ORLANDO, Fla.-- I had breakfast with Nick Faldo Wednesday morning. I thought it was just going to be the two of us, but apparently Nick invited 50 other media types, who joined us in a tent in front of Orange County National.It was the start of what I consider the Best Golf Day of the Year--the PGA Merchandise Show's Demo Day, where pros and media get to pound balls on Orange County's dreamy 360-degree range and try out what's new in golf equipment. It was a Chamber of Commerce day, all blue sky and warm sunshine and puffy white clouds en route to a high of 80 degrees.
What better way to start the festivities than with a modest (and free) breakfast buffet? Sir Nick arrived just past 8:30, looking a bit bleary-eyed but chipper. He tapped into his charming side immediately. Surveying a crowded tent, he quipped, "I don't think I had this many people rush in when I won majors." Then he began to talk about Faldo Pro-Care, a range of personal care products for men.
Faldo couldn't get out of the tent without fielding a few golf questions. He was asked if he thought Tiger would win a major in 2012. Faldo said we'll learn a lot about him in the next few months but added that the Masters would be his best chance. "Olympic Club is very difficult with the canted fairways and greens; Lytham should be like Hoylake, very firm and challenging; and Kiawah, with likely crosswinds, will be tough," he said. "In theory, the Masters is his best shot."When the press conference finished, I headed for the range.
There was already a line at the TaylorMade tent for those waiting to swing the heavily advertised new RocketBallz woods, so I kept going. At Adams, I stopped to try out the new Speedline Fast 12 driver. It's got a swoopy, aerodynamic curve on the back end of the driver -- kind of like a helmet. In the effort to boost clubhead speed, driver head aerodynamics may well be the final frontier. I'd love to tell you I bashed a few shots out of sight with it, but the reality is, I was pretty stiff without a warm-up. I hit a couple of decent ones, but nothing magical. I'm solidly hooked on my current driver, an Adams Speedline Fast 10 with a custom shaft, but I'll take a longer look at the new model when my game is in season (sometime after April?).
My next stop was Ping and the new line of i20 clubs. Mark Wilson just won the Humana Challenge playing these. The i20 driver has the traditional big, pear-shaped outline and is striking with its black matte finish on top. (The finish reminded me of some college football helmets I saw this year.) The Ping i20 looks good and, loosening up a bit, I pelted a few good swipes.
The music on the far end of the circular range came from the Puma/Cobra tent. Rickie Fowler is now playing Cobra clubs, and Cobra was clearly ready for him. The new Amp irons are cavity-backs with orange designs in the cavity and bright orange grips. The bafflers and woods have lime green trim on the head lettering, and the bafflers have lime green grips. The more colorful the clubs, I guess, the more Rickie-er you'll play. That's called marketing, and if you've got Rickie Fowler in your stable, you'd do it, too. It's eye-catching stuff that is certain to appeal to Rickie's biggest fans -- the under-18 crowd.
I met up with Steve Boccieri of Heavy Golf, the company that came up with the Heavy Putter, the Heavy Driver and last year, the whole darned heavy set. The clubs are terrific and, FYI, they aren't that heavy. As a compromise to those who don't pick up all the irons but want to standardize the weighted feel of their irons, they've got a new Secret Grip –- a 94-gram grip that's also an inch longer. If you've got a Heavy driver and a heavy fairway wood or two, and you want to get a similar feel for your irons, you slip a Secret Grip on and suddenly your irons feel better.
I hit some shots with a regular pitching wedge and some more with a wedge that had the heavier grip. Shots with the heavier club felt better, more powerful and more solid. It wasn't even a contest. Once you go heavy, you don't want to go back. The Heavy clubs, in my opinion, may be the most underrated products in golf. They're not that easy to find, but if you get the chance, hit some demos on a range. You will not believe it.
A stop at Champ Spikes was informative. I know, you don't care about spikes. I don't either until I can't get them out of my shoes to install a fresh set. A new six-pronged model has a little bounce and give in it, making them more comfortable to walk on than the regular model. The sensation, I gathered, was like walking on Lucky Charms. Help yourself to that as your marketing slogan. You're welcome. One other item caught my attention, the Barefoot B.E.R.B.S. golf shoes. The initials stand for Better Energy blah-blah-blah. The part you need to remember is Barefoot. These golf shoes are thin, soft and look like slippers. They have Velcro straps, one across the top of your foot and another around your heel, which leaves room to cheat half a size.
The Barefoot guys took those five-toed athletic shoes that have become popular, added golf spikes and tweaked them.
They're soft and comfortable, almost loose. It really is like wearing slippers. The shoes have only five spikes apiece, and they're in a unique elliptical pattern. Hold a pair of the shoes together and look at the soles; the spikes form a pattern around the outside of each foot, somewhat circular. There is no spike near the front toe, which is the one golfers often accidentally drag across the green.
The shoes weigh a mere 11 ounces. I picked up a driver and hit several tee shots wearing the shoes, which I was afraid might not support me. My feet moved a little on the first try, so I focused on keeping them solid on the next few swings. Nutted the drives. That reminds me of how the legendary Sam Snead used to hit balls barefoot on the range on occasion to get his balance back because golf spikes allow you to overswing. I'd be curious to see if the Barefoot shoes would be supportive enough to walk 18 holes, but I wouldn't hesitate to wear them if I’m riding.
My order isn't in yet, but with a suggested retail price of $139, it will be.
See you at the Convention Center tomorrow as the main Show kicks off. (Photos: David Walberg/SI)