What You Need to Know about Titleist TS


Titleist is the number one ball company and will remain in the top spot for the foreseeable future. The company says sales of the new softer AVX ball are “off to a fast start” and iron sales have been a bright spot as well, making up a large part of the almost 25% increase in club sales through the second quarter of 2018. The new 718 AP3 players-distance irons leapt to the best-selling slot in the 718 family complimenting the game-improvement 718 AP1s and players model 718 AP2s.

Drivers and fairway woods however haven’t been doing as well. Titleist is the second most played driver on the PGA Tour behind those from TaylorMade Golf but at retail Callaway Golf has beaten both companies and solidified its top position in woods and irons. Titleist needed a 2019 driver line to replace the 917s which were considered by many underperforming, producing too much spin and not enough yardage. The company had to have a driver to get consumers excited and the best way to do that is to perform better than the competition.

Their answer was the Titleist Speed Project, a research program to find the highest ball speed combined with lower spin, retention of more ball speed on off-center impacts and higher launch.

All are key factors in producing more effective yards off the tee or for that matter from the fairway and the drivers and fairway woods coming out of the Project have been labeled TS (Titleist Speed). The new drivers were first “seeded” to endorsement staff members at the U.S. Open in June with the TS2 and TS3 replacing the 917 D2 and 917 D3 respectively.

Key features shared by both TS drivers:

-More streamlined 460cc head to reduce aerodynamic drag
-MOI or resistance to twisting improved by 12% compared with 917 models
-Titanium crown, Titleist’s thinnest ever, is 20% thinner and 10 grams lighter
-Variable thickness face is 6-grams lighter so score lines had to be lasered not etched
-Stock shaft length increased one-half inch from 45 inches to 45.5 inches
-Loft and lie may be separately adjusted with the familiar SureFit hosel

The sole slot behind the face which they called an Active Recoil Channel first seen in the 915 D2 and D3 drivers is gone. Titleist says it wasn’t needed to help low-on-the-face impacts in the drivers, but it is still being used on the TS fairway woods.

The TS2 driver has a fixed rear sole weight which moved the center of gravity lower and deeper in the head and due to the grams saved in the face and crown it could made heavier. The TS2 is a high launch low spin design and available in a choice of 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5° and 11.5° lofts.

The TS3 driver retains the SureFit reversible weight cartridge in the sole from the 917s and produces a flatter mid launch trajectory compared with the TS2 but with reduced spin compared to the 917 D3.

With a choice of stock shafts between the Mitsubishi KuroKage Black Dual-Core 50, Mitsubishi Tensei AV Series Blue 55, Project X HZRDUS Smoke Black 60 or Project X EvenFlow T1100 White 65 both the TS2 and TS3 are $499.

TS fairway woods use a thinner stainless crown 27% lighter than the 917 models and they made the variable thickness face thinner near the edges. This allowed positioning of the center of gravity for a lower spin and higher launch trajectory. MOI of the clubhead improved 11% giving better stability and adding to the forgiveness. Both the TS2 and TS3 fairway woods also have a larger Active Recoil Channel to help preserve ball speed when contact is low on the face. The TS2 is a low-spin high launch design while the TS3 is low spin and mid launch. Both are priced at $299.

Photo credit: Titleist

Rose is a Rose Either Way

 

Justin Rose won the FedExCup bonus of $10 million on points though his three over par effort on Sunday at the Tour Championship put him in a fourth-place tie for the tournament behind Tiger Woods.

Don’t ask me to explain the points system since not even the players say they are clear about it, but for next year there’s a new plan so presumably we will no longer see Steve Sands and his white board. Fans will get a bit of bonus as well with the Golf Channel hopefully relegating “he controls his own destiny” to wherever inane clichés go.

In 2019 the player with the lowest gross score for the Tour Championship still may not win the FedExCup because the tournament will be a handicap event. The points leader at the end of the playoffs starts the Tour Championship with a score of -10 strokes, second in points with -8 and so on down to those at 26 through 30 who get no handicap adjustment to their score.

