2006: Nothing beats a major buzz

It is a huge deal for golf club manufacturers when their players win major championships.

Geoff Ogilvy, a Cobra staff player, won the U.S. Open with a bag full of 14 Cobra and Titleist clubs. Because Cobra and Titleist are sister brands under the Acushnet Co. umbrella, it was a rare manufacturer clean sweep in a major.

Cobra’s touring staff of five men (Ogilvy, Ian Poulter, J.B. Holmes, Camilo Villegas and Kevin Na) and one woman (Jeong Jang) was assembled just this year. Iconoclastic announcer David Feherty is the brand spokesman.

“We have developed a brand personality,” Cobra president Jeff Harmet said. “It is a very aggressive personality, a little bit in your face, but still a likable personality. I took a long look at the club advertising out there. To me, it kind of looked the same. We wanted to do something different.”

Harmet wanted a small, close-knit staff, that included one Australian. Cobra was founded more than 30 years ago by Australian Tom Crow.

So Ogilvy was persuaded to make the switch from TaylorMade to Cobra. Any time a player changes clubs, it can be traumatic.

“It’s a little scary,” Ogilvy said earlier in the year. “I was playing quite well the last half of last year. . . . But when they showed me the irons I could use, I was happy. I had the same set of irons (TaylorMade) for two years. I had been trying to change to a different set of the same irons last year, and even that was hard. A complete different set is really hard.”

Changing drivers was even more difficult. He didn’t put the King Cobra X/Speed driver in his bag until the Memorial Tournament in May.

“I tested (Cobra) drivers, and the numbers were all great,” Ogilvy said before going to the King Cobra X/Speed driver. “But I have been hitting this driver (TaylorMade r7) really well, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s a matter of making that next step.”

Next step: U.S. Open victory.

Ogilvy’s driving statistics were particularly impressive on the narrow fairways at Winged Foot Golf Club, where he was sixth in driving distance (306.4 yards) and tied for 21st in driving accuracy (57.1 percent).

Cobra’s next step is an overhaul of its irons. Although Harmet wouldn’t comment on it, a complete new line of Cobra irons is expected to be released in the fall. But don’t look for Ogilvy’s King Cobra MB irons to be included. They’re for touring pros only.

Which is hardly unusual. All manufacturers’ staff players typically use equipment that is customized well beyond anything available off the rack. Nevertheless, if history is a guide, Ogilvy will influence many golfers to buy Cobra equipment – even if he uses clubs that ordinary golfers cannot buy.

Ogilvy’s irons, 3 through 9, are the aforementioned model called forged King Cobra MB (Muscle Back). They’re terrific for Ogilvy but not so terrific for Average Joes; thus Cobra has no such iron in its line of clubs.

His specialty 2-iron is a King Cobra Forged CB (Cavity Back) model. Because sets of the CB irons are sold in golf shops, consumers can purchase a similar club.

Ogilvy’s driver is a titanium 460 King Cobra X/Speed, with 9.5 degrees of loft. Golfers can purchase an X/Speed driver, but is it the same as Ogilvy’s?

No. Although Ogilvy’s driver shaft, the Aldila VS Proto, is for sale, the driver head is strictly a touring pro model. The consumer version of the square-faced X/Speed head has a shorter hosel than the touring pro version. Why a longer hosel for the pros? So the clubhead can be bent more easily – to open or close the clubface, or to change the lie angle.

The shorter hosel actually benefits amateur golfers, because it saves weight and allows Cobra

to further optimize performance on off-center hits.

Ogilvy’s 3-wood is a prototype Titleist PT 906F2. The club will be introduced as part of the Titleist line later this year. He has three Titleist Vokey wedges (50, 54 and 60 degrees of loft) in his bag, and these models can be found virtually anywhere clubs are sold.

His Scotty Cameron putter is a prototype, but many similar Cameron models are available to consumers. Add them up, and you’ll find that versions of six of Ogilvy’s 14 clubs can be purchased by golfers. Include his Titleist Pro V1x ball, and the tally becomes seven for 15. Not bad, considering that some touring pros have clubs that are virtually unrecognizable when compared with stock clubs.

“Geoff was using Cobra clubs, and this helps our credibility,” Harmet said. “It doesn’t matter what his clubs are. This should help us break through the clutter and stimulate trial among consumers. Most golfers try before they buy, and that’s all we want. We believe our clubs will sell themselves.”

Cobra (www.cobragolf.com) has a network of demo accounts at golf facilities, and it has one mobile van canvassing the country. Golfers fit by the mobile van and its launch monitor will have their clubs built on the spot, and will receive them the same day.

Not exactly the service Ogilvy and his fellow staff players get, but pretty close.

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