10 great items from the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show

January 29, 2014

Orlando, Fla.—You can mark down 2014 as an extremely notable year in the golf equipment industry. There is a lot of new stuff and, even better, a lot of really good new stuff. Golf’s biggest players—Callaway, Nike, Ping, TaylorMade and Titleist—all dramatically revamped their lineups and the new products are pretty exciting. You’ll be hearing the stories of those major makers’ clubs all year, including in ads. Here are some other items of interest I uncovered during the recent PGA Merchandise Show.

Oakley Factory Lite stand bag

David Walberg/Sports Illustrated
Oakley's Factory Lite stand bag.

The Biggest Loser

Oakley created a stir two years ago when it introduced the lightest performance shoe in golf, the Cypher, at 260 grams. Now Oakley owns the title of lightest stand bag, too. Oakley’s Factory Lite stand bag ($200), reinvented from the ground up, weighs in at an unbelievable 2.85 pounds.

The skin accounts for about half of a normal bag’s weight. So Oakley found a lighter, stronger material that is puncture- and abrasion-proof. The full-length zipper pocket? Gone. Replaced by a smaller pocket for a pullover, not a full rainsuit.

The average stand bag holds three dozen golf balls. Oakley downsized it to hold a dozen, plus tees and gloves and rangefinder and shortened the zipper length from the usual 180 degrees. The straps were also simplified and parts were made of lightweight EVA foam. Stand legs were made from carbon fiber instead of steel or aluminum.

And driving home the point about no detail being too small, Oakley replaced the usual 40 steel rivets with 28 lighter aluminum rivets. This is one light, functional and fun bag—a lean, clean carrying machine.

Zero Friction men’s compression glove

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The Zero Friction men’s compression glove.

The Handyman

What could possibly be significantly new in golf gloves, you ask? Try this shocking concept from Zero Friction—One Size Fits All. The Zero Friction men’s compression glove ($12.99 suggested retail) claims exactly that and it delivers.

I’m not sure how Zero Friction pulled it off but the glove is a mix of synthetic leather and elastic, plus black mesh lycra around the fingers, and comes in six different colors. I wear a men’s medium and when I tried it on, it was a satisfyingly snug fit. It even comes with—purists, look away!—a detachable ball marker.

I asked John, a college-age kid manning the front desk at the Zero Friction booth at the PGA Show if the glove really fit everyone. “We’ve only had three guys it didn’t fit,” he said. “One was an ex-NBA player and the other two guys were, like, Paul Bunyan and his brother.”

The gloves come in men’s and women’s models.

The Bridgestone True Balance putter.

David Walberg/Sports Illustrated
The Bridgestone True Balance putter.

A Balancing Act

Bridgestone’s new True Balance putter is aptly named. A Bridgestone rep named Josh demonstrated by carefully placing the True Balance putter on a table and then letting go and—voila! The putter, wobbling ever so slightly, remained standing. The putter’s balancing act comes from lightweight graphite shaft (35 grams) that’s barely half the weight of a normal shaft; a light EVA foam grip (20 grams instead of the standard 70 or 80 grams) that’s an attention-getting shade of bright yellow and a balance point that’s less than five inches from the putter’s sole.

I liked the True Balance’s overall feel. It’s as if the putter almost swings itself like a pendulum. It comes in two models, a blade and a half-mallet, priced at $199 and available April 1.

Sun Mountain Combo Cart

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The Sun Mountain Combo Cart.

Wheels of Fortune

Pardon my nostalgia but the Sun Mountain Combo Cart ($469) has a retro look that takes me back to the 1960s. My mom, a recreational golfer, had a then cutting-edge one-piece pull-cart and bag that looked similar. There was a slot for each club, big wheels, and a seat edge to sit on. Her model was a beast. It was heavy and ate up a lot of trunk space but she pulled it a lot of miles in her day.

Sun Mountain’s 21st century version makes hers look like a Model T. The Combo Cart is essentially a dream pairing of Sun Mountain’s classic Speed Cart with a built-in rectangular bag. It’s got three wheels, rolls easily, has 14 club slots, roomy pockets and the bag can be detached, if necessary. And yes, it comes with a retro perch to sit on. A seat on a pullcart? That’s the definition of throwback.

Loaded with a full set of clubs, the Combo Cart weighs only 25 pounds and better yet, folds up into a startlingly small cocoon. The Combo Cart will be available in May. It would’ve made my mom smile.

Green Is Good

I’ve already got a best golf tip of the year nominee, thanks to the guys at Mantis Golf.

I was talking to Mantis co-founder Chris Maher about the Mantis blade putter.

The Mantis blade putter

David Walberg/Sports Illustrated
The Mantis blade putter

Mantis came out with a mallet putter last year that was notable for its unique green paintjob and distinct white aiming line, and it was reasonably popular. Mantis followed it up with a green blade this year ($159 suggested retail). Like its predecessor, the blade has a solid feel and an appealing look.

Anyway, Maher told me about a putting study that had been done looking at players who said they were pretty good putters and players who admittedly weren’t (and far outnumbered the first group). Apparently, the study tracked where and what the players’ eyes were looking at during the stroke.

