Equipment

January 31, 2013 - 11:32pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme driver
Courtesy of Callaway Golf
Callaway debuted the RAZR Fit Xtreme driver in late November, billing it as the longest fully adjustable driver the company has ever measured.

Phil Mickelson came within a whisker of shooting a 59 on Thursday in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a score even more impressive because it was the first competitive round he played with a new Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme driver in his bag.

Mickelson carded 11 birdies to no bogeys in his 60, and hit 16 of 18 greens on the day. He shot a 7-under 29 on his first nine (the back nine at TPC Scottsdale) before cooling off a bit on the back.

''I finally gave our new RAZR Fit Xtreme a chance,'' Mickelson said after his round. ''And I tell you what, on Tuesday, when I hit it, I kept looking up and I was almost in disbelief at how easy it was, how straight it was, and the misses weren't bad. I put it into play in the pro-am yesterday and I hit it great.

''I drove it phenomenal, and felt really good with it,'' he added. ''And the thing that's so great about it is I can make the same swing with my irons as I do with my driver and the ball goes very straight and easy. … So that was the big thing. I drove the ball much better here.''

Callaway debuted the RAZR Fit Xtreme driver in late November, billing it as the longest fully adjustable driver the company has ever measured, and it is now available at retail. The Xtreme is the second adjustable driver Callaway has developed in the past year or so, following the original RAZR Fit Driver, and company officials say this one advances distance and overall performance over its predecessor.

Speed Frame Face Technology is the headliner of the technological advances in the RAZR Fit Xtreme. It combines Callaway's Variable Face Technology and Hyperbolic Face Technology to enhance the stress distribution across the club's titanium face for more efficient energy transfer from clubhead to ball. It also makes for a larger, more consistent sweet spot and increased ball speed, even on off-center contact.

The Speed Frame Face also saves weight that is then redistributed in the clubhead to improve the Center of Gravity and maximize Moment of Inertia, which leads to improved ball flight, stability and forgiveness. In addition, the face features a tighter bulge radius than the original RAZR Fit Driver for a more preferred look at address, along with more consistent sidespin and dispersion.

The driver's crown features Forged Composite – an advanced carbon fiber material that Callaway has been working with for more than four years. Using this patented, lightweight material, which weighs only 12.1 grams – and gives the RAZR Fit Xtreme the lightest crown in golf – allows Callaway engineers to precisely position saved weight to achieve the lowest Center of Gravity in any fully adjustable driver. This promotes higher ball speed and less spin off the tee for more distance.

Two OptiFit Technology elements make up the RAZR Fit Xtreme's improved adjustability: the OptiFit Hosel and OptiFit Weights. The hosel adjusts the face angle to Open, Square or Closed positions to improve accuracy and trajectory while allowing golfers to dial in their preferred look at address. The 13- and 1-gram OptiFit Weights shift the clubhead's Center of Gravity to promote noticeable Draw or Neutral ball flights. The higher lofts have more draw bias than lower lofts.

And speaking of lofts, the RAZR Fit Xtreme comes in more lofts that incorporate a greater range of face angle options, Center of Gravity bias options and CG height differences than the RAZR Fit Driver. Callaway has optimized the performance in each loft to suit the needs of the players that will use it. For example, they said, the 8.5-, 9.5- and 10.5-degree clubheads are 440cc (versus 460cc for other lofts) and feature a more open face angle.

The RAZR Fit Xtreme features two tour-grade shafts as stock offerings. The primary shaft, the Aldila Trinity, combines Aldila's three patented design technologies (RIP, S-Core, Micro Laminate) into a single shaft design. A secondary offering, the Matrix 7M3 Black Tie, is a heavier, lower launching, lower spinning option for players who generate higher head speed and higher spin.

And for golfers wanting to personalize their clubs, Callaway's udesign option has been expanded for the RAZR Fit Xtreme. Both the crown and the sole of the clubhead are now separately customizable with eight different color choices. And for the first time, custom laser engraving will also be available on the sole.

