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Gear & Equipment

Honda Classic Champ Russell Henley talks about what equipment he uses, and why

By E. Michael Johnson

Despite being just 24 years old, Russell Henley is a man in tune with his equipment. We caught up with the 2014 Honda Classic champ after his win at PGA National to talk to him about his bats and ball.

Related: Russell Henley Wins Wacky Honda Classic

Ball: I use Nike's new RZN Black. Started using it earlier this year. The biggest difference from the 20XI that I had been using is that it flies a little flatter, not as much a spinny flight. So I'm able to control it in the wind well. But it checks well around the greens, too, and has a softer feel that I like. I used to mark my ball with dots on either side of the number but now I don't mark it like that anymore. I put a line through the RZN Black stamp.

Driver: I'm not in the new Nike Covert VRS 2.0 yet although I'll probably put that in play at some point this year. Right now I have the Nike VR_S STR8Fit [9.5 degrees with Graphite Design HD-7X shaft]. I'm just so confident with this one right now that it makes it tough to switch.

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Fairway woods: Last year I used Nike SQ Sumo but last fall I put the new Covert 2.0 fairway woods in the bag. I used the 5-wood a lot today off the tee. It spins a little more so I'm able to get some air under it and it was a big help on 18 during the playoff.

Related: What's In My Bag: Russell Henley

Irons: I've played played a split set of irons since college. It just makes the long irons [Nike VR Pro Cavity] easier to hit. They're more forgiving and I can get some height with them and flight them the way I want. I also gain some confidence from looking down at the bigger head. When I have a 6-iron in my hand I'm not trying to stick it tight most of the time. I'm just trying to get it on the green. That bigger head gives me the confidence I can do that. 

Wedges: I had a new 59-degree wedge for this week. Same model [Nike VR Forged] but the grooves were getting a little dull so I figured I would need some fresh grooves and extra spin around the greens. I had the leading edge dulled a little bit to help with getting through the grass and it has 10 degrees bounce. I like wedges with a lot of bounce.

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Putter: I'm still using the Nike Method 006 prototype I've had for a bit. It's modeled after a putter I used in college and has a little longer hosel than regular 006.

Final thought: I went to Georgia and it was a Nike school and being able to stay with the same brand of equipment in the pros was huge. Chris Haack [Georgia men's golf coach] gets a lot of credit. I had played Titleist up to then but he convinced me playing Nike was a good move. My first time playing Nike clubs I shot four straight 66s and I was sold.

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Gear & Equipment

Woods tests out Nike Covert VR_S driver at Muirfield

By E. Michael Johnson

Instead of players hitting into him (as seen on a recent Nike commercial), perhaps it will be Tiger Woods saying, "Sorry," this week at Muirfield during the British Open. That's because Woods was spotted Monday testing a Nike VR_S Covert Tour driver.

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The club, which does not have the weight screw in the sole like the production model, has a Mitsubishi Diamana White Board 73X shaft and the pear shape Woods feels allows him to better shape his shots. Additionally, the shaft is glued as opposed to being adjustable.

Related: The Complete Hot List

Although it is unclear whether Woods will put the club in play this week or not, the World No. 1's history with equipment shows that although he takes his time changing drivers, he is not adverse to doing so. During his career Woods has won with eight different drivers: Cobra's King Cobra Deep Face, Titleist's 975D and six Nike models--Forged Titanium, Ignite, Ignite 460, SasQuatch Tour, SQ Dymo 380 prototype and VR Tour. Whether No. 9 comes at the British Open remains to be seen.



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Gear & Equipment

Five questions with Nike TW '14 designer Tobie Hatfield

Including Sunday's win wearing the Nike TW '14, Tiger Woods has won eight times since switching to a sneaker-like golf shoe he designed with Tobie Hatfield, the mind behind the Nike Free running shoes. Hatfield answers five questions from Mike Stachura.

