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Equipment

9 pictures from Day 1 at Golf Digest's annual Hot List Summit

LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. -- It's October, which means it's time for Golf Digest's annual Hot List Summit. The Hot List, in case you're unfamiliar, is a wide-scale golf-equipment project the magazine undertakes that requires packing up a ton of clubs -- more than 2,000 pounds worth -- sending them to the Wigwam resort in Arizona and subjecting them to three days of intensive player testing. Keely Levins is the editor in charge of the logistics for the Hot List and is essentially Golf Digest's answer to the energizer bunny.

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Each editor is assigned two testers, and after the testers hit some shots with each club, the editors are responsible with questioning them for all kinds of information about the product. On Thursday, testers tried fairway woods, game-improvement irons and mallet putters. I was assigned Ricky Brown (cool name) and Jason Musser (cool job: he's a detective).

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But before any of that, Golf Digest's Audience Engagement Editor, Ashley Mayo, took the testers though some stretches. It's usually greeted with lots of sarcastic banter, but I think they all secretly like it. In any case, here's tester Jeff Blind strutting his stuff for the camera.

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Because the summit this year is held over Halloween weekend, an executive decision was made to include candy in the process. Needless to say, it was far more popular then that fruit over there, which remained entirely untouched throughout the day.

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Nicknames tend to arise quickly at the summit. This year, everybody's taken to calling Golf Digest's Equipment Editor, Mike Stachura, "Mr. Grumpy." He seems to quite relish the role. Here he is at the start of the day.

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And here he his towards the end, talking with our (slightly scared) rookie tester Anand Mudaliar. Still in character!

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Once Thursday's testing ended, everybody unwound in their own way. A bunch of testers went to play golf. Apparently they were too devastated at the thought of being away from each other for a few hours, so they decided to play in a ninesome instead.

Ninesome anyone?

A photo posted by Thomas_Allen (@thomas_b_allen) on


Golf Digest senior writer Matt Rudy opted for a stiff drink.

How did I finish-up? Aside from writing this blog post, I basked in the glory of my decision to have the Wigwam do all my dirty laundry. Instead of unpacking, doing laundry and repacking from a trip I was on last week, I decided instead to just bring all my smelly clothes to Arizona and hope the Wigwam did laundry. They did, which means this was probably the most clutch thing I've ever done.

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Onwards, to tomorrow!
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Equipment

Where will Phil go next? When it comes to his equipment company, apparently nowhere

Callaway announced that its star endorser, Phil Mickelson, has signed a multi-year extension with the company to endorse and play its products, including its clubs and ball. The move ends any speculation that the two might part ways after a decade together (Mickelson controversially inked a deal with Callaway just prior to the 2004 Ryder Cup), such conjecture driven by Lefty's age (44 years old) and penchant for, at times, trying out equipment from Callaway's competitors. At times in recent years Mickelson has used fairway woods from Titleist and TaylorMade and at last year's Presidents Cup, he used a TaylorMade SLDR driver. 

Related: Phil Mickelson makes surprise visit to Callaway sales meeting

At those times, Callaway shrugged off those transgressions as Phil being Phil -- the ultimate equipment tinkerer always seeking something new. That same desire and interest in equipment, however, likely led Mickelson to re-up with Callaway as he enjoys a particularly close relationship with the R&D team there led by Dr. Alan Hocknell. In fact, Mickelson's name appears on a couple of patents for Callaway clubs designed specifically for him and he visited the company right after his British Open win (the last of his five majors) in 2013.

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"When I joined the team at Callaway 10 years ago, I knew I was making the best decision of my career," Mickelson said. "And I feel even stronger about that decision today. Backed by innovative technologies, industry-leading products, and the outstanding R&D group that works so closely with me, I honestly believe that these next few years will be the best of my career."
 

That remains to be seen as Mickelson, who has 42 PGA Tour wins to his credit, went winless last year for the first time since 2003. Still, Callaway's brass is happy to have its star player remain in the fold.

 

"We are thrilled to extend our partnership with Phil," said Callaway president & CEO Chip Brewer. "He has meant so much to Callaway, and he continues to inspire us to develop the most innovative equipment in golf." 

 

 
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Equipment

16 customized wedges that deserve their very own slow clap

The custom-stamped wedge that Robert Streb used during his victory at Sea Island last week continued a growing trend among PGA Tour players, which involves stamping your wedges with ridiculous things. Streb opted for a quote from the movie "Superbad". 

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But he's not the only one. Far from it. Here are 12 more super-customized wedges that deserve some recognition.

Andres Gonzales

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Keegan Bradley

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Cameron Tringale

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Cameron Tringale again

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Nicolas Colsaerts

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Bud Cauley

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Justin Timberlake

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Irene Cho

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John Peterson

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Lydia Ko

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Will McGirt

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Shawn Stefani

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Y.E. Yang

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Brenden Steele

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And, of course, Morgan Hoffmann.

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Good job, guys.

