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                                                                                                          

 

Ten Rounds with Epic

The Great Big Bertha Epic driver from Callaway Golf caused a flurry of comment on the Internet and in club rooms around the country for a simple reason…its construction is unique.

When I received the advanced information and specifications for the Epic prior to the official announcement, I wasn’t an enthusiast for the name. Nor am I now however, there no denying the construction is unlike any other on the market so I think we can allow Callaway some license to call it what they want. Actually I’m told Epic was the code name used during development and it stuck.

But enough about the nonessentials. For the first time a manufacturer has been able to place bars of titanium inside the clubhead connecting the crown and sole to reduce the amount of deflection at impact. This transfers energy to the clubface and Callaway says it creates maximum face flex and more ball speed even though the clubhead speed remains the same. The name for this breakthrough is another I’m not thrilled with but of course my opinion doesn’t matter. They call it “Jailbreak Technology.”

The club body is a titanium skeleton or “Exo-Cage” with the areas between the “ribs” filled by carbon fiber. Included are the crown plus three sections of the sole so the Epic clubhead’s surface area works out to 46% carbon fiber. This says Dr. Alan Hocknell, senior vice president of research and development, creates a light yet stiff structure leaving lots of weight which can be redistributed to alter the curvature bias of the ball. To provide for a draw or a fade shot tendency Epic has a 17-gram sliding weight at the rear of the sole which according to Hocknell can adjust the ball curvature up to 21 yards. That of course goes a long way in straightening out most any slice.

To maximize performance Callaway also recognizes the importance of the correct shaft so with the Epic they offer a choice four stock shafts in four different weight categories. A very nice feature that can mean having a driver that “works” or not and may be a significant cost savings over buying a non-stock shaft.

The Epic comes with a choice of basic lofts–9 degrees, 10.5 degrees and a HT model of 13.5 degrees. Settings on the hosel can adjust that loft from two degrees more to one degree less and there’s also a setting for a draw or neutral lie angle.

The GBB Epic tested was a 10.5 degree model with a Project X HZDRUS T800 shaft the standard 45.5 inch length and from the very first swings on the range it was apparent Callaway has a winner. Though the shaft was one inch longer than my current driver, contact was solid and trajectory (after adjusting the loft to 11 degrees) was exactly what my swing should produce.

Distance was as good as any driver we have tested but the most important fact is that on my usual towards-the-toe miss the ball still went almost the same yardage, though of course exhibiting a fairly pronounced right to left hook. As the Epic became more familiar the forgiveness exhibited swing after swing makes it an unqualified winner.

Negatives: Epic’s price of $500 mandates a club fitting by a qualified fitter. This makes good sense even though there may be an additional cost.

The stock shafts may be too long for some, especially slower swing speed players, and those with pronounced slices so it might be a good idea to consider trimming the standard length.

With the lie angle setting at neutral, some who tried the Epic thought the face looked like it was slightly open. This was not actually true, only what it looked like, but this may be a concern for some potential purchasers.

Everyone commented on the impact sound though truthfully after a couple of rounds it didn’t bother me. It is a harder or perhaps sharper sound and certainly distinctive from any other driver.

Recommendation: Put the Great Big Bertha Epic on your short list. It’s a premium driver that stands out in comparison with others in its class for both its construction and most importantly forgiveness. There’s a low spin version without the sliding weight but with two interchangeable sole weights called the Epic Sub Zero also priced at $500.

Images courtesy of Callaway Golf

The “Secret” About Wedges

There’s a lot of talk about drivers and there’s no doubt the club taking up the number one slot in the bag is important but it’s also true the clubs in the other end of the bag, the wedges, are important as well. It’s wonderful to hit a booming drive but if you can’t wedge it close going low will be tough.

The secret about wedge play is there is no secret. It just takes a basic knowledge and the selection of the proper wedges for you, plus of course maybe a lesson from a PGA Professional.

