to rethink every possibility when it comes to generating more spin. The latest example might be Ping’s new Glide wedges, which feature a new chrome-plated finish to improve spin potential. According to Ping engineers, the finish increases the metal’s hydrophobicity, or a substance’s tendency to repel water. A more hydrophobic wedge face is going to provide cleaner contact in wetter conditions like the rough and dew-covered fairways, and the Glide’s chrome-plated finish tests out as more hydrophobic than the dark blast finish of last year’s Tour wedges. The Glide ($130, 13 lofts, three sole options) also matches groove edges and angles to each loft to improve full-shot spin on the lower lofts and chip and pitch shot spin on the higher lofts. The new Dylawedge grip is three-quarters of an inch longer to make it easier for players to comfortably choke down on the grip on partial shots.

On the PGA Tour, Bubba Waston, Hunter Mahan and Billy Horschel have put the Glide wedges in their bags.

Cadence TR putters
With the growing enthusiasm for counterbalanced putters, it’s becoming clear that weight is a solution for balky strokes. But while the extreme weight of a counterbalanced putter may help the shakiest of moves, Ping is suggesting that finding the right weight is a real key in putter fitting for all strokes. 

To that end, it’s rolling out the new Cadence TR line of putters, which give golfers the choice of two standard head weights. Ping engineers have studied data from thousands of putting strokes submitted through its iPing putting app and determined that there are two main stroke tempos. Quicker tempos benefit from a standard to lighter head weight, while slower moves produce better results with a heavier head weight. 

Each of seven models in the Cadence TR line feature two heads (there’s also an eighth model that’s counterbalanced). The standard weight models (340-355 grams) generally feature an aluminum insert, while the heavier heads (365-388 grams) use steel inserts for a 25-33-gram difference in the two heads. 

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Each also features a revised version of Ping’s TR groove pattern on the face. The new faces feature not only variable depth grooves as previously, but now add variable width to improve initial ballspeed compared to the Scottsdale TR groove. The putters are available for pre-order this week and will be in stores next month, starting at around $170. Already Mahan (Anser 2) and Angel Cabrera (the counterbalanced Anser 2 CB) have put the putters in play at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

G30 LS Tec
The new G30 driver, the LS Tec ($350), is aimed at higher-speed players looking for an even lower-spinning option. 

The driver features the same turbulator crown elements to improve aerodynamic efficiency, as well as a similar emphasis on high moment of inertia for stability on off-center hits. 

Ping engineers say the LS Tec's center of gravity is slightly forward of the standard G30 to produce less spin. It will be offered in 9- and 10.5-degree lofts, each with an adjustable hosel that can tweak loft by plus/minus 1 degree.

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Gear & Equipment

TaylorMade makes twin driver debuts with R15 and AeroBurner lines

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. 

loop-taylormade-R15-Driver-350.jpgThe 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. 

loop-taylormade-AB-Driver-350.jpgAlthough 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. 

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Gear & Equipment

TaylorMade to debut R15 drivers tonight

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In the era of the global marketplace, there are no secrets anymore, and news embargoes of product launches seem to be about as effective as leaving a bowl of chocolate-chip cookies in a room full of kindergarteners and asking them to wait.

Hence, it comes as no surprise to anyone that TaylorMade will be unveiling a new driver tonight at a special New York City media event at Golf & Body in Manhattan. The R15, which from all previously published accounts and leaked details from TaylorMade’s Japan website, appears to feature movable weights in the familiar sole track made famous by the company's highly popular SLDR driver, which was launched in 2013. 

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The weights appear to slide in a track towards the front of the sole. The SLDR driver emphasized a “low forward” center-of-gravity location aimed at reducing spin and improving the efficiency of energy transfer at impact by placing the center of gravity more in line with both the center of the clubface and the club’s loft. 

Based on the images, the club will be offered in both black and white head styles. TaylorMade first introduced its drivers in white in 2011 with the R11 and RBZ models. It moved off that color in mid-2013 with SLDR, but returned to special limited edition white versions of the SLDR this summer. 

Tom Kroll, TaylorMade product evangelist, described the company's position on white this way last summer: "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." 

