Ten Rounds with EX10 Fairway Woods & Hybrids

Tour Edge Golf doesn’t spend millions on television advertising campaigns nor do they dole out money for toursters to play their clubs.

They aren’t a huge equipment company but they are though an OEM who has successfully created a reputation for high quality clubs using the latest manufacturing techniques, design and materials. Their clubs give golfers top notch performance day in and day out, often at what could be called, “very competitive prices.”

This season’s Exotics EX10 Fairway Woods ($250) and Hybrids ($180) are perfect examples.

The fairway woods use high density steel for the cup face which is combo-brazed (rather than welded) to the steel clubhead body producing a face that is both responsive and strong. Due to its strength the face can be thinner so more of the impact energy is transferred to the ball. Plus since the face is a variable thickness design hits not quite on the center, say towards the heel or toe, can still result in a “good” shot.

It’s obvious during testing, from the nice high ball launch, the work Tour Edge did to push the center of gravity lower and deeper in the head (including the use of a 9-gram sole weight), was a success. And there’s an added benefit with this weighting, it gave the EX10 fairway wood lots of forgiveness. The slim-looking aerodynamic shape is easy to like and the updated wave pattern on the sole (longer rails and deeper channels in between) helps the club pass smoothly through even fairly heavy grass.

EX10 Fairway Woods have a choice of lofts with heads becoming progressively smaller as the loft increases: 13-degree (173 cc), 15-degree (165 cc), 16.5-degree (165 cc), 18-degree (158 cc) and 21-degree (150 cc).

EX10 Hybrids are a similar construction to the fairway woods with the same high density, steel cup face–HT 980 high-tensile strength steel—and again, since it can be made very thin, it produces the trampoline effect, the key to added distance. The face and body are also combo-brazed and the wave pattern on the sole is improved.

In the hybrids a 2-hybrid (17 degrees), 3-hybrid (19 degrees), 4-hybrid (22 degrees), 5-hybrid (25 degrees) and 6-hybrid (28 degrees) are available.

On the course testing was done for ten rounds with a 13-degree 3-wood and two hybrids, a 3-hybrid and 4-hybrid. It should pointed out after a couple of rounds it was plain these newbies weren’t just squatters in the bag slots. They quickly earned permanent occupancy.

The course I often play, depending on the wind, requires a 3-wood from the tee on three or sometimes four holes and the performance of the EX10 can best be described as a “mini-driver.” On more than one occasion the ball actually went too far and since its Florida that usually means one of two things. Either the ball is in the water or blocked out by palms or oaks. Heck of a problem to have.

From tight Bermuda grass fairway lies the EX10 gets the ball in the air every time, the first 3-wood from any manufacturer I can say that about. Granted not every strike is dead solid perfect, my swing sometimes seems to go on hiatus, but my poor contacts are usually towards the toe and the EX10 still gets the ball in the air with credible distance.

The EX10 hybrids are a little longer from the tee than the previous model EX9s which were tested last year and more readily work the ball to tucked pins. Realizing anecdotal evidence for what it is, the second round with them from a par-5 fairway bunker, the 4-hybrid not only got the ball out but laser measurement of the carry and rollout was 186 yards. At my skill level I can’t ask for more than that.

However, where the hybrids really come into their own is from the rough. They get the ball up and out. Period. They feel solid everytime and the shot is almost always online. Long par-3s are even fun since with just a driving range swing, not trying to do anything special, both the 3- and 4- hit the ball high and it lands softly…sometimes even near the pin.

Negatives: Did not spend a lot of time hitting the EX10 3-wood from the rough since Florida rough is Bermuda and even in the winter time a hybrid is a better choice. If you are someone who takes a little divot with a fairway wood—à la Tom Watson—the “Slipstream Sole” of both the wood and hybrids may take some getting used to. Plus, and I know this sounds picky, the head covers on the hybrids are a pain to put back on.

Recommendation: These are in my bag to stay. The best recommendation I can give them.

Ten Rounds with the Cobra King F7+ Driver

In 2013 Tom Olsavsky joined Cobra Puma Golf as Vice President of Research and Development after a long stint with TaylorMade Golf as Senior Director of Product Creation. Industry observers expected this well respected designer would make his mark on the entire Cobra product line and he has.

