Golf-equipment manufacturers have long used the PGA Tour as a combination test lab and propaganda machine. Who better to give informed feedback on the virtues of new clubs and balls than the world's top players?Many of the products in this issue's review got unusually strong input from Tour players, from TaylorMade's new line of Tour Preferred clubs to the rain suit worn by many of Ping's pros to balls developed with the input of Tiger, Justin and others.
TOUR EDGE BAZOOKA JMAX COMBO IRONS
One thing golfers often sacrifice when they buy combo iron sets is having clubs that all look and feel alike. The disharmony is most pronounced in sets where woodlike utility clubs replace the long irons. With its Bazooka JMAX combo irons ($479 steel, $539 graphite), Tour Edge has done as good a job as possible in creating consistency. The three- and four-clubs are "iron-woods," developed from a prototype popular on the Senior Tour, but the silver part of their topline is the same width as on the cavity-back five-, six- and seven-irons and on the muscle-back eight through pitching wedge. All have similar wide soles and look like they belong together sticking out of your bag. Call 800-515-3343 or visit touredge.com.
TAYLORMADE TOUR PREFERRED COMBO IRONS
No company has courted the Tour like TaylorMade, and it has paid off. In 2002, TaylorMade had more drivers and irons in use by Tour players than any other company. With its new Tour Preferred Combo Irons ($1,200) and the new Tour Preferred R510 TP Driver (not pictured, $699), the company is taking this marriage to a new level. Produced in limited quantities and sold at a premium price, the Tour Preferred irons are identical to the clubs that Tour pros use, as opposed to the somewhat easier to hit, popularized versions sold in pro shops. The two- through six-irons in the set are a cavity-back design, not otherwise available to the public; they offer reasonable forgiveness but are still very much a player's club. The seven-, eight- and nine-irons are workable muscle-back blades from the company's MB line, and the pitching wedge is a pro version of the RAC wedge. All feature the same Tour Preferred logo shaft that adorns the pros' clubs. Call 800-888-2582 or visit taylormadegolf.com.
TITLEIST PRO TRAJECTORY 980F FAIRWAY METALS
These new sidekicks to Titleist's successful 983 series drivers are similarly designed to achieve optimal trajectory—up fast, then flat and boring—with the type of solid-core balls good players favor. The 980F Fairway metals ($200 steel, $290 graphite) come in two flavors. The 980F has a larger head, shallower profile, shorter hosel and lower center of gravity, which combine to produce extra stability and a greater initial launch angle than its brother. The deeper-faced 980F Strong is for higher-swing-speed players who desire a flatter, more penetrating ball flight. Both have the classic pear shape and subdued style of Titleist woods. After extensive testing, we concluded that both hit the ball a mile. Neutral at setup (that is, they aren't offset like many woods to help fight slices), they should inspire confidence in the hands of better players. Call 800-225-8500 or visit titleist.com.
TOMMY ARMOUR 845 FORGED PERSIMMON DRIVER
Size, length and optimal launch angles aren't the only things that matter when it comes to the big-ticket driver you put in your bag. Aesthetics do, too, and the Tommy Armour 845 Forged Persimmon Driver ($299) is a beaut. With a gleaming, metallic-brown crown with gold undertones, gold script and a matching brown-and-gold graphite shaft, the club makes a dignified statement on the tee. It doesn't lack technical prowess, either. At 350 cubic centimeters, the titanium clubhead is large and forgiving. A high-density internal weighting system combined with a titanium plug at the rear makes it easy to get the ball up in the air quickly. We liked the muted sound at impact, suggestive of real persimmon. Call 800-723-4653 or visit tommyarmourgolf.com.
NIKE ONE BALLS
When Tiger Woods switches balls it's news, and even more so when he is as involved with the new ball's creation as he was with the Nike One ($57 per dozen). The One has a solid core and three covers, as opposed to a core, two inner layers and a cover typical of other four-piece balls on the market. Rock Ishii, Nike's ball guru, disovered the power behind three varying covers: The inner cover transfers maximum energy to the core on hard-hit drives; the middle cover reduces spin on midiron shots; and the outer cover increases spin around the greens. Woods and Ishii tweaked the performance characteristics of this ball specifically for Tiger's game to create another version, the Nike One TW, although the difference is imperceivable to the ordinary player. For people who want to use "the exact ball that Tiger plays," Nike will be issuing a very limited number of the One TW. In several rounds at our humble ability, we liked the distance we got with the standard One and its great feel around the greens. Call 888-799-6453 or visit nikegolf.com.
PRECEPT U-TRI TOUR BALLS
Like Nike's One, the Precept U-Tri Tour ($29.99 per dozen) was born of extensive Tour-player input, in this case from Justin Leonard, Stuart Appleby and Nick Price. After multiple prototypes, this version proved most responsive to the high swing speeds and feel requirements of all three players. Constructed in three pieces, the Tour has the same "explosive" core and seamless urethane-cover technology as the other U-Tri models (Extra Spin and Extra Distance) but has a softer cover for more spin around the greens. The ball did well at the U.S. Open this summer: Both Price and fifty-three-year-old Tom Watson shot sixty-fives with it. Call 800-358-6319 or visit preceptgolf.com.
One often hears that the ideal clubhead path on putts is straight back and straight through. Even if this is what good putters feel, most actually swing the club back slightly to the inside, square it at impact, and then follow through to the inside again. According to the inventors of the Putting Arc ($79.95 for the deluxe version in wood, $34.95 for the lighter travel version), this natural arc is the easiest stroke to repeat, because the hands and shoulders aren't trying to manipulate the clubface to keep it square to the target throughout the swing. The Arc is an ingenious training device that helps hone this model stroke, and it's quickly caught a wave on Tour. Reportedly, Davis Love III has helped revitalize his putting game this year by practicing extensively with the Arc, including in his hotel room during tournaments. Call 800-898-0701 or visit theputtingarc.com.
If you play most of your golf in a tropical rain forest, or in Seattle, the Ping Collection Tour Rainsuit ($1,000) is a worthy object of desire. Worn by Tour pros Mark Calcavecchia, Kevin Sutherland and rising star Ricky Barnes, the suit is made from a special, rugged, breathable fabric that resists wrinkling even after weeks wadded up in your bag and features a proprietary waterproof Sympatex membrane. Savvy design features include cuffs that shed water away from the grip at address; a collar that can be easily adjusted to prevent dripping down your back; full-length zippers down the legs for easy on and off; and a handy pocket for your scorecard. Only 1,000 were manufactured (an inside tag gives the number of the suit) and most went to Ping's staff players; fifty are available to the U.S. public by special order through pro shops. Call 800-775-1107 for details or visit pingcollection.com.
The runaway success of Odyssey's 2-Ball putter (the one with the white ball-shaped discs on top) has inspired many imitators—and now from TaylorMade's Rossa division, a potential rival. With its Monza ($180), TaylorMade is clearly taking dead aim at the 2-Ball (its web site at one point singled out "certain other putters" that look like "a sleeve of balls on the end of a stick"). The trapezoidal Monza mallet features a linear alignment system: a stark white line between two red pipes (filled with heavy tungsten inserts) extending perpendicularly from the clubface. We responded intuitively to these aiming lines, but whether they top the 2-Ball system's circular shapes will probably be a matter of personal preference. Call 800-888-2582 or visit rossaputters.com.