To maximize results make sure the lofts are correctly gapped so the distance each wedge goes with a normal swing is about 10 to 15 yards different than the next more lofted wedge. This is often, but not always, four degrees of loft.

An example would be the wedges in my bag starting with the pitching wedge which has a loft of 45 degrees and using a “normal” swing flies 120-125 yards. Next is a 50 degree “gap wedge” good for 105 to 110 yards, then one with 54-degrees of loft used for 90 to 100 yards and finally a 58 degree wedge at 80 yards.

So, four wedges effectively covering a range of 40 plus yards.

It’s important to note—and this is another “secret” that’s not really a secret—ideally you would carry the wedges that give you as many full swings as possible in a round realizing though, no matter what loft your wedges you will always be faced with in-between yardage shots.

There is no magic formula and gapping to a certain extent is a matter of personal preference. It comes down to getting it right so you hit the ball closer with more confidence. A discussion about bounce, that other vital aspect of wedge selection, will be covered in another article.

Here are three of this year’s wedges that caught our eye and we have tested extensively:

Callaway Golf Sure Out: The name was used by the original Ben Hogan brand and since Callaway owns the name they were able to bring it back for a super game improvement wedge designed with input from instructor Hank Haney. Callaway’s team made the Sure Out with lots of sole camber, i.e., curvature from heel to toe. Additionally there is lots of bounce to help it through sand and long grass and 17 grooves that go all the way across the face. These features plus a nice wide sole mean sand shots, greenside pitches and even flop shots can be hit without opening the face or cutting across the ball, techniques that “scare” many average golfers. Priced at $120, Sure Out wedges are available with either lightweight steel or graphite shafts in 58 or 64-degrees of loft.

Cleveland Golf RTX-3: Compared to Cleveland’s previous RTX-2 model, nine grams of weight has been moved from the hosel to the clubhead so the center of gravity is closer to the impact area making a noticeable improvement in feel. For more consistent contact there are three different V-grind soles to match your swing profile and Cleveland’s third generation micro-milled face in between the grooves provides more spin and thus control. Choices include finishes of black satin, Tour satin and Tour raw plus there’s a cavity back version. The available lofts range from 46 to 64 degrees and each is priced at $130.

Ping Glide 2.0: The updates of the original Glide wedges involved making grooves sharper-edged and slightly decreasing the spin between to increase friction to produce more spin. Impressively Ping lab testing reports the Glide 2.0 generate up to 400 rpm higher spin which is important to aid in getting the distance and trajectory just right on every shot. We especially like this wedge’s finish which the company has tagged “hydropearl.” It not only looks good but sheds moisture to reduce the chance of flyers. Ping offers four sole grinds to match your attack angle and the turf conditions at the course you most often play. With steel shafts they are priced at $140 per club.

Images courtesy of manufacturers

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.

Ten Rounds with Callaway Apex CF 16 Irons

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Callaway has two new iron models for next season and both are in stores now. For professionals and low handicap amateurs there are the one-piece forged Apex Pro 16 with progressive center of gravity placement and a very pleasing headshape/top line designed with input from Callaway’s Tour staff.

The second model, Apex CF 16, updates the Apex irons from two years ago and is considered by Callaway to be “a forged iron for all golfers.” In a first for the company’s forged irons there is a cupface construction in the longCallawayApex16CF_400x300 and mid-irons while the short irons (8- through wedges) have had the face plate redesigned. The set tested of 5-iron through A-wedge had True Temper XP 95 stiff shafts. Note: A cupface clubhead consists of two main pieces, the hosel and rear of the head welded to the face whose edges wrap around forming something like a cup. This construction leaves more of the face unsupported allowing for more flexing at impact and added ball speed. Several manufacturers make use of cupface construction for clubs including drivers and Callaway employ’s it in the XR, XR Pro and Big Bertha irons.