Last year we told you we liked the KING F6 Baffler with the iconic rails on the sole and the KING LTD driver with the center of gravity on the neutral axis of the clubhead plus a “Spaceport” in the sole to help create lots of forgiveness. In fact, Olsavskly’s team did such a good job, the KING LTD quickly took the number one slot in my bag.

We also commented on the KING F6 driver which had a font-to-back weighting system and in revamping the F6 for this season the result is the KING F7 (460cc $350) and the slightly smaller profile KING F7+ (452cc $400). Both have three weights (1-12 gram and 2-2 gram) in the sole. One is positioned in the front just behind the face, the second towards the heel and the last in the very rear of the head. By switching the weights around gives in essence three much different drivers.

Trying out the various weight positons in the KING F7+ did produce noticeable changes in trajectory and curvature bias. Our 10 rounds of testing included one with the 12-gram weight in the heel and two with it in the rear position. Since my tendency is a hook (truth be told it deteriorates often to a pull hook) having the heavier weight in the heel didn’t produce a lot of fairways and with it in the rear position trajectory was too high.

Settling on the heavier weight in the front position, which obviously was correct for my swing, produced and mid-trajectory basically straight shot and allowed for a fade for those holes requiring a dogleg tee shot.

The stock Fujikura PRO XLR8 shaft is slightly stiffer in the tip and butt and gives lots of mid-point kick for mid-launch complimenting the 12-gram weight being in the front position.

The crown is carbon fiber which, being 20% lighter than titanium, weight could be shifted lower and deeper in the head making the KING F7+ above average in forgiveness.

Then there’s what they are calling COBRA CONNECT, a partnership with Arccos to track every drive. The Arccos sensor is preinstalled in the butt end of the grip so once it’s paired with the free smartphone app not only drive data is recorded but there’s a GPS rangefinder. It works, is automatic to use and the data may be reviewed after the round including distance and the number of fairways hit. They tell me the sensor battery is good for at least two years.

Distance however, is the thing everyone wants to know about and the KING F7+ is as long as the KING LTD I was carrying and with the same dead-solid sound. The trajectory (with the 12-gram weight in the front positon) is mid-launch and the lack of ballooning in the wind indicates low ball spin even on slight mishits.

Finally, the blue KING F7+ has a really great look at address. The shape is pleasing and the blue—with red and white accents on the sole–stands out in a world of mostly black clubheads.

The Cobra KING F7+ also has what is sometimes called Tour validation. Fan favorite Rickie Fowler won the Honda Classic with the F7+ and it’s played by Lexi Thompson, Jonas Blixt, Jesper Parnevik and World Golf Hall of Fame member Greg Norman. While it’s tough to make a comparison between their swings and that of the average golfer plus of course they are paid by Cobra, it is a vote of confidence since they could be using any of the other Cobra models.

Negatives: the F7+ is billed as being for better players and comes with an adjustable hosel from 8 to 11 degrees so if you need help with trajectory the F7, which adjusts from 9 to 12 degrees (and with the 12-gram weight in the rear), would be a better choice.

Recommendation: Get on a launch monitor and test (with the help of a PGA Professional) the KING F7+ against any of the other new drivers and I think you will find it will hold its own in terms of feel, accuracy, forgiveness and distance. The $400 price is at the low end of the range for Tour level drivers and with comparable features making it attractive for a lot of budgets.

PGA TOUR Superstore – Bucking the Trend

In addition to a soft demand particularly for hard goods, golf retailing has had to endure some difficult times typified by the bankruptcy of Golfsmith, Sports Authority and Ben Hogan Golf plus Nike Golf’s decision to close its club and ball business.

PGA TOUR Superstores however, are bucking the trend. The Atlanta-based retailer is profitable and showing strong sales growth with an active program for adding new locations to the current 28. Three more stores are scheduled to open this year.

The company is privately-held by AMB Group, one of the family businesses of Arthur Blank that own the Atlanta Falcons football team, Atlanta United of Major League Soccer Team and the soon to be completed Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. Blank was cofounder of Home Depot, retiring in 2001 as co-chairman.

