Shoes for Dad

With Father’s Day coming the gift of golf shoes is not only appropriate but will be greatly appreciated. Here are three models from as many makers that we like and meet our criteria of performance, style and price.

Callaway LA JOLLA:

In the Callaway footwear collection the LA JOLLA is among the most popular and features classically stylish looks and colors. Resistance to water penetration comes from the Opti-repel microfiber leather upper in conjunction with the Opti-soft EVA midsole and 8MM molded EVA sock liner. Callaway uses their Opti-vent mesh liner for breathability and to pull heat away from the foot. The outsole has low-profile Champ Slim-Lok spikes with seven PiviX cleats and each pair has a two-year waterproof warranty. Color choices are the traditional black or white plus a white and brown saddle. Pricing is $99.95 so check them out at callawayappatel.com.

ECCO Cage Pro:

Featuring their new SYPDR-GRIP outsole, the Cage Pro targets the foot’s pivot points to give better traction and are available with the BOA closure for easy adjustment during the round. This model is designed for both stability and flexibility with a one piece PU cage that wraps around the heel, through the midsole and across the toes. The PU structure is bonded to ECCO’s light weight and breathable HYDROMAX treated textile upper. Suggested retail price is $210 for the conventionally laced model offering four color combination choices and $230 for the BOA model which has a choice of two color combinations. Additional information may be found on eccousa.com.

New Balance NBG2004:

High performance and lightweight (just 11.6 ounces) are descriptors of this stylish shoe which makes use of an exoskeleton TPU outsole that moves naturally with the foot. The upper is a water-resistant microfiber leather with their FantomFit technology giving great support while keeping moisture from penetrating. The midsole has added cushioning while giving a sharp looking low profile. The NBG2004 uses the low-profile SLIM-Lok Zarma Tour2 cleat system. Priced at $99.95 the NBG2004 comes in a choice of colors white/red, black/green or grey/blue. Get all the details at newbalance.com

Ten Rounds with Callaway Steelhead XR Irons

Fifteen years ago I had a set of Steelhead X-14 irons from Callaway Golf. They were actually released in 2000 and though at the time they were cutting edge design Callaway’s new Steelhead XRs would blow them away in a side by side comparison—that is if I still had the X-14s.

Besides the name the newest model has a similar head shape, particularly at address with a somewhat more rounded toe, the X-14s longer looking blade length and a revamped bore-through hosel. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the XRs are merely an updating of some model pushing its 20th anniversary. They are also more than an update of the XR model from 2015 though both fall into the category of iron most of us should be playing…namely game-improvement.

Steelhead XRs are a modern game-improvement iron suitable for even low handicappers looking for an easy-to-hit forgiving club.

After extensive on-course time the benefits of Callaway’s 360 face cup construction were very evident and never more so than on off center impacts. The distance produced when hit in the center of the face is impressive but to me more significant is how far the ball when the impact wasn’t in the exact center.

Steelhead XRs’ bore-through hosel allows weight from the heel area to be shifted closer to the impact area so the center of gravity is dead in the center of the face. As Dr. Alan Hocknell, Callaway’s senior vice president of R&D, points out not all irons are able to do that. “We’ve used the lightness of this hosel to get that weight distribution and put the CG right there.”

Game-improvement irons don’t have progressive center of gravity placement but the Steelhead XR long irons have it low and back in the head while the mid-irons have the CG mid-back and the short irons have a low mid placement to help the ball flighting and spin control. So decide for yourself but that sounds very close to being progressive as the loft increases.

Of particular note, living in Florida where the wind blows almost all day every day, the ability of an iron to produce different trajectory shots is a must. The Steelhead XRs did that very well. As an example during a morning round one of the par-3s, which plays slightly downhill, had a light breeze helping left to right. The shot called for a 6-iron which I hit into the middle of the green.

Late that afternoon, having gone back out and playing the same hole, the wind had strengthened and switched to directly into us. I felt a 6-iron was still the club but hit the shot about half the height of the morning, again to the middle of the green.

It’s helpful to be playing clubs that not only will do that but more importantly after some experience with them gave me the confidence to even attempt those totally different shots.

Negatives: The basic trajectory of the Steelhead XRs is higher than some will like if they already are high ball hitters. Though they should be attractive to low handicap players since the amount of offset is minimal and the forgiveness is evident with every swing, some may want a more of a “players’ iron” look at address.

Recommendation: Callaway is on a roll with the entire iron line and if your to-do list this summer has a line item for the purchase of new game-improvement category irons the Steelhead XRs are a great choice. A set of 5-iron through pitching wedge is $600.

Images courtesy of Callaway Golf                                                                                                          

 

It’s “All-World” at THE PLAYERS

This week is the almost-a-major started by former PGA Tour commissioner Dean Beman, THE PLAYERS played over the ever challenging TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course with perhaps the most famous hole in golf, the island green par-3 17th. Printable descriptions of Sawgrass, a creation of Pete and Alice Dye, might include long, fairly tight, lots of water and challenging greens.

The greens have all been redone since last year and several other changes will offer challenges to the field which includes 48 of the top 50 in the world rankings. In addition to new putting surfaces players will contend with a new lake between the sixth and seventh holes and the redesign of number 12 into a risk/reward drivable par-4.

Candidates to hoist the trophy next Sunday include last year’s champion Jason Day who at the time held the top spot in the world rankings. Unfortunately for Day his level of play so far in 2016-2017 after a back problem in the fall hasn’t been exactly stellar with only one top 10 and missing the cut at his last outing, the Zurich Classic.