The initial impression at address was favorable, the forged heads have a relatively thin topline and as to be expected there is more offset in the long irons that becomes progressively less down through the wedges. On the range before the first round it was evident how “easy” these were to hit and on the course this paid bonuses. Easy hitting in my experience includes the feel, forgiveness and whether the ball flies with the correct trajectory.

These irons rate highly for each of those criteria.

A center h2016_Apex_iron_Explode_250x175it felt very solid and even when the center was missed, though the feedback told me of a poor swing, the feeling was still certainly acceptable not “clunky” as with some irons. This is the payoff of Callaway’s design and from the standpoint of forgiveness, similar positive observations could be made. What really struck me and everyone who I asked to hit the Apex 16 CFs was the trajectory, how quickly the ball got up in the air and from one of the higher handicappers, “the ball soared.”

My conclusion is the combination of the flexibility in the face (which tends to increase launch angle), the way the clubhead is weighted and the fact the XP 95 shafts have a low to mid kick point all would help produce the nice high trajectory most of us like from our irons.

Over the ten rounds trial the Apex CF 16s were excellent at digging the ball out from questionable lies such as those found in the Bermuda rough here in Florida. Ball spin appeared to be dependent on the type of ball used and two of the tour-type golf balls—one being Callaway’s Chrome Soft—had lots of stop, even spinning back on occasion which, as most golfers know, is difficult to do on Florida greens.

The seven club set tested retails for $1049.99 and a set of eight (4-iron through A- wedge) is $1199.99, $200 more for graphite shafts.

Negatives: On downwind shots, because of the ease at getting the ball airborne, the ball sometimes appeared to “float” and into the wind at least considering an extra club was a must. Pricing is at the upper end of the range for premium quality irons.

Recommendation: Easy-to-hit is hard to beat and if evaluating new irons Callaway Apex CF 16s should be near the top of those you try.

Images courtesy of Callaway Golf

Callaway & TMaG Sales Up

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The third quarter financials of Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) and TaylorMade-adidas Golf reflect small sales increases over the previous year but year-to-date sales for both are lower.

Callaway reported third quarter sales of $176 million with a $3.6 million loss compared with 2014 sales of $169 million and a $1.1 million loss. For nine months sales were $62 million less than last year at $690 million and pretax income was $11 million lower to $50 million. The company says early sales figures for the new Great Big Bertha driver have been encouraging.

TaylorMade-adidas, part of apparel giant adidas Group (OTCMKTS:ADDYY), said third quarter sales rose 6.5% to $173 million driven by double digit percentage increases in metalwoods. Profit margins were lower while year to date sales were $737 million, down 13% from 2014.

Restructuring of TMaG continues with the announcement in the third quarter report further layoffs will occur before year end effecting 14 percent of company employees worldwide. This is on top of a six percent layoff in July and previous layoffs in 2014.

Adidas is investigating sale of the Adams Golf and Ashworth brands, part of TMaG, and speculation is TaylorMade may be sold as well due to continued underperformance of sales and profits. The company acknowledged sales of last season’s R15 driver were “disappointing” but that the M1 driver model introduced in September along with the PSi irons recently announced would provide increases. Both have already been positively received in the marketplace.

10 Rounds with Callaway Chrome Soft

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Back last year when I first heard of Callaway Golf’s Chrome Soft golf ball it didn’t strike me as anything special but as more information became available my interest grew. It really got my attention when Callaway people explained the technology behind the new ball saying this will be a “game-changer for them.”

We are used to thinking low compression golf balls while having a softer feel didn’t go as far as those with a firmer feel. Ladies and seniors played the lower compression models since they couldn’t get the distance benefits of high compression golf balls due to their slower swing speeds. Since the introduction of multi-layer solid core balls like the Titleist ProV1 the spread of performance has widened but everyone acknowledged it would be nice to add the softer feel of low compression golf balls to the distance gains of solid core construction.

Building a ball with a very soft core meant, especially with longer clubs, though the spin rate was lower the core didn’t react fast enough to produce distance.