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Cruel shoes: Tiger Woods' precision extends to Hatfield's shoe design. Photo: Marc Lecureuil

Q: What's the challenge in designing golf shoes?
Golf has been one of the more unusual sports for me to work on because the golfer is on so many different types of terrain in one round, even in one hole. I mean, a gym floor is a gym floor wherever you go. In track, everything's the same. In golf, it's crazy. It's anything and everything.

Q: What changes were made for this year?
Tiger wanted to build upon the idea of mobility with stability. We've brought the dynamic Flywire technology of our other shoes to the golf shoe. It works with his foot when he's moving, but when he's at address and the club is moving, then it holds him in really nicely, and he can feel that power translate into the ball.

Q: How is a minimalist, "natural motion" design important in a golf shoe?
You want to feel what's underneath, not in a bad way but in a good way. The easier it is for the computer that's your mind to understand those differences, the better you're able to make adjustments and stay balanced. Balance is so key.

Q: How is Tiger as a shoe designer?
It felt like I was talking to this amazing computer. He remembers every shot he's hit in his life, what it felt like at the moment of impact, and he's very precise in how he describes things.

Q: How important is it for Tiger to win with this technology?
I can have all the technology in the world, but if the greatest golfer wasn't wearing it, it would be much more difficult. If anyone is going to change what golfers wear on their feet, it's Tiger.


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Gear & Equipment

Tiger's Back: Nike's new TW Collection

By Marty Hackel

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Two views: TW Graphic (left) and TW Stripe.

Nike's new Tiger Woods collection shirts ($80 to $100) are technically complex, but the goal is simple: allow for movement. Sometimes with a traditionally cut shirt, you feel parts of the material when you swing. These have a continuous shoulder seam with a bonding that makes it nearly imperceptible.

The result is comfort and functionality. The shirts use Nike's Dri-FIT technology, meaning they're lightweight and allow moisture to evaporate, so they feel good in warm conditions. This is a good shirt if you're looking to go down a size for a better fit. More info.


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Gear & Equipment

Winner's bag: What Tiger played en route to victory

By E. Michael Johnson

How good has Tiger Woods been with his Nike Method 001 putter during his last two wins at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational?

tiger-putter-300.jpgConsider that Woods has ranked second and first, respectively, in strokes gained/putting during those two events and his strokes gained performance (more than 11 strokes better than the field average) was his best in an event since 2004. Further, he has made an amazing 35 putts of eight feet or longer over the last 144 holes.

Here's a look at everything else Woods played in his most recent win:

Driver: Nike VR Tour 8.5-degree (Graphite Design DI 6X)
Fairway woods: Nike VR Pro Limited Edition 15-degree and VR_S Covert 19-degree
Irons: Nike VR Pro Blades (3-PW)
Wedges: Nike VR Pro 56- and 60-degree
Putter: Nike Method 001
Ball: Nike ONE Tour D
Shoes: Nike TW '13

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Gear & Equipment

Augusta Shoe Show

By E. Mike Stachura

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Go green: TW '13 LE showing seasonal colors.

As Spike Lee's alter ego used to say in the Nike Air Jordan TV spots, "Money, it's got to be the shoes."

Tiger Woods' new golf footwear, modeled after the Nike Free running shoe, might not be the sole reason he has regained his No. 1 ranking, but its distinctive enough to inspire a special version tied to the Masters, which Woods has won four times.

Nike's TW '13 LE has green, yellow and red accents on the outsole, the top eye-stay and the tongue. It'll be in stores this week in limited quantities. Enough for Tiger's sometime golf partner Michael Jordan. Mars Blackmon? Maybe not so much.


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Gear & Equipment

Adjustability isn't just for drivers anymore

By E. Michael Johnson

In the 2010 Golf Digest Hot List, just one fairway wood was adjustable. This year there were seven.

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In addition to TaylorMade's RocketBallz Stage 2 Tour (profiled in the Jan. 30 issue of Golf Digest STIX), the following adjustable fairway woods can help you take more control of your game.