If in place this year points leader Bryson DeChambeau with a 19th place score of -1 would have finished at -11. Woods would have deducted two strokes for a -13, second place Billy Horschel four strokes putting him also at -13 and Dustin Johnson who finished in third four shots behind Woods would have used his six-stroke handicap for a three-way tie at -13.

Sounds like a playoff or maybe matching cards like at the member-guest…but wait.

In fact, Rose would both win the tournament and the FedExCup because his fourth-place -6 would be handicap-adjusted by eight shots giving him -14.

Coincidence? I don’t know but trying to keep this all straight made my brain hurt so I didn’t go back to see what would have happened in 2017 when Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship and Justin Thomas the FedExCup.

When I first read the press release describing the new system my reaction was, “A handicap event…really?”

OK, stroke-play I’ll give you two a side, and if I beat you by less than four shots you win. Sounds like the conversation Saturday on the first tee doesn’t it? Well that’s what the FedEx Cup is changing to. We can only look at the bright side and assume this handicap system won’t be as big a pain in the cerebral cortex as the point system.

The PGA Tour wants to finish the year with only one winner not two like Woods and Rose or Schauffele and Thomas. The new plan also had to satisfy the sponsors FedEx and Southern Company by having the best chance to put the top players on display plus make the media happy and of course the fans. The players will show up regardless, but the new plan does bump the FedExCup payout from $25 million to $60 million with $15 million for the winner up from $10 million.

Players will still earn regular season points for determining who gets to the playoffs but at least the contest for the FedExCup and the Tour Championship should be easier to follow. It means however Steve Sands will have to find another job on Tour Championship Sunday.

Opportunity to Excel

Previously I reported Michael Breed’s proposal players missing the cut in PGA Tour events should be paid. His thinking is these 80 or so players still have expenses, their presence has contributed entertainment value and therefore deserve compensation.

In opposition were my points based on the fact gaining a PGA Tour does not and should not guarantee a player will earn money. It simply provides the opportunity. In addition, there is a question as to the where the $10 million required to fund this for a full season would come from. Breed’s feeling was it could be raised by soliciting additional sponsor dollars or maybe “charging $1 more for a beer.”

Both ideas in my view are unrealistic.

Breed is consistently ranked as one of the most respected teachers in the game and as host of A New Breed of Golf on Sirius XM Radio he is not one to shy away from a topic nor reluctant to voice an opinion.

After my column “Why Not Just Give Everyone a Trophy?” appeared he called, and we talked for over half an hour. It would be fair to say neither of us changed our opinion and the friendly exchange ended by agreeing to disagree however some interesting points were raised.

Breed said, and of course it is true, the PGA Tour is very well off financially with an immense income and it’s not just from selling the broadcast rights for the Tour events. They also have an extensive real estate/golf course operation not to mention income from the use of their brand name by a variety of “partners.” He also brought up the agreement recently signed with Discovery Channel for $2 billion covering the international rights fees for Tour events plus the immense potential of revenue due to the advent of legalized gambling in this country.

Bottom line is Breed believes the money is there to pay all the players something and they deserve it because they have earned a Tour card.

On the other hand, just as golf is unique among sports, professional golf is unique in the world of pay-for-play. Players are independent contractors and got into the business understanding there are no guarantees. In fact, that is the essence of the PGA Tour setting it apart any other professional sport.

Players on the PGA Tour have the chance to exhibit their skills in the face of intense competition. It is a bastion of individuality and an arena where the spotlight always shines.

Playing on the PGA Tour shouldn’t be just another job with a minimum wage disguised as an appearance fee rewarded for being unable to make the cut.

Playing privileges on the PGA Tour are an opportunity to excel.

Why Not Just Give Everyone a Trophy?


Michael Breed on his Sirius XM PGA Tour radio show A New Breed of Golf has proposed players missing the cut in PGA Tour events should be paid.

