Hip to Be Square

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By thinking outside the box, two of golfs most powerful companies may have thought themselves right back into one.
 
And that may be a good thing ' especially if you like straighter drives.
 
Both Callaway Golf and Nike will be introducing drivers with decidedly square head shapes. The weight distribution and geometric benefits of adding corners to the traditional teardrop shape will help the very large clubheads resist twisting, say the manufacturers. And short-grass lovers the world over know what that means.
 
Nike SQ SUMO2
Nike's new SQ SUMO2 square-headed driver.
Nikes club, the SQ SUMO2 , whose name stands for SUper MOment of Inertia Squared, will be an extension of the successful SasQuatch driver line, which already has a reputation for stretching golfers notions of driver size and shape.
 
The 460-cc SUMO2 head will be multi-material: titanium body, composite crown. The lightness of the composite accentuates the weight distribution and furthers the mission of the large head, Nike says, which is forgiveness and high moment of inertia (MOI), better known as resistance to twisting (even better known as that feeling of relief when your ball finds fairway).
 
Another model, the SUMO (not squared), will have an all-titanium head, also 460 cc. Both models will continue the use of the PowerBow (the expanded rear portion of the clubhead) and the Max Back CG (weighting and design to move the center of gravity lower and farther back) technologies, which we first saw with the original SasQuatch drivers. The clubs are due in shops by February 1. The SUMO2 will have a manufacturers suggested retail price of $480; the all-titanium SUMO will have an MSRP of $360.
 
Callaways version of a square meal will be the FT-i, a multi-material head with the titanium cup face and carbon composite construction found in the companys Fusion FT-3 driver. The club will also be available in February, and the price to consumers will be around $500.
 
Unlike Nike, Callaway will not be offering an all-titanium model.
 
[The square design] is best used with our Fusion technology, said Dr. Alan Hocknell, vice president of innovation and advanced design for Callaway. We tried it in titanium, but realized there is not much benefit to it. You lose the benefits of the squareness because theres more weight, and you cant redistribute it as effectively as you can in a multi-material head.
 
The shape of all the new clubs is arresting, to be sure, and the heads are large. But the big story here is not about big, even though larger clubheads and their built-in forgiveness are now firmly implanted in the industry. The leading innovation ' and the vanguard of an increased focus for top club designers ' is the MOI.
 
Extreme slow-motion video has shown club engineers for years that a clubhead can move widely during the swing, both up and down (droop) and around the shaft axis (twist). Efforts to update designs of both clubheads and shafts have led to great advances in resistance to twisting ' and therefore reduction in stray shots for people who dont hit the center of the clubface or return it to square every time. But the square drivers represent a substantial step forward in the campaign to straighten long shots, experts say.
 
The shape allows us to reach places we cant go to in a traditional head, to put weight there, said Hocknell, adding that the extra heft tends to stabilize the head through impact. Weve put 44 grams of weight in the corners and back of the head, corners that dont exist in a traditional design.
 
Tom Stites, Nikes director of product creation and the chief of the companys Fort Worth club facility, learned much of his craft from another Fort Worth native, the great Ben Hogan.
 
I learned that it was O.K. to be a traditionalist and a wild inventor on the same day, Stites said. So, for the last 20 years I have tried to guide my work this way. We make clubs that are pure for look and traditional performance. These clubs have won over one hundred PGA (TOUR) events and every major several times. We also work hard to craft new techniques and technologies that might be unconventional, but add performance for those that are less skilled.
 
Callaway FT-I Driver
Callaway's new FT-i square-faced driver.
The question that arises every time a new shape comes out is, will the market accept it? Top-Flites Magna driver, from the late 1990s, which was essentially just a face and a sole, never caught on, nor did Wilsons post-modern Invex driver, despite its association with John Daly.
 
Stites admits that acceptance (or not) by the golf public is never far from a designers mind. But sometimes, you just have to forge ' or cast ' ahead.
 
The look of our new radical geometry is a big jump from the pear-teardrop shape, Stites said. If there was ever a time to do this, it is now. Geometry has quietly been used throughout history to make clubs better. To really improve clubs under the rules, we must venture in this direction. This time, however, Nikes geometry change is not so quiet.
 
Weve done a lot of homework over the last two years on shapes alone, Callaways Hocknell said. Weve done many sketches and mock-ups, and weve gotten a lot of consumers involved, to get their feedback. We also asked tour players, and checked into the equipment regulations pertaining to plain in shape.
 
Despite its straight-shot producing properties, Hocknell and his team insisted that the FT-i be seen as more than just an MOI driver. They kept in mind throughout the design process a principle they call Complete Inertial Design, that is, no performance benefit shall be elevated above another. MOI is as important as a large face to reduce mishits is as important as every other feature, Hocknell said.
 
Cleveland Golf, undeterred by the checkered history of unusual shapes, came out with the HiBore line last year. Its slope-backed shape, also designed to optimize center of gravity and weight distribution, has done better than the aforementioned experiments, even though it has not made it into every Cleveland staff players bag.
 
One player who liked it right away was Jerry Kelly, who discussed the HiBore with me at Bay Hill last March, soon after putting it in his bag.
 
I can spin anything, Kelly said, shaking his head at the thought of yards lost to excessive RPMs. This driver, though, helps me keep my spin numbers down. Much better flight for me.
 
And just to show that driver choice is not all about the yardage, both Scott Gutschewski (303.3 yards average driving distance) and Skip Kendall (280.4 yards) both use HiBores. There are similar examples on other tour staffs of players with differing physical gifts and swing styles using the same head shape.
 
Which bodes well for acceptance of golfs latest shape shift. If it goes straight, a lot of people wont care what it looks like. Nike has tested it with about a dozen tour players already.
 
The early positive response surprised me, Stites said. A number of these folks did not react negatively to the unique square shape. The new SUMO shape was actually preferred to our old SQ. It was very encouraging. We will have some more to say on this subject next week [at the PGA TOURs Funai Classic at Walt Disney World Resort].
 
Innovations like these dont come along easily or quickly. Hocknells group began daydreaming about putting weight in the air around the back of traditional driver shapes more than five years ago.
 
We had the physics down about five years ago, Hocknell said. But we were striving for a new beauty and elegance in the shape. Were not being defensive about it; were celebrating its squareness.
 
We hope the shape will almost transcend golf, to be talked about outside golf.
 
Oh, it will be talked about. Be squarely assured of that.
 
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