In an interview at the PGA Merchandise Show Dick Sullivan president and CEO of PGA TOUR Superstores talked about their success and plans for the future. Sullivan joined the company in 2008 after successful stints at both Home Depot and the Atlanta Falcons.

Brand identity is a must, especially in the competitive business of selling retail golf equipment, so we began by asking about the use of perhaps the best know name in golf, PGA TOUR. Sullivan responded, “We have a 50 year license with the PGA TOUR for the name and are very happy with the association with the Tour and in fact handle the e-commerce for them off their website. We want people to feel the link between us and the Tour as being real and important.”

Sullivan continued by saying he wants his stores to be high in wow-factor so when a golf consumer walks in the first time their reaction is “WOW!” because of the large amount of floor space, the interactive and brightly lit open layouts and well-stocked shelves.

With stores averaging over 45,000 square feet a big part of the growth has been realized by maximizing revenue whether in sales of clubs, apparel or services. We questioned how the revenue per square foot compared with other retailers and though he was reluctant to share specifics Sullivan did say that, “Revenue per square foot is up to double of other golf retailers.”

Experiential is the word the company uses to describe a visit and Sullivan said sales mix in a given store depends on the local market but, “Last year (2016) we gave 45-50,000 lessons so we have a strong presence in helping golfers get better.” Also interesting and somewhat unexpected is some locations sell more ladies’ apparel than men’s.

In 2016 PGA TOUR Superstores had over seven million customers and that will presumably grow in 2017 not only from same store growth but from increasing the number of locations. Sullivan expects to have 50 stores in five years so the rate of openings will be steady but not spectacular.

Realistically the growth into new markets and opening of new locations in existing markets is driven often by the cost of real estate. “It has to make sense for us and some areas [commercial real estate] are pretty expensive and it’s hard to make the numbers work,” Sullivan told me.

The almost mystical reputation of Home Depot’s customer service is a benchmark for Sullivan and the employees of PGA TOUR Superstores and this starts with knowing golfers and what they want and need. The connection is made through store employees.

According to Sullivan, “The employees on the floor who are closest to the customers are at the top of the PGA TOUR Superstore pyramid and the CEO is at the bottom. Employees tell us what we need to do.” They are the ones dealing with the golfers so they understand what the customer wants and needs.

He followed that comment quickly with, “If you do the right thing the numbers will follow,” which certainly is a refreshing change from the bean-counter orientation of some other operations.

Anecdotally, on a recent visit to the Orlando store to purchase some golf gloves the display rack had none in my size. When I asked a store associate if they had any he ran…ran mind you, to the back and returned almost immediately with what I needed.

I don’t recall ever experiencing that level of enthusiastic service much less physical exertion ever in any golf store, big box retailer or green grass shop.

On average PGA TOUR Superstores have 14 hitting bays with the latest swing analysis software and graphics along with custom fitting of clubs, club repair, re-gripping. “We run Saturday clinics for juniors to build the interest of youngsters in the game hopefully making them lifelong participants but also to engage the parents in a meaningful way with their children, the game of golf and our stores.”

So how is it working? As noted previously PGA TOUR Superstores is bucking the trend with continued growth and profitability and for example, “Some snowbound locations have to use beepers like in restaurants to notify when a practice bay is available which have swing analysis software. Each location has PGA Professionals on staff.”

When asked for a description of their ideal target customer Sullivan responded, “The avid golfer is of course first for us. We want them to find everything they want and for them to come back.”

From my experience it would seem a lot of golfers will be doing just that.

Images courtesy PGA TOUR Superstore

Another PGA Show in the Books

After covering the PGA Merchandise Show for more than 20 years the variety of products still amazes me and particularly the new items from the latest in tech gadgets to ways to more efficiently attach things to your golf bag.

The 64th industry-only Show concluded last Friday its three day run in the Orange County Convention Center located in suburban Orlando. As always it was preceded by the Demo Day to beat all demo days for PGA Professionals and the media at the Orange County National Golf Center’s immense range.

For the week the event that grabbed the most attention was the announcement by TaylorMade-adidas Golf CEO David Abeles just after Show doors opened the first day of the signing of Tiger Woods to an endorsement contract. It created a buzz overshadowing a later announcement by Callaway Golf that Michelle Wie had become a part of their staff.