If I understand his premise correctly Breed feels these players have expenses and by their presence they contribute to the entertainment value of the tournament. A typical tournament field has 156 players with the low 70 scores and ties after the second round going on to play the final two rounds thereby “making the cut.”

Those with scores outside the cut receive no money but Breed says these 86 cut-missing toursters should receive a “minimum wage” of $3,000 as an appropriate amount to offset expenses.

It’s unclear where this money should come from but those making the cut certainly couldn’t be expected to be in favor of reducing their prize money nor would it make sense to decrease the amount going to the local charities benefiting from the PGA Tour tournaments in their cities. But Breed appears to think the solution is simple…just raise additional money from sponsors which if you do the math would be more than $250,000 each week.

The reasonableness of somehow magically finding a sponsor or sponsors to put up the $10 million needed to fund this scheme for an entire PGA Tour season is something out of never-never land.

Breed just hasn’t thought this through.

Why should those missing the cut be paid simply because they have made a choice to pursue a particular career?

Unlike other “jobs” they weren’t interviewed and then hired for their PGA Tour card. They simply showed up with their golf clubs and proved in an intense competitive environment they were good enough to try to take prize money away from DJ, Tiger, Phil and all the others.

Paying someone for showing up is the same as giving every kid a trophy so no one goes home with hurt feelings. You and I know life isn’t like that.

USGA Shoots Themselves in the Foot…Again

USGA has again taken a position that gives the impression they like embarrassing themselves and enforcing the feeling of many the organization is irrelevant to golf in the real world.

The latest is the announcement by the USGA (and R&A) citing they “are proposing regulations regarding the use of green-reading materials, reaffirming the need for a player to read greens based on their own judgment, skill and ability. Following a six-week period of feedback and consultation with interested parties that begins today, the regulations will be finalized in a published “interpretation” of Rule 4.3 (Use of Equipment) and adopted Jan. 1, 2019, when golf’s new rules take effect.”

A couple of points seem appropriate—why are they asking for feedback if the new rule will be in effect next year? It appears the decision has been made so why bother soliciting comments other than for the sake of appearances?

The USGA’s stipulation today’s green reading books give an advantage to players doesn’t hold up. Green reading books of the type the USGA is banning are used almost exclusively by elite players and most commonly on the professional tours. The simple fact the putting average on the PGA Tour for the past 15 years has actually gone up didn’t appear to have made a difference to what was assumedly an already formed opinion. PGA Tour stats show the average putts per round in 2002 was 29.09 and this season is 29.15. Of course, the minuscule increase is statistical noise but if Tour players are gaining such a large advantage and the green reading books means less skill is needed why doesn’t it show in the results?

Referring to the press announcement again, “Both the USGA and The R&A are committed to the position that a player’s ability to read their line of play on the putting green is an essential skill that should be retained,” said Thomas Pagel, Senior Director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status for the USGA. “The focus of the interpretation is to develop an approach that is both effective and enforceable.”

The answer to the question of why average putts per round have not plummeted is not addressed which opens speculation of what the USGA ‘s real agenda might be and equally important the Association’s relevance to golf in general and the recreational golfer. Enforcement is another question and raises the specter of local tournament committees being in the position of arbitrating the proper numbers, marks, colors and arrows. Really?

This new rule is another in a long list of changes that apply mostly to the game as played by less than 1% of golfers…the elites. Should for example the PGA Tour, whose slogan until recently was “These Guys Are Good,” believe the topographical slope maps included in green reading books are not appropriate they should ban them.

The USGA has had similar “shoot themselves in the foot” embarrassments with other issues including “square grooves”, solid core golf balls, clubface rebound, anchored putting and their as yet unfulfilled goal of rolling back golf ball distance. They seem to make rules with little regard for 99% of golfers only on their view of the elite few.

It’s a wonder average players can see the USGA as having even a little relevance to the game.

PGA Tour Schedule “These Guys Are Busy”

It was interesting the revamped PGA Tour schedule for the 2018-2019 season received so little play by the press and social media due no doubt to the buzz concerning the prospect of a head to head match between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. After all they are the “needle movers” for sports fans and certainly for diehard golf fans but at this writing no deal has been firmed up.

