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Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Square drivers slow to catch on among pro golfers

February 14, 2007

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Square-headed drivers have created quite a buzz in the golf equipment industry over the past few months, with Nike and Callaway both introducing the odd-looking ball whackers, but a quick walk through the driving range Monday at Riviera Country Club revealed that it might not be so hip to be square.

Of the PGA Tour players there gearing up for this week's Nissan Open, only K.J. Choi planned to play one of the newfangled drivers designed to hit the ball straighter than a traditionally-shaped club.

Choi has used Nike's Sasquatch Sumo Squared since October, when he used it to win the Chrysler Championship in Tampa Bay. He is the only notable tour pro to use a square driver in a tournament, and representatives from Nike and Callaway don't expect that to change this week.

Still, that doesn't worry the club peddlers. Pro golfers are a finicky lot and not likely to change equipment to something so bizarre, plus, they say, the square drivers aren't really meant for players who hit the ball in the middle of the clubface 99% of the time.

These radically-shaped heads are designed to maximize moment of inertia (MOI). In layman's terms that minimizes club head twisting on off-center hits, keeping the ball straight and long, even if the shot is mis-hit.

"The penalty for being less skilled, and that includes most of us, is considerably less," said Tom Stites, the lead club designer at Nike. "You'll probably see more players on tour put them in play, but for the most part, tour-caliber players aren't able to take advantage of this technology as much."

That doesn't mean tour players aren't interested. Nike had 60 of the square club heads shipped in so players could test them on the range and in practice rounds. Phil Mickelson has been tinkering with Callaway's FT-i and has said he is considering using it at the Master's in April.

But the problem for many tour players is that they don't have as much control over intended draws and fades.

"The biggest issue for tour pros is that the clubs hit the ball too straight," said Jeff Colton, vice president for research and design at Callaway. "What you'll probably see is players put them in and out of their bags depending on the type of course."

This improved technology came to the forefront when the USGA limited club head size to 460 cubic centimeters in 2004. Before that, club designers could simply increase the size of the heads to increase the MOI, but with the limits, they have been forced to find new ways.

One such way is to change club shapes.

In addition to the square heads Callaway and Nike have produced, there are triangles coming from Titleist, Cobra and Adams Golf while Cleveland's Hi-Bore, with a gauged-out top, has been on the market for nearly a year.

"We're not doing these things just to be different," Colton said. "We're trying to provide a benefit."

One company, however, isn't buying into the new geometry. Taylor Made has two new drivers coming out this year, both already widely used on the PGA Tour, and neither the Burner nor the 460 Quad is irregularly shaped.

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