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These Babies Are Hot! That's the verdict from SI's handpicked golf gear expert, who checked this year's new drivers, irons, woods, wedges and putters

Feb. 10, 2003
Feb. 10, 2003

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Feb. 10, 2003

These Babies Are Hot! That's the verdict from SI's handpicked golf gear expert, who checked this year's new drivers, irons, woods, wedges and putters

The USGA must be in shock. I know I am. On assignment for SI's
GOLF PLUS, I've spent the past few weeks checking out the new
gear for 2003, and guess what? This year's crop of drivers will
blast the ball farther than ever. The folks at Far Hills figured
they had put the brakes on technology last year when they created
a speed limit on drivers by capping the coefficient of
restitution--the so-called springlike effect. But based on what
I've seen, their efforts failed. Look at what's happening on
Tour. The big boys get their hands on all the new stuff before we
mortals do, and they're bombing the ball this season. Ernie Els
was a beast in Hawaii, averaging a combined 319.6 yards a drive
at the Mercedes and the Sony; then Vijay Singh outdid him in
Phoenix (319.9 yards) during a week when the field average topped
300 (301.3), a first in Tour history. On Sunday, in Australia,
Els averaged an amazing 342.5 yards. This isn't what the USGA had
in mind.

This is an article from the Feb. 10, 2003 issue

Besides hot drivers, I noticed a few other trends, and they'll
have more impact on amateurs than on pros. The latest fairway
woods are superior to anything I've seen previously, which is
good because you'll probably use them more often now that long
irons are going the way of the kiltie. Finally, success breeds
... imitation, at least among puttermakers. This year it seems as
if everyone is offering a takeoff on 2002's home run, the Odyssey
2-Ball.

Going in, I thought 2003 might be a quiet year on the equipment
front. Wrong. What follows is my take on the best equipment
coming to market this season.

Bob Dodds, 58, has been a professional clubmaker for 24 years and
the technical director of the Professional Clubmakers' Society
(www.proclubmakers.org) since 1997. He appears in The Workshop
Series on the Golf Channel.

DRIVERS

The look: Not quite as big, but a deeper, squarer face

I'm calling 2003 the Year of the Engineer. You can't top brains,
and this year's titanium drivers, which can hit the ball
noticeably longer, prove it. With these cannons, the same
engineers who beat the old rules on initial ball velocity have
figured out a way to let us drive 70 in a 55mph zone. How? With
deeper, squarer faces, which make for a larger sweet spot. The
big dogs are leading the way. Swinging the new Titleist 983K
(suggested retail price: $500), Ernie Els has single-handedly
made it the most-talked-about club in the world. My golfing
buddies are drooling, but they'll have to wait: The 983K won't be
available to the public until April.... The Ping Si3 ($465),
which replaces the ISI--arguably the longest driver on the
planet--won't be coming out until the spring. The
powerful-looking Si3 is smaller (340cc) than the ISI (400cc) but
has a deeper face.... I wouldn't be a bit surprised, though, if
the Callaway Great Big Bertha II ($500) ended up as the top
seller. Callaway learned from its ERC and VFT models, and the GBB
II is the best driver the company has made.... Some retailers
grumbled when TaylorMade pulled the plug on its popular 300
Series so quickly, but it's a win-win for golfers: Now they can
either pick up one of last year's models for a song or upgrade to
the deep-faced TaylorMade R500 ($499). Some club-pro buddies of
mine tried the R500 Series at a recent teaching seminar and raved
about it.... The Adams Redline ($349) has a huge (460cc) head, a
smart shape and is easily Barney Adams's best effort in this
category.... The Nike 450 Forged Titanium ($369) won't hit the
streets until May 1, but trust me, it's a big improvement over
last year's 400 model, which had loft problems. In my opinion the
450 performs better if you put in a custom shaft.... Cobra was
best known for its irons back in its glory days in the '90s, but
drivers are sparking the company's resurgence, and the King Cobra
SS 380 ($369) is a worthy successor to last year's SS 427. One
nice touch: .827 cor is stamped on the soleplate, implying that
the club is barely legal.... A couple of newcomers impressed me.
La Jolla was best known for kids' clubs, but the La Jolla 400
($349) is definitely a toy for big boys. Maybe it's the two-piece
body, but the ball jumps off the club face and seems to hang in
the air forever.... At first glance I thought the Burrows MAC
Powersphere ($399) looked gimmicky--with a space the size of half
a golf ball cut out of the sole--but darned if its
reflection-rebound technology doesn't work. The Powersphere is
long off the tee and feels great.... Looking for something made
entirely in the U.S.? You have only one option these days: the
Ruger Ti 320+ High Launch ($319). The famous gunmaker turns out
extremely consistent one-piece titanium heads from its plant in
Prescott, Ariz. Have a high-quality graphite shaft--Aldila,
Grafalloy, Harrison, Rifle, UST--installed by a PCS-certified
Class A Clubmaker, and you've got yourself a hot rod.... Low
handicappers will probably take a second look at the Wilson Deep
Red ($449) now that it comes with a standard shaft as well as a
Fat Shaft.... Not only does the KZG RBT/400 ($369) have a quality
head, I also like the candy-apple red color.... The MacGregor
VFoil 410 High Launch ($399) is a huge improvement over last
year's model. Because of the older* A club's vertical roll and
horizontal bulge on the face, guys like me struggled to get the
ball up.... The Tour Edge Bazooka JMAX ($299) is big (410cc) and
has a manly name. What else do you need?... It wasn't music to my
ears, but the kids will probably love the high-pitched sound made
by the Tommy Armour 845 Forged Persimmon ($450).