More details on TaylorMade’s plans with R15 are expected from tonight’s event. Stay tuned. 
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Equipment

Cobra's Fly-Z line pushes weight movement and speed

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Cobra’s new Fly-Z and the Fly-Z+ drivers may not look the same, but both start with the same basic design principle: Saving weight. Both clubs feature a redesigned face structure and hosel from last year’s Bio Cell/Bio Cell+ drivers that combined with a milled indentation around the perimeter of the face saves more than four grams from their predecessors. The Fly-Z+ also incorporates lightweight carbon fiber in the crown and sole to save another 7.5 grams compared to last year’s Bio Cell+. 

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The Fly-Z ($330), which also features a lighter titanium crown design, utilizes the weight savings to produce an oversized, forgiving shape and a high moment of inertia (stability on off-center hits). The saved weight in the Fly-Z+ ($400) makes room for a 15-gram weight chip in the sole that can be positioned toward the front to produce low spin, a flatter trajectory and more roll or toward the back to produce more carry through somewhat more spin. Each model comes in six colors and each features an adjustable hosel with eight loft settings.

The Fly-Z+ is Cobra’s first foray into weight adjustability, and the company’s philosophy is to address the current technology debate in the industry over whether weight should be redistributed to a low and forward center of gravity position or to the more traditional idea of one that’s deeper (farther back from the face). TaylorMade has been the more outspoken advocate of a low and forward setting with its top-selling SLDR driver, while Ping with its equally high-selling G30 has pushed for the higher moment of inertia (stability on off-center hits) design found in many “low and deep” CG positions.

“Many golfers ask why would I need a driver where I could move weight to the front or the back,” says Tom Olsavsky, vice president of research and development at Cobra Puma Golf. “The main reason we want to do this is we want to give you the performance difference that those two weight settings will provide. Some companies say front weight and some companies say back weight. We’re going to give you the choice. We know on tour that some players prefer front settings and some prefer back settings based on the way they swing and what fits their games.”

The line also includes a non-adjustable, offset and draw-biased driver, the Fly-Z XL ($280). It’s available in 9.5, 10.5 and 11.5 lofts. 

All three drivers feature an additional structural element called a “Speed Channel” mirrored throughout the entire line of Fly-Z metalwoods and irons. The emphasis is on building more ballspeed potential through creating extra face flexibility and weight savings. The metalwoods utilize an indent circling the perimeter of the face that reduces face thickness on the front of the club’s extreme outside edges. 

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On the Fly-Z collection of irons (Fly-Z, Fly-Z XL), that same channel moves off the face to an area on the front of the sole and around the perimeter of the cavity. It’s designed to reduce weight that can be redistributed elsewhere, maximize overall face flexibility, as well as minimize sole thickness so that the sole’s flexing can contribute to additional ballspeed. The Fly-Z irons ($800 with hybrids for the 3- and 4-irons) feature an undercut cavity design with a thermoplastic insert fixed in the cavity to control vibration. The Fly-Z XL irons ($500 for eight irons, $600 for the combo set with two hybrids) include a hollow section low in the cavity back on the 4- through 8-irons for higher launch while the shorter irons feature a traditional undercut cavity design. 

The Fly-Z line of clubs will be in stores in January.
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Equipment

Cleveland's latest take on the might of light

CG_BLACK_DRIVER3.jpgAt the elite level, it seems golf is increasingly becoming a power game. That’s all well and good when you have plenty of power to burn. For average golfers, though, power often isn’t so easy to come by. In fact, Cleveland Golf estimates that average golfers, particularly seniors and recreational players, may have swing speeds 15 or more miles per hour slower than the average on the PGA Tour (113 miles per hour).

One solution that’s been offered successfully in Japan for years is clubs with lighter than traditional overall weights. Most notable has been the XXIO brand of drivers launched by Dunlop Sports, which repeatedly have been that country’s top seller, pushing well below 290 grams in total weight. That’s a good 10 percent below the weight of many typical drivers played in the U.S. 

Cleveland, whose parent company is Dunlop Sports, has been developing lighter overall weight golf clubs since the beginning of this decade with clubs like the original CG Black, a driver introduced in 2011 that weighed just 265 grams or about 60 grams lighter than some of the leading drivers in the game at the time. Now comes the new family of CG Black metalwoods and irons, all aimed at average golfers and all featuring an ultralight platform. It’s what Cleveland’s engineers call an emphasis on “increasing the average golfer’s ease of swing.”

Says Jeff Brunski, director of research and development at Cleveland Golf/Srixon, “We looked at the typical average golfer’s swing and ball-flight inefficiencies, and targeted our technologies specifically geared toward them.” 

