Bright ideas: Colorful, low-spin drivers highlight '13

The TaylorMade R1, Titleist 913D2, Nike Covert, Cobra Amp Cell and Callaway X-Hot.

The TaylorMade R1, Titleist 913D2, Nike Covert, Cobra Amp Cell and Callaway X-Hot.

As Tom Preece designed Cobra’s new AMP Cell driver for 2013, he had a bold thought. He wondered why he couldn’t use a rainbow of golf club colors reflecting the style and fashion expertise of Puma, which owns Cobra.

Puma, the shoe and apparel giant, gave its approval, and the AMP driver will be available in silver, directoire blue, Barbados red and vibrant orange heads.

“It just makes sense to follow what Puma is doing,” said Preece, vice president of research and design for Cobra-Puma. “Golf is changing, and we wanted golfers to be able to choose their own colors.”

After Alan Hocknell and his team had finished the design on the new Callaway X-Hot driver, they showed it to officials of Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“The driver was finished, and we were looking for the best way in which to present it to consumers,” said Hocknell, Callaway’s senior vice president of research and development. “It is often helpful to hear the opinions of retailers.”

That collaboration resulted in a club with colorful accents around the perimeter of the crown and an eye-popping red, black and white design on the sole. (Callaway also has another driver for 2013, the Razr Fit Xtreme, that can be custom-ordered for mixing and matching of head, shaft and grip colors.)

In the transition from 2012 to 2013, vibrant color schemes for metalwoods are sweeping across the golf industry. It isn’t just Cobra and Callaway.

TaylorMade’s new R1 and RBZ Stage 2 drivers have racing stripes accented on a white crown. Nike is introducing a new VR_S Covert driver, painted a deep red with the company’s Swoosh logo placed prominently on the crown. Adams has a Speed Pocket velocity slot on the sole of its new white-headed Super S and Super LS drivers.

The color movement, however, is not universal. Some companies, notably Titleist and Ping, have kept a more traditional black or dark gray color for their drivers.

“Our driver has color, but it just happens to be dark gray,” said Chris McGinley, Titleist’s vice president of golf club marketing. “This is what appeals to our target audience. We would never add color to make a marketing statement.”

Colors and cosmetics aside, 2013 drivers perform more consistently than ever. Forget the notion that drivers are overhyped. Forget the argument that U.S. Golf Association limits have handcuffed the world’s top club designers. It just isn’t true.

Here are some of the playability features of new drivers for 2013:

• Spin has been reduced on many modern drivers. What this means: If a player can achieve a proper trajectory, driving distance will go up.

• The ball is going farther than ever on offcenter hits, thanks to face technology that creates a more lively face from heel to toe. This increased forgiveness is the result of thinner faces and advanced construction techniques, plus the relocation of the center of gravity.

• Classic shapes have made a comeback, which is good news for traditionalists who want to see a pear shape at address. Although the USGA size limit of 460cc remains, several smaller driver heads are available in the 430cc-to-445cc range.

• Adjustability continues to expand, allowing consumers to change loft, lie, face angle and head weight. In turn, these adjustments can affect trajectory, flight pattern and spin. Today’s golfer can fine-tune a driver to produce a customized golf club. For 2013, Ping and Tour Edge are introducing their first adjustable drivers, meaning every major club manufacturer offers at least one adjustable driver.

In the arena of driver design, backspin is the biggest story, as it continues to be reduced.

“Usually, from year to year, we can cut spin by 200 rpm or so,” said Tom Olsavsky, senior director of product creation for TaylorMade, reflecting on the evolution of materials and designs.

With TaylorMade’s new RBZ Stage 2 driver, Olsavsky indicated spin is down substantially more than 200 rpm. “The original RBZ was a higher-spinning product,” he said, “so the Stage 2 is 400 (rpm) to 500 (rpm) lower. If you combine less spin with a higher launch angle, you can get more distance.”

Reduced spin is at the heart of Titleist drivers as well. The 913D2 and 913D3 models feature less spin, with the D2 undergoing a major spin reduction. In the past the two models exhibited different personalities. Now they are similar in launch and spin. The difference is that the D2 has a slightly larger head (460cc vs. the D3’s 445cc), with more forgiveness and a slight amount of draw bias. Workability is the calling card of the D3.

“With the D2, we felt we had a chance to optimize performance with more speed (across the face) and less spin,” McGinley said. “We used to view the D2 and D3 as filling two performance niches. Now we don’t need to do that so much. Golfers have learned to personalize their drivers through all the adjustability that we build into them. So we have put both mods on the table for consideration for a lot of players.”

Ping club engineer Marty Jertson, who played in the PGA Championship in 2011 and ’12 and lost a playoff for a spot in last year’s Open Championship, switched immediately to Ping’s new Anser driver when it was introduced.

“We’ve seen spin go down pretty much across the board,” Jertson said, “and golfers of different abilities can get more distance because of less spin.”

This presumes that golfers choose the right loft, and the Anser is Ping’s first driver with adjustable loft.

Nike’s red-headed Covert driver may look conventional at address, but it has a large scooped-out section in the middle of the sole. This effectively creates perimeter weighting in a driver, motivating Nike to emphasize accuracy as well as distance.

Colorful drivers are everywhere for 2013.

Still, bolstered by less spin and livelier faces, the 2013 drivers definitely are more than just another pretty face.

• • •

Driver hints

• Finding the proper loft is crucial. Why? With new low-spin drivers, the ball will fly lower, and many golfers need additional loft to achieve maximum carry distance.

“All our research shows that most golfers don’t use enough loft,” said Tom Olsavsky, TaylorMade’s senior director of product creation.

• On the practice range, experiment with different tee heights.

“With a driver like Covert, golfers can really have fun messing around with different tee heights,” said Tom Stites, director of product creation for Nike, talking about the company’s new red-headed driver. “You can see how the tee height affects the trajectory and carry distance.”

• Practice with face tape (or spray) on the driver. This shows exactly where the ball comes in contact with the face.

If the impact position is all over the face, the overall length of the driver may be too long.

“It’s easy to lose distance with long drivers because it’s so hard to hit the ball in the middle of the face,” said instructor Don Trahan, father of PGA Tour player D.J. Trahan. “I recommend shorter drivers for everybody.”

If a driver is shortened by cutting the shaft from the grip end, it may be necessary to add weight to the head.

• If possible, try different shafts. Spin and trajectory are affected greatly by the shaft.

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