There were signs last year that Vokey WedgeWorks was evolving from a place exclusively for limited-run specialty wedges to a means to expand the SM8 lineup without forcing inventory into retail shops. That was the case with last year’s low-bounce K and that’s the case today with the new addition of the Vokey WedgeWorks M Grind collection.
The M Grind itself isn’t new. It’s a staple of the Vokey retail lineup. That said, the retail version is currently limited to lob wedge lofts (56 to 62 degrees). With the WedgeWorks M Grind collection, Vokey is expanding its M Grind offerings to include 50-, 52- and 54-degree gap (and I suppose sand) wedge options.
The Vokey WedgeWorks M Grind gap wedges include all of the technology of the standard retail offerings in lower lofts. That’s most of the story.
The M Grind remains a medium-bounce wedge that offers heel, toe and trailing edge relief. It’s your textbook versatile grind for shallow attack angles and firm or sandy conditions.
What is notable is that by expanding the M Grind Collection into 50- and 52-degree lofts, Vokey has (finally) provided golfers with an alternative to the F grind in the gap wedge space.
It’s good to have options, especially if you know what to do with them.
If you use your gap wedge almost exclusively for full swings, the F will likely remain your better option. That’s especially true if you have a steeper swing. If, however, you use your gap wedge out of bunkers, like to open it up a touch around the green or are more of a sweeper, the more versatile M may be better suited to your game.
The Vokey WedgeWorks M Grind Collection is available for custom order through Vokey.com or your local Vokey dealer. You can order it in any finish you want, as long as it’s Raw. Yeah … Raw is the only option. Hope you like rust.
It’s available in right-hand only which should play well with my neighbors in the true north.
Vokey WedgeWorks M Grind Wedges are $199. The price includes custom stamping, custom ferrule and shaft band.
Available now. To order or for more information, visit the Vokey WedgeWorks site.
The 2021 TaylorMade SIM2 Max irons are going to make a fascinating case study: Just how much better can TaylorMade make their signature game improvement better in just one year?
You can’t assume TaylorMade started the SIM2 Max project the day after going “pencils down” with the 2020 SIM. That’s not how R&D works. But there are enough changes, upgrades and enhancements to make the TaylorMade SIM2 Max irons one to watch come Most Wanted time.
TaylorMade’s game improvement irons have been middle of the pack or worse Most Wanted performers ever since M4’s third-place finish in 2018. That hasn’t hurt sales any as the SIM Max and its bigger and stronger brother, the MAX OS, were last summer’s No. 2- selling irons behind the Callaway Mavrik. The Mavrik, ironically, finished behind SIM – and next-to-last – in last year’s Most Wanted.
Still, TaylorMade is giving SIM2 Max some rather significant upgrades. We’ll see if they are enough to move it up the Most Wanted leaderboard. But in the meantime, let’s see what they’re all about.
TaylorMade’s original SIM was designed to be a paradox: a game improvement iron that could hit the ever-loving snot out of the ball and offer forged iron-like feel. To achieve the party of the first part, TaylorMade is giving us something called Cap Back Technology.
Cap Back builds on TaylorMade’s Speed Bridge and Thru Slot Speed Pocket technologies from the M5/M6 years as well as last year’s SIM. The mouthful that is the “Thru Slot Speed Pocket” disconnects the leading edge from the sole, allowing for more face flex. The Speed Bridge, on the other hand, connects the back of the sole to the topline for needed support. Think of how a diving board connects to a swimming pool deck and you’ve got it.
With Speed Bridge, there was a relatively small point of connection. Cap Back takes support to a new level.
“The logical question in R&D was what if we support the entire topline, from heel to toe?” says TaylorMade Senior Irons Director Matt Bovee. “That’s Cap Back design – a lightweight polymer cap that fully spans the heel to the toe and fully supports the topline.”
The idea is to create more rigidity in the upper part of the face to create more flexibility in the lower part of the face. Let’s use the diving board analogy again. Securing a diving board with four heavy bolts is way better than holding it in place with a brick.
“You have to have that stiff topline,” says Bovee. “That upper perimeter has to be rigid in order for the face to fully deflect. If you don’t have that, you’re going to limit face flexibility.”
The polymer badge – the “cap” in Cap Back – makes SIM2 Max, in essence, a hollow-body iron.
The badge is bonded to the head with a vibration dampening adhesive. And that basically closes up the cavity while also supporting the topline. It’s not hollow like the P790 is hollow but Bovee says that space between the badge and clubface is important.
“When you bond a badge to the back of the face, it limits the face’s ability to flex. It slows the face down from a COR perspective,” he says. “We’ve replaced the badge with that polymer cap, creating a hollow space inside. So now we have the freedom for the face to move. That’s where the additional performance comes from, both in face speed and, most importantly, forgiveness.”
The polymer cap is also 7.5 times lighter than steel. That lets TaylorMade shoot for an even lower center of gravity.
“That’s really important for a game improvement irons because it gives you higher launch,” says Bovee. “High-handicap players need all the help they can get in getting the ball up in the air to have as much success as possible.”
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“The face is faster and more flexible,” says Bovee. “But anytime you do that, it’s going to come with some level of detriment to sound and feel.”
A lot of flexibility is good for speed but it often comes with a clack sound common to game improvement irons. The original SIM Max used what TaylorMade called the ECHO Damping System – a soft, flexible material placed low in the cavity to absorb vibrations and improve sound and feel. ECHO was quite visible in SIM’s back cavity but TaylorMade wanted to make the material even softer.
