TGW, NIKE HEAT THINGS UP AT THE OVEN
Despite the fact that it has a stable of high-profile touring pros on its roster, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, it seems like NIKE is sometimes overlooked as a major player in the industry by recreational golfers. That would be a mistake, as NIKE has been unveiling one great product after another in recent years. TGW was in Fort Worth, Texas, in late February for exclusive access to The Oven, NIKE’s renowned research, performance, and testing facility. We brought four TGW customers with us to Fort Worth to try out a number of new products and wait until you hear what they had to say about some of NIKE’s 2016 clubs.
"Gosh, I don’t want to say it was 20 yards further, but darnit, it sure felt like it."
Bryan - TGW Customer, Handicap; 8
By reducing the crown weight by 30 percent over the Vapor Speed driver, NIKE engineers were able to lower the CG and improve MOI with the Vapor Fly drivers. The Covert Cavity Back expands forgiveness on shots struck at impact points across the clubface, and the Flybeam structure creates enhanced stability. Those two technological features also work in unison to stiffen the back of the club and allow more energy to be transferred to the clubface at impact for faster ball speeds. The lower CG and the thinner, lighter crown, along with a thin, hot face, creates a high-launch, low-spin ball flight. There are two head designs in the Vapor Fly series as well -- the Vapor Fly and Vapor Fly Pro. Both are 460cc clubheads, but while the Vapor Fly has a C-shaped head, the Vapor Fly Pro has a more tour-inspired, Pear-shaped clubhead often preferred by better players because its design will increase spin slightly and provide greater workability options. Both Vapor Fly drivers feature NIKE’s FLEXLOFT 2 sleeve, which enables players to adjust the loft between 8.5 and 12.5 degrees, as well as make changes to the face angle. In total, 15 different settings are available to help control trajectory and ball flight, as well as the look at address.
"It’s a different sound, A lot of people are caught off guard at first but very intrigued by the performance."
Kevin Harper, NIKE Senior Innovation Manager
With its Vapor Flex 440 driver, NIKE engineers moved the bar to a whole new level in terms of technology. By using multiple materials to construct the head, including lightweight RZN material, weight was saved that allowed the clubhead to be expanded to 440cc. It also enabled the club’s CG to be moved lower and forward to better control spin rates. The Vapor Flex 440 utilizes NIKE’s FLEXLOFT 2 sleeve to adjust loft and face angle for 15 different settings that allow users to optimize ball flight and trajectory, but the driver also has another ground-breaking customization feature. By saving weight in the clubhead design, NIKE was able to create a Flight Pod for the Vapor Flex 440. The Flight Pod, a small cartridge, can be removed from the back of the clubhead and can be reversed depending on whether you want its more weight forward, to bring spin down, or back, to increase spin. Its engineers revealed that, depending on a player’s swing characteristics, the Flight Pod can influence launch angle by half a degree and spin by 200-300 RPM. NIKE sees adjusting the Flight Pod as the final step in the fitting process to deliver unmatched personalization and performance. Also of note with the Vapor Flex 440, players can expect a different sound and feel at impact, something softer and more muted than typically found in a titanium driver.
"We listen to our market. We want to launch it higher, we want to spin it less, and create a better trajectory for the average player."
Kevin Harper, NIKE Senior Innovation Manager
NIKE’s Vapor Fly fairway woods utilize much of the same technology that has made the Vapor Fly drivers so popular and effective. Both product lines have utilized a lighter crown to lower the center of gravity and both feature Covert Cavity Back and Flybeam technology to expand the sweet spot on the clubface and create more stability. There are some key differences, however. With the Vapor Fly fairway woods, NIKE engineers don’t have to deal with as many of the restrictions that are placed on drivers by the USGA, so the clubface can be a little bit thinner to flex more and create higher ball speeds. Also different is the FLEXLOFT sleeve. There’s still adjustability (+/- 1 degree) in the Vapor Fly fairway woods but the sleeve works on a single axis that in addition to adjusting loft also allows players to adjust lie angle, a feature that Tour players requested. Five different models are offered. In the standard settings they are a 13-degree strong 3-wood, a 15-degree 3-wood, a 17-degree high loft 3-wood, a 19-degree 5-wood, and a 21-degree 7-wood. Additionally, the shape of the Vapor Fly fairway woods was influenced by Tour feedback to optimize workability.
"I’m very impressed with the NIKE lines, especially the hybrids. I’ve tried a bunch of them and this was the best performing one that I’ve come across."