Reed Expositions, who run the Show, have not released attendance yet but many old timers felt the numbers may have been down from the last couple of years. However, with 1 million square feet of exhibit space and 10 miles of aisles not counting the dozens of off floor meeting rooms, it’s hard to tell. What is for sure is the number of exhibitors remained approximately the same as the past three years—around 1,000—with 271 first time exhibitors. Reed said the number of PGA Professional in attendance increased three percent to more than 7,500.

This is the largest meeting of the golf industry or as they say, the “Major of the Golf Business” and this is certainly true though some well-known companies were absent, in a couple of cases conspicuously absent. Nike Golf of course was not exhibiting clubs since they have closed their club and ball business to concentrate on golf apparel but Nike apparel was a no show as well. Ben Hogan Golf, after an effort to reinvigorate the iconic brand was not present and this week declared bankruptcy.

Less surprising was the absence of PXG owned by Bob Parsons who has said publicly the buyers and PGA Professionals coming to Orlando are not the target market for his ultra-expensive clubs with a set listing at over $5,000. Also among the missing were Mizuno Golf, Bridgestone, True Temper and Aldila.

Among the major items attracting attention were drivers from Wilson Golf (Triton), Callaway (Great Big Bertha Epic), TaylorMade (M1 and M2), Cobra (King F7 and F7+) and Titleist (917 D2 and D3). New golf balls included the Callaway Chrome Soft X, TaylorMade TP5 and TP5x, Volvik S4 White, Srixon Z-Star/Z-Star XV and Titleist’s latest Pro V1 and Pro V1x.

There were 423 companies in the apparel category, a number that continues to grow along with the size of their displays. Services plus accessories seem to be about the same, perhaps with slight growth, which means the club company portion of the Show is declining since the total number of exhibitors remains the same. However, the club category includes companies from the largest multi-line manufacturers to grip, shaft and ferrule makers and one-of putter producers.

Besides the Woods/TMaG announcement often heard discussed on the floor, in the media center and after hours was the non-sale of TMaG which has been on the block since last May. Parent adidas hasn’t said a word and no buyers have been forthcoming though a rumor that Woods and Michael Jordan were interested was thoroughly discredited. With business a little better and a Tiger in the stable might adidas consider keeping the top metal wood maker?

Another oft heard comment there has been no superhot-must-have product introduced and there are a couple of reasons why. Club companies all use top flight technology already so the spread in club performance has narrowed plus restrictions on allowable performance by the USGA has definitely put a damper on innovation. But probably the biggest reason, and golf club designers have known this for some time, products were reaching both the USGA limits and limits imposed by the laws of physics. Change therefore is more incremental rather than a “breakthrough.”

Individual golfers still will gain the most benefit and better performance for them by using custom fitted clubs.

In the golf business orders are often written before the Show so the purchase cycle is not as dependent on face to face meetings as once was the case with possibly the exception of soft goods. The focus of the Show has changed to placing a major emphasis on the continuing education courses for PGA Professionals.

For most attendees though it is a worldwide and industrywide meet-and-greet with a sprinkling of deal making. Costs of attending are high, booth space is expensive and even large companies must figure how to get the most return from the expense. This is not a negative but something that needs to be continually acknowledged and improved by the PGA and Reed Expositions.

10 Rounds with the L2 MOI MAXX Putter

A putter with lots of forgiveness, a large sweet spot and high resistance to twisting puts you on the road to making more putts since impacting the ball even a little off center, as we all know happens fairly often, can easily mean a missed putt.

Enter the L2 MOI MAXX putter the most recent model from Lateral Line Putters LLC. where forgiveness, a big sweet spot and high MOI are the whole idea.

Taking the L2 from the shipping box you notice right away the weight—it’s heavy–in fact the head weight is 620 grams. Contrast that with a “normal” putter with a head weight of around 350 grams makes the L2 more than 250 grams heavier and, as far as we know, the heftiest putter on the market. Designer and company president John Ambrose says a putter such as the L2 with a head of over one and one-third pounds makes for a smoother stroke and more putts going in the hole.