That’s when a rather obscure USGA regulation reared its head.
“The USGA has conforming regulations on how soft a material can be on a clubhead if the golfer can touch it with their hand or more specifically their fingernail,” says Bovee. “But now that it’s fully encapsulated, we can make the ECHO Damping System even softer which allows us to improve sound and feel.”
You may remember the SIM Max commercial last year with blindfolded TMaG Tour staffers unable to tell the difference in sound between SIM and a forged iron. And while all this should be taken with more than a few grains of salt, Bovee says testers think the TaylorMade SIM2 Max irons actually sound and feel better than last year’s model.
Once you leave the blades category, irons are built on three pillars: distance, sound/feel and forgiveness. Translation: How badly can you mishit a shot and still get it reasonably close to where you want it to go?
The more flexible the face, the more forgiving the iron. In the game improvement world, that’s known as making the sweet spot larger. TaylorMade says when testing SIM against SIM2 over 100,000 shots, the SIM2 sweet spot catches nearly 30 percent more shots.
“We’re capturing more shots not just because the sweet spot is larger,” says Bovee. “We’re capturing more shots because we got more intelligent with its location. It’s shifted lower on the face.”
Bovee says TaylorMade’s testing shows nearly three-quarters of iron shots hit the center of the face or lower so the lower you can make the sweet spot, the better.
“What’s most important for the game improvement category is consistency,” he says. “Yes, higher ball speed is good. Yes, higher launch is good. But we’re getting more consistency. Our radial dispersion is tighter compared to the 2020 SIM. It’s giving the golfer the chance at a successful shot more often.”
Yes, thinner and more flexible faces boost ball speed. But game improvement irons get a healthy chunk of their distance through strong – dare we say “jacked” – lofts. An offshoot is reduced spin which can make holding greens a dicey proposition. That explains why OEMs love low CG. The lower the center of gravity, the higher the launch.
And the higher the launch, the steeper the descent angle.
“We take that higher peak height and we’re OK with a little less spin,” says Bovee. “On a typical green, if you stay above 40 degrees with a 7-iron with typical spin numbers, you’re going to be able to hold the green. The SIM2 Max 7-iron numbers we see are in the 40- to 42-degree range.”
And as we mentioned in our article on the PING G425 irons two weeks ago, it’s not unusual for game improvement irons to actually have a right bias. That’s where TaylorMade’s Progressive Inverted Cone technology helps.
“You’ll get a deviation angle off the face that’s off to the right with game improvement irons because they have a faster face,” says Bovee. “The face is larger on the toe side than on the heel side so that side flexes more. There’s no way around that. It’s just physics.”
That’s what causes the ball to push to the right. And for a golfer who fights the rights anyway, that’s problematic. Progressive Inverted Cone Technology – which has been around for years – tries to neutralize that.
“The CG doesn’t really change; it’s more the face geometry changes,” says Bovee. “We have the thickest point on the face towards the toe. It changes the flex profile across the face and it actually produces a draw spin on the ball.”
As it did last year, TaylorMade is offering a bigger, even stronger-lofted SIM called the SIM2 Max OS.
This year, however, TaylorMade is making the OS version even bigger with a wider sole and more offset than last year’s model.
“That’s based on feedback from the market,” says Bovee. “We played up the oversized features to make it look a little bigger without making the topline any thicker.”
Specifically, the TaylorMade SIM2 Max OS has about 1.5 millimeters more offset than the standard SIM2 and a wider, more forgiving chamfered sole to keep the CG low. The OS also has progressive face height – meaning the OS long irons have a shorter face than the standard SIM2 long irons. That’s to promote an even lower center of gravity to help the high handicapper get the long irons in the air.
As you progress to the shorter irons, loft comes into play and the face gets taller than the SIM2 Max irons.
“You have advancement clubs and clubs you trying to hit the green with,” says Bovee. “Players who put distance as the most paramount characteristic— SIM2 Max OS gives them that option.”
The new TaylorMade SIM2 Max and SIM2 Max OS both feature a new steel shaft from KBS as stock, the KBS MAX MT 85 in R and S flexes.
“The MT stands for Micro-Taper,” says Bovee. “It gives more consistency with a high launch and more spin. We’re the only OEM with it as a stock product.”
The Fujikura Ventus Blue is the stock graphite shaft while the women’s versions of both irons will come stock with the Aldila NV Ladies shaft. The Lamkin Crossline 360 Reminder grip is stock on the men’s irons while the Lamkin Ladies Sonar is stock on the women’s sets.
The standard seven-piece set (4-iron through pitching wedge) will retail for $799 in steel or $899 in graphite. Optional gap, sand and lob wedges are available.
The entire SIM2 Max lineup is available for presale starting today and will hit retail Feb. 19.
For more information, visit TaylorMade’s website.
The Nippon N.S. PRO Regio Formula MB+.
It’s a long name with a simple value proposition. For golfers who find optimal performance with one of Nippon’s Modus Tour iron shafts, why not create a commensurate driver (or fairway) shaft? At face value, it’s a concept that seems to almost make too much sense. Almost.
So, why now and why Nippon?