Adams SUPER LS
:
Multi-material fairway wood has 16 settings for loft/face angle and length.

Callaway RAZR FIT XTREME: Adjustable from 2 degrees open to 1 degree closed. Open setting also reduces loft by 1 degree; closed setting adds 1degree.

Cobra AMP CELL: The 3-4wood model can be adjusted from 13 to 16 degrees with two draw settings, and the 5-7 wood ranges from 17 to 20 degrees with two draw settings. Available in four head colors.

Nike VR_S Covert Tour: The 3- and 5-wood models can be adjusted to five lofts each.

Ping ANSER:
Each loft model can be altered by plus or minus half a degree.

Titleist 913F: Loft and lie angles can be adjusted to one of 16 overall settings.



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Gear & Equipment

Nike makes it official, signs Rory McIlroy to head-to-toe deal

By E. Michael Johnson

Now that Nike Golf has officially introduced Rory McIlroy as its newest "athlete," signing him to a multi-year deal to play its clubs and ball as well as don its apparel and shoes, the logical question is, "What happens now?"

Golf history shows the landscape has been littered with top-name players that have switched equipment companies only to fail miserably after doing so.

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Photo by Getty Images

After a big year in 1993, Payne Stewart left Wilson to sign with Spalding in 1994. The deal required him to change from forged blades to cast, offset irons, as well as the two-piece Top-Flite ball. The results were shockingly bad. Stewart won a mere $145,687 in 1994 and finished the year 123rd on the money list. Players such as Corey Pavin and Lee Janzen had similar struggles after cashing in. So did Nick Price. After leading the PGA Tour in earnings for two consecutive years, Price went from Ram to Atrigon. The following year he was 30th in earnings. Price went on to several other equipment companies, but never rose higher than 17th in earnings again. Still, players have changed companies and succeeded. Ernie Els has won four major titles with three different companies. Phil Mickelson won three majors after leaving Titleist for Callaway.

McIlroy's odds for a successful transition are significantly better than those of Stewart and Price. For starters, companies rarely force a player into a specific product anymore and they certainly would not make a player make such a drastic departure from what they are used to or comfortable with. Still, the fact is professional golfers like their comfort zone and McIlroy now has a bunch of variables to deal with, including new apparel and footwear, as well as new clubs. The slightest variation in feel or flight or distance can affect a player of McIlroy's ability level, so some sort of transition/familiarity period should be expected.

Related: Five costly equipment switches

Still, the tools at his (and Nike Golf's) disposal are many. Fitting technologies now make it easier to dial a player in to his clubs. Manufacturing levels also are better, allowing for companies to make specialized products if needed that can address a player's needs while not looking significantly different from the product being sold in stores. In the early stages of the Nike Tour Accuracy ball, Nike tweaked the formulation of the ball to address some of Tiger Woods' needs. Woods also played smaller-headed versions of the company's drivers at times. If needed, the same could be done for McIlroy.

Players also spend more time conducting due diligence. Unlike 20 years ago where the big check was most important, the prize money and other endorsement dollars that come with being successful are too great to risk by signing with a company that may be a poor match. Players test equipment more frequently, and they speak with other players about the company they might sign with.

However, despite all the legwork and enhanced technologies, the fact remains that there is some risk involved -- both for McIlroy and Nike Golf. Should the world No. 1 somehow struggle in 2013 many will be quick to point to the equipment as the reason. And Nike Golf, which is just starting to get its legs under it as a legitimate player in the equipment business simply can't afford that kind of negative impression of its new product line -- specifically its VR_S Covert driver.

There's also the question of how McIlroy's signing will impact the marketplace. It has long been thought that golfers are good at raising brand awareness but don't necessarily help sell specific products. The old saw was that if players sold clubs then the Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus brands would have been the two best-selling golf equipment companies of all-time.

