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."
Last year Rickie Fowler took a few swings with the green-colored driver at Augusta National during practice rounds.
Although 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.
No word on whether anyone will be playing it this week in Miami.
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.
From 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.
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.
"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.
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 // 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 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.
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."
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.
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 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.
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.
At the WGC-HSBC Champions, Dustin Johnson took the title using a TaylorMade SLDR driver with 10.5 degrees loft. Although TaylorMade has recently been touting the benefits of "lofting up" with its new driver, it's actually been a trend on the PGA Tour for more than a decade.
Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Driver lofts have been on the rise since multilayer, solid-core balls burst onto the scene in large numbers in late 2000.
Early in the same year the average driver loft on tour was around 8 degrees. In 2002 it rose to approximately 8.5 degrees. By the 2008 Deutsche Bank Championship it was all the way up to 9.17 degrees, and then five years later, at this year's Deutsche Bank, it was 9.39 degrees. At the WGC-HSBC it was even higher: 9.41 degrees.
Part of the reason for the increase is that lofts at the low end and on the high end have done a near complete flip-flop, witnessed by these numbers from 2002 and this year. In 2002 there were often as many as 30 drivers in play with lofts of 8 degrees or lower and only five (give or take, depending on the week) at 10 degrees or higher. This year most weeks saw around 10 drivers at those lower lofts and far more than 20 at the higher end. At the WGC-HSBC, for example, there were 23 drivers in play with lofts of 10.5 degrees or higher -- and that was in a field of just 78 players.
There is no single reason for the boost in driver lofts among pros. Rather, a number of equipment technologies have come together resulting in the need for additional loft. Drivers with center-of-gravity positions and other attributes designed to kill spin, solid-core balls that spin lower and the emergence of launch monitors all have contributed to players reaching for more loft.
Launch monitors revealed that high launch with low spin offered the greatest distance off the tee. When golf balls went from high-spinning liquid-center wound construction to lower-spinning solid-core multilayer models, the low spin part was a given, and it didn't take long to understand that more loft would create the high-launch part. However as more drivers were created to produce low spin, achieving the optimal trajectory and launch angle became more difficult. In 2008 the average launch angle on tour was 11.26 degrees. In 2013 it was 10.87 degrees.
That means that even though driver loft has gone up about .25 degrees over the past five years, launch angle has decreased approximately .4 degrees. It helps explain why a player with the strength and clubhead speed of Johnson still needs more loft to get the most out of his tee shots.
And what of everyday players? Although many amateurs remain reluctant to loft up, Tom Wishon, owner of Tom Wishon Golf, produced data a few years ago that revealed a golfer with a 12-degree launch angle swinging at 90 miles per hour with a modern driver under fairly normal conditions could gain an additional nine yards of carry by going from a 9-degree driver to a 13-degree driver. Yet the most popular driver lofts at retail continue to be 9, 9.5 and 10 degrees.
To those still playing with too little loft: If Johnson, the game's ultimate Mr. Macho, just went to 10.5 degrees, then what are you waiting for?
PRICE: $1,100 (set of eight, steel)
The Apex Pro uses a progressive center of gravity through the set to provide more carry on the long irons and a flatter trajectory for control on the short irons.
PRICE: $140/$180 (Heel-, center-shaft and counterbalanced)
The Smart Square mallet is designed so the parallel and perpendicular lines better frame the proper path for your putt.
Kenny Perry had a new club in his bag as he sewed up the season-long Schwab Cup points title at TPC Harding Park -- a Hopkins Golf 60-degree wedge. Perry's use of the club capped a solid first year on the Champions Tour for the fledgling company as 32 players used Hopkins Golf wedges in competition. ... After testing both Titleist's Pro V1x and TaylorMade's Lethal ball in recent weeks, Ernie Els was back with Callaway's HEX Black model at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai where Els finished T-11. ... Billy Horschel has agreed to a new multiyear deal with Ping. Horschel, who was 16th in the 2013 FedEx Cup standings, used the company's G25 woods and new S55 irons at the WGC-HSBC event as well as a custom-made Redwood Piper putter. ... Golf Pride will be showing its new Tour Velvet Super Tack grip to players at the McGladrey Classic. The grip -- the first new grip under the Tour Velvet name since 2009 -- will be available at retail in spring 2014. ... Tim Burke of Orlando won the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship in Las Vegas with a blast of 427 yards using a Krank Golf Formula 5 driver (Fujikura Flywire XXX LD shaft) with 3 degrees loft and a Top-Flite XL ball for the winning swat.
Wrench set: Is adjustability still a selling point?
Have adjustable drivers become so popular that golfers have stopped noticing the feature? A recent Golf Datatech study of serious golfers (15 or more rounds a year) shows a modest decline in enthusiasm for adjustable drivers for the first time since 2010. Last spring, 79 percent of golfers said they were interested in purchasing an adjustable driver. While still high, that number was down to 71 percent in the current study. More than 95 percent of drivers from major manufacturers being introduced for next year will be adjustable.
As the report's authors note: "It may be that adjustability has become so common that serious golfers no longer view it as 'special' and are now expecting it in their driver, similar to 'distance' in a golf ball." Curiously, the number of single-digit players "not interested" in an adjustable driver grew the most, up from 13 per- cent in the spring to 22 percent in the current study
Dave Felker is CEO of Polara Golf, which makes a slice- and hook-correcting golf ball and is marketing a driver that exceeds the USGA rules on clubhead size and springlike effect. He answers five questions from Mike Stachura.
Q: What's wrong with today's equipment rules?
The USGA likes to say they're here to preserve the game. Well, they've been around since 1894. Why didn't they just keep everything the same as in 1894, or 1910, or 1940? One of the traditions of golf is the evolution of the game's technology. The USGA should let technology evolve. There will continue to be challenges. It's never going to get so anybody can shoot an 18.
Q: Your products are geared to average golfers, not tour players, right?
Two I feel like I invented them for myself. Because I can hit it very straight off the tee now, golf is so much more fun. That's what we're shooting for: to make golfers have more fun.
Q: Do you think that's what golfers want?
If you can give people some hope that maybe they'll do a little bit better next time, that brings people back. Also, if you can lower the embarrassment factor. I think they're embarrassed because they hit it into the woods and slow up play.
Q: How would a nonconforming driver dramatically improve distance for average golfers?
What we're talking about here is a secondary effect. Once you get the proper loft, you can still get more distance if you go beyond the USGA regulations.
Q: How big can the market for these products really be?
Forty percent of golfers told Golf Datatech in 2010 they'd be willing to play nonconforming equipment if it provided a performance benefit. We repeated the survey using Google in 2012, and it was 63 percent. I think the time is right.