Historically, shaft companies produced either steel or carbon-composite (graphite) shafts. And to some degree, that’s still the dominant structure, though we are seeing some brands crossing the aisle. For two seemingly similar products, the materials, technology and designs are actually quite different.
Graphite shaft companies will remind you that steel is isometric. Basically, that means steel is a single material and, as such, it has some design limitations as compared to carbon-composite shafts. This is most evident when it comes to creating shafts that are both exceptionally light and stiff.
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Does that matter? Not everyone agrees that it does. At least not to the extent that some companies would have you believe. Nippon’s Zelos 6 is the world’s lightest steel shaft. Are there lighter graphite shafts? Absolutely. Do they perform better for a specific demographic? That’s much less clear.
In general, graphite shafts tend to be more costly though that gap continues to shrink. And because carbon-composites utilize a variety of material types, companies can produce a larger variety of shafts.
Inside the industry, Nippon continues to accelerate its reputation as a preeminent steel shaft manufacturer. And though it tends to be more reserved in terms of self-promotion, Nippon gets plenty of love on professional tours and from high-end fitters. Additionally, if you take a look at stock iron (and wedge) shaft options across the industry, you’ll see that Nippon is becoming something of a fan favorite.
Within the line of Modus Tour iron shafts, the Tour 105 and Tour 125 tend to be among the more popular choices. Additionally, Nippon is set to release a Tour 115 model this summer to fill the gap between the Tour 105 and Tour 125.
The Nippon N.S. PRO Regio Formula MB+ is the graphite equivalent of the Tour 105/125 iron shafts. From a launch/spin/feel standpoint, Nippon says golfers should find a “harmonious” continuity.
As an aside, Nippon also offers the Regio Formula M+ to pair with the N.S. PRO Modus Tour 130 and the Regio Forumula B+ as a mate to the N.S. PRO Modus Tour 120.
Nippon’s Regio Formula series uses top-end materials and manufacturing processes akin to what you’d expect from other up-market brands.
Specifically, the MB+ features full-length Torayca T1100G+ NANOALLOY pre-preg alongside 7-axis and 9-axis carbon fiber materials. The T1100G+ material is also used in the Fujikura Platinum Speeder and Graphite Design Tour AD series.
What the materials allow for is, according to Nippon, less shaft deformation during the swing, particularly in the tip section. Also, using the T1100G+ along the entire length of the shaft helps improve torsional stability which Nippon states leads to less “twisting” of the head during the swing. This gives the MB+ the potential to help golfers “maximize the performance of high MOI (moment of inertia) heads.” If that sounds a bit like Fujikura’s VeloCore concept, I’m with you.
I’m typically reticent to make any claims on the performance or feel of a golf shaft. Descriptors such as “kicks like a mule” or “boardy” are too subjective to be any help to anyone.
However, because I’m bagging the Nippon PRO Modus Tour 115 shafts in my irons, I wanted to see how the MB+ matched up.
In general, my experience with the Tour 115 (and Tour 125) shaft is that I get a similar ball flight to Dynamic Gold S400/X100 but with a softer feel in the handle. From that standpoint, the MB+ offered a sufficiently similar experience. If forced to categorize the MB+, I’d wager a steak dinner it ends up in the mid-launch/mid-low spin category for most players. Of course, this depends on weight/flex. I’ll be intrigued to see whether the similarity in profiles translates to improved on-course performance.
The Nippon N.S. PRO Regio Formula MB+ is available in Japan and is set for a global release at the end of January. For more information on pricing and availability, visit nipponshaft.com.
With every release, Callaway likes to call our attention to a first. Epic Speed, Epic Max and Epic Max LS drivers are the result of the FIRST time that AI has been used to design Callaway’s AI face and Jailbreak technology concurrently.
As you may know, for the last several generations of products, Callaway has leveraged a farm’s worth of supercomputers, artificial intelligence and machine learning to accelerate its design objectives.
While most manufacturers use some flavor of supercomputing, Callaway believes nobody else is using AI to the extent it is nor is it playing as prevalent a role in what ultimately comes to market.
This time around, the defining feature created (at least in part) by the machine is what Callaway has branded AI Speed Frame. Speed Frame builds upon both AI Speed Face and Jailbreak technology by further stiffening the connection between crown and sole and adding more contact points to create additional horizontal and torsional stiffness.
It’s a hard value to quantify in absolute terms but saying the new design reduces crown deflection by 20 percent would put you within a reasonable ballpark.
Basically, the AI Speed Frame design tightens internal connection points which results in less energy lost to deflection and more energy returned to the ball.
Short version: More speed. There’s always more speed.
As an aside, you may have seen images of the AI Speed Frame on Callaway’s social media channels. While the bright green thing Callaway staffers are holding up is a reasonable representation of the technology, the actual AI Speed Frame is fixed into the head during the casting process. There’s definitely a bit of manufacturing ingenuity involved but it’s worth mentioning that production versions of the AI Speed Frame are made of titanium and aren’t green.
As become standard for Callaway and nearly everyone else, there are three models in the Callaway lineup. Differences in movable weight technologies aside, two of the three aren’t significantly different than what we saw in last year’s Mavrik line.
The third – the Epic Max LS – is a fairly significant departure from what Callaway has done over the last several iterations. It’s not what I expected from Callaway and that makes it all the more intriguing.
Here’s the breakdown of the three models.
The quick version of the story is that the Callaway Epic Speed driver is the fastest in the 2021 lineup. There are a couple of ways to consider fast and either provides adequate justification for the claim.
