We have seen the future of golf and it is ... square?
Yes, that is a bit of a surprise, but that's what I learned, among other things, at the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. In the quest to build a better club (technically, the quest to sell a lot more of the better clubs than the other guys), equipment makers turned geometric drivers into the hot ticket of 2007.
Geometric drivers? Clubs have taken on different shapes -- squarish, rectangular and even triangular -- as equipment companies try to improve their clubs' moment of inertia (MOI). (That's technospeak for a club's resistance to twisting.) The less a club twists before impact, the more stable it is. And, therefore, the straighter and farther the shot flies. Clubmakers are already near the limits the USGA has set in other categories -- coefficient of restitution (resiliency), length (48 inches) and size (460 cc). They still have some space on the new MOI limit -- 5,900 grams/centimeter. Until this year, few drivers cracked the 4,000 MOI barrier. The new models, depending on who's doing the testing, are pushing 5,000 and maybe even clearing it by a bit.
All you need to know is that to maximize MOI, clubmakers are moving mass around to get more of it behind the sweet spot.
"The USGA gives you a five-inch-by-five-inch box in which your profile needs to fit," said Chris McGinley, an engineer for Titleist. "Everyone is trying to stretch their geometry in those limits. That's the new area the USGA has given us to chase. We're all trying to get up in MOI, it's just a matter of how much we can improve. I don't think you'll see big, sweeping jumps in improvement like before. Improvement now will probably be more incremental."
It's a fast-changing world out there in golf equipment. Here are some of the things I saw at the PGA Merchandise Show (unfortunately, I didn't have time to try out every single new club), along with a few things that weren't at the show:
Nike Sumo2 ($479): This is the brother for Nike's popular SasQuatch model. It's big and squarish and makes a harsh, metallic sound at impact. However, three of the four swings I made with it at Demo Day were absolute nuke-jobs. I'm willing to overlook a little noise pollution for results.
Titleist 907 D1 ($500): This driver is semi-triangular in shape and pretty hot. I played a round with it after the show in 30 mph winds and hit it pretty straight, just as advertised.
Callaway Ft-i ($625): It's duly square when seen from above. Its sole is uniquely humped. I think it looks futuristic. My boss totally killed it when he tried it ...
TaylorMade Burner ($360): This club makes up for a light grip and shaft by being an inch longer in the quest for distance. The ball really seemed to jump off its face. I couldn't find anyone who tried it and wasn't enthused.
The Cobra Speed LD ($375): This driver has an elongated head and has a clangy sound at impact, sort of like the Sumo, but it goes.
Orlimar Fury QB ($299): This is another square-headed driver in the geometric race, but I didn't get to hit balls with one.
Simpac 460 cc-driver ($549): Little-known in the U.S., Simpac offers a decent square-headed 460 cc-driver with multi-colored heads. It also has square fairway woods with small heads that were remarkably easy to hit. If you can find them, they're worth checking out.
Drive time: Among other drivers that stood out were the Adams Insight BUL ($399). It has an inflated shape, much like the geometric drivers of other clubmakers, but the Adams club is rounded enough that it doesn't look squarish, just big. It felt pretty good when I hit it on the Demo Day range, but I like the Adams Insight BTY fairway wood ($279) even more. No surprise that Adams puts out a good fairway wood. That club has always been the company's specialty. The new model reminds me of the Tight Lies model that first had a squarish, sharp-edged look. I've had at least one Adams fairway wood in my bag this entire century.
Titleist and Cobra have new models that aren't geometric. The Titleist 907 D2 is an enlarged, pear-shaped head that traditionalists may prefer. The Cobra Speed Pro, which isn't as elongated as the Speed LD, is more my speed. I uncorked enough big drives with it during a trial round after the show to merit further study.
A serious candidate to stay in my bag for '07 is the TourEdge Bazooka GeoMax ($199). It, too, is an enlarged pear-shaped titanium driver. TourEdge says its MOI is just under 5,000. I played 18 holes with it before the show and hit it extremely well.
MacGregor's MacTec NVG2 Draw Driver ($374) doesn't look a lot different from the original NVG2 but it's set up to promote a right-to-left ball flight for players who routinely battle a slice. It feels powerful.
At least two big bombers, Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera, have used the Ping Rapture ($475). It's a 460 cc, web-shaped titanium crown made from a potpourri of metals in a process known as multi-material technology. I also know an average amateur player who picked up 30 yards off the tee when he switched to a Ping G5 driver, the Rapture's sister model. So Ping is onto something.
The ironing board: Callaway unveiled its X-20 irons, which I liked. That's not a surprise because I used Callaway X-Tour irons most of last year and am comfortable with the look. The Mizuno MP-67 irons are fairly new and on my Most Wanted list, since I'm a sucker for retro-looking clubs. They're forged irons with a cut-muscleback design that makes them as sleek as old-fashioned blades. Hitting them on the range at Demo Day was like taking a nostalgic step back in time. They're blades, but they're forgiving. In my limited Demo Day tryout tour, I didn't hit any irons I liked better.
Great Caesar's Ghost: The strangest item at the Merchandise Show had to be the Caesar Golf Ball. It has no dimples and was touted as "the most significant technological advancement in over 100 years of the sport." With no dimples, the ball is supposed to go incredibly straight, ending hooks and slices. Ah, but dimples give a ball the lift it needs to stay in the air. Company reps said you might give up 10 to 15 percent in distance in a tradeoff for a straight ball. The ball itself, which resembled a logoed cue ball, had a certain allure. I scored a sleeve of Caesars and tried them out the day after the show at Orange County National. The ball is a disaster, as predicted by one USGA official who attended the show and said there was "no way" the ball would stay in the air. He was right. My tee shots nose-dived into the ground within 100 yards of the tee. My iron shots, no matter how well struck, squirted into the ground after 50 or 70 yards like a wild pitcher's breaking ball into the dirt. The dimple-less balls were great for chipping and putting but I never managed to get one full shot to stay in the air. Granted, the balls were prototypes and rushed off the production line so they could be seen at the show at the 11th hour, so it's possible I may have gotten a sleeve of defective ones. However, at $60 per half-dozen, they're an unusable -- though cool-looking -- souvenir and a failed experiment.
Putting for dough: Three new putters caught my attention. You can't miss the bright colors and unusual shapes of Groove Equipment's GEL putters. Their Winn grips are striped in bright powder blue and yellow or bright powder blue and pink (the ladies' style). The heads come in six models. I preferred Model P, a heel-shafted blade with a rectangular block behind the clubface's center. The aluminum insert faces are grooved, the better to impart overspin. Groove technology isn't new but it hasn't been done this well before.
Erstwhile designer Bobby Grace has a new model putter for MacGregor, the Face-Off. It's head is huge and garish, a cross between a branding iron and the outline of an ocean liner. That said, I loved the soft feel and the way the ball came off its face. Its marketing gimmick is that it comes with two inserts -- one with three degrees of loft for fast greens and another for slow greens. Like his famous Fat Lady Swings model, it won't win any beauty contests but once I hit a few putts dead on-line with it, I forgot about the looks.
The putter that made my Most Wanted list, though, was TaylorMade's Inza model. It is a heel-shafted mallet that looks like the front end of a Camaro on a stick -- the weight-balancing screws are placed where the headlights would be. The ball came nicely off that face, which is also grooved. I've got my order in already. Just don't tell my wife. She doesn't understand that putters are to men what shoes are to women.