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Equipment

Winner's Bag: What Robert Streb used to win the McGladrey Classic

When Robert Streb got to the 179-yard, par-3 17th hole he grabbed his 8-iron and staked his tee shot to 4 feet, 3 inches and made the ensuing putt to capture his first PGA Tour win at the McGladrey Classic. blog-streb-wedge-1026.jpgThe club Streb used was a Titleist CB 714 -- an iron made from 1025 carbon steel.

Streb also had a couple of equipment quirks. Streb was one of the few players to use a conventional 2-iron at Sea Island (many had utility irons, but only three players had a regular 2-iron in play). He also had Titleist's tour rep for Vokey wedges, Aaron Dill, make him a Vokey SM5 wedge with "Do you have any normal size clothes or do you only shop at Baby Gap" stamped on it. The quote is from the 2007 film "Superbad."

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Driver: Titleist 913D3 (Aldila Tour Blue 65 TX), 9.5 degrees
3-wood: Titleist 913Fd, 15 degrees
Irons (2-9): Titleist CB; (PW): Titleist Vokey SM5
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (56 degrees); Titleist Vokey prototype (60 degrees)
Putter: Scotty Cameron by Titleist GoLo Knucklehead

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Equipment

Winner's bag: What Ben Martin used to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

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Seeking his first win on the PGA Tour, Ben Martin needed a fast finish at TPC Summerlin as Kevin Streelman had snuck ahead during the final round of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. That's when Martin's Scotty Cameron by Titleist GoLo Tour putter came alive.

Related: Ben Martin rallies in Vegas for first win

After a three-foot tap-in for birdie on the par-4 15th, Martin put his approach from 196 yards on the par-5 16th on the green but 46 feet, 5 inches away and made the bomb for an eagle to take a one-shot lead. Needing just two putts at the last from 19 feet, Martin and his heel-shafted GoLo Tour holed one final putt to secure victory.

Here's the rest of Martin's clubs, which were all Titleist except for a Ping i25 3-wood.

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Driver: Titleist 910D3 (Graphite Design Tour AD-DI 7X), 8.5 degrees
3-wood: Ping i25, 14 degrees
Hybrid: Titleist 913H, 17 degrees
Irons (3, 5-PW): Titleist CB 712
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (50, 54 degrees); Titleist Vokey TVD-K Grind (58 degrees)
Putter: Scotty Cameron by Titleist GoLo Tour

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Equipment

Ian Poulter's next equipment company might surprise you

In a move that's kind of like breaking up with your girlfriend via text message, Ian Poulter last night announced via Twitter he no longer was affiliated with Cobra-Puma Golf.
 
So let the guessing games begin.
 
Educated guesses are often better when they start by eliminating possibilities, so here is where Poulter is unlikely to go. Given the money he may want, Mizuno (which already has Luke Donald to appease its European market) is unlikely. Adams is in transition so rule them out, too.
 
Two companies that would appear to be a good fit have circumstances that would make a Poulter signing prohibitive. Nike would certainly seem to be a good cultural match, but Nike requires its athletes be head to toe and Poulter, who has his own apparel line, isn't going to don Nike's threads. Ping, which doesn't manufacture golf balls, would allow the Englishman to continue playing Titleist balls (Poulter tweeted his thumbs up of the new prototype Pro V1x), but the Phoenix-based company already has plenty of global strength with players such as Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez, making the addition of another Euro with a big contract in the low probability range.

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Callaway certainly has an affinity for star players, but in recent years has taken more of a "Moneyball" approach to its staff (outside of Phil Mickelson), preferring younger and (hopefully) up-and-coming players to round out its roster. The 38-year-old Poulter doesn't appear to fit that bill, either.
 
So where might he end up? Titleist, because of the ball, is a possibility. In fact, Poulter began his stint with Cobra when the company was owned by the Acushnet Co. But the guess here is Titleist/FootJoy would offer a ball, shoe, glove deal as opposed to a full-line contract.
 
TaylorMade always is seeking to bolster its tour staff and adding Poulter would be a nice get. But again, any deal there likely would have to include the ball and Poulter might not be willing to make that switch at this stage of his career.
 
To me the two most intriguing possibilities are Srixon and Wilson. Srixon is making a big effort in clubs in the U.S. in 2015 and needs attention to make those launches successful. They also have money. If they would be willing to let Poulter not play their ball, it would appear a solid route to go.
 
Wilson is another fascinating option. The company has slowly, but successfully re-built its brand and might be looking to make a splash on tour, especially since its flagship player, Padraig Harrington, hasn't played well in recent years. Add in the global component (Wilson is a highly successful golf brand in Europe) as well as the likelihood they would allow Poulter a ball, shoe, glove deal from Titleist and on the surface this deal works very well for both sides.
 
Of course, as Poulter tweeted, he'll let us know soon enough.
 

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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

Scotty Cameron wings it with new Futura X5

Futura_X5_1.jpgAlthough Titleist is testing its new Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls with its tour staff in Las Vegas this week, those spheres won’t be available to the public for some time. That’s no longer true of the company’s Scotty Cameron Futura X5 and X5R putters -- a pair of flat sticks that have been on tour in prototype stage but will now be available at retail starting Oct. 31.
 