IRONS

For a mid-handicapper like me, a mixed blessing

Like a lot of decent amateurs, I've struggled with this question:
Am I good enough to play those cool-looking blades, or should I
stick to the more forgiving cavity-backs? This year a couple of
clubmakers have come up with a pretty smart answer: Play both.
The idea of mixing cavity-back long irons with blades for the
scoring clubs isn't exactly new--Langert and Wilson tried it a
decade ago--but the Nike Forged Pro Combo ($899 for a set) and
the MacGregor 1025CM Mixed Set ($899) execute the concept in far
superior fashion. One company took set-mixing a step further. The
Adams Idea ($599) replaces the three-and four-irons with hybrid
clubs (part iron, part fairway wood).... Not every engineer was
focused solely on beating the new COR restrictions in drivers.
I'm intrigued by the new technology in the Pixl S4 ($850). The
face of these traditional cavity-back clubs has an insert
containing 206 hexagonal pixels made of titanium. It's sort of
like putting a new engine in an old chassis.... You won't see
these forgings advertised on TV, but I'd put the Mizuno MP30
($1,099) blades up against any club out there. Mizuno doesn't
have a high profile but pays attention to details and makes
great-looking clubheads.... The X14 ranked among the alltime
best-sellers, and so should the Callaway X16 ($880). Some weight
was redistributed to the heel and toe areas in the X16s,
improving off-center hits, and let's face it: If you can't hit a
Callaway iron, you can't hit anything.... Looks to me as if the
two TaylorMade RAC lines, the LT ($900) and the MB ($1,120), are
a serious bid to get the business of better players. One nice
touch: The so-called feel pockets milled behind the heel and toe,
which ensure perfect weighting.... KZG has a good reputation
among clubmakers like myself. The KZG Forged 20 ($699)
satin-finish blades, though, would do well in anybody's beauty
contest.... Tommy Armour is back in the game, believe it or not,
with the 845m SilverBack ($900) blades, the 845c SilverBack
($900) cavity-back and the 845u SilverBack ($750) for high
handicappers. I like the 845c--they're perfect for the older low
handicapper who'd still like to play a forged iron.... The Ben
Hogan Apex Edge CFT ($599) is a cast, cavity-back club, which,
with Hogan's reputation for quality, should attract mid-and high
handicappers.... Two other cavity-back sets that caught my eye
were the Cleveland TA7 Tour Micro-Cavity ($890) and the King
Cobra SSi ($559).

WOODS & WEDGES

Welcome to the golden age of fairway woods

If your swing is like mine and doesn't look like a pro's, take
the three-, four- and five-irons out of your bag and replace
them with five-, seven- and nine-woods. I'm a big believer in
fairway woods, partly because I use them a lot and partly
because courses keep getting longer while I keep getting older.
Lucky for us, we're in a golden age for these clubs. I like the
options Callaway gives you with its two models. The Big Bertha
Steelhead III ($225) three-wood has a shallow face, which you
might prefer if you're a Northerner playing on bentgrass with
tight lies. If you're a Southerner who plays on thicker bermuda,
you'll want the Great Big Bertha II ($440) titanium version,
which has a deeper face.... I like what savvy club designer Tom
Stites has done with the Nike T40 ($229). He put a piece of
heavy tungsten carbide in the sole, lowering the center of
gravity, which is the Holy Grail of clubmakers.... As a
Louisville resident I'm biased, but I'm a huge fan of Louisville
Golf's persimmon clubs. The Louisville Niblick ($205) has 75% of
its weight below the ball's center of gravity.... The La Jolla
Knife ($249) has surfboard-style runners on its sole--making it
the first wood that reminds me of a '59 Plymouth.... In the
Others category the TaylorMade Rescue Mid ($175) and the
half-iron, half-wood Mizuno FliHi ($179) move to the head of the
class. The Fli-Hi has a soft, forged head, and everybody I've
talked to who has tried it has absolutely smoked it.