January 31, 2013 - 2:04pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Wally Uihlein
Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein believes that adopting different equipment rules for professionals and amateurs wouldn't help grow the game.

Here in the Golf Buzz the other day, I posted an item in which TaylorMade CEO Mark King was quoted as predicting that bifurcation – separate equipment rules for tour pros and amateur players – is not only inevitable, but that it's also coming fast.

A few days before King made that statement, along with several other strong ones, another of golf's most powerful voices spoke out on the other side of the bifurcation issue. In a post on the Titleist tour blog, Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein, who runs both Titleist and FootJoy, doesn't argue for or against the proposed anchor ban, but very thoughtfully presents his case for why golf's equipment rules (and all rules, really) should remain unified.

''There are two fundamental forces driving this progression to unification,'' Uihlein wrote. ''The first is the essence of the game; the emotional allure that compels golfers to play and experience the same course or shot as one of the game's greats, even if just to aspire.

''The second impetus is the dysfunction and instability caused by multiple sets of rules. Prior history of multiple sets of rules created widespread confusion and prompted the need for clarification and unification,'' he added. ''The fact remains that the game's growth, and its globalisation, are inextricably linked to the idea that golfers – of all skill levels – play the same game.''

Further down in his post, Uihlein delineates the three primary arguments that some give in support of bifurcation, then presents his opposing view to each point.

The first argument for bifurcation, Uihlein says, is that today's pro game doesn't mirror today's amateur game. That, he argues, is ''more a commentary on the skill of the professional golfer than amateurs' desire to play a different game.'' The relationship between the game's elite and the rest of us has always been part of golf's fabric, he says, and notes that ''today's amateur golfers maintain the same appetite to emulate the swings of of the world's greatest players.''

The second pro-bifurcation argument he cites is that adopting different rules would help to grow the game. That's a false assumption, Uihlein believes, because ''1990 to 2000 was the most innovative decade in the game's history, yet during this period, golf participation in the U.S. and Europe flatlined.'' The game's growth, he says, is more of a demographic issue – golf is a game of the middle class, he believes, and in the Western world, today's middle class is the same size as in the early 1990s.

The final argument in favor of bifurcation is that most golfers just play for fun, and that formalizing different sets of rules is just sanctioning what is already reality. Again, Uihlein, offers a counter-argument.

''If golfers don't play by the one set of rules that exist today, why are two sets of rules required?,” he asks. “If the argument is that golfers don't play by the rules and bifurcation will help grow the game, then how will two sets of rules contribute to additional participation? The logic is flawed.''

Uihlein also offers up a lot of historical perspective that is as enlightening as it is suportive of his core belief, which is that the globalization of golf – 55 million people play golf in more than 150 different countries these days – requires that the rules and requirements remain unified. And he closes with a 1927 quote from C.B. Macdonald, an early British Open champion and leading Rules official, who said:

“Golf is a world encircling game. One of its charms is that no matter where you go, whether America, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe or Scotland, the game is the same, with only such rules as are necessary to govern the local situation.”

Bifurcation is one of the most difficult questions facing golf today. You're obviously interested if you've read this far, so I encourage you to click on over and read Uihlein's piece from start to finish. I guarantee you'll learn something.

January 29, 2013 - 2:14pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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TaylorMade Golf CEO Mark King
TaylorMade CEO Mark King believes that actions like the proposed anchoring ban will hurt golf, and that golf's governing bodies run the risk of becoming irrelevant if they continue to pursue them.

We're about two months into the three-month comment period that the USGA and R&A instituted after they announced their proposed rule to ban the anchoring of long putters.

Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade, has a comment. And, wow, what a comment it is.

In short, King told The Telegraph newspaper in England that the anchoring ban is nonsensical, urged the tours to break away from the USGA and even predicted that the USGA will become a non-factor within a decade.