And there’s another factor that doesn’t bode well for the Australian, no champion has ever successfully defended. In fact Rickie Fowler missed the cut in 2016 after his thrilling playoff win in 2015.

Speaking of Fowler he’s our pick for the most likely former winner to win at Sawgrass. Outside of the missed cut in New Orleans his worse finish since January was a tie for 16th at the WGC-Mexico Championship and includes his win at the Honda Classic plus a nice tie for 11th at the Masters.

In the mix come next Sunday but probably not in the running for various reasons are world number two Rory McIlroy, Olympic bronze medalist Justin Rose and Kevin Chappell a first time winner at the Valero Texas Open. Chappell was the runner-up in 2016 to Day so he plays the Dye’s creation well.

No discussion of potential winners would be complete without Jordan Spieth who had a win early in the year and five top-tens this season. His last five starts though are not exactly spectacular with a T-12, T-30, Cut, T-11 and fourth at the Zurich Classic. He’s such a good player though it’s tough to count him out of any competition.

Well any way now down to my picks.

Most Likely Former Champion to Win: Rickie Fowler as discussed above.

Most Likely Rookie to Win: Jon Rahm – Is there any other choice? Watching Rahm is exciting. He’s long off the tee, a crisp iron player, deft around the greens and a superb putter. Rahm was a factor at the Wells Fargo last week, finishing in fourth, even though he started the final round with a bogey plus on the par-5 sixth made a six and he is usually great on the par-5s.

Most Likely Recent Major Winner to win: Sergio Garcia – the volatile Spaniard hasn’t played in this country since his Masters win last month but seemed to exhibit a maturity in the taming of Augusta possibly related to his coming marriage and the influence of his fiancée. He was going to be my pick for THE PLAYERS until “All-World” Dustin Johnson returned to the Wells Fargo Championship.

Most Likely “Go to the Bank” Player to Win: Dustin Johnson – We all were wondering if the back injury from that fall the day before the Master began was Ok…it is. DJ, my new “All-World,” was masterful at the Wells Fargo attempting to make it his fourth win in a row. Though he wasn’t successful, his closing 67 was tied for low round of the day and put him in a tie for second. Rusty, maybe, sometimes having an issue with distance control with his irons but averaging almost 311 yards off the tee and hitting almost 60% of the fairways his game is obviously in shape to win at Sawgrass. This guy is really hard to bet against.

 

Ten Rounds with a Cleveland Huntington Beach Putter

Golf clubs, and putters especially, get their names for lots of reasons—some having to do with their performance, some for the designer’s family members and some retain the R & D department’s project moniker. In the case of the new putter collection from Cleveland Golf the name I’m told is simply a reflection of the town where company headquarters is located, Huntington Beach, Calif.

Cleveland as everyone knows makes outstanding wedges and though not particularly thought of as putter company some of their previous models have been excellent such as the TFi 2135 from two years ago. But my interest in the Huntington Beach putter series frankly was because I like Cleveland wedges and therefore thought it would be worthwhile to see what their putters were like.

The model chosen was the 6C which is a mid-size mallet, face balanced, center shafted design with a head weight of 360 grams and 3° of loft. The companion model 6 has a similar head but is heel shafted. Three of the others in the collection are traditional blades of 345 gram head weight plus there’s another mid-mallet, the 10, of 360 grams.

At first look the most striking feature is the milling of the face which is what Cleveland calls, “a coarse diamond-shaped” pattern that’s four times deeper than their Classic HB putters from 2014. This was done to increase the friction at impact to produce a truer roll.

The head is a soft 304 stainless steel and tests by Cleveland engineers found it to be 51% softer than the more common 17-4 stainless used in putter heads. In addition to producing a soft feel at impact, despite the fact there is not insert, it is also easier to bend for customizing allowing plus or minus 4° of lie angle to make the putter exactly what your set up requires.

After the first three holes of the first round it was evident the HB 6C was a quality putter. It helped me to knock in a six footer for par, a 20-footer for birdie and a par save on the third hole. It would be fair to say I was sold.

Over the remaining rounds were all in Florida on Bermuda greens and, as you get with Bermuda, widely varying speeds and grain. However, the HB 6C gave me the confidence that comes from seeing putts go in or at least get close time after time.

It performed well from around the green off the Bermuda fringe where lies are often very tight and prone to the dreaded chunked wedge. The HB 6C was a natural for taking Hank Haney’s advice that many times a putter is the best choice from off the green, if the turf conditions warrant, on the belief a mediocre putt will almost always be as good as or better than a chip.

The face has a very comforting, consistent feel so playing with a Titleist Pro V1, which has a soft cover, distance control was hardly ever an issue. Even testing done on the practice green with a Surlyn or hard cover distance ball did not reveal any problems adjusting to the inherent difference in impact.

Negatives: The sole could use a little more curvature to smooth passage through the fringe especially if the putt is into the grain.

The HB 6c hit the ball solidly since the sweet spot is fairly large but on downhill-down grain putts care is needed to get the speed correct.

Some of the players who tried this model did not like either the head shape or alignment line but liked the feel and all thought a blade-shape would be more suitable.

Recommendation: At the top I said Cleveland wedges were the reason for testing the Huntington Beach 6C putter but that was only partly true because I was intrigued at the possibility of finding a premium performing putter at less than a premium price. Each of the putters in the Huntington Beach collection sells for $100—plus $10 more for an oversized Winn grip. So the recommendation is to get to a golf shop and try one. I think you’ll like it as I do.

Images courtesy of Cleveland Golf