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The new CG Black driver weighs five grams less than its predecessor, is the lightest driver on the market from a major company and features the concept of lower “swing MOI.” This refers to the moment of inertia of the entire club from head to the butt of the shaft. Instead of a measurement of how stable the club head is on an off-center hit, swing MOI is a theory having to do with how little resistance a particular club might have to being moved. For example, a sledgehammer might have a high swing MOI in that it requires more force to move it faster, but a 260-gram driver like the new CG Black might have a lower swing MOI, making it easier for those less skilled or strong to manipulate it. The concept of swing MOI was also front and center with the recent introduction by Wilson of its adjustable D200 SuperLight driver, which weighs just 268 grams. 

The new CG Black ($350; 9, 10.5 and 12 degrees), which is not adjustable, features the lowest swing MOI of any 460cc driver in company history, and includes a Golf Pride Tour 25 grip that is less than half the weight (25 grams) of a typical rubber grip. 

The CG Black line also includes a sub-300-gram family of fairway woods ($200; 15, 16.5, 18, 20, 23 degrees), which features a 24 percent lighter face that allows the weight to be distributed for higher clubhead stability at a lower total weight. The CG Black hybrids also are about 25 grams lighter than typical hybrids and come in a range of five lofts ($170; 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25 degrees). 

Rounding out the new CG Black line is a mixed set of irons ($700) that includes hollow hybrid-like long irons with 1770 high-strength steel faces, two-piece middle irons with a high-strength steel face insert and traditional one-piece cavity back short irons. It features a center of gravity slightly farther back and lower than last year’s super game-improvement 588 Altitude irons.  

The full line of CG Black clubs is scheduled to arrive in stores next week.
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Equipment

Nike's Vapor drivers move in new direction

Vapor_Flex_Driver1.jpgThe adjustable driver is not new. It’s been around in the mass marketplace for the better part of a decade. While the vast majority recently have focused on changing loft, face and lie angles through rotating hosels, the cool trend from the beginning has been about repositioning center of gravity. 

There have been movable and sliding weights that shifted the CG horizontally toward the heel or toe to produce shots that, respectively, tone down a slice or calm a hook. There even have been drivers that independently from other settings can adjust the vertical center of gravity from high to low, an effort to either better match a player’s specific impact position or effectively let a player choose between low spin or mid-spin.

Now, Nike is offering the option to control CG location in a front-to-back dimension. It's an idea we've seen in some sense with the first TaylorMade r7 driver where the heavier movable weights could be put in the forward position or the rearward position, and most recently with Mizuno's JPX 850 driver that was put in play earlier this year by Luke Donald. The new Vapor Flex driver ($500, available Jan. 30) features a weight cylinder housed flush with the sole that can be flipped so the heavier end is toward the face or toward the back of the driver. The weighting change lets a golfer alter launch angle and spin rate independent of the driver's other loft and face angle settings.

“Often in the fitting process, there’s an opportunity for a final adjustment to develop the shot shape and ball flight the athlete is looking for,” said Nate Radcliffe, Nike’s director of engineering. “As the last step in the fitting process, that can be the difference between the athlete being comfortable with the fitting and really being able to compete with it on the golf course.”

According to Radcliffe, there’s about a two-millimeter difference in the CG location front to back. He says the change from front to back can increase launch angle by a degree, while the change from back to front can reduce spin by 300 rpm. The CG movement also affects the clubhead’s moment of inertia, which is a measurement of its resistance to twisting on off-center hits. On the Vapor Flex, this means the back CG position has about a 300-point higher MOI. Theoretically, some better players may prefer a club with slightly lower MOI, since off-center hits are not as large a concern and because they might find it easier to manipulate the clubhead. 

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Radcliffe says the weight cylinder system is made possible by the use of the company’s lightweight RZN polymer resin material found in its golf balls and also in the new Vapor irons. “The power of RZN is that it allows us to remove and relocate mass within a club head.” said Radcliffe.

The Vapor Flex (left) is built on the same technology platform as Nike’s Vapor Pro driver that Rory McIlroy recently put in play, as well as the Vapor Speed driver (below right, $300, available Jan. 30), which was also launched today. All three new Nike drivers include a redesigned sole cavity found previously in the Nike Covert and Covert 2.0 drivers. Radcliffe said the redesign included lowering and stiffening the back portion of the cavity to concentrate the flexing toward the front of the crown to improve ballspeeds. 