"The anchoring ban makes no sense to me at all," said King, whose company owns TaylorMade, adidas Golf, Ashworth apparel, Adams Golf and puttermaker Yes! Golf. "If I were running the PGA of America, I would write my own set of rules. I'd do it with the PGA Tour. The industry needs to come together without the USGA. Leave them out."

PGA of America President Ted Bishop issued a statement expressing his concern with the proposed ban immediately after it was announced. The European Tour has indicated it will go along with the ban when it goes into effect in 2016, but the PGA Tour hasn't yet formally established its position.

It would be a drastic move for the PGA Tour to flout the USGA and R&A, which establish the Rules of Golf worldwide, Telegraph columnist James Corrigan wrote. But, he noted, King feels it could happen because such prominent players as Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Webb Simpson have expressed strong opposition to the ban.

"I'm still not convinced the PGA Tour is going to completely embrace the long putter rule," said King. "Here's a prediction: The USGA within 10 years will be a nonentity. They will be a non-factor in golf because they are choosing to be on the outside and no one is signing up for what they represent. The industry is going to move away from them and pass them. They're obsolete. I hate to say that but that's their behavior."

Bifurcation – having one set of rules for professional players and another for amateurs – is not only inevitable, King told the newspaper, it's coming fast. "If [PGA Tour Commissioner] Tim Finchem says he's going to use all the USGA rules except the long putter rule, there you go. You have two sets of rules."

Regardless of whether the ban is instituted or not, King says TaylorMade will continue to make long putters. And if the USGA ever acts to restrict ball flight, as has been rumored, the company will keep making hot balls. There's no reason to doubt him, either -- TaylorMade has enjoyed record-setting sales in each of the past two years, and is by far the dominant company in the golf equipment space these days.

"The whole world, not just golf, the whole world is about innovation and consumers only want what's new and exciting," he said. "They don't want last year, they want new, innovative cool stuff and if we're going to stop that or limit that, we're going to kill the industry not just equipment but the playing of the game.

"So if the USGA doesn't jump on board and lead this new way of golf, they're just going to be obsolete," he summarized. "And if Finchem goes ahead and leaves the long putter in, it's just the start. The USGA is going over the edge."

King is the first big-clubmaker CEO to come out so strongly against the anchor rule, and others might not follow. However, having the largest equipment company come out so strongly against them has got to at least furrow some brows at the USGA and R&A, and King's vocal opposition might encourage other opponents to speak out as well. It'll be very interesting to see what happens from here.

January 28, 2013 - 3:11pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Chris Wood
Getty Images
Chris Wood hit a Mizuno MP-69 6-iron 205 yards to within six feet of the final hole of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters en route to an eagle and a one-shot victory, his first triumph on the European Tour.

Golf's biggest equipment makers dominated the news last week at the PGA Merchandise Show down in Orlando, but Mizuno held its ground with the biggest of the big boys thanks to three noteworthy developments:

--Last Sunday, Charles Howell III finished second in the Humana Challenge.
--On Wednesday, Mizuno announced that it had renewed its agreement with world No. 3 Luke Donald.
--On Friday came the news that the company had re-upped its deal with reigning LPGA Tour Player of the Year Stacy Lewis.
--And on Saturday, Mizuno staff ambassador Chris Wood bagged his first European Tour victory at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

Donald doesn't play an entire bag of Mizuno clubs, but he does use the company’s irons and wedges, and those clubs are the backbone of his steady short game. In fact, he provided feedback throughout the development of Mizuno's new MP-64 irons and MP-T4 wedges, to the point that Mizuno describes those clubs as being designed hand-in-hand with him.

Donald even visited the the plant in Hiroshima, Japan, where the clubs are forged, last November, and spent a little time with the man who grinds his clubs. While he was in Japan last fall, he won the Dunlop Phoenix, one of the biggest tournaments on the Japan Tour, and used those MP-64 irons and MP-T4 wedges in that victory.

