Six drivers on this year's Hot List utilize some measure of adjustability, whether it be lie angle tweaks, face angle effects or center of gravity manipulation. Or maybe all three. Certainly, it's long been clear that the leader among major companies in this area is TaylorMade. While some examples of adjustable drivers have been around literally for decades, it was TaylorMade's r7 Quad, introduced seven years ago, that launched the idea to the greater golfing public.
Its most recent foray into adjustability, the R11, has dominated the industry in almost every conceivable metric since it debuted in January. The idea of adjustability, though it's continued to expand over the last seven years, remains fairly simple: allowing the golfer (or better, and what we prefer, a qualified fitter) to precisely set up a driver to match and or compensate for a player's specific swing tendencies or flaws.
Benoit Vincent, chief technical officer at TaylorMade-adidas Golf, has directed the company's innovation efforts throughout the adjustable era. In today's Equipment Q&A, we share some highlights of our conversation with him as we researched the NBC Golf Digest Equipment Special.
Golf Digest: What brought you to some of the challenges to creating a driver with triple adjustability? How did we get from the movable weights of r7 to the three layers of R11?Benoit Vincent: From the very beginning for us, we have been trying to deal with manipulating the launch parameters of the golf ball. It's so complex because there are so many parameters and individual requirements coming from the golfers concerning the way the golf club is going to function at impact, to the way the golf ball is going to react, to where you hit it on the golf club and how that can change. There are so many things that contribute to the characteristics of the ball upon impact and the way it is going to fly.
Vincent: We scratch our heads and try to go step-by-step to learn what we can engineer to influence that event the most, and, at the same time, what we can't do. As you know, the first thing we did was we shifted the weights around and that was a fantastic tool in manipulating trajectory up and down, right and left, and it resulted in our r7 Quad series of drivers. Then, after a while, that was not enough because a lot of golfers were looking for how the club sets up at address. In our heads, right then, we knew that there was a perception that was influencing the way players were swinging the club and we wanted to know how we could engineer that. Some players wanted to see a couple of degrees open, others wanted to see it a couple of degrees closed. For example, we knew some of the top players were bending their drivers six, seven, eight degrees open, but they obviously still were able to bring the clubface back to square at impact. What that told us was that the way they perceived a club at address was influencing the way they were going to swing. So that was a parameter we addressed through the modification of the hosel in our R9 driver. And we were very pleased that we could affect the launch characteristics of the golf ball by manipulating these two variables. But again after awhile, we began to realize that we still hadn't done quite enough. You see, the hosel system modifies two things at the same time. It is modifying the face angle, as well as the loft. The problem is you might want to modify one more than the other, but you weren't able to. So, our challenge has been to decouple parameters to try to affect one parameter, while keeping another parameter unchanged. So that desire to affect just one parameter at a time drove us to decouple even further what was happening between loft and face angle. That's the reason we came up with this idea to say, "Let's introduce one more tool in the product in order to control these variables independently," and that's how we added the adjustable sole plate in addition to the two previous ones.
Golf Digest: But it's difficult to engineer and manufacture. Is it too complicated for the average golfer to understand?Vincent: This is challenging because three systems in one body, well, that's a lot of complexity, a lot of adjustment. We had to ask ourselves, "Are we going to be able to make golfers understand how to do it?" So we worked extensively on making sure that the user interface was not too complicated. First, we kept the same wrench to do the three operations. By this we didn't have to go into your bag and find three different wrenches for three different adjustments. We made it simple by making sure the adjustment of the sole plate was just untightening the screws and rotating the plates in three very obvious positions. So all those design refinements were here to make sure that people would be willing to go to step 1, 2, and 3 to control your loft, then control your face angle, and then control your weight. It was our desire to make it as simple as possible for every golfer to understand how you can maximize your distance without compromising anything else.
Golf Digest: What you're saying is adjustability is the new science of fitting golfers, correct?Vincent: I think the reason why we like adjustability is because every time you do a clubfitting with different clubs there are so many small variations to consider. Grip to grip, shaft to shaft, head to head there's such a small variation so at the end of the game you don't know if the fitting the club you provided to the golfer is the result of the addition of the combinations of those variations. Or have you really manipulated the variable that is going to really make a change in the performance of that golf club? So the first real benefit of being able to adjust a golf club is you manipulate one variable at a time. It's almost a scientific approach of dialing in your swing. The other part is when you look at it on tour, it is really impressive to see that some of the fastest players have actually not the optimal launch conditions. Sergio, Dustin, they spin the ball pretty high and they launch pretty low, which is not optimal. But those who do not swing as fast as these players need better launch conditions. I don't know who is the egg and who is the chicken, but what we see is those who are not as fast as those players, they have to have the optimal launch conditions because that is almost the only way for them to be competitive in the game. If we could put those fast players in the same range as those guys that are in the optimal windows, they would benefit from even more extra distance. Unfortunately, we still see players that are not in the window to produce the maximum distance. But if we are able to develop fitting solutions to make sure that if they already make all that effort, why shouldn't they gain the maximum benefit of all the speed they naturally can produce? We think they will if we can dial them to the optimal window. That's why fitting through adjustability is something very important for the enjoyment of all golfers, regardless of how fast they swing.