The world has changed dramatically in the last 45 years, but the
sand wedge hasn't. Today's wedges look remarkably like the 1958
Wilson Dyna-Powered. You can see for yourself because Wilson is
offering a retro reproduction of that classic ($129). That said,
the Dyna-Powered has some pretty good-looking grandchildren,
starting with the Cleveland 588 TSC ($125). The 588 TSC has the
Tour player's preferred look: slim around the heel, toe and sole
areas so the club face can be easily opened for flop shots....
The TaylorMade RAC ($140) is not only beautiful but also very
precisely weighted, something a clubmaker like me appreciates....
Wait! There is something new. Feel ($149) has the same classic
design as everyone else but is painted a bright yellow, green,
red or blue. Maybe the ladies will like them.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WALBERG [INSIDE COVER] 2003 EQUIPMENT SPECIAL Bob's Got the Goods KING OF CLUBS Bob Dodds of the Professional Clubmakers' SocietyFOUR COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERGCOLOR PHOTO: MEL LEVINE TITLEIST 983KCOLOR PHOTO: MEL LEVINE PING SI3COLOR PHOTO: MEL LEVINE CALLAWAY GREAT BIG BERTHA IICOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG TAYLORMADE R540COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG ADAMS REDLINECOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG NIKE 450 FORGED TITANIUMCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG KING COBRA SS 380COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG LA JOLLA 400COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG BURROWS MAC POWERSPHERECOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG RUGER TI 320+ HIGH LAUNCHCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG WILSON DEEP REDCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG KZG RBT/400COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG MACGREGOR V-FOIL 410 HIGH LAUNCHCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG TOUR EDGE BAZOOKA JMAXCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG TOMMY ARMOUR 845 FORGED PERSIMMONCOLOR PHOTO: MEL LEVINE NIKE FORGED PRO COMBOCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG PIXL S4COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG MIZUNO MP-30COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG CALLAWAY X-16COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG TAYLORMADE RAC LTCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG TAYLORMADE RAC MBCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG KZG FORGED 20COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG TOMMY ARMOUR 845U SILVERBACKCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG BEN HOGAN APEX EDGE CFTCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG KING COBRA SS-ICOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG CALLAWAY GREAT BIG BERTHA IICOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG LOUISVILLE NIBLICKCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG LA JOLLA KNIFECOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG TAYLORMADE RESCUE MIDCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG MIZUNO FLI-HICOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG WILSON DYNA-POWEREDCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG CLEVELAND 588 TSCCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG TAYLORMADE RACCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG FEELCOLOR PHOTO: GARY NEWKIRK (SORENSTAM) ANNIKA SORENSTAM IS SOLD ON THE 2-BALL.THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG Send in the clones BIG BEN MOI BC OZ

WHAT HATH 2-BALL WROUGHT?

In clubmaking, as in life, imitation is the sincerest form of
flattery, so I'm not surprised to see so many people trying to
replicate last year's monster-hit putter, the Odyssey 2-Ball
(itself a variation of an old Dave Pelz model). Even Odyssey
couldn't resist messing with success, coming out with the 2-Ball
DFX ($215). The face insert is slightly firmer than the original
and has a darker paint job. A friend of mine who is an expert
putter designer has been preaching the importance of
back-weighting to me for years, and that's what the 2-Ball is all
about. As for the imitators, three of them stand out. The Big Ben
($270) is designed by Bob Bettinardi--his sparkling putter faces
almost qualify as art--and is part of the Ben Hogan line. The Big
Ben has an elongated Tshape with a sight line instead of, say,
two white circles on its top edge. The Big Ben has a nice
heft--better than the 2-Ball, I think. The Amazing Grace MOI
($250), by Bobby Grace, is made from aircraft aluminum. When a
couple of my buddies tried it out recently, Bobby himself rushed
over waving two pages of diagrams and numbers and said, "My
putter is better than the 2-Ball--and this proves it!" Simmer
down, Gracie. The Nike BC Oz ($159) has a golf-ball-shaped sphere
directly behind the club face (sound familiar?) and a sweeping
metal arc for back-weighting. To my eye, the Oz looks more like a
branding iron than a putter.

BOB SAYS..."The same engineers who beat the old rules on
initial ball velocity have figured out a way to let us drive 70
in a 55-mph zone."
BOB SAYS..."The concept of mixing cavity-back long irons with
blades for the scoring clubs isn't exactly new--it was tried a
decade ago."
BOB SAYS..."I'm a big believer in fairway woods, partly because
courses keep getting longer."