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The Futura X5 is a mallet that features “wings.” The head is made with a 303 stainless-steel body and a high-grade 6061 aluminum soleplate. A lighter aluminum center area also extends down the wings. By using aluminum, Cameron was able to hollow the area under the soleplate, moving the weight to the wings to create additional moment of inertia, which adds stability and increases performance on mis-hits. It also allowed for a thicker face and topline that helped improve sound. The shaft is a single bend with a higher bend point that helps create a face-balanced putter. Each of the putters are available in 33, 34 and 35 inches. The X5R is similar in construction but with a more rounded shape than the X5. Both models will sell for $349.
 
“The X5 basically started from the original Futura 10 years ago,” said Scotty Cameron, Titleist’s master craftsman for putters. “We’ve learned from where we’ve been, taken parts of the past and moved it toward the future with performance, feel and sound. But the concept has always been about moving the weight back and out. When we do that, the putter becomes more stable and the resistance to twist becomes a lot better. So with X5 we’re using different materials like aluminum and stainless steel and getting that weight where it’s needed most. But you also have to remember the feel, the shaft bend, the grip—all of these things have to come together, and they do with the new X5.”

Both putters come in Dual Balance ($399) options with 50 grams of weight under the sole plate to counterbalance the additional 50 grams of weight in the 15-inch grip. The standard length is 38 inches, but also is available in custom lengths ranging from 36 to 40 inches in half-inch increments.

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Equipment

TaylorMade's new irons have slots--on the face

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Right away, the new RSi family of irons from TaylorMade look different. With vertical slots framing the hitting area of the face, TaylorMade is suggesting the thinking about iron design needs to change.

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“Gone are the days in irons when you worry about just moving the center of gravity or raising the moment of inertia five percent,” says Bret Wahl, vice president of R&D for irons at TaylorMade. “There are a lot of other complex variables that you’re considering, and they all factor in getting faster ball speeds across the face of an iron.” 

What Wahl is talking about, and what he and his team at TaylorMade have been talking about since the early days of the r7 CGB Max irons nearly a decade ago, is the idea of creating an iron face that flexes at impact the way a driver does. Specifically, it’s about creating a larger area of the face that’s “unsupported.” 

To that end, it’s not just about building a deeper or larger cavity, Wahl says. Instead, it’s using a cut-through opening in the sole and now similar openings on the heel and toe side of the face in an effort to make it flex more not just on center shots but on mis-hits. TaylorMade says their research shows 78 percent of iron-shot impacts occur low on the face (heel and toe) and 61 percent are towards the toe (both low and high).

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To combat these mis-hits, TaylorMade built the RSi line with face slots in the 3- through 8-iron and sole slots in the 3- through 7-iron. Each opening is cut fully through the iron, and each slot is filled with compounds designed to allow the metal to flex. 

The RSi line (available for demo today, for purchase Nov. 14) includes RSi 1 (a game-improvement iron designed as TaylorMade’s longest iron); RSi 2 (an iron shaped like a cavity-back players iron but with enhanced distance capability); and RSi TP (the most compact iron, but still featuring a cavity back and face and sole slot technologies). 

RSi 1 ($800) features the thinnest face ever on a TaylorMade iron, just 1.5 millimeters thick at the extremes. It has the widest sole and the deepest undercut cavity of the three new irons, but like each it features TaylorMade’s proprietary variable face thickness design known as “inverted cone”.

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The more compact RSi 2 ($900) is cast of a high-strength steel alloy (Carpenter 450) in the 3- through 7-irons, while the short irons feature forged faces and the gap wedge is forged entirely. The 3- through 5-irons also utilize tungsten in the toe to lower the center of gravity for help in launching shots higher. 

The RSi TP ($1,200, available Jan. 15) mixes one-piece forged short irons with a two-piece design in the 3- through 7-irons. The two-piece middle and long irons use a forged 1025 carbon steel face and neck that is plasma welded to a 431 stainless steel piece that forms the back cavity and sole slot. 

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Equipment

Winner's bag: What Sang-Moon Bae used to win the Frys.com Open

Sang-Moon Bae had a couple of key clubs during his win at the season-opening Frys.com Open -- his driver and his putter.

The driver is Callaway's Big Bertha V Series and Bae's win was the sixth for the club worldwide since it was introduced at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August. The 9-degree club is 45 inches in length with the OptiFit hosel set to minus 1 degree of loft with a neutral directional setting. The shaft is Graphite Design's MJ7 x-flex.

Related: A frame-by-frame look at Sang-Moon Bae's swing

The putter, however, is truly intriguing. Bae put the Odyssey Damascus Grand in play to start the year after picking it up in Japan during his off-season. The 345-gram club is made from Damascus steel, which is the same type of steel used to make samurai swords. The limited edition putter -- only 350 were produced and were available only in Japan -- features a striped pattern head.

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BALL: Callaway Speed Regime 3
DRIVER: Callaway Big Bertha V Series (Graphite Design MJ7), 9 degrees
3-WOOD: Callaway Diablo Octane Tour, 15 degrees
HYBRID: Callaway X Hot Pro, 18 degrees
IRONS (4-PW): Callaway Razr X MB
WEDGES: Callaway X Forged (52, 56, 60 degrees)
PUTTER: Odyssey Damascus Grand

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