Not only does the head break the upper weight limit it is also physically huge—measuring a full six and one-quarter inches from heel to toe compared to putters we are more used to with heads such as the classic modern blade that are a little over four inches. The extra-large center shafted head due to its size (and weight) also exhibits a sweet spot Ambrose says is eight times that of most other putters, a full three and on-half inches wide.

On the course the dual alignment lines on the head visually bracket the ball so aiming is relatively easy and because the L2 has a flat sole along with the heavy head, it actually stands up by itself on the green. It is possible therefore to align the L2 while in the address position then, leaving it standing, to walk behind the line and make a final adjustment. The putter grip is extra-long with a square cross section which complements aiming by putting the hands in the proper placement.

But the grip size has another purpose as well. As Ambrose puts it, “By adding a 200 gram, 16-inch grip to the L2, we moved the stroke motion feel past the hands and wrists and into the arms and shoulders. This allows for a smooth, pendulum motion and discourages the yips.”

After ten rounds on several different courses, all with Bermuda greens and speeds ranging from medium to very quick, we got used to the feel of the L2 which is decidedly different than a “normal” putter. Hitting a seriously off line putt almost never occurred both because of the effect alignment lines and the fact virtually wherever the ball struck the face it rolled with a solid impact. The weight of the head meant the putter was always on line when the stroke finished.

As advertised the L2 is forgiving, perhaps the most forgiving we have ever tested though admittedly that’s a subjective judgement. What is without question though, if you are having problems making solid contact, beset by the “twitches” or still looking for a replacement for your banned belly or broomstick there could be some distinct benefits from this putter.

Negatives: Some may find distance control difficult because the hit is so solid with so much mass behind it. We found on downhill (particularly downhill side hill putts) and on fast greens getting the proper speed could be problematic. The flat sole, while aiding alignment, sometimes catches the grass when putting from Bermuda fringe into the grain. And as long as we are picking nits, the large square grip caused comment from everyone who tried it, not necessarily negative comments but it does take some getting used to. Finally, one players opined that carrying the extra weight L2 for a full 18 holes would be like putting three more clubs in the bag. As I said, picking nits.

Recommendation: If you need help with making solidly impacted online putts the L2 MOI MAXX could very well be the answer. The price is $169 at L2putters.com and shipping is included in the price.

“Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated”

“Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.” So said Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company President and CEO Scott Walker in a press release announcing a company restructuring. The voluntary action aimed at cutting costs and streamlining operations included the layoff of most of the company employees, approximately 30, according to a copyrighted story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram by Steve Kaskovich.

Walker continued in the press release, “While our organization does not look the same today as it did in 2016, we are confident that the changes we are making will make us a stronger and better company in the future.”

The release stated that at present Ben Hogan has not declared bankruptcy nor have any lenders foreclosed on outstanding debt.

In 2015 the iconic Ben Hogan brand was reintroduced at the PGA Merchandise Show with a new iron model, the Ft. Worth 15, by the new Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company LLC after having been off the market since 2008 with Terry Koehler as president and CEO. Koehler had negotiated a licensing agreement for the name with clothier Perry Ellis who had purchased the brand from Callaway Golf in 2012. Perry Ellis continues to make and market apparel under the Ben Hogan name. Koehler formerly worked for Ben Hogan in his original company was also president and CEO of Eidolon Wedge Company.

Walker replaced Koehler as president and CEO of the Fort Worth, Tex. based operation in August 2016.

Three different iron models, one wedge model and one hybrid model are currently in their catalog.

A check of OEM’s scheduled to exhibit at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando starting Jan. 24 showed Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company as not having contracted for display booth space but meeting room space off the main floor has been reserved.

The original Ben Hogan Company was started by Ben Hogan in 1953 to manufacture clubs to his exacting specifications and quickly gained the reputation of the ultimate “player’s irons.” Hogan died in 1997 at the age of 84 having sold his interest in the manufacturer some years earlier.

PGA Show – Looking for Answers

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At this writing we are just over two months to the opening of the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show—in fact we are within 75 days. Open only to members of the golf industry it is the most important annual meeting in the business. Next year it runs from January 24th with a Demo Day held at the Orange County National Golf Center and ends on January 27th after three days of exhibits in Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.

In particular those making and selling golf equipment will be looking for answers to the direction that part of the industry is taking.