The first angle is that Epic Speed, which is built on the cyclone shape we saw with last year’s Mavrik, is the most aerodynamically advanced of the three models and, therefore, should produce the highest swing speeds.
Your refresher on the cyclone design is that it creates a bit of an anti-SpeedBack (COBRA) anti-Inertia Generator (TaylorMade) look. The crown is taller and flatter and the transition from the sole to the tailing edge of the crown is more aggressive than we see in traditional driver shapes.
Callaway says the end result is lower drag during the downswing to the tune of .8-1.5 mph relative to Epic Flash. Faster players might get more, slower players will get less. As always, your actual mileage may vary.
The second angle is ball speed. A more forward CG typically means faster peak ball speed and since Epic Speed has the most forward center of gravity of the three new Epic drivers, it should be a tick faster than the others.
As far as launch and spin are concerned, the Epic Flash is similar to Mavrik. Callaway describes it as mid-spin, though for some golfers it will be the lowest-spinning driver in the new Epic lineup.
By conventional metrics, Epic Speed could be considered unforgiving but, as was the case with Mavrik, Callaway maintains that forgiveness in the Epic Speed driver comes from AI Face design and the spin robustness (consistency) provided by the more forward center of gravity.
The thinking has merit. As centers of gravity move back, you get more ball speed robustness. As they move forward, you get better spin robustness. Depending on the golfer, one may be more effective at preserving distance than the other.
Despite the somewhat unusual shape, a slight draw bias and the most forward center of gravity in the 2021 Epic lineup, the Epic Speed should prove to be the best fit for the majority of golfers.
The Callaway Epic Speed is available in nine, 10.5 and 12 degrees of loft.
Of the new Callaway Epic drivers, the Epic Max is perhaps the easiest to explain. Relative to the other two Epic models, the Epic Max offers the highest MOI. It’s forgiving in the most conventional sense.
Like TaylorMade and Titleist, Callaway’s design philosophy doesn’t involve chasing MOI to the greatest extent possible. Callaway believes there’s a point of diminishing returns at which the ball speed penalty isn’t worth paying.
In practical terms, Epic MAX won’t have the highest MOI on the market but it should be forgiving-enough. “We like where we’re at,” says Alan Hockenell, VP of R&D for Callaway Golf.
Where they’re at is a front-to-back MOI in the mid-5,000s and a combined MOI over 9,000. It’s not PING but it reasonably qualifies as a mid-to-high level of conventional forgiveness.
Again, so much of these types of conversations are rooted in design philosophies at the brand level. There isn’t a clear right or wrong, just a company position. Within that context, Callaway is where it wants to be right now.
The Epic Max features Callaway’s sliding weight track. That adds a fair amount of intuitive and demonstrable shot-shaping capabilities to the design. The 17-gram weight allows for upwards of 16 yards of shot-shape correction.
It’s not the same level of correction you might find from a dedicated draw-bias club but it does make the Callaway Epic Max a viable option for the golfer who has a slice and is trying to correct it.
Draw bias now, neutral later. That sort of thing.
The Callaway Epic Max is available in nine, 10.5 and 12 degrees.
That brings to the Epic MAX LS which might not be what you’re expecting from Callaway. It certainly caught me by surprise.
As you’ve no doubt surmised, the LS does, in fact, stand for Low Spin, but don’t take that to mean the Epic Max LS is this year’s version of the Sub Zero.
LS is a relative term. The Epic Max LS is low spin relative to the Epic Max but should generate appreciably more spin than Mavrik Sub Zero did. In fact, if you’re looking for a new Callaway driver that offers launch and spin characteristics on par with last year’s Sub Zero, your best bet is to buy the Epic Speed and turn loft down by one degree.
Let me say it again. LS ain’t SZ.
Sub Zero and similar competitive designs were born of what Hocknell describes as a “launch and spin Olympics” among manufacturers. What arguably started with the TaylorMade SLDR, Loft Up and 17°/1700 RPM evolved into an annual low spin competition. Before long, nearly everyone had a driver that flirted with the idea of topspin at launch.
I’m exaggerating a bit but I think its fair to say the majority of manufacturers offered something to spin just a tick more than a Tim Wakefield knuckleball.
The quest for low spin hasn’t played out to the same extent on the PGA TOUR. Since 2008, average spin rates have averaged around 2,600 rpm and have never dipped below 2,500.
Low spin has never been an obsession across the Tour and while Epic Max LS acknowledges that reality, it’s also designed to meet the needs of the next generation of Tour player. With the emergence of launch monitors and a better understanding of how to optimize distance, coaching has evolved. Some would say for the better.
There are no universal truths but more golfers are hitting up on the ball, paths are zeroing out (becoming more neutral) and fewer elite golfers are trying to work the ball from one side of the fairway to the other.
The Callaway Epic Max LS is designed to meet the needs of these younger Tour players, elite amateurs and anyone else who is, by some measure, trying to remove the golf club from the equation.
What does that mean?
The Epic Max LS was designed to be as neutral as it can be. The face isn’t a little open or a little closed. It’s not meant to be slightly draw-biased or slightly fade-biased. The center of gravity is more closely aligned with the center of the face.
