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Testing, Testing, Testing... The Prototype Season's Underway

From drivers to balls, PGA Tour pros have been checking out equipment manufacturers' new models in recent days. Typically, it's a hush-hush process that generates buzz

Titleist 913 Driver

Head Start: Titleist's new 913 drivers drew interest from competitors at the AT&T National; 14 players used the club last week.

July 9, 2012

Prototype. It's a word that turns heads on PGA Tour practice ranges and sends golf equipment writers and bloggers scrambling for tidbits of information and sneak-peek photos. At times the product is out in the open; at others it is kept hidden under headcovers, in white, unmarked boxes or in the safety of the tour vans. In all cases it piques curiosity.

Welcome to the tour's prototype season, a time when manufacturers bring yet-to-be-released equipment to their professional staffs to garner feedback and product validation. Once upon a time, as few as 10 years ago, manufacturers would wait until after the majors before unveiling prototypes. No more. Hoping to gain any edge they can, players today are increasingly open to equipment experimentation, even midyear.

At the AT&T National, Titleist continued testing new balls with players and also debuted its new 913 line of drivers. The D2 version features a 460cc clubhead with a full pear profile, while the D3 model has a slightly smaller (445cc) head with a traditional pear profile. Fourteen players put the new clubs in play at Congressional CC, including Seung-yul Noh (a 7.5-degree 913D3), who finished T-4. Brendon de Jonge, who led after 54 holes only to finish T-11, also had the new driver in play -- a 9.5-degree 913D3.

"Although we always bring our new product out for tour validation before releasing it to market, we're also seeking player feedback," said Chris McGinley, VP of golf club marketing for Titleist, who was on hand at Congressional. "What our players tell us can help shape the finished product that comes to market."

Prototype product, however, isn't always earmarked for public consumption. Earlier this year Callaway unveiled its X Utility iron -- an iron-like hybrid available in 18, 21 and 24 degrees. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els had the club in the bag at the recent U.S. Open and usage continued at Congressional with Brendan Steele, J.B. Holmes and amateur Beau Hossler (who found it a better fit from a distance-gap standpoint and easier to work the ball than his hybrid) putting the club in play. Regardless, Callaway has no plans to make a consumer version.

Srixon, meanwhile, conducted testing of prototype balls during practice rounds with several staff players, including Vijay Singh, Robert Allenby and Kevin Stadler. The feedback was the ball performed similarly to their current ball off the driver and irons, but produced a slightly flatter flight on full wedge shots (a desirable trait for most tour players) with slightly more spin.

The tour also is fertile ground for shaft prototypes. In recent weeks Mitsubishi's latest iteration of its Diamana series, the +Plus (a mixture of the first and second generation Diamanas), has been spotted. Kyle Stanley put the new Diamana +Plus White Board (which features a more active tip section for a higher launch) in his Titleist driver at Travelers.

The past few weeks were just the start. More proto-types will work their way on tour in the weeks (and months) ahead, some eventually making it to retail shelves, others not. Either way, the prototype season is here -- and the buzz has begun.


Cobra Orange Amp

NEW STUFF
Cobra Orange Amp

Price: $500 (Lofts: 9.5, 10.5 degrees)
Playing off Rickie Fowler's penchant for wearing orange on Sunday, Cobra is debuting a limited-edition orange AMP driver. The club features an orange crown and an orange-and-black soleplate. The club boasts an adjustable hosel for face-angle adjustment.


Callaway RAZR Fit

Callaway RAZR Fit
Price: $400 (Lofts: 8.5, 9.5, 10.5, 11.5 degrees)
Callaway's first adjustable driver -- inter-changeable weights on the sole and a rotating hosel that can be altered to affect ballflight -- has a redesigned face that saved 4 grams of weight while improving ball speed on off-center hits. Since introducing the club, Callaway has debuted a UDesign version (where golfers can chose one of eight different color schemes for the sole) as well as a Tour Authentic model with extra adjustability options. Luke List currently leads the Web.com Tour in driving distance at 324.2 yards using an 8.5-degree version.

BAG ROOM
Upon arriving at Congressional CC Jhonattan Vegas found his Nike Method 001 putter had been damaged in transit, the shaft bent to a point where it was unusable. Nike techs reshafted the putter, and Vegas went on to lead the AT&T field in strokes gained/putting, picking up more than 2.5 strokes per round on the field in his T-4 finish. ... Although there has been no formal announcement, it is clear Patrick Cantlay's equipment deal is with Titleist. Cantlay had 14 Titleist clubs in a Titleist staff bag at the AT&T National. He also used the company's Pro V1x ball. ... Hunter Mahan switched shafts in his Ping G20 driver to a Matrix Ozik to produce a higher launch. Mahan averaged 302.5 yards off the tee at the AT&T during his T-8 showing. ... Although he had never used a 5-wood before, Kevin Stadler put a Callaway RAZR Fit 5-wood in play at Congressional to close the distance gap between his 3-wood and hybrid.

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