Changes to the equipment OEMs and retailers have been coming at a rapid pace.

Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS) owner of Golf Galaxy has purchased bankrupt competitor Golfsmith and will leave just 30 of the Golfsmith locations open which clearly changes big-box retailing of equipment. At the same time aggressive competitors such as PGA Tour Superstore and Worldwide Golf Shops (owners of Roger Dunn Golf, Edwin Watts Golf, The Golf Mart, Golfers’ Warehouse, Van’s Golf and Unita Golf) are working hard to increase their share of the approximately $4.0 billion U.S. market.pga-merchandise-show-logo_2017

So one question is, how will the reduction in golf retail space with the closing of Golfsmith effect golf consumers, club OEM’s and the retailers themselves? Will the expansion in the number of locations by competitors compensate for Golfsmith’s loss and how will club pricing to golfers be affected?

Sales of clubs, balls, merchandise, greens fees, golf related travel and golf-front real estate values are all impacted by the number of golfers but with that number at best holding its own the business is not expanding.

Nike Golf’s exit from the club business has been projected to have minimal impact on the other OEMs but having said that Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) under CEO Chip Brewer has been very aggressive and is introducing attractive new products for the 2017 season. They reported a 6.9 percent increase in sales for the third quarter this year and project a substantial increase in earnings for the full year.

The other publically traded OEM Acushnet (NYSE:GOLF), makers of the best-selling Titleist golf balls, has just had its initial public offering of stock and said sales increased slightly (under 3 percent) in the quarter ending June 30 accompanied by increased profit. Acushnet also has a new line of drivers and fairway woods that are receiving good reviews.

The second largest OEM, after Acushnet, TaylorMade Golf is up for sale and has been for the past six months, evidentially with no takers. Owner adidas (OTC:ADDYY) said TMaG sales have been higher and for the first nine months of 2016 club and ball sales showed “double-digit increases” sales with higher profitability.

Other manufacturers such as Tour Edge Golf, Cobra Puma Golf and Srixon are also pressing to gain market share, albeit in a stagnant market, which means any increased sales will have to be at the expensive of another company rather than from market growth.

So the question is what will the future bring and the answer could be coming at the PGA Show. Not only will all of the new clubs and balls be available for evaluation but as significantly, industry insiders may be able to forecast which direction the market is moving. Millions of dollars ride on the decisions made.

10 Rounds with Sentio Sierra 101

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Club makers use words like NEW, AMAZING, THE LATEST, etc. to promote their clubs and putters are no exception. When I first saw the Sierra 101 from Sentio and talked with Jim Varney, the company’s president, it was evident perhaps their new Sierra 101 putter did have something that was new and even unique.

Sentio’s idea is to completely isolate the putter face from the putter body with a layer of TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) which, when made with different properties, would change the feel of the impact and indeed the amount the ball rebounds. This means the feel can be matched to individual preference and the speed of the greens normally played.

Good players know feel is the critical factor in making more putts.

There are three TPE layers or “feels” available: green is soft for fast green speeds, blue for slower greens and red for medium speed greens.

The testing of the Sierra 101 with a red TPE layer was over 10 rounds on medium speed Bermuda greens and it was evident from the first this patent-protected idea worked and worked well.

Distance control was excellent almost eerie and as experience increased it became simply a case of determining the putt’s line and hitting it. Obviously not every putt went in but the confidence from knowing the distance would be correct meant three putts were virtually a thing of the past.

Other than the TPE layer each of the Sierra 101 modern blade models has a medium toe-hang and a plumber’s neck hosel and the two-part body of milled stainless steel. A face balanced mallet style is in the works and should be ready by the time of the PGA Show in January.

Varney responded to questions with answers showing both the hard work and commitment to the Sierra 101.sierra-cutaway_300x215

ET: How did you come up with the idea of the “insert” in the middle of the head instead of on the face like most other putters?

