NEW YORK – With Manhattan’s late-summer evening skyline serving as a backdrop, Nike Golf brought out its big names to help launch its newest family of irons Monday evening. Cindy Davis, Nike Golf’s president, introduced Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon to a crowd under a tent on the driving range at Liberty National Golf Club.
After videos flashed on oversized monitors, Fallon and McIlroy hit a few shots at glowing swooshes positioned in the range while Tiger made a few jokes about the comedian’s swing.
Tuesday morning the company was down to business in midtown Manhattan, explaining more about the new Vapor Pro blades, Vapor Pro Combo set and Vapor Speed irons.
“Vapor is incredibly important to the Nike brand,” said Rob Arluna, Nike Golf’s global golf club business manager. “What Vapor means to Nike is that it’s our pinnacle expression of innovation, and you’ll see it across a wide variety of our products. It’s the pinnacle expression, and with that there is generally one goal: to manage weight.
“In some categories like a baseball glove, shoes or soccer boots, we’re trying to create the lightest and fastest product in the market. We use the Vapor franchise as that product name. In clubs, we are not trying to necessarily create the lightest clubs as much as we are trying to manage the weight extremely precisely to deliver efficient impact on the golf ball. This, the Vapor line, now represents our pinnacle brand.”
Since McIlroy used a Nike MM Proto 2-iron at the Scottish Open and at Royal Liverpool during his victory at this season’s Open Championship, there has been speculation about what MM stands for. We now know it stands for Modern Muscle, an overarching design philosophy focused on weight distribution that runs throughout the Vapor line.
In the Vapor Pro muscleback blades, the story focuses on positioning more weight toward the toe of the club.
The story begins with tiny slugs of tungsten that were secretly positioned in the back of Tiger Woods’ Nike VR Pro Blade irons. Those pieces of tungsten, weighing between 5 and 8 grams each, shifted the center of gravity (CG) in Woods’ irons slightly more to the toe side, directly into the middle of the hitting area, offsetting the weight of the hosel. Don’t look for a tiny weight in old photos, because each was embedded into the back of the club before the chrome was applied, making it invisible.
Andrew Oldknow, Nike Golf’s senior product designer, said, “Our goal was not to give Tiger a new version of his old clubs, it was to give him a better version.”
There is no tungsten in the Vapor Pro irons that become available to the public Oct. 31 (left-hand clubs will be available Nov. 28). They are forged from 1025 carbon steel for soft feel, but the CG position has been shifted to mimic Woods’ irons by removing mass in the heel area and repositioning it in the toe section.
“What we also found is that by thickening the body (in the toe section), we reduced vibrations in the top-toe area, which made a better-feeling product and made it sound different, which made it perform better,” Oldknow said.
He went on to say the Vapor Pro irons, which will cost $999 with True Temper Dynamic Gold shafts, produce about 1.7 yards more distance and feature a moment of inertia (MOI) that is 10 percent higher than the VR Pro Blades they replace. But make no mistake, these are designed for fast-swinging elite players who want to maximize control and feel. The clubs are not intended to be as powerful or forgiving as the other models in the Vapor line.
The Vapor Pro Combo irons blend two different types of clubs to create a single, playable set. Nike said that past Pro Combo sets were designed more for better players, but the company insists this set fits perfectly between the better-player Vapor Pro and the max-game-improvement Vapor Speed irons.
“This is by far the most technically advanced Pro Combo we’ve ever made,” Oldknow said. “We really tried to bring the art and the science together in this.”
The Pro Combo 3- through 7-irons are designed with a spring steel face to help create more ball speed. Their bodies are 1025 carbon steel with a pocket cavity that houses a RZN insert. The insert material is very similar to the resin material used in Nike’s RZN golf ball cores. In the Pro Combo irons, the resin dampens vibrations and allows for 45 grams of discretionary weight to be shifted to the toe area, once again putting the CG location precisely where Nike wanted it.
The 8-iron through Attack Wedge in the Pro Combo set are muscle-cavity clubs made completely from 1025 carbon steel. They are designed to enhance feel and help golfers achieve more accuracy and control.
While the launch angle and spin rates have not changed, Nike claims the new Vapor Pro Combo irons are about 5 yards longer than the VR Forged Pro Combo irons and have a 17 percent higher MOI, making them more stable as well.
With standard True Temper Dynamic Gold Pro shafts, the Vapor Pro Combo irons will cost $1,099.
For players who want to maximize distance and forgiveness, Nike introduced the Vapor Speed irons. Nate Radcliffe, Nike Golf’s director of engineering, said, “When we thought about what we were trying to do with this product, it’s about distance and speed, as the name suggests.”
The long irons (3-7) are hollow-bodied, wood-like clubs. Internal weight has been shifted to the back and toe areas to move the CG position down and away from the hitting area. This promotes a higher ball flight and more forgiveness.
The long irons also were given a forged, NexCOR face design (like the face in the Covert 2.0 woods) that is 2.7 millimeters thick in the center and 2.2 millimeters thick around the edges.
Nike calls the two posts found on the back of the clubs Fly Beams. They are designed to make the back of the club more solid, allowing the face to flex more efficiently at impact.
The 8-iron through Attack Wedge are less focused on distance and more geared to enhancing feel. They feature a large RZN insert, like the insert in the Pro Combo long irons. It dampens vibrations and enhances feel on approach shots.
“One of the things that we’re really proud of is when you look down at these short iron, they have a traditional blade profile,” Radcliffe said. “What we’ve done, in working from the blades out and working with Tiger, is apply that to our game-improvement products.”
The Vapor Speed irons will come standard with either True Temper DynaLite 105 steel shafts for $959.99 or Mitsubishi Rayon Fubuki Z graphite shafts for $1,079.99.