For all intents and purposes, the Epic Max LS is designed to get out of the way, not offer any specific protections (above and beyond the standard mishit stuff), not enhance anything and not kill all the spin. The idea is to bring the full suite of Callaway technology to the table but otherwise just be.
Let the golfer do the rest.
Whether you want to hit a little fade or a little draw, the Epic Max LS is designed to let you do what you do without getting in the way.
Lower spin by comparison. Neutral by design.
Because the Epic Max LS is way more Max than it is Sub Zero, that conventional forgiveness number (MOI) is higher than you might expect. Callaway says total MOI is above 8,400 and I’d project a front-to-back number in the high 4,000s to low 5,000s depending on the weight setting.
If you’re looking for a market comparison, it’s a compelling one. The closest comp you’re likely to find is the PING G425 LST.
Neutral though it may be, shot shape correction (a little bit of draw or a little fade) is provided by the 13-gram sliding weight at the back of the club.
For some golfers, the Epic Max LS will be the lowest spinning of the three new Epic drivers. For others, it will be the Epic Speed. It really boils down to the CG location differences, how you deliver the club and how you make impact.
The Callaway Epic Max is LS available in nine and 10.5 degrees.
The stock shaft offerings for the Callaway Epic Driver lineup:
Retail price for all Callaway Epic drivers is $529.99. Full availability begins Feb. 18.
For more information, visit CallawayGolf.com.
Given the consistently excellent performance of PING drivers in Most Wanted testing over the last several years, expectations for the G425 lineup should rightfully be among the highest of any models hitting the U.S. market this year.
Still, it’s hard to overlook the buzz-killing reality that PING G425 drivers have been available in Australia and on the PGA TOUR for months. Combine that with the fact that PING is never the loudest or flashiest and there’s a chance the PING G425 drivers could get lost in the chaotic flurry of the spring release cycle regardless of their impressive debut elsewhere.
Nevertheless, despite a relatively subdued new color scheme and a less than sensational backstory, I like PING’s chances.
The last several years of Most Wanted testing have shown PING’s Plus/standard models to be steady, top-of-the-table performers. The SFT has differentiated itself as the ultimate slice killer and the LST has taken top honors with each of its two iterations.
PING drivers perform. That isn’t in doubt. The lingering question shouldn’t be, “Will the PING G425 be good?” The better question is, “How can PING possibly make any of the three drivers in the lineup better?”
PING’s design philosophy is anchored in MOI (moment of inertia), which means forgiveness is never sacrificed. The no-compromise approach, or “breaking the trade-off curve” as PING describes it, is inherent in every aspect of PING’s approach to iteration and evolution.
It’s one thing to improve aspects of a design. It’s another to do so without diminishing performance somewhere else.
To a degree, that’s what everyone wants to do but it doesn’t always shine through in the execution. There are countless recent examples where companies have improved performance in one area of product design to the detriment of others.
That’s not how PING rolls. Regardless of whether a design is revolutionary (within the limited confines of the golf world) or iterative, PING’s newer is invariably better because nearly nothing gets traded away in the interest of launching some shiny new thing.
PING’s approach to evolution may often seem slow and plodding. Call it a testament to a company ethos that mandates that engineering drives the story instead of the story creating the engineering.
With that in mind, it should come as no real surprise that much of the technology from the previous G410 and G400 lines carries on across all three PING G425 drivers.
Here’s what the new PING G425 driver models have in common.
Face and face material stories are all the rage right now but, sorry, I’ve got nothing for you. PING has been using Ti9s+ for a while now. It’s satisfied with the performance and to date hasn’t found anything that it can shape into faster, more resilient faces with higher tolerances.
When it does find something better, it will use it but there’s not much to dispute that what PING has been using gets the job done.
Every company has a means of stealing weight from the crown to reallocate elsewhere. With PING it’s the lattice-like Dragonfly structure. In previous generations, it was overtly visible on the crown. With more recent designs like the G425 driver, it’s been hidden under the hood but, nevertheless, it persists.
The weight-saving structure is part of the reason PING is able to continue to use all-titanium structures while much of the industry has moved to carbon fiber.
The story isn’t much different than it is with Ti9s+. When PING believes it can make a better driver using composite, it will. Until then, it will continue to leverage titanium.
PING’s aerodynamic-enhancing turbulator crown features carry-over as well. The company believes they’re about as optimized as they can be, however, within the optimal range there is some design flexibility.
If you look closely, you’ll notice the appearance has changed a bit but PING isn’t claiming any sort of aerodynamic improvements. The idea is to freshen things up cosmetically for the G425 drivers without degrading performance.
The requisite disclaimer still applies: slower swing speed players benefit less from aerodynamic enhancements than faster players.
Other technologies moving forward in the PING G425 driver design are the rough face texture that reduces spin by ~200 rpm. It helps mitigate some of the effects of the increased dynamic loft that results from PING’s back CG (center of gravity) positions, though the high-launching characteristics of the design allow PING to boost ball speed a bit through lower static loft.
The creased design close to the trailing edge of the crown is a bit more subtle. I could live without it entirely.
PING’s hosel adjustability remains the same. You get 1.5 degrees of loft adjustability in either direction. As with the previous model, there’s also a flat setting which better players (and hacks like me who fight a hook) are particularly fond of.
As we dig deeper into the specifics of the three models in the PING G425 driver family, the common themes include a new look (PING calls it slate and black or slate and stealth), more adjustable weight (in the MAX and LST), deeper centers of gravity, higher MOI and greater differentiation between the products.