According to Callaway that was true until now. Hex_Control_2pk_LID_rev_FRENCH-ENG_v3

The 3-piece Chrome Soft is billed to have a soft feel and still produce the distance, high ball speed and low spin with their aptly named “SoftFast Core” and a urethane cover.

During February and March I took them to the course for an extended trial and as it turned out, though my northern friends were envious, played them in four southern states for a total 16 rounds.

The questions everyone immediately asks are, “How long were they? Did they go as far as a Pro V1?”

The answer is the Chrome Softs were long, certainly comparable to every other golf ball model including the Titleist’s Pro V1 we have reviewed and certainly within the variability inherent in my very average swing. Coincidentally, we received unsolicited samples from another manufacturer of a “distance and feel” ball and took them along with the Callaway’s on a trip to Georgia.

No contest, the “distance and feel” ball didn’t have anywhere near the “distance” of the Chrome Soft and the “feel” around the greens was like a rock while the Chrome Soft showed control properties we really appreciated. The comments from friends to whom I gave sample sleeves (usually two sleeves so they would have an extended opportunity to make their evaluation) were positive and two of them said they liked the Chrome Soft so much in comparison to their usual brand they would be switching.

Negatives. On some downwind shots, particularly with a driver, it seemed as though the Chrome Soft though hit well, fell out of the air very quickly. Admittedly this is a subjective impression but it happened on more than one occasion. Unfortunately in each case when that happened circumstances were such it wasn’t possible to hit additional tee shots so this remains an impression only worth mentioning in passing.

Secondly some may object to the price but at $38 dozen the Chrome Soft are $10 less than market leader ProV1 and $7 less than the Bridgestone B330-RX series.

Recommendation. The Callaway Chrome Soft is really worth trying and I believe you will be happy with the results.

Callaway Returns to Profitability

CALLAWAY GOLF COMPANY

Callaway Golf Company (NYSE: ELY) announced yesterday sales and profit increases for the 2014 fiscal year ending December 31 compared to the previous year making 2014 the first profitable year since 2008.

Sales for 2014 were up 5% to $887 million compared to $843 million in 2013 and net income increased to $16 million versus a loss of $9 million in 2013. Significantly, the result of cost control put in place, gross profit as a percentage of sales rose 3% while operating expenses rose only $1 million to $327 million.

Chip Brewer

Callaway President and CEO Chip Brewer

“We are pleased with our results for 2014,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Chip Brewer in a prepared statement. “Notwithstanding challenging market conditions for the golf industry as a whole, we were able to grow sales, increase our market share and return to profitability for the first time since 2008 – a significant milestone for us in our turnaround.”

Reported product category sales increases: woods +8%; irons +12%; golf balls +4%; accessories +2% as well as growth in every geographic segment: United States +5%; Japan +3%; Europe +11%; Rest of Asia +7%; Other foreign countries +1%.

Analysts note the competitive nature of the golf equipment business with club sales dominated by TaylorMade-adidas Golf a division of German-based holding company adidas AG (OTC: ADDY) and ball sales by privately-held Acushnet Company’s Titleist brand. The Callaway product line in the previous golf season did make inroads into the TMaG lead and for 2015 there is a highly touted version of the popular Big Bertha model driver receiving attention from the media and golfers.

“Given the strength of our product line for 2015, which was well received at the recent PGA show in Orlando, and anticipated additional improvements in our operations, we expect for 2015 on a constant currency basis not only sales growth and market share gains, but also further improvements in gross margins and profitability. Golf is a momentum business and fortunately momentum is now on our side.”

According to the company for the next fiscal year, “On a constant currency basis, net sales are estimated to increase by approximately 1% – 4%.  This growth is being driven by an estimated 5% – 6% growth in the Company’s core channel business, partially offset by a change in product launch timing and a reduction in closeout sales compared to 2014.”

Images courtesy of Callaway Golf