Related: Rory and Tiger's new Nike ad

Nike is banking that McIlroy's presence alongside Tiger Woods in the company's athlete stable (the pair has already filmed an ad together that is somewhat reminiscent of the old Larry Bird/Michael Jordan ads) will produce a positive impact. What that impact is, however, might be up for discussion.

"If you go back the last 30 years in golf, the most successful companies have been ones that were able to run leadership campaigns," said Leigh Bader, co-owner for Joe & Leigh's Golf Shop at Pine Oaks GC in South Easton, Mass. "To be able to say you're No. 1 in something has proven very powerful. The star-athlete strategy in golf has historically been less effective."

Bader's statement stands up. TaylorMade and Titleist have done remarkably well with their No. 1 driver and No. 1 ball in golf, respectively, campaigns. The latter, in fact, has thrived despite repeated defections by big-name players from its tour staff, including Woods, David Duval, Phil Mickelson and McIlroy, maintaining no player is bigger than the brand. Adams Golf has been able to translate its No. 1 hybrid on tour claim into sales as well. On the flip side, a company such as Callaway has struggled to parlay the impact of Phil Mickelson into sales. On the surface, Lefty is an endorsement dream -- he's been successful (three majors with Callaway), uses the product and openly discusses its benefits while being one of the most popular players on tour with fans). Yet Callaway has struggled during his tenure with them.

For now, though, Nike Golf enjoys both a star-athlete strategy as well as a leadership position. No other company can lay claim to having the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world.

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Gear & Equipment

Equipment Q&A with Nike's Tom Stites: How the club goes through the dirt

The concept of game-improvement in irons now extends quite dramatically even into the area that we refer to as Players Irons in the Golf Digest Hot List. Few current designers have been involved with the development of the concept of game-improvement irons as long as Tom Stites, director of golf club creation for Nike Golf. Indeed, one of the first projects Stites worked on when he started with the Ben Hogan Company in the 1980s was the legendary Hogan Edge iron, the first truly game-improvement iron made by the company. It was launched with a memorable commercial that featured the 74-year-old, cardigan-wearing company namesake striping shots on the range at Riviera Country Club. The club was a hit and not just because of the commercial. It ushered in the idea that even the greatest ball-striker ever might one day seek a little assistance from his equipment. Stites believes that's true for every golfer today, and probably more than ever. 


For this week's Equipment Q&A, we asked Stites to give us a better understanding of what "game improvement" means in irons for various types of players. Here, from our research for the NBC/Golf Digest Equipment Special, is some of his insight.  

Golf Digest: Can you make "players irons" with "game improvement features? 
Tom Stites: For an elite player, someone that's really highly skilled, game improvement is a different thing, it's more about the trajectory of the golf ball, being able to control spin, being able to control the knock-downs, being able to score, and how the club goes through the dirt. That's one of the things Mr. Hogan talked about a lot, you know, how it engages the dirt. These players are usually at a little steeper angle than most of the amateur or less-skilled players and so those characteristics and specifications need to be understood. Like the centers of gravity are usually considerably higher in the blades themselves, so game improvement to these players is being able to make a specific kind of shot with the skill that they've been blessed with or trained themselves into.


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Gear & Equipment

New Nike ball has core story

More than 10 years ago, Nike's multilayer, urethane-covered Tour Accuracy signaled a shift in tour-level golf balls. Now the company is hoping it has found another golf-ball technology that can meet with similar success.

Nike's new 20XI line boasts a four-piece construction featuring a resin core, which is lighter than a rubber counterpart. According to Rock Ishii, Nike's product development director for golf balls, that material allows for heavier outer layers. The result, he said, is better perimeter weighting and a higher moment of inertia, which, just like a golf club, enhances forgiveness. In the case of a ball, it can assist in windy conditions due to reduced driver spin.

Nike produced a video of its tour players (including Tiger Woods and Stewart Cink) talking about the new ball and its benefits during testing sessions. Yes, it smacks a little of a commercial, but there are some nuggets of insight that make it worth a look.

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