Donald signed on with Mizuno back in 2003, and has earned 13 professional wins with that gear. He also played those Mizuno clubs during his red-hot 2011 and 2012 seasons, in which he held the world No. 1 position for a total of 56 weeks and topped the money lists on both the PGA Tour and European Tour in 2011.

"We've refined my Mizuno equipment in the last couple of seasons and I'm really happy with what I have in the bag right now, so it gives me great pleasure to extend this relationship," Donald said. "Mizuno is the most precise, incredible clubmaker out there, and I'm honored to represent this quality brand."

Donald's renewal never seemed to be seriously in doubt, but there was considerable speculation that Lewis might sign elsewhere. She began playing Mizuno gear in college, and last year led the LPGA Tour with four victories as she rose to No. 3 in the women's world rankings. She notched 16 top-10 finishes, more than any player on the 2012 LPGA Tour, and led the tour in birdies, eagles and rounds in the 60s.

"Since my freshman year at Arkansas, Mizuno has been my equipment manufacturer of choice," said Lewis. "Mizuno has helped me reach many of my goals thus far, and I'm looking forward to building on last year's momentum for another successful season."

Lewis hasn't unveiled her club set for 2013, but she ended 2012 with this configuration:

Driver: Mizuno JPX-800 (9 degrees of loft)
3-Wood: Mizuno MP (15 degrees)
17-Degree Hybrid: Mizuno MP CLK
4-9 Irons: Mizuno JPX-800 Pro
48-Degree Wedge: Mizuno JPX-800 Pro
52-Degree Wedge: Mizuno MP T-11
56-Degree Wedge: Mizuno MP T-11
60-Degree Wedge: Mizuno MP T-11
Putter: TaylorMade Ghost TM-110 Tour
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

Wood jumped into the spotlight by tying for fifth as an amateur in the 2008 British Open and then coming in third in the 2009 British Open, and earned his spot on the European Tour at Q-School a few months later. He had struggled to win as a professional, though, before breaking through with a triumph in the Thailand Open last fall.

His victory in Qatar on Saturday was as dramatic as they come – he led after three rounds, then fell behind Sergio Garcia and George Coetzee before eagling the final hole to win by a shot. After a big drive on the par-5 18th hole, Wood hit a 6-iron 205 yards to within six feet of the hole, and drained the putt for the win. His set includes:

Driver: Mizuno MP-650 (8.5 degrees, Royal Precision Project X Black 7.0 shaft)
3-Wood: Ping G20 (15 degrees)
3-4 Irons: Mizuno MP-64 (Royal Precision Rifle 7.0 shafts)
5-9 Irons: Mizuno MP-69 (Royal Precision Rifle 7.0 shafts)
48-Degree Wedge: Mizuno MP-69 (Royal Precision Rifle 7.0 shaft)
52-Degree Wedge: MP-T4
56-Degree Wedge: MP-T4
60-Degree Wedge: MP-T4
Putter: Yes! Tracy Tour
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

Other prominent players who use Mizuno gear include Jonathan Byrd, Marcel Siem, Mayu Hattori and Jiyai Shin.

And finally, if Tiger Woods closes out a win at the Farmers Insurance Open this afternoon as we all expect him to, the winners of the two big events worldwide this week will be Wood and Woods. That, obviously, has never happened before.

 

January 23, 2013 - 6:05pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Luke Donald and caddie John McLaren
Getty Images
Luke Donald and caddie John McLaren will continue to handle Mizuno irons and wedges for the next several seasons.

Last week, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy made the season’s biggest equipment switch, as he officially moved over from Titleist to Nike. On Wednesday, world No. 3 Luke Donald did exactly the opposite.

Donald has re-upped his endorsement agreement with Mizuno, signing a multi-year agreement with the Japanese clubmaker whose equipment he has played for many years. Donald doesn't play an entire bag of Mizuno clubs, but he does use the company’s irons and wedges, and those clubs are the backbone of his steady short game.

