Nike's new metals mix subtle, dramatic changes
Although Nike’s new line of drivers have been gaining attention in the hands of tournament winners Rory McIlroy and Charl Schwartzel this fall, the company officially unveiled the line this week. If there’s a unifying theme across the three drivers, it’s a story of saving weight through new methods and materials and redistributing it for more efficient energy transfer at impact.
The new threesome includes the all-titanium Vapor Fly and Vapor Fly Pro and the multi-material Vapor Flex 440. Each of these builds on last year’s Vapor drivers in ways that seem at once subtle and dramatic. The reason starts with the tour players that Nike works with says director of engineering Nate Radcliffe.
“What we are doing in terms of R&D is always driven by athlete insights,” Radcliffe said. “The main approach we took with a player like Rory, for example, was familiar but better.”
While the Vapor Fly and Fly Pro are both again 460 cubic centimeter heads like their predecessors, the subtle but dramatic change is a newly thinned crown design. At its thinnest the crown gets down to 0.45 millimeters thick, which is the thinnest Nike’s been in its drivers.
That new construction freed up designers to make the face taller and the overall face area larger to increase forgiveness, but do it all without penalizing the club’s center of gravity location.
“Normally when you move the crown up the CG goes with it,” said Nike’s Kevin Harper, senior innovation manager for metalwoods. “But in this case with the weight savings in the crown we were able to lower the CG.”
Both Vapor Fly and Vapor Fly Pro continue Nike’s trademark sole cavity design that’s been part of its metal wood line since the introduction of the Covert line. That structure pushes weight to the perimeter for improved stability on off-center hits. Further supporting the back of the driver are internal and external beams that concentrate the flexing of the club toward the front.
Enhancing the way the face flexes is a channel in the sole close to the leading edge. That channel has been thinned as well to provide a more efficient center of gravity location.
The third driver in the line, the Vapor Flex 440, is more of a departure from last year’s Vapor Flex. It again features an adjustable weight slug in the sole that can alter spin rate and launch angle, depending on its orientation (less spin with the heavy end positioned toward the face, for example).
But what really catches the eye is how the entire back shell of this year’s model—60 percent of the entire club—is constructed of composite reinforced with Nike’s RZN resin polymer material. The material, which Nike developed for its golf ball cores, markedly frees up weight because it’s one-third the density of titanium.
“This is something pretty exciting for us,” Radcliffe said. “Overall I think this is indicative of not only where we’ve been with the previous Flex, but where we’re going. This is a bit of a concept car. We’re super excited about what it can do and what it opens up for us.”
According to Nike’s lead designer for metalwoods Joshua Boggs, it’s more than just using a lighter material. “It’s like casting titanium at .3 millimeters, which no one can do,” he said. “What we’re doing obviously is saving weight, but at the same time it’s giving us intricasies of geometries that we can now go after that we could never cast in titanium.”
With the weight savings, the center of gravity is pushed lower and more forward for low spin.
The Vapor Flex 440, which like its name implies is 440cc, employs the cavity design in the sole to redistribute weight to the perimeter, as well as a reengineered flexible sole channel to contribute to the way the face rebounds at impact.
All three Nike drivers employ a dual axis hosel adjustment that allows the user to alter loft between 8.5 and 12.5 degrees and independently shift face angle between open, neutral and closed for a total of 15 possible settings. The Vapor Fly ($350 and Vapor Fly Pro ($400) will be in stores in late January. The Vapor Flex 440 ($500) will be available in March.
Along with the new drivers, the company also boasts a reinvigorated line of fairway woods and hybrids, too. While the Vapor Fly line of fairway woods and hybrids again get a horsepower boost from the flexible channel in the sole, like the drivers they also benefit from a thinned out crown construction that is 30 percent lighter than its predecessors. That makes for a lower center of gravity and less spin.
The fairway woods feature a new, slimmer adjustable hosel that allows the player to alter loft by plus or minus one degrees and change lie angle by two degrees. It’s available in five heads that encompass a loft range from 14 to 22 degrees. The new shape of the hybrids, including an even deeper sole channel, grew out of discussions with Nike tour player Francesco Molinari. One key subtle element is the enhanced bounce angle on the leading edge to make the club work more easily through the turf while also helping the channel work more efficiently on low-face impacts.
Both the fairway woods ($250) and hybrids ($220) will be available in late January.