2004: MP-32 adds bulk to Mizuno’s forgings

By Mike Mazur

Mizuno, renowned as a maker of forged irons, is charging into the fall doing what it has always done best – but with a new twist.

Hoping to build on a legacy that produced such flagship products as the MP-14 and MP-29, Mizuno is shipping in September the MP-32, a sleek forging featuring a Cut Muscle design. It imparts a thin cut in the muscleback of the iron, which officials say creates a precise center of gravity with respect to the shaft axis. The benefit: Elimination of a draw or fade bias, giving its user maximum ball flight control.

Mizuno has high expectations for the MP-32, and has taken unprecedented steps to make it a hit at retail.

To spark grass-roots interest in the new iron before its release, Mizuno launched in July a cryptic teaser campaign directing consumers to a “top-secret” Web site, which provided a glimpse of the Cut Muscle design. That approach, in part, was meant to court golfers in addition to Mizuno loyalists – a long-standing goal, but one the company has had difficulty achieving.

The need to broaden Mizuno’s audience, however, may be taking on greater urgency.

In June, Mizuno’s unit share in the irons category fell more than 17 percent to 3.8 percent from 4.6 percent during the same month a year earlier, according to on- and off-course sales tracked by Golf Datatech LLC.

The falloff, some retailers say, is attributable to heightened competition in forged clubs and other premium irons for skilled players.

“I think their iron sales have dropped off because of so many other (manufacturers) getting into that sector,” said Tim Whalen, co-owner of Fiddler’s Green Golf Center in Eugene, Ore. The recent influx of better players’ clubs – such as TaylorMade’s Rac MB, Ping’s S59 and Titleist’s 690 line – prompted Fiddler’s Green to expand its display rack so that it features twice as many models than it did two years ago.

Despite Datatech’s numbers, Mizuno executives insist the company is on pace for double-digit sales growth in 2004. As for new forged entries from competitors, they say such offerings simply validate their long-standing claim: Forged clubs are the preeminent choice of serious golfers.

“Let them (other manufacturers) promote forgings,” said Dick Lyons, vice president and general manager of Mizuno USA’s golf division. “I think it’s pretty well known that Mizuno makes the best forgings in the world.”

To help spread that gospel, Mizuno aggressively has grown its custom-fitting account base, which now totals about 1,500. Of those, 75 percent are green-grass shops.

According to Conan Dougherty, general manager at Woodmont Golf and Country Club just outside of Atlanta, the Mizuno fitting system differs from others by including samples of older models as well as its newest clubs.

“It’s really added to our ability to sell their clubs,” he said.

Focusing on the forged niche historically has served Mizuno well, especially among many of the game’s elite players. For eight consecutive years from 1994 to 2001, Mizuno was the most-played iron among PGA Tour professionals, many of whom used the company’s clubs without financial compensation. But with the rise of big endorsements, that streak ended.

“It’s not really a product issue,” Lyons said. “The No. 1 iron position is really a matter of financial commitment.”

All the more reason why Mizuno officials need the MP-32 to do well. But they are confident that once shotmakers experience Cut Muscle technology, they’ll fall in love with the new irons.

“We expect this to be our best-selling MP iron ever,” Lyons said.

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