The simplest description I can offer of the G425 MAX Driver is this. It’s the lovechild of the G400 MAX and the G410 Plus. It offers the adjustability of the latter with the massive MOI of the former.
Your one-sentence bottom line – the PING G425 MAX isn’t just the most forgiving driver in the PING G425 driver lineup, it’s the most forgiving driver the company has ever produced.
For a company that’s more or less led the league in MOI for the last several years, pushing up against the USGA limit for front-to-back MOI while driving total MOI over 10,000 … that’s one hell of an accomplishment.
To do it in a reasonably conventionally shaped driver designed for the fattest part of the driver market borders on absurd.
From a performance standpoint, the most notable feature of the G425 MAX driver is a single 26-gram movable tungsten weight in the rear of the club. For reference, that’s more than 10 percent of the head’s weight tied up in a single chunk of metal.
PING’s movable weight system remains easy to understand and easy to operate but there are challenges that come with condensing that much movable weight into a small area at the rear of the club. Quite a bit of engineering is required to keep that much mass in place during impact.
When a clubhead collides with golf ball, and slows from 95-110 mph (whatever your swing speed happens to be) down to 60 or 70 mph in half a millisecond, the limits (and quality) of design are tested. “At impact, the head wants to collapse in on itself, pop the weight free and crack the head,” says Paul Wood, PING’s Vice-President of Research and Development.
So that’s maybe not ideal?
Lessons learned from G400 MAX’s large fixed weight combined with knowledge gained in the design of the movable weight in the G410 Plus ($399) allowed PING to not only put 26 grams of weight in the back of the G425 driver but actually keep it there through impact and beyond.
A small but important detail, right?
So why narrow the range of movement? Placing more weight in a smaller track allowed PING to increase MOI in each of the G425 MAX driver’s weight positions.
By the numbers, the G425 MAX Driver offers seven-percent higher MOI in the neutral position and 20-percent higher inertial in the draw and fade positions. It works out to an average increase of about 14 percent over G410.
Here where things get particularly interesting.
I’ve mentioned that moving weights to the draw position almost invariably means giving up some MOI. That’s not the case with the PING G425 MAX driver. Because of the shape and placement of the weight track, MOI is actually at its highest when the weight is in the draw position.
I guess you could call that giving a little extra help to golfers who need it the most.
That’s obviously a bonus but here’s the really cool thing. The significantly heavier (relative to G410) weight allowed PING to accomplish nearly the same level of shot shape correction with a significantly narrower range of moment.
You got me. Nearly can be interpreted as an indicator of a small compromise. The draw and fade positions in the PING G425 MAX provide eight to nine yards worth of shot shape correction. That’s down about one yard from the G410 Plus.
With MOI now effectively within the tolerance range of the USGA limit, I suppose getting that one yard back gives PING something to improve on for next time.
The PING G425 driver is available in lofts of nine, 10.5 and 12 degrees.
As with previous SFT models, the PING G425 SFT is the draw-biased model among the PING G425 drivers. Our testing suggests that nobody else in golf does a better job of taking the right side out of play (for righties … lefties, you can manage the conversion).
That said, slicers gonna slice so PING has pushed the trajectory of the G425 SFT even farther towards the left side of the golf course.
Unlike the G425 MAX, the SFT isn’t adjustable but it does offer its own sizeable chunk of tungsten weight. The fixed weight in the G425 SFT is 23 grams which is, again, more than 10 percent of the total head weight tied up in a single concentrated area.
That additional mass is part of the formula that creates an additional 10 yards’ worth of left-side bias over the G410 SFT ($399). For the sake of further comparison, the expected flight of the SFT is 15 yards more left than G425 MAX in the draw position and 25 yards more left than G425 MAX with the weight in the neutral position.
It should go without saying that not everyone needs that kind of anti-slice protection but it speaks to the differentiation between PING’s G425 offerings.
Quite obviously, the G425 SFT is for the golfer who fights a slice but on a more specific level, it’s for the golfer who owns that slice and is comfortable effectively putting his driver in draw mode forever.
If the objective is to hit fairways and have fun, my slicing friends, here you go.
What’s particularly impressive about PING’s approach to the G425 SFT is that they put significant design effort into hiding the draw bias.
For sure, the face is a little closed and if you look closely you might notice the slight bump-out in the heel but for the most part the heavy draw elements of the design are unobtrusive.
It’s not visibly offset; the shape is not particularly odd or unpleasant. It basically looks like most any other driver.
That’s a case of live and learn.
“Over the years, we’ve delivered some good options that players haven’t wanted to try,” says Wood.
Take, for example, the K Series from several years ago. If I’m being honest, K Series hybrids more or less got me through the last month of the season after my daughter was born. I wasn’t very good to begin with and wasn’t playing much so I needed all the help I could get.
But, yeah, the Ks looked weird, almost offensive. I wouldn’t say I was proud to have them in my bag.
With the G425 SFT, that shouldn’t be an issue.
That said, if you’re more of a “yeah, I slice it a bit but I’m pretty sure I’ll get over it” type of guy, the G425 MAX still offers plenty of slice correction without the full commitment.
The PING G425 SFT is available only in 10.5 degrees. The actual loft is a little higher. That, too, speaks to the audience. If you’re a lower-lofted guy, the G425 MAX will likely be the better fit.