Maher said that the good putters all kept their eyes very still when putting, the study showed, while the bad putters had very active eyes.

I decided to try that out the other day in Phoenix when I played my second round of the year. All I concentrated on was keeping my eyes still, nothing else, and guess what? I ran in putts like crazy.

I don’t know if it was a one-time fluke, maybe so. Further testing will be required. But thanks, Mantis.

The Purdy Grip Analyzer

The Purdy Grip Analyzer.

Get It and Grip It

The golf swing starts with the grip. Every good golfer knows that and, at some point, forgets it. Former PGA Tour player Ted Purdy, struggling with his game last year, got his reminder when he reunited with his golf coach, Pam Barnett, after five years.

“Before I hit a shot,” Purdy said, “she goes, ‘You’re hands are on there wrong.’ She corrected my grip and two swings later, I’m hitting it perfect.”

He subsequently won the Mexican Open in March. Lesson learned.

Later, Purdy noticed during a group golf lesson he was giving how poor the youngsters’ grips were. So he worked with a craftsman friend to invent a device to gauge a player’s grip. It’s based on an old coaching technique in which the player addresses the ball, then raises the club to waist level and the player’s coach pulls on the clubhead. If the head twists one direction or the other, the player’s grip is off. The clubhead should remain square to the target line.

The Purdy Grip Analyzer ($349, from TedPurdy.com) does the same test minus the coach. It’s a vice in which you insert your club, then lean back. If the club turns either direction, a post moves, indicating your grip is too strong (or too weak) and needs correction. Simple, effective and important.

The TRUE lyt dry shoe

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The TRUE lyt breathe shoe.

No Business Like Shoe Business

PGA Tour player Ryan Moore got into the shoe business, he said, “out of necessity.” He was frustrated with the lack of athletic footwear for golf and that frustration evolved into TRUE Linkswear shoes.

TRUE has its best lineup yet thanks to the athletic TRUE lyt dry ($149), which resembles and effectively is an athletic trainer, and the TRUE lyt breathe ($129), which is is similar to the lyt dry but with a breathable mesh upper. The first week Moore laced up his lyt drys on tour last fall, he won in Malaysia. That’s right, he won a Tour event wearing spikeless golf shoes, a growing trend on Tour.

“Our product has really evolved the last few years,” Moore said. “I work out in my lyt breathes every day. It’s such a versatile shoe. To win a tournament in our shoes really gives me trust in our product.”

New Balance Minimus Sport Golf shoes

David Walberg/Sports Illustrated
The New Balance Minimus Sport Golf shoes.

The Newest Player

Technology keeps pouring into golf shoes. So do manufacturers. New Balance, known for making athletic shoes in an assortment of wide sizes, has joined the fray.

Its first effort, the New Balance Minimus Sport Golf ($99) is impressive. It weights a mere four ounces, has a mesh upper that’s water resistant and is like a low-to-the-ground minimalist running shoe except with molded, non-replaceable spikes.

I wore a pair of cross-trainers at the PGA Merchandise Show and had badly aching feet after miles of walking on hard concrete the first day. The next two days, I tried the Minimus Sport Golf and my feet felt considerably better, which was amazing because they’re so light. I would’ve bet the thicker cross-trainers with more cushioning would’ve been better.

The PutterWheel practice ball.

David Walberg/Sports Illustrated
The PutterWheel practice ball.

Sweet Rolls

Keep a sleeve of PutterWheel practice balls in your office and I predict two things. One, your putting will improve. Two, you will get less work done.

No new product at the PGA Show was more fun than the PutterWheel ($17 apiece or $39 for a sleeve of three). It looks like a tiny hubcap but really, it’s a golf ball with its sides sliced off.

The PutterWheel is simple yet sophisticated. Its wheel-liner is red, which you can’t see if you set up with your eyes directly over the ball. If you see red, you’re not set up properly. That’s a good training aid.

The putting challenge is to stroke the PutterWheel squarely and on the intended line. If you mis-hit it or don’t stroke it on-line, the PutterWheel will wobble badly off kilter. It encourages a correctly aimed stroke. And it’s fun.

One last business note: The PutterWheel hub can be plastered with your corporate logo, which would make putting in your office almost seem boss-approved.

Flightscope Xi

David Walberg/Sports Illustrated
The Flightscope Xi.

Radar Love

It would be nice for the serious players, gearheads and technecks among us if we, too, could have access to the detailed data that Tour pros get from big-time, expensive launch monitors. That day is coming.

Flightscope Xi ($2,500) is designed to be the smallest and lightest tracking radar in golf and fit in your bag. Plus, it’s less than one-fourth the cost of its bigger and more extensive parent, Flightscope X2. The Xi radar gives you all your stats in real-time—clubhead speed, ball spin rates, trajectory and carry and the rest—and you can hook up to send the graphics to your smartphone for additional viewing.

The Xi is still a little pricey but at $2,500, some of your better country clubs may start acquiring them so their club professionals can use the data to provide better lessons to members.