JV: My business partner and I have a background in product design and engineering, so we are constantly looking at everyday things and thinking of ways to improve them. As an avid golfer (and equipment nerd) I noticed so much technology and cutting-edge manufacturing going into drivers, metal woods and irons while putters were very traditional.  There seemed to be a lot of room for innovation there especially in regard to feel; most of the new ideas from the big brands dealt more with alignment even though 85% of golfers say feel is most important.  We decided to apply our knowledge of engineering and manufacturing to approach the problem from a fresh perspective. The breakthrough came when we realized that by molding a dampening agent in the middle of the head we could change the feel response in ways that are impossible with face inserts or solid putters. This construction also gave us the ability to improve forgiveness and MOI, and also create alignment features – it was like an all-in-one technology. We knew this would be technically difficult but certainly feasible, using a method called Insert Molding.  We then verified our ideas with experiments and research, culminating in our patent in 2013.

ET: The Sierra 101 loft is only 2-degrees which is less than most others which are 3- and 4-degrees for what reason?

JV: Greens in general are getting faster than they were even 5 years ago, which means you don’t need as much loft to launch the ball out the indentation it’s sitting in on the green. We want to create forward roll as soon as possible, and the grooves and lower face loft help achieve that. The hosel design allows for loft/lie bending anyway, so golfers that get custom fit with our putters can have this adjusted to their preferences.

ET: Can you share COR values of your putter versus others? Readers are used to thinking in terms of the USGA .083/.086 maximum for drivers, etc.

JV: There are several ways of measuring COR, we use the static drop method: drop a golf ball (ProV1) from a set height onto the face of the putter, which has been immobilized, and measure the rebound height. This is important because we wanted to measure the COR of the face independent of other design elements, such as the hosel and shaft. The ratio of rebound height to drop height is the COR value.

Using this method, a relatively firm face insert has a COR of about .82 and a solid milled 303 stainless steel putter has a COR of .87. They may seem close, but that represents about 13-15% difference in energy transfer between the two.  On a 20 foot putt, that difference equals 3 feet. Our Sierra models have COR values in the range of .83 to .86, spanning the range between the two extremes.

ET: What’s the reason the vertical grooves the TPE fills are deeper in the center and are eliminated towards the heel and toe?

JV: The vertical grooves in the back of the face replace some of the heavy steel with lighter TPE.  This has two effects:

  1. It further increases MOI of the head
  2. It locally reduces the mass of the face in the center, making the sweet spot a little less hot. This makes the putter more forgiving on off-center strikes.

ET: The model you sent me has what I judge as a 45-degree toe hang so are all the models the same? Why did you choose that as opposed to say a face balanced weighting or a 90-degree toe hang?

JV: As an independent start-up we decided to start with a single head shape and expand from there. The Sierra 101 head style was designed to fit as many players as possible, so we chose a middle of the road “4:00” toe hang which could be used by almost everybody. True straight-back-straight-through (SBST) players may not like it, but even some of those folks find it easy to control. I’ve heard from many people that they like the way it “sets up”.  I think this is a combination of the square lines and the balance at address.

ET: Each model has and L-shaped hosel (plumbers neck?) and is heel mounted. What is your reasoning?

JV: Again, starting with a single body style was going to be necessarily limiting, so we decided to go “classic” with a full-offset plumbers neck hosel. There is actually no limit to the shapes and styles we can do with our technology, which is one of the cool things about it. There are some great technologies in putters out there that require certain shapes or forms or balance points – we don’t have any of those restrictions. Our next body styles will have different hosels and balances – a mallet is in the works too.  We designed the Sierra 101 with a nod to tradition, but with a vision pointed squarely in the future.

Negatives: Alignment using the exposed top of the TPE layer may not be for everyone and certainly those who presently use a face-balanced putter may find the toe weighted Sierra 101 an adjustment. Not really as a negative but a caution, downhill putts because the hit is so solid tended to run out more than usual that the model I previously was using.

Recommendation: The Sierra 101 from Sentio Golf is really different and unique due to the use of the proprietary TPE layer and this alone makes it one you should consider if only for the feel the layer provides. Priced at $299, it may be purchased on SentioGolf.com and select golf shops.

Tiger’s In – Nike’s Out

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He hasn’t put his game on display for over a year and his last PGA Tour win was in August of 2013 but the soon to be 41-year old has created lots of attention by saying he will play in a charity event October 10-11 followed by the Safeway Open October 13-16.