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Like the Vapor Pro, Vapor Flex also features the return of a sole channel toward the front of the club to improve the way the face flexes, particularly on low impacts. The channel, which was first part of Nike’s VR drivers in 2010, has been completely redesigned, including some 37 iterations before a final version was settled on. It’s designed to vary in flexibility (it's shallower in the center and deeper towards the heel and toe) to improve the way the face flexes on both on-and off-center impacts.
 
"This is a completely new channel," said Radcliffe. "It does not have a uniform depth."

The drivers also feature a rotating hosel adapter that allows players to independently adjust face angle and loft. The head adjusts between 8.5 and 12.5 degrees with one of three face angles for a total of 15 unique settings. The new hosel is 30 percent lighter than previous versions.

The Vapor Speed features a larger footprint and a slightly higher moment of inertia than McIlroy’s previously debuted Vapor Pro. The crown also slopes down more from front to back compared to last year’s Covert 2.0 to yield a larger face area.   
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Equipment

Wilson Staff pushing lightweight limits

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The theory about making clubs lighter is less weight should make the club easier to swing faster. But it’s not that simple. “Lightweight is fairly easy to do,” says Michael Vrska, director of innovation for golf clubs at Wilson Staff. “The key is to how you use the limited available mass.” 

Still, the company is pushing the limits of lighter weight. Fueled by ultralight shafts and grips and an adjustable driver head that is the lightest in the industry, Wilson unveiled its D200 line of woods and irons this week by talking about how to make lightweight clubs work for more golfers. The D200 line includes a driver with a total weight less than 270 grams, fairway woods and hybrids that use 49- and 54-gram shafts and a superlight super game-improvement iron that redistributes 48 grams to the heel and toe to improve stability on off-center hits.

Vrska says the most important aspect of the company’s new D200 driver is not just its lighter overall weight-just 268 grams-but something called club moment of inertia. While the MOI most golfers think of has to do with how stable the club is on an off-center hit (higher is generally better), the thinking on club MOI is just the opposite. Club MOI has to do with how resistant an object is to some force causing it to move (like say a golfer trying to swing it). A lower club MOI, theoretically, might mean a club is easier to swing faster. Vrska says the club MOI on the D200 is the lowest on the market. The D200, which also features a thinner, webbed, variable thickness crown through the use of a chemical etching process, also is the lightest adjustable driver in the game with a head weight of just 189 grams or about 15 grams lighter than most adjustable driver heads today. Each of the three lofts (9, 10.5, 13; $300) can be adjusted up or down one degree, and put in a draw setting.

The face size on the D200 also has been increased by 9 percent and redesigned compared to the D100. The thickness of the lower perimeter of the face has been decreased by 12 percent to further improve face deflection on off-center hits. 

Also fueling the lightweight design is a special 25-gram Golf Pride grip and a 44-gram UST Mamiya Elements Chrome shaft. 

The line includes fairway woods and hybrids with Carpenter 455 steel face inserts. Vrska says the high-strength Carpenter 455 is able to made 20 percent thinner than traditional 17-4 steel and 13 percent thinner than some Chines steels labeled “455.” The thinner face helps create the highest spring-like effect readings for Wilson’s fairway woods and hybrids in its history. Both the fairway woods and hybrids have extended low heel and toe regions for a 5 percent larger face area. The fairway woods (15, 18, 21 degrees; $250) use a 49-gram UST Mamiya Elements Chrome shaft, while the hybrids (17, 19, 212, 25, 28, 31 degrees; $180) feature a 54-gram version. Both use the 25-gram Golf Pride grip found on the driver.


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The D200 irons continue the lightweight theme, but while the saved weight is repositioned in the heel and toe, it’s how the weight is saved in the head that is especially interesting. The design features extending the same thickness of the already thin face around the leading edge and into the front part of the sole. The sole is thinnest on the longer irons and the weight is moved farther back in the cavity. As the lofts progress higher, the face-to-sole transition area isn’t as thin and the weight moves forward to control trajectory and feel. The saved weight, almost 50 percent of the club’s total mass in the 4-iron, is repositioned to the heel and toe to lower the center of gravity and to raise the head’s MOI by 9 percent, compared to the D100.

The D200 irons ($600 steel, $700 graphite) come with an 85-gram steel option and a 59-gram UST Mamiya Elements Chrome graphite option. 