During the week we also were treated to coverage and comment, in and out of the legitimate press, of Lefty’s two-shot penalty at the Greenbrier plus the USGA ruling Bryson DeChambeau’s drawing compass was out of bounds.

However, should you define golf news by the impact on fans the PGA Tour announcement of a shortened 2018-2019 tournament schedule was the most important. As PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan put it in the press release, “It’s been our stated objective for several years to create better sequencing of our tournaments that golf fans around the world can engage in from start to finish. And by concluding at the end of August, the FedExCup Playoffs no longer have the challenge of sharing the stage with college and professional football. This will enhance the visibility of the FedExCup Playoffs and overall fan engagement with the PGA TOUR and the game as a whole.”

How fewer tournaments help “the game as a whole” is not clear but the I’m sure quibbling is beneath us.

The first eight tournaments of the split schedule take place prior to the hiatus from Thanksgiving to New Years as they did this season, but the significant fact is these events are now a bigger part of the year. With the new schedule having three fewer tournaments you can expect more of the big names more of time rather than just the WGC-HSBC in Shanghai and one of the other two in the Asian swing. This could be good news particularly for two well thought of event, one in Las Vegas (Shriners Hospitals for Children) and the other in Georgia (RSM Classic).

Accomplishing the goal of having the Tour Championship before Labor Day when football takes over meant one of the year-end FedExCup playoff events would have to go. Sacrificed for the good of the game (or at least to beat out the NFL) was the Dell Technologies Championship at the TPC Boston which has fans in New England more than a little unhappy.

Previously we knew about The Players Championship (Ponte Vedra Beach) moving from May to March and in 2019 the date is preceded by the Arnold Palmer Invitational (Bay Hill) followed by the Valspar Championship in Tampa. Combined with the Honda Classic the week before Arnie’s tournament there’s a reborn Florida swing.

The other major move was also by a major, the PGA Championship, which went from being the final major of the year in August to being put in The Player Championship’s old slot in May. The season’s majors then will be spread from the Masters April 11 – 14 to the PGA May 16 – 19 to the U.S. Open June 13 – 16 and finishing with the British Open July 18 – 21. That’s five weeks between the Masters and the PGA, four weeks from the PGA to the U.S. Open and four from the U.S. Open to the British Open.

Add in The Players, three WGC championships from January to July and “must-play” events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial, the AT&T Byron Nelson and the…well you get the idea. Many if not most players rarely play more than three tournaments in a row, so the new Tour schedule could result in two situations. First, they may find it difficult to fit in some time off and secondly some very good tournaments may have a problem attracting players in the top 50. The Valspar tucked in between The Players and the WGC-Dell Technology Match Play is obviously on that list as is the RBC Canadian falling the week between the Memorial and the U.S. Open.

It’s ironic the Tour’s slogan was changed because if it was still “These guys are good” it might be more appropriate to say, “These guys are busy.”

Wanna Bet?

So, let’s say you’ve found the time, endured the travel and spent the money to go a U.S. Open or Ryder Cup or Masters or for that matter any PGA Tour event. It’s the 72nd hole and Jordan Spieth is lining up an 8-footer. And, as long as we are supposing, it isn’t just any 8-footer but to win the U.S. Open or Ryder Cup or Masters, etc.

Just as Spieth starts his stroke someone tosses a cup of beer on to the green, the young Texan flinches and the ball doesn’t even touch the cup. Terrible right? Throw him or her out—preferably not gently. Or perhaps it’s just another example of why event security should be increased to curb such boorish and probably intoxicated behavior.

But what if it isn’t. What if it is someone wanting to influence the outcome of the tournament?

It is not beyond reason we may see examples such as this or worse when wagering on golf comes out of the back alleys and cross-continent Internet connections. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Congress does not have the right to legislate against sports gambling and only the individual states may allow or disallow wagering of that type.