In fact, Donald provided feedback throughout the development of Mizuno's new MP-64 irons and MP-T4 wedges, to the point that Mizuno describes those clubs as being designed hand-in-hand with Donald. Donald even visited the the plant in Hiroshima, Japan, where the clubs are forged, last November, and spent a little time with the man who grinds his clubs.

Donald signed on with Mizuno back in 2003, and has earned 13 professional wins with that gear. He also played those Mizuno clubs during his red-hot 2011 and 2012 seasons, in which he held the world No. 1 position for a total of 56 weeks and topped the money lists on both the PGA Tour and European Tour in 2011.

"I feel as if I am playing as well as ever at this stage in my career. Over the next few years I want to be in a position to win major championships and to continue to improve," Donald said. "We've refined my Mizuno equipment in the last couple of seasons and I'm really happy with what I have in the bag right now, so it gives me great pleasure to extend this relationship. Mizuno is the most precise, incredible clubmaker out there, and I'm honored to represent this quality brand."

While he was in Japan last fall, Donald won the Dunlop Phoenix, one of the biggest tournaments on the Japan Tour. He used those Mizuno MP-64 irons and MP-T4 wedges in that victory, along with a TaylorMade RocketBallz driver and 3-wood, a 17-degree Mizuno CLK FliHi hybrid and an Odyssey White Hot XG #7 putter.

January 22, 2013 - 2:35am
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Mobile Warming Gear golf outerwear
Courtesy of Mobile Warming Gear
The golf-specific vests and jackets from Mobile Warming Gear contain micro-alloy heating elements built into the back and chest area, which completely eliminate the need for extra layers of clothing while keeping muscles loose in all conditions.

Playing golf at this time of the year can be a challenge because keeping warm can be as tough as a 200-yard carry over water. If you live in the three-quarters of the country that are freezing right now, you know what I mean.

One great way to seriously lessen the challenge of cold-weather golf, however, comes from a company called Mobile Warming Gear. Its Mobile Warming system is based on concepts pioneered by NASA during early days of the U.S. space program, and use a small, rechargeable lithium-ion battery to provide hours of heat – sort of like electric blankets that you wear.

"While some golfers put their clubs away when the weather turns cold, those with a true passion for the game want to get in as many rounds as possible," said Mobile Warming Golf General Manager Keith Apple. "We're making that a comfortable reality, rain or shine, with a unique system that ensures a player's core stays warm for up to 10 hours."

Mobile Warming has launched its first collection of heated, waterproof jackets made just for golfers – in  fact, the company worked with a number of PGA Professionals to make sure the clothes are as swing-friendly as they are warm.

Each seam-sealed garment is crafted from ultra-lightweight and breathable technical polyester. Featuring four-way stretch, the jackets and vests provide significant freedom of movement throughout the golf swing – and, thanks to the placement of the heating units, they also conform to USGA regulations.

They're further enhanced by the system of micro-alloy heating elements built into the back and chest area, which completely eliminate the need for extra layers of clothing while keeping muscles loose in all conditions. At the touch of a button, this breakthrough technology provides heating and warmth, for an entire day, that exceeds the heat transmitted by any other form of insulation available in outerwear today.

Both the softshell golf vest and golf jacket and rain jacket are made of lightweight, stretchy Windshark fabric with elastic underarm panels for extra flexibility. They feature three heating panels to keep upper body muscles warm and loose, and include a rechargeable battery and charger. There is also a line of vests and jackets designed specifically for women golfers, as well as other non-golf-specific garments suitable for a variety of outdoor activities from snowboarding to motorsports.

The garments aren't cheap – they range from $159.99 for the vest to $219.99 for the rain jacket. But compared to what you'd pay for a parka or other cold-weather outerwear, they're certainly not overpriced, either – especially when it means the difference between enjoying some bonus golf in cold conditions versus being miserable all day or, worse, being stuck at home wishing you could play.

For more about Mobile Warming Gear, click here.

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