All of Wilson’s D200 clubs will be in stores Jan. 16.
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Equipment

Callaway bolsters Big Bertha driver line

big-bertha-alpha-815.jpg“There’s really no one recipe for distance, there’s no one driver type that fits all,” said Alan Hocknell, Callaway’s R&D chief. “In fact, we found that there are three.” 

Those words herald today's introduction of two new Big Bertha drivers. The two new clubs complete a trio of fitting options with last month’s Big Bertha V-Series. While the lightweight, aerodynamic V-Series is aimed at enhancing clubhead speed, the new Big Bertha Alpha 815 and Alpha 815 Double Black Diamond (in stores Nov. 14) focus on spin reduction and forgiveness. The new introductions, each of which features two settings of vertical center of gravity positions come 10 months after the company unveiled the Big Bertha Alpha, its first driver to feature independent adjustability of vertical center of gravity, as well as loft and lie.

Both Big Bertha Alpha 815 and Alpha 815 DD feature lightweight composite crowns, the central core weight that can be flipped in a low or mid center of gravity position (the "gravity core"), heel and toe adjustable weights, an adjustable hosel and a revised face design that saves additional weight. In the Alpha 815 ($450; 9, 10.5 12 degrees), the weight is saved to provide lower spin and improved off-center hit stability compared to last December’s Big Bertha Alpha. 

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"We wanted this driver to get into the space where it's capable of delivering low spin but play with the character of being forgiving, as well," Hocknell said. "We don't think there's currently another driver in the marketplace that really accomplishes those two objectives."

When Callaway introduced its Big Bertha driver last December, it stressed forgiveness with a movable weight that slid to various degrees of draw and fade bias. It also debuted the Big Bertha Alpha, whose adjustable vertical center of gravity could alter spin rate by some 300 revolutions per minute depending on whether the core was positioned with its heavy end in the top or bottom position. But it was somewhat less forgiving, featuring a lower moment of inertia, or stability on off-center hits.
 
Fast forward to today and the new Big Bertha Alpha 815 promises to do both. Meanwhile, the Big Bertha Alpha 815 Double Black Diamond, as its name implies, is geared to more elite, higher swing speed golfers. Its emphasis is on extreme spin reduction.
 
The Alpha 815 utilizes eight materials (including titanium, stainless steel, tungsten, aluminum, ABS thermoplastic, and the company's trademark "forged composite" carbon fiber material) and has a lighter swingweight and overall club weight than the original Alpha along with slightly more draw bias. Also different is the head size—460cc compared to 430cc on last year’s model. The gravity core (which produces more spin in the “up” position and less when the end with more weight is in the “down” position) is identical to the original.
 
The most intriguing parts of the club, however, are the rib structures that connect from the face to the sole and the crown. “The combination of those ribs plus a thinner overall structure in the area around the face in addition to the composite crown makes the club lighter than it was before,” says Hocknell. “We have used that weight [between 5 and 6 grams] elsewhere to stretch the body in order to improve the forgiveness of the club.”
 
Hocknell went on to say that the face (which is .005 to .006 of an inch thinner on average) was designed to improve specific areas, noting that the center of the face already was at the limit and that the area near the sole of the driver is already flexible so there was no need to make it more so. Instead, Callaway engineers used internal ribs in the crown and sole to better control the flexibility of the boundary areas of the face while creating more ball speed by boosting face deflection. The company calls it RMOTO for "rib motion control"—in short, a more efficient transfer of energy to the ball while using up less weight in the face. That weight is then redistributed for more off-center hit stability than last year's Big Bertha Alpha.
 
The adjustability of the Alpha 815 expands beyond the gravity core with adjustable heel and toe weights (1 gram and 7 grams) as well as an adjustable hosel with settings ranging from minus 1 degree loft to plus 2 degrees loft, as well as draw and neutral lie angle settings. There’s also been an upgrade in the area of shaft selection as well. In addition to the stock Fujikura Speeder Motore 565, there are 13 additional premium shafts available at no upcharge from the $450 street price.
 
The Alphja 815 DD ($500, with two lofts: 9 and 10.5 degrees) version boasts most of the same attributes as the Alpha 815, but with a smaller clubhead footprint with a deeper, more open face angle and a taller gravity core that provides a larger spin difference. Furthering Callaway’s claim of a “extreme low spin driver” is that weight savings of 3 grams from the face were used to lower the CG to further lessen spin. The adjustable hosel is the same as the Alpha 815, with the movable weights of 1 gram and 5 grams.
 
Both drivers will be available in golf stores in November.
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