Our society no longer considers gambling a moral issue…certainly it goes on legally and illegally and arguments against sports gambling on that basis are nonstarters.

Unquestionably at least some of the individual states will approve sports wagering in some form and the PGA Tour has already said it will enhance the fan experience and attract more interest to their events and golf in general.

Golf is one of the few sports where the gallery is literally part of the action, not confined in bleachers nor behind barriers or steel mesh. There is just a piece of rope delineating the playing ground. This is one of golf’s charms and attractions putting it in a special category but also offers lots of opportunities for those wagering large sums of money to be a factor in the outcome of a tournament.

For fans this is not a pleasant prospect and though my crystal ball hasn’t worked in years, it’s not hard to imagine even a whiff of someone influencing play for reasons having to do with large amounts of wagered money will work to our game’s detriment. Why hasn’t it happened until now with some legal and lots of illegal wagering? I don’t know but a reasonable guess would be the amount of money wasn’t worth the risk. Also, our English friends have been golf gambling for years with even kiosks onsite to place your bets.

Let’s be very clear. It’s about the money. In search of added revenue without raising taxes some states will approve wagering on golf and the lessons of 50 years of state sponsored lotteries is about to be replayed The PGA Tour has been candid about the potential of a new income stream. One can only hope golf will avoid a scandal.

PGA TOUR Superstore – Managed Growth in a Difficult Market

PGA TOUR Superstore hasn’t bought into all the doom and gloom used by some to describe the golf equipment industry. For them the glass isn’t half empty and in fact the Atlanta-based chain has been following a controlled plan of expansion to manage growth for the long term.

The opportunity for additional insight to this golf retailing success story came in an interview with Randy Peitsch, PGA TOUR Superstore’s Senior Vice President of Operations. Peitsch has been in the top spot guiding day-to-day operations for the past two years after a five-year stint as vice president in charge of hard goods prior to which he was in divisional management at Sports Authority.

We questioned Peitsch about how PGATSS can accomplish growth in an unfavorable golf retail environment.

“It begins with hiring really good people, training them and then backing them,” Peitsch responded. “We can then focus on the consumer experience. We are not in the transaction business. We are in the relationship business.”

Well said but it should be pointed out that for the past several years the golf equipment business has euphemistically been called a “difficult market” with several events adversely affecting both the makers and sellers of equipment.

Golf retailers of all sizes have closed including the 463-store Sports Authority plus Golfsmith shuttered most of their locations after being purchased by Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s, the sports retailing behemoth with over 700 locations, has reduced store floor space allocated to golf though recent statements by top management indicate they may be encouraged with the prospects for increases in golf equipment and accessories, particularly their private brands such as Top-Flite.

Manufacturers too have struggled with the largest, Acushnet Holding Corp (NYSE: GOLF), making a tepidly received public stock offering in late 2016. The former Fila Korea subsidiary, maker of several of golf’s top brands including Titleist and FootJoy, reported flat sales in 2017 but an increase in net income of $47 million.

In May 2017 TaylorMade Golf, the third largest equipment maker, was sold by Adidas (OTCMKTS: ADDY) for a bargain-basement price to an investment company and in third quarter 2016 Nike closed its golf equipment division. Niche manufacturer Ben Hogan Golf filed for bankruptcy and during its recovery has opted for a consumer-direct strategy.

On the positive side the second largest equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY) finished 2017 with 20% higher sales than the previous year mostly on the strength of its Great Big Bertha Epic line of metalwoods. Midsize manufacturers such as Tour Edge Golf, Bridgestone Golf and Cobra Golf also have said they did appreciably better last year and are looking forward to even more gains in 2018.

Many are saying we are seeing the first signs of some stability in golf retailing and certainly PGA TOUR Superstore is well positioned to take advantage. The company opened three new locations in 2017 for a total of 31 and number 32 opened in February with number 33 set for the Houston, Texas market.