Is this the one you’ve all been waiting for? Given it’s two-time Most Wanted winning status (and nearly two-time status in my bag), it’s definitely the one I’ve been waiting for.
That said, the plot has largely been spoiled. The PING G425 LST driver is, well, a PING LST driver and what that means hasn’t changed.
The PING G425 LST driver is a bit more compact, a little smaller than the G425 MAX. By the numbers, that makes it a bit more aerodynamic, though the shorter typical build lengths tend to offset any swing speed gains.
It’s the lowest spinning of the PING G425 drivers. The expectation is that it will produce about 600 rpm less spin than the G425 MAX driver and 200 or so rpm less than the prior-gen G410 LST ($399).
I would remind you that PING’s version of low spin isn’t the same as most everyone else’s. The PING G425 LST is, after all, still a PING driver and that means MOI won’t be sacrificed in any significant amount to chase low spin.
MOI should shake out at about 5,100 or so. That’s plus or minus where a good bit of the standard stuff on the market falls. That speaks to PING’s commitment to keeping spin rates reasonably low and forgiveness relatively high.
With the G425 LST, PING seeks to create a playable low-spin condition but not necessarily kill spin and kill it dead. If “as low as spin can go” is your objective, I’d wager something like a TaylorMade SIM2 or Titleist TSi4 is going to tackle the challenge more aggressively.
The trajectory-tuning CG shifter in the PING G425 LST driver is only 17 grams – or roughly eight percent of the head weight. That’s good for about seven yards of left/right correction which should be enough for the typical LST player.
The PING G425 LST driver is available in nine and 10.5 degrees.
Finally, PING is offering four stock shafts across the G425 driver lineup.
The PING ALTA CB Slate is the evolution of PING’s in-house ALTA line. It’s a lightweight, heavily counterbalanced option that should produce the highest launch (and spin) of any stock offering.
The mid-launch option is the Mitsubishi Tensei Raw Orange.
The PING Tour remains in the lineup as a mid-low launch option. Another in-house offering, the profile isn’t dissimilar from the Aldila Tour Green.
The lowest launch and spin option in the PING G425 driver lineup is the Aldila Rogue White. The stiffer tip should help bring launch and spin down for those who need it.
MSRP for all PING G425 driver models is $540. The street price will likely be less. Fitting and pre-sales start immediately. Full retail availability begins Feb. 4.
Until then, deal hunters may want to consider the still excellent G410 series drivers which are discounted at $399.
For more information, visit PING.com.
Irons are like airports – they’re never really finished. There’s always something getting tweaked, improved or dressed up. The new PING G425 irons, for example, aren’t a total makeover compared to the now two-year-old G410 irons. They are, however, tweaked enough, dressed up enough and different enough to be considered an upgrade.
The G410 was an overall meh performer in MyGolfSpy’s Most Wanted Game Improvement during the last two years. What it lacked in ball speed, carry distance and accuracy it tried to make up for in forgiveness, launch angle and the vastly underrated category – for game-improvement irons, anyway – descent angle.
PING is usually on an 18-month release schedule with its irons but, thanks to COVID-19, the G410s received an extra six months in the spotlight. Do the upgrades to the new PING G425 irons make it worth the wait? Let’s take a look.
The game improvement iron category is tricky. Distance makes us all warm and mushy and it’s the easiest metric to digest in the hitting bay. But distance without consistency (aka forgiveness), playability and descent angle doesn’t necessarily help golfers play better or have more fun.
Better and fun, of course, is the PING wheelhouse.
As mentioned, the PING G410 didn’t exactly set the world on fire in MGS Most Wanted testing during its two-year run. In fact, 2020 results were about as middle of the pack as you can get. While G410 performed in the upper half in ball speed, it was in the lower third in carry distance. A spec-check points out the obvious reason: the G410’s lofts are weaker – by upwards of three degrees – than the distance leaders.
The new PING G425 irons are trying to squeeze out more distance without resorting to loft-jacking and without losing playability.
“It’s about distance combined with forgiveness,” says PING Director of Engineering Ryan Stokke. “When we look at the design, how do we make it better performing? How do we continue to get more forgiveness? How do we make the iron launch higher and land steeper?”
Holistic? Yes. PING always seeks – and usually finds – incremental improvements from iteration to iteration. The PING G425 touts consistency, appearance and playability along with a wee bit of extra distance.
COR-Eye has been the signature face-flexing technology since its debut in the PING G-MAX irons in 2015. To squeeze a bit more ball speed – and a few extra yards – PING is saying buh-bye to COR-Eye.
“We’ve actually gone to a metalwood style of VFT (variable face thickness),” says PING Engineering VP Paul Wood. “It’s not a million miles away from COR-Eye. We want to make the face flex and we want to get more ball speed out of that flex.”
The goal is to get the whole face flexing simultaneously while stabilizing the center of the face. To PING’s credit, it’s not claiming ballistic distance gains or any such nonsense – just a bit more ball speed. In addition, bidding farewell to COR-Eye also allows PING some creativity with G425’s cavity badge to improve sound and feel.
“Our simulations show a marginal ball speed gain over what we’re doing with COR-Eye,” says Wood. “The secondary benefit is we can mesh that with the badge. We can get full coverage with the badge to get a more solid and muted feel and a slightly increased ball speed at the same time.”
