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Adjusting to New Clubs

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2008 PGA Merchandise ShowMy feet dont hurt. Its my fingers.
 
Actually, theyre fine. Just worked hard. At this years PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, whose vastness usually provides a workout for the feet, I muscled up my thumb and forefinger putting together a vast array of clubs with interchangeable shafts.
 
Theyre the vanguard of the latest wave of golf innovation, loosed on the industrys shores by a new rule allowing clubs to be adjustable for more than just weight.
 
Most of these new clubs were drivers, and many overlapped in some way with fitting systems. That makes sense.
 
The idea of the relaxed rule on adjustability, says Dick Rugge, senior technical director for the U.S. Golf Association, is to bring recreational players closer to the experience of tour players, who can visit the tour van any time they want to make an adjustment to get the gear to fit their game better. (The USGA, with its rulemaking partner the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, made the new rule, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2008.)
 
This New Years gift to the industry came along quickly, making a lot of manufacturers scramble to accelerate under-development concepts through the pipeline. Those products were on display at the PGA Show. Consumers should see them by early spring.
 
Approaches to the new opportunities are as diverse as the industrys participants.
 
Callaway Golfs I-MIX system arises from its OptiFit driver fitting system, which already has a foothold in the custom fitting business. I-MIX customers will be able to buy a driver head ' say, a square FT-i or more traditional FT-5 ' in the loft they want, then buy single shafts whose tips are fitted with special attachment hardware. Pop the shaft into the head receptacle, finger-tighten the O-ring, and use the special torque wrench to secure the system. The wrench can only fit onto the hosel one way, and it clicks when youre done. Theres also an indicator window on the wrench that shows a red dot when youre finished, just to be safe. Voila; a playable club.
 
Other companies go the bottom-of-the-shaft route.
 
Nickents Evolver system, which will at first be available with its popular 4DX driver head, uses a screw that drops into the receptacle on the sole of the club, near the heel, to meet up with a threaded fitting on the shaft you have inserted through the top. The wrench gives a solid click when youve done the job right.
 
TaylorMade will have the r7 CGB Max Limited, which uses a titanium screw much the same way.
 
Other companies are, for now, confining their interchangeability story to fitting. Pings fitting system uses interchangeable heads (and not just in woods), but the company hasnt announced any interchangeable play clubs yet. (Thats not to say that such plans arent on the drawing board.)
 
Nike is in a similar position, focusing its interchangeability efforts on a comprehensive fitting system. Both Ping and Nike support their systems with proprietary software, some of which offers extremely detailed interfaces. Pings nFlight software, for example, lets you fly along with the ball, so fitter and fittee can analyze ball flight and customize the fit that much more. The interface is based on sophisticated gaming software.
 
Beyond fitting, interchangeable technology allows adjustments for conditions, say the systems proponents. On a windy day, for example, a slightly more tip-stiff shaft could bring ball flight down to a more manageable level, where distance will rely more on rollout than hang time. A screw-in or snap-in system could make that possible for many more golfers.
 
As an hour-long symposium on the main show stage proved, what weve seen so far is just the beginning. Many issues need to be addressed, from product liability to retail packaging and behavior to where the PGA pro or clubfitter will fit into the brave new self-fitting world. And where will interchangeable tech go next? Hybrids? Wedges? Irons? Innovation will be as limitless as imagination.
 
And lets not be so blinded by the bling of the new that we forget that so-called traditional clubs are not going anywhere. Fixed-head models abound, such as Callaways Hyper-X driver and Clevelands improved HiBore XLS. The latter has a 17 percent larger face, which should be even more forgiving of mishits, Cleveland says.
 
This was the 55th consecutive annual PGA Merchandise Show. The longevity is telling. It seems no matter what the condition of the economy ' macro or inside golf ' theres always something to see and talk about in Orlando. In a game that aggressively sells hope, the allure is undiluted.
 
Definitely worth sore feet ' or fingers.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - PGA Merchandise Show