And the company whose clubs he has played since 2002 is getting out, out of the club, bag and ball business to concentrate on shoes and apparel.

Tiger Woods and Nike, inseparable in the minds of many, have had an amazing run together. Woods currently has 79 Tour wins with 14 majors (not all using Nike equipment) ranking second all-time in both categories. Nike though, was never able to come up with a category-defining club in spite of having on the payroll Tom Stites, one of the most respected club designers in the business. What they did however, with Woods under the most lucrative contract in golf, was become the number one golf apparel brand.

It’s no wonder, with the equipment business having at best a minimal-growth future, the decision to leave that arena was made.

Woods and other staff members, most notably Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie, will continue to wear Nike Swoosh apparel so they will still have a huge presence in the minds of consumers. Golfers just won’t be able to purchase Nike clubs.

The effect the Nike withdrawal from selling equipment is uncertain but a good estimate is it probably won’t be very large. The golf division never had more than $800 million (last year $706 million) in sales but since the breakdown between hard goods and soft goods was not reported, actual club sales are unknown. They never approached a 10% market share in hard goods.

Some in the media are saying Nike’s problems are because Woods hasn’t been playing and that’s incorrect. Nike didn’t have market leadership or even contend for leadership when Woods was at his best, winning multiple times in a season. His presence on Tour alone never could generate the amount of business Nike wanted to dominant the golf hard goods sector but did help push soft goods to the number one spot.

Golf for Nike was a tiny part of their overall business, less than two percent, and several factors virtually preordained their decision. The small market share plus an industry where product lifecycles are measured often in months with relatively large development costs meant staying just didn’t make sense. It was obvious golf equipment had to go.

With Nike paying more attention to golf performance and lifestyle soft goods, the biggest impact could be seen by competing shoe and apparel brands Acushnet’s FootJoy, adidas and Under Armour. Adidas is also leaving equipment and selling its golf brands TaylorMade Golf and Adams. The other major player Acushnet, owner of Titleist, is in the process of going public which typically can create uncertainly in corporate decision making.

This could mean Callaway picks up the major portion of Nike club sales however large it was and undeniably Callaway has been on an upwards trend since Chip Brewer took over as CEO. Privately-owned Ping and others potentially could see a bump in sales as well.

With all that in mind, which clubs will Woods switch to now that he plans to compete and again chase Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors?

Well, it’s not clear he will switch at all and for sure not right away though Woods has said companies are sending lots of clubs to try out. He hasn’t played a Tour event since August 2015 and it’s unlikely he will make a club change soon. Additionally any equipment company paying the amount of money Woods can demand will want their logo prominently display on his cap and shirt so there’s an immediate conflict with his Nike apparel contract. Nike is worth several millions each year to Woods and the contract doesn’t renew until the end of 2018 so he’s not going to put it in jeopardy.

One thing is for sure, fan interest will continue as will the speculation about Woods as he tries to get back to being top of the Tour.

The Mistake Jason Didn’t Make

day_tmagJason Day is the world’s number one ranked golfer though Dustin Johnson with his superlative play this summer is gaining on him and a lot depends on the outcome at East Lake Country Club in two weeks at the Tour Championship.

However, that not the point of this column.

The point is to congratulate Day for not making the same mistake numerous other stars have made (including Payne Stewart after he won his first major) of switching equipment companies. Often what happens is though the star is being paid lots of money to play the new clubs, they don’t perform like the old clubs.

Many struggle for months if not an entire season trying to recapture the winning magic they had found in the old sticks.

Of course, as soon as winning a few tournaments or a major pushes a player higher in the golf consumer’s consciousness equipment makers line up offering significant monetary inducements to drop the clubs that made them famous and take on new ones.

Day hasn’t done that, in fact he had already re-upped with his club company TaylorMade Golf several months ago in advance of the contract renewal date at the end of the year.

What he didn’t continue was his contract with TMaG’s parent company adidas to wear their shoes and apparel.

Therefore the announcement he had signed with Nike to endorse shoes and apparel for a reported $10 million annually was not a huge surprise. Day not only will continue with TMaG for his clubs he can’t play Nike clubs since they dropped out of that part of the business last month.

So congratulations to Jason Day for not making a potentially disastrous choice.