The new multi-material badge is a mix of aluminum and polymers. The more materials in a badge, the more it helps dampen vibrations. And, according to PING, it’s much nicer to look at than previous G-series irons.
The face itself is PING’s unique Hyper 17-4 stainless steel. Hyper 17-4 is a bit of a unicorn, combining the strength needed for durability and enough ductility for ball-speed friendly flex. For the G425, PING has further refined Hyper 17-4, increasing its strength through material chemistry and heat treatment by 10 percent. Stronger means thinner and thinner means more flexibility.
PING pulled an engineering rabbit out of its hat with the G410. That model had noticeably less offset, a thinner sole and a shorter blade length than its predecessor, the G400. Despite that, G410 had an eight-percent higher MOI than G400.
The PING G425 irons go a step further, combining even more compact shaping and a smaller-looking profile with a three-percent higher MOI than G410.
“We’ve tried to make the visual a little smaller,” says Wood. “The actual hittable face is the same size as the G410 but we’ve made the distance from the center of the face to the shaft axis a little smaller while actually improving the moment of inertia at the same time.”
PING achieved its MOI sorcery in the G410 through extreme weighting: high-density screws in the toe and tip weights in the bottom of the hosel. It’s pulling the same trick in the G425 with one added benefit. The extreme weighting makes the new VFT face possible, allowing for a larger unsupported face for higher face deflection.
Conversations with PING engineering always brings new vocabulary to the table. This year, it’s Hosel-X. It may sound like a Marvel Comics villain but Hosel-X is the distance between the spot where the shaft meets the head and the center of mass.
Why does Hosel-X matter? If all the weight is toward the toe (a big Hosel-X number), the player has to input more torque on the backswing to open the club up as well as input more torque on the downswing to square the club at impact.
“The farther the center of mass is from the shaft, the harder it is to square up,” says Wood. “Not a ton, but enough.”
That’s kind of bass-ackwards if you think about it. Smaller irons aimed at better players are actually – based on Hosel-X – easier to square up. But better players fight the left miss. A GI or SGI iron has a bigger head and can be harder to square up but GI/SGI players are trying to fight the right miss.
“If you could wave a magic wand, you’d want it the other way around,” says Wood. “But that’s the physics of it.”
Even though the PING G425 face is about the same size as the G410, Hosel-X is smaller.
“We’ve shaved off a bit so the center of mass is closer to the hosel by just a little bit,” explains Wood. “That makes it easier to turn over and makes it a little more neutral or a little left-biased without touching the moment of inertia.”
PING insists shrinking Hosel-X doesn’t move the center of mass away from the center of the clubface very much. Wood says a good lie-angle fitting will take care of any potential issues.
PING likes to call its G-series “game enjoyment” irons as opposed to “game improvement” irons. And PING wears forgiveness as a badge of honor.
“When we measure our competitors’ super game improvement irons, our game improvement MOIs are usually higher,” says Wood. “And our player’s irons – the i210s – are up there in inertia with many of the competitors game improvement irons.”
While we’re always skeptical of any OEM’s internal testing, PING did share some interesting results. In a G425-G410 head-to-head test among mid-handicap golfers who hit their 7-iron 150 to 155 yards, PING found the G425 irons were a little bit longer. (“Not a huge amount,” says Wood.) More importantly, they saw a huge improvement in overall shot area – with particular decreases in long-left and short-right misses – as well as a bit more left bias.
“It was a 20-player test,” says Wood. “From a strokes-gained analysis, 75 percent of the players had a better strokes gained with the G425 than the G410. You’re never going to get 100 percent of the players with any iron, but 75 percent is a pretty significant result.”
One other feature of note: the PING G425 set wedges all have machined faces and grooves. Typically, set-matching wedges in any category don’t have the requisite “wedginess” players look for. The G425 wedges (PW through LW) feature the same face and grooves as PING’s Glide 3.0 wedges.
“We try to focus on what the golfer is trying to do more than what they say they want,” says Wood. “We always focus on building on the technology and knowledge we already have.”
The PING G425 irons loft matrix is virtually unchanged from that of the G410. It’s based on a 30-degree 7-iron and, as PING points out, any distance gains over G410 will be marginal. If it’s distance you seek, the G425 will also be available in Power-Spec, with lofts jacked anywhere from .5 to 2.5 degrees, depending on the club. If you want even more distance, the PING G700s are always an option.
Like its G-series predecessors, the PING G425 irons feature proprietary PING shafts: the AWT 2.0 in steel and the new Alta CB Slate in graphite. AWT stands for Ascending Weight Technology. That means the shafts get progressively heavier as the irons get shorter. Light shafts in the long irons make them easier to get airborne and heavier shafts in the short irons make them easier to control.
PING says the Alta CB Slate is a slight evolutionary change from the Alta CB Red. As with most stock graphite shafts, it’s lightweight and high launching with a slightly softer feel than the AWT 2.0.
No upcharge options include the Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 105, True Temper Elevate 95, KBS Tour, Dynamic Gold, DG 105, DG 120 and Project X LZ. PING is continuing its partnership with ARCCOS and the ARCCOS GP Light 360 Tour Velvet is the standard grip with the sensor included.
The PING G425 irons will retail for $137.50 per stick in stock steel and $150 per stick in stock graphite.
Pre-sale and custom-fitting starts today. The PING G425s hit the stores on Feb. 4.
For more information, visit the PING website.