Same store sales last year had a healthy increase of 15 percent plus overall sales increased 23 percent. Digging a little deeper there are even more signs of their expanding market presence:
-Black Friday 2017 same store sales up 20 percent and for the three-day Thanksgiving weekend up 15 percent
-Online sales for Cyber Monday increased an eye-popping 62 percent
-Customer club fittings topped 110,000 in 2017 and lessons hit almost 50,000
-Instore practice bays saw 100,000 participants during the year

Impressive, in fact very impressive, for a year when the number of U.S. golfers continued to decline. Golfer consumers are responding to PGATSS’s extensive inventory, competitive pricing and perhaps even more to the service they receive whether online or in-store.

A trip to PGATSS has been compared with a visit to Home Depot and it should be since the private-held PGATSS is part of the AMB Group one of the Blank family endeavors along with the Atlanta Falcons (NFL), Atlanta United (MLS) and Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Family head Arthur Blank was one of the founders of Home Depot, retiring in 2001 as co-chairman.

Blank said of the success his stores have had in an uncertain retail environment, “At PGA TOUR Superstore we’re using the same philosophy that drove the Home Depot’s success and revolutionized the home improvement industry.  We offer a variety of products at value prices, incredible services and employ the best associates to provide a level of customer service that keeps visitors coming back because they love the experience.”

Most consumers acknowledge a visit to a PGATSS has a different feeling from the usual big box retailer. Employees invariably greet you and then thank you when you leave, an everyday example of customer relationship building. 

Peitsch pointed out, “We focus on the consumer experience. If we do everything the right way, we win out over the competitors.”

True certainly but beating the other guy also takes the proper pricing, inventory and profit margins.

According to Peitsch, “Margins have to be in the first sentence of any discussion and the partnerships with manufacturers are very important.” Then as if anticipating my next question, “The trend in our margins has continued upwards.”

Funds to pay for expansion must come from either borrowing or consistent profitability. Without the proper margins profits soon are nonexistent and discussing the entire business of PGATSS Peitsch made a critical observation, “Pay attention to the process and the results will come.”

Questioned about expansion plans Peitsch then said, “The cost of retail space drives the selection of new locations.” So, in addition to golfer demographics, brick and mortar economics dictate whether a site is viable or if even an entire market is suitable.

Peitsch commented that though they may be “under penetrated in the market we are the fastest growing and expect to open a store every other month, so we will have 50 by 2020.” That would be a 50 percent increase in just three years and average store size at the end of 2017 was 40,000 square feet making them the largest off-course retailer in golf in terms of average space.

It’s plain there is no “secret” to PGATSS success or maybe their secret is the relentless application of good business principles matched to an understanding of their customers.

Refreshing to say the least.

Diary of a Driver Fitting

 

One of the best ways to hit better shots is to play with clubs that help to correct those individual swing idiosyncrasies we all have. The process for finding the proper sticks is called club fitting and in spite of what you may have heard, to a certain degree it is true, you can buy a game.

Let’s say you are trying to get rid of a slice-producing over the top move that sometimes abruptly morphs into a hard pull to the left. If your clubs could compensate even a little so the ball more often went where you wanted, this maddening game would be a lot more fun.

Some may have doubts about club fitting and question if it is worth the money. Others are hesitant with the excuse they aren’t good enough which may be another way of saying they are unsure of exactly happens during a fitting and perhaps even have a fear of being embarrassed.

As age has imposed itself on my swing, club fittings every couple of years have proven their value if for no other reason than “good shots” become easier. The “I’m not good enough” argument therefore puts the cart before the horse because players at every level of skill beyond rank beginner can be helped with a fitting.

To allay any hesitation from not knowing what to expect we thought it would be worthwhile to follow a typical weekend warrior through a driver fitting and keep a diary of the experience for our readers.

Picking a friend named Scott as guinea pig…oops sorry, the guy to be fitted, an appointment was made at our local PGA TOUR Superstore with fitter Sam O’Donnell. The price for a driver fitting is $100 and O’Donnell pointed out the procedure is the same as what the pros on Tour go through whether only a driver or the whole bag, in fact his area of the PGATSS facility has a big sign, “Fitting Van Experience.”

