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Pro Shop: What Next?

Now that the USGA has outlawed further increases in clubhead size and springlike effect, manufacturers are coming up with more creative ways to help wring extra distance and accuracy from drivers. The main focus these days is on matching clubs to individual swings to achieve the best possible launch angle, spin rate and shot shape. Most companies do this by offering several driver models with custom-fitting options, but TaylorMade's innovative r7 Quad ($600) takes an original approach. Distributed around the bottom of the club's 400-cubic-centimeter head (otherwise similar to TaylorMade's R510 TP driver) are four "launch control" ports into which you, the owner, screw cartridges of different weights. By varying the combinations, you can personalize the trajectory and right to-left or left-to-right bias. It may sound gimmicky and look ungainly, but the screws aren't visible at address, and reconfiguring them does make a real if subtle difference. For low- to mid-handicappers with swings consistent enough to benefit from such fine-tuning, the r7 might be a good investment. For expert players, TaylorMade offers the r7 Quad TP ($1,000), with a premium shaft and twelve weight cartridges (although still just four ports) for even more subtle tinkering. Call 800-888-2582 or visit taylormadegolf.com.

These aren't your father's putters. And they definitely aren't the putters of current Ping CEO John Solheim's father, company founder Karsten Solheim, whose first product way back in 1959 was a simple putter that went ping when it struck a ball. The Craz-E ($160) jumps on the bandwagon of oversize, essentially triangular mallet putters with weight at the corners (the heel, toe and rear) to maximize forgiveness on putts hit slightly off-center and with centers of gravity placed very low and rearward to quickly start the ball rolling with topspin. But Ping adds plenty of its own personality to the concept. The large blue urethane insert on the face is typical of the other putters in Ping's G2i family, and the geometric shapes of the head structure, intended to aid alignment, leave no doubt exactly where the Craz-E is aimed. As for the Doc 17 ($220), it's even crazier than the Craz-E. With a face that is nearly seven inches wide and a semicircular rim that is itself a foot long, the Doc 17 looks like half of a go-cart steering wheel. But the head is much lighter than you'd think and the ball comes off pure. For players who putt with a markedly inside-to-square-to-inside stroke, a giant face-balanced mallet like this may not be the answer, but for others it may inspire a lot of confidence. And, yes, it's USGA approved. Call 800-474-6434 or visit pinggolf.com.

Precept's new EC603 Pro Spec irons ($600, steel shafts only) are the player's version of the company's stylish and excellent EC603 irons ($536, steel only). With a more compact head than the 603s and limited offset, the muscleback Pro Specs enable low handicappers to work the ball more easily and get better feedback. They also have a nonglare satin finish on the thinner topline, the sole and the face, whereas the EC603s have a chrome-like finish throughout. But the clubs share more features than not. Both have a distinctive, soft feel at impact, due largely to an unusual elastomer compound inside the clubhead, which helps dampen vibration. Both are made from soft stainless steel that can be readily bent for customizing lie and loft. And both have tungsten inserts on the back, which allowed designers to fine-tune the center of gravity from club to club for optimal trajectory and control. The Pro Specs come standard with True Temper Dynamic Gold shafts, the EC603s with steel shafts from Nippon. Call 800-358-6319 or visit preceptgolf.com.

Tour Edge has traditionally focused on selling good clubs to the middle market, but its Exotics fairway woods ($449) venture upscale. As the first clubs in the company's new premium line (projected to include drivers, irons and putters), these metal woods use a chemical bonding process ("Combo Braising") to combine a forged titanium face with a steel body. This pushes more of the club's weight toward the sole and the perimeter, enhancing forgiveness and producing a notably stable feel through impact. With chrome finish even on the clubface and other graceful design elements, the clubs look great, too. Available in three-plus through seven-wood lofts, with a Fujikura graphite shaft. Call 800-515-3343 or visit touredge.com.

Even while still in development last year, Sonartec's truly superb NP-99 ($339) quickly became the company's most used club on Tour. It was designed with Nick Price (who this year became a part owner of Sonartec) to get the ball up in the air fast with a penetrating, low-spin trajectory like that of the best drivers. The trick was the addition of a horseshoeshaped weight on the rear of the clubhead to pull back the center of gravity. With Sonartec's familiar "Driving Cavity" groove on the sole, the NP-99 is surprisingly forgiving and easy to hit both off the turf and off the tee. Comes in six lofts, each with an ultrapremium blue Aldila NV shaft. Call 877-237-1190 or visit sonartec.com.

The latest technical golf shirt is the coolest garment we've ever played in. The NIKE SPHERE POLO ($60) looks stylish but feels like gauze. Due to construction that actually keeps half the ultralightweight, moisture-wicking material off your skin, air flows freely. Call 800-344-6453 or visit nikegolf.com.

The main cause of bad putting is misalignment, and the clever and effective PROAIM VIRTUAL TRAINING AID ($129), endorsed by Butch Harmon, will help set you straight. The glasses project an amber grid before your eyes, allowing you to check your aim and stroke. Call 888-629-0300 or visit proaim.com.

As a result of corporate maneuvering (Callaway purchased Top-Flite last year), the Strata name now takes second billing to Top-FliteÑbut the highend multilayer ball technology remains. New this year are the high-spin TOP-FLITE STRATA TOUR PREMIER ($36 a dozen) and the low-spin Tour Soft ($29). Visit topflite.com.

British-owned Hi-Tec, best known for its hiking shoes, entered the U.S. golf market this year and has come up with a winner for summer. The lightweight HI-TEC V-LITE X-TREME ($90) is a sporty, stable shoe with a lining that absorbs foot heat and reduces sweating. The outdoorsy-looking shoe even holds a tee and ball marker. Call 800-521-1698 or visit hi-tec.com.

For slicers who have tried everything else, here's a new idea. The FEEL GOLF FULL RELEASE GRIP ($100 for thirteen) is skinnier in the left hand than in the right, like a baseball bat. For some, this may promote a lighter, less-palmy grip and thus a faster release through the ball. Call 877-934-7387 or visit feelwedges.com.


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