Bryan - TGW Customer, Handicap; 8
Technology aside for a moment, NIKE’s Vapor Fly hybrids were designed with one intention - to help golfers replace their long irons with an option that delivered better performance with less effort. Achieving that goal was one of the reasons why NIKE’s engineers chose to use bonded hosels instead of adjustable hosels. They believed that choice was more authentic in the golf market as far as positioning the Vapor Fly hybrids as the perfect replacement for long irons and not metalwoods. In terms of technology, the Vapor Fly hybrids share some of the same features as the fairway woods. Thanks to a thinner crown, a lower CG creates higher launch angles. The Flybeam structure, meanwhile, improves stability, and a tour-inspired design promotes workability. However, because of typically slower swing speeds with hybrids, there’s less concern about face integrity, so the clubface is even thinner on the Vapor Fly hybrids to achieve faster ball speeds. Additionally, four lofts are offered -- 17, 20, 23 and 26 degrees -- giving players multiple options to replace the clubs in their bags that need to be upgraded.
"I’m finding out here in the last 20 minutes it’s time to buy some new irons."
Andy- TGW Customer, Handicap; 5
Ask NIKE’s engineers about the new Vapor Fly and Vapor Fly Pro irons and they will immediately indicate that these are game-improvement irons. What does that mean? It means, from a technology standpoint, these clubs were designed to help average golfers achieve what they’re typically missing when it comes to iron play, most notably height, distance, and better performance on mis-hits. NIKE might be selling itself short, however, when it comes to the look of the Vapor Fly and Vapor Fly Pro. The company acknowledges that with its thinner topline and sole, as well as its Black PVD finish, the Vapor Fly Pro does have players club attributes. But in reality, both sets have a much cleaner look than is often found in game-improvement irons. Both sets have similar technological make-ups, as each uses a progressive construction with three distinct components. The longer irons (4-7 in the Vapor Fly and 2-5 in the Vapor Fly Pro) were created with a hollow, two-piece construction designed to lower the CG and improve ball speeds. In the mid irons (8-PW in the Vapor Fly and 6-8 in the Vapor Fly Pro), a one-piece construction using a RZN cavity provides superior stability and helps improve feel as unwanted vibrations are dampened. And finally, in the short irons (AW and SW in the Vapor Fly and 9-AW in the Vapor Fly Pro) the one-piece construction was designed to promote optimum control and feel.
"We’re creating these tools for different shots that you need to hit so you don’t need to worry about what the bounce is on the wedge."
Matt Daraskavich, NIKE Senior Innovation Manager
Everyone wants to improve their wedge play and short game, and many golfers devote a fair bit of practice time to those aspects of their games. Equally important, however, is having the right wedges in your bag, and that starts with knowing what you need from a performance standpoint. Is bunker play a priority? Full shots? Flop shots? Regardless of the answers, NIKE, based on Tour feedback, has created three different sole shapes -- Square, Toe Sweep, and Dual -- to help you play the shots you’re faced with most often. The Square Sole is offered in lofts from 50-60 degrees and, as the name might indicate, this wedge performs best when the face sits square, making it a great option for full shots or long pitch shots. The Toe Sweep Sole, which comes in lofts ranging from 54-60 degrees, is ideal around the green from bunkers or heavy rough, as extreme heel relief and more mass in the toe allow players to open the face with this wedge without losing stability. Finally, the Dual Sole comes in lofts of 58 and 60 degrees and is the most versatile wedge in the line. It’s a great choice for flop shots from tight lies or for players who want to play different types of shots and trajectories around the green. What about bounce, you ask? Forget about it. Just focus on your needs and pick the sole that will help you execute successfully. Also of note, the Engage wedges come in a raw finish, the unanimous choice of Tour players, which allowed NIKE’s engineers to push USGA limits in terms of face roughness to maximize spin.
The Oven. In golf circles, people know exactly what that name means. It’s the place where the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Michelle Wie and Paul Casey go to fine tune their equipment in order to compete in the biggest professional golf tournaments in the world. It’s also where they go to provide NIKE with ideas and invaluable feedback to help the company’s engineers develop products that allow you to play better golf. For the average consumer, however, The Oven remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, as through the years the Fort Worth, Texas facility has provided limited outside access. TGW, however, was able to get exclusive access to The Oven in late February, and we took four of our customers along with us for the journey. And what a day it was.