O’Donnell first asked Scott about his game: how often he played (3-4 times per month), how he scored (mid 90s), his most frequent miss (slice) and what Scott was looking for out of the fitting (straighten the slice). He then measured the length (45.5 inches), loft (9.5 degrees) and grip size (standard) of Scott’s current driver, a 2014 model TaylorMade JetSpeed with a stiff flex Aldila shaft.

After Scott had stretched a bit and drove a few to warm up O’Donnell asked him to hit six drives using his JetSpeed and a TaylorMade TP5, the ball which Scott most often plays. Data on each drive was measured by a ForeSight Quad launch monitor for a baseline O’Donnell could use to judge differences as shafts and heads were changed.

Scott at 6-foot 1-inch generates lot of clubhead speed consistently registering in the 105 to 110 mph range but unfortunately the ball usually started left of the target and then took a tremendous turn to the right. If we had been on the course every one of his drives would most likely have missed the fairway and the straight-line distance from the tee was seldom over 220-yards. Plus, as do most golfers who slice, Scott made impact low on the face and towards the heel which all by itself robs him of yardage.

As was said of the late President Ford, Scott sometimes must wait until his first tee shot lands to see which course he would be playing that day. Though that sounds exaggerated (and it is of course) you can’t mistake Scott’s deep desire to play better…if for no other reason than to beat me.

O’Donnell now took a similar TaylorMade clubhead from his stock of several dozen made by a variety of manufacturers all with quick-connect hosels and had Scott hit more drives using a different shaft than the one in his JetSpeed. In addition to the ball’s path, measurements shown on the launch monitor included clubhead and ball speed, back and side spin and smash factor—the ratio of ball speed to clubhead speed. After a few drives with the first shaft a second was tried with the same head, then a third and a fourth and then back to the second and third again. Finally, the second, a stiff flex Fujikura Pro Green 62 weighing 66-grams and 45-inches in length, was selected since it consistently produced the best combination of distance, trajectory and dispersion.

O’Donnell pointed out in most driver fittings he evaluates at least four shafts and often more.

Now that the proper shaft had been identified the process moved on to finding the best clubhead. Based on his experience O’Donnell had an idea which clubheads were the most likely to produce the results he wanted and selected those for testing on the Fujikura shaft. Each head was hit at least six times and a couple as many as a dozen. Analyzing the results the number of heads was narrowed down to two low spin models, the Ping G400 LST and the Callaway Great Big Bertha Epic Sub Zero. When mated with the Fujikura shaft both produced much improved results over Scott’s JetSpeed, more distance and less left to right slice.

After hitting each of them again the decision was made to go with the Callaway on the strength of slightly lower dispersion and the fact Scott liked its looks at address. All of this took almost two hours but when we left Scott had a set of specifications for a new Callaway Great Big Bertha Epic Sub Zero driver with a stiff flex 45-inch long Fujikura Pro Green 62 shaft. He told O’Donnell he wanted to think over spending the money, $500, and would get back to him if he decided to buy.

Two days later a text message from Scott said he was going in after work to place the order and a week later his driver arrived. Needless to say, he could hardly wait for the weekend to put the new one-wood into play and the following Saturday Scott phoned driving home from the course.

His first words were, “I’d say the driver is an A+. Now when I walk on the tee I’m looking forward to it. I measured at least one of the drives to over 270.”

He continued saying, “I hit eight of 14 fairways and only one drive was way out to the right.”

Wonderful news, not just because it was a validation for Scott having spent all that money but the enthusiasm in his voice was great to hear. By way of comparison, with his old driver Scott often didn’t hit even one fairway a round and 270 was just a dream.

A couple of other points. To put to rest comments sometimes heard about the fitting process at some retailers, neither Sam O’Donnell nor PGA TOUR Superstore receive extra compensation for specifying clubs of any manufacturer nor does O’Donnell receive a sales commission when a driver is sold. O’Donnell put it simply, “We just want players to walk out of here with the best clubs for their game.”

