2008 The Year of Game-Improvement

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Adam Scott won the Qatar Masters last Sunday, shooting a final round 61 which featured a flawless 18 greens in regulation. What is even more interesting is that Scott accomplished this remarkable feat with the new cavity back Titleist AP2 irons. Scott was previously a dedicated muscle back iron player. Whatever the reasons were that precipitated the change, Scott must have liked the new irons and felt tangible advantages since he claims to never change a club unless it is broken. But Scott is not an isolated case. Titleist is predicting the AP2 to be the most popular choice among their PGA Tour staff in 2008. In fact, all across the PGA Tour, more players are beginning to switch to more forgiving clubs, but will 2008 be the year of the game improvement club?
 
This trend hasn't happened overnight. Changes in golf ball designs have significantly reduced spin over the wound balls of yesteryear. In order to maintain the same ball flight, something must be done to increase spin. Almost every club has had to adapt to accommodate this desired change. Drivers now have more loft than ever before, the center of gravity in irons is placed lower and farther back, and wedges now have grooves milled to the maximum dimensions, all to increase the amount of spin that has been lost over time. Hybrid clubs have now replaced long irons, increasing launch angle, spin, and distance which was previously unattainable through traditional long irons.
 
From recent tournaments, PGA Tour players are moving toward game improvement models. In addition to Adam Scott, K.J. Choi won the Sony Open making a mixed set between Nike's game improvement Ignites as his long irons and traditional blades as his short irons. K.J. also had incredible success in 2007 with Nike's high MOI Sumo Square driver, winning twice with it. Even Tiger Woods himself has made some changes, frequently rotating his two iron with a five wood depending on the course and conditions.
 
But will the average golfer take note? Traditionally, forgiving clubs have had a distinctive 'look,' thicker top lines, wider soles, and more offset. With many cavity back irons, the cavity is visible in clubs with the lowest lofts. However, that is now changing. In 2008, they might well be hard pressed to not add some forgiveness into their bags perhaps without even knowing it. Companies are becoming incredibly adept at incorporating things like perimeter weighting, wide soles, and low center of gravity into shapes even the most ardent traditionalists can accept. Titleist's AP2 is a perfect example. At address, the cavity is invisible and is filled with a rubber compound giving it the look and soft feel of a traditional blade. Bridgestone has also worked hard to introduce a better looking, more forgiving iron the J36 Pocket Cavity. Similar to the AP2, the Pocket Cavity features a channel cut into the cavity which increases perimeter weighting while still giving the iron a clean look with a thin top line and sole.
 

 
Among drivers, the geometry driven MOI craze has gained a lot of publicity. However, even traditionally shaped drivers are becoming incredibly forgiving to off-center hits. Engineers are coming up with new ways to redistribute weight around the club head to help increase forgiveness. Ping's G10 features a newly designed crown which has thinner areas to save weight which can be repositioned lower and further back in the club head. Other companies are looking to composite materials to help minimize weight and move it lower and further back. Some golfers have tried new high MOI drivers, but found them to have unpleasant sound and feel. Companies are paying close attention and are refining previous designs to provide traditional feel golfers are used to. Cobra has added internal baffles to their new 2008 Speed LD driver to give it a more muted, solid sound rather than the loud, high-pitched tone the previous model had. So if the tin can sound of high MOI models has been scaring you off, there is now good reason to give them a try in 2008.
 
However, forgiveness is alive and well on the greens as well. Many people think putters are one place where they don't need forgiveness. However, attach some impact tape to the face of your putter and you might change your mind. Companies are addressing this in a variety fo ways. TaylorMade's unique Spider may not win any beauty contests. However it is beginning to win over players on the PGA Tour. Twelve Spiders were put into play in last week's Buick Invitational. The putter's ability to move weight far back and to the outside allows for excellent distance control on off center hits. Many golfers struggle with lag putting and more often than not, it is their contact on the face which causes them to struggle with speed. Moving to a higher MOI putter can help since hits toward the heel and toe don't lose energy they travel closer to their intended distance.
If you're considering adding clubs into your bag, chances are good you can find a model with more forgiveness than what you're currently using. Its still very early, but signs are pointing to a strong year for game-improvement clubs in 2008.