Scott’s evaluation of the fitting experience at PGATSS can be summed up easily, he told me he is going back to have irons fit.

The lesson for golfers of all levels is the better-suited the clubs the better the results. A professional level fitting is making an investment in our future enjoyment of the game.

Tour Edge HL3 – Quality & Performance at Lower Price

One of the more interesting introductions at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show was a family of clubs from Tour Edge Golf called Hot Launch 3 with members running from two versions of the driver down through wedges. Over the past few years the number of models in the premium and ultra-premium price categories has continued to grow as manufacturers look to increase revenue in a stagnate market.

Tour Edge on the other hand with the HL 3 family is taking a different approach and making a major push at the other end of the price spectrum.

Company founder and master club designer David Glod makes the point that HL 3 drivers for example don’t take a back seat in performance to those at two or even three times the price. A rather refreshing approach to say the least and fortunately for golfers Tour Edge has carried through the same relationship of price and performance in the other of models in the family.

The standard and Offset versions drivers are each priced at $189.99 and both feature a variable thickness titanium cup face to preserve ball speed on off center impacts. They have a channel in the sole behind the face’s leading edge to lower ball spin and make the head more forgiving plus there’s a fixed rear sole weight which moves the center of gravity rearward to produce a higher ball launch. Lowering the ball’s spin and pushing the ball’s trajectory toward a more ideal angle are key to getting the most distance from a given swing speed.

In the Offset version, the entry point of the shaft into the clubhead is further forward, i.e., closer to the target, which is more of a “slice-fighting” configuration than the standard.

“Our HL3 line has taken a major step forward in terms of looks and performance over Hot Launch 2 and that was a product that we saw more than double in revenue,” said Glod. “We really see HL3 as being the driving force of growth for Tour Edge and that all comes down to it being the best value available in the custom fitting market.”

He continued, pointing out the company has plans for 1,000 custom fitting centers each having a mobile custom fitting bag filled with HL3 clubs. This will give golfers of every skill level the opportunity to test and be properly fitted with clubs that will maximize results for their particularly swing.

The standard model HL3 driver will be available in lofts of 9.5- and 10.5-degrees and the HL3 Offset in 10.5-, 12- and 13.5-degree lofts. Both come with a proprietary UST Mamiya stock shaft weighing from 48 to 60 grams depending on results of the driver fitting.

HL3 fairway woods, either standard or Offset, are priced at $139.99 with the hybrids at $119.99. A set of HL3 irons (4-PW) is $419.99 with steel shafts and graphite shafts are $70 additional. Adding to the player-friendly choices are forged face Iron-Woods (a category Tour Edge pioneered) at $79.99 with steel shafts or $89.99 with graphite in a range of lofts from 18 degrees to 59 degrees. Iron-Woods make an ideal way to mix-and-match with fairways woods, hybrids and irons to make up just the right set.

Taking a standard version HL3 driver to the course provided the opportunity to see results under actual playing conditions rather than simply a few swings on the range or pounding balls into a net. For comparison drivers from two different manufacturers, both with a custom fit after-market shaft, were also put in the bag.

The comparison was revealing.

Using Titleist Pro V1 golf balls for all the tee shots we saw the Tour Edge HL3 could certainly hold its own. My driver swing speed is 96 to 98 mph and to achieve the most realistic comparison all three drivers were hit on every par four and par five. Without question the distance using the HL3 was essentially the same as the more expensive drivers given the variations in wind, slope and firmness of the landing area and the usual variations in my swing. Also, it was apparent the dispersion left and right with the HL3 was probably somewhat less but since actual measurements were not done we called it “comparable” to the other two drivers.

Does this mean you should rush right out and buy an HL3? Of course not.

This is all about is what works for you not some guy writing a review.

What it does mean though, if you are in the market to replace your one-wood the Tour Edge Hot Launch 3 should be part of your consideration. After all, it only makes sense to find clubs that fit your game and produce the results you need at a price that doesn’t bust the budget.