Welcome to Wall-to-Wall Equipment, the weekly gear wrap-up in which GOLF equipment editor Jonathan Wall takes you through the latest trends, rumors and breaking news.
History tells us November is one of the quietest months on the calendar for equipment releases. Manufacturers already have 2024 launches in the pipeline. Press releases, marketing materials and advertisements are generally undergoing a final polish. The calm before the new-release storm.
Then along came a curveball few (if any) saw coming. Last week, the USGA’s conforming driver list produced a multitude of driver surprises from Cobra, Ping, PXG and TaylorMade.
Instead of waiting until January — Tiger’s Hero World Challenge in December is generally good for a sneak peek or two — to launch some of the most anticipated drivers of the year, all four manufacturers offered an early look with the help of several high-profile pros.
Here’s a look at how the four driver launches played out.
1. Cobra Darkspeed
With Rickie Fowler teeing it up in Las Vegas for Netflix’s foray into live golf, the event felt like the perfect opportunity to release three different Darkspeed prototypes. Fowler chose to use an 8-degree LS (low-spin) head that was turned up to 9 degrees. Along with Fowler’s LS head, two additional models (Max and X) were on site at the RSM Classic.
The LS has three weight ports (two forward and one back) to dial-in launch, spin and shot shape. Both the Max and X have adjustable ports as well with the Max featuring one in the heel to reduce a slice (and one in the rear), and the X sporting two weights in a neutral location through the middle of the head (forward and rear).
Darkspeed’s cosmetics have already received high praise on social media. If performance matches the looks, Cobra could have an early winner on its hands.
2. Ping G430 Max 10K
Similar to Darkspeed coinciding with Fowler’s appearance in Vegas, G430 Max 10K’s debut in Sea Island was tied to Ping staffer Cameron Champ’s inclusion in the RSM field. With scant details available on the driver, Champ offered a couple of key insights on what he liked about the Max 10K design.
“I’ve been pounding balls with it,” Champ told GOLF.com. “I was excited about it and wanted to keep hitting it to be sure. The feel is different than any driver I’ve hit. To me, it feels very soft coming off the face, you can really feel it. I’d go so far as to say it’s the softest driver I’ve ever hit. Different sound, too.”
Champ also highlighted something all players — especially those with inconsistent contact and/or elite speed — might benefit from when they get a chance to swing the new driver: consistent spin rates across the face.
Ping G430 LST Custom Driver
The PING G430 LST Driver features an exclusive Low Spin Technology (LST) Carbonfly Wrap, a lightweight composite that covers the crown and wraps into the heel/toe sections of the skirt to save weight and lower the CG for more ball speed, less spin and higher MOI. The 8-layer, one-piece composite saves four grams and weighs 11.5g fully installed. A moveable 22-gram, high-density tungsten backweight influences shot shape ±7 yards between the Draw, Neutral and Fade settings. At 440cc, the smaller tour-style LST is available in 9° and 10.5° lofts (adjustable +/-1.5° and lie up to 3° flat from standard) and best fits faster swing speeds.
THE DISTANCE DIFFERENCE. MORE BALL SPEED.
A shallower, variable-thickness face is thinner to create more face deflection for generating faster ball speed for our biggest distance gains to date.
THE SOUND SOLUTION
A new integral rib structure and increased curvature of the crown, skirt and sole fine tunes clubhead frequencies to produce a desirable sound and impact experience.
A variable roll radius, with less loft low on the face, enhances spin consistency and carry distance.
Lightweight composite crown wraps into the heel and toe of the skirt to save weight and lower the CG for more ball speed with higher MOI.
MOVEABLE BACK WEIGHT
A 25-gram, high-density tungsten moveable backweight influences shot shape +/-10 yards between the Draw, Neutral and Fade settings.
“Even within the first few balls I noticed the spin numbers weren’t jumping,” Champ said. “With the misses, it was pretty interesting to see. For me, an ideal drive is around 2,500 to 2,800 [RPMs]. Even with a miss, the max for me was still around 2,800. It felt like the misses weren’t as bad and still felt like solid contact. And for them to be able to hold spin was huge. When you miss, you either get a bunch more spin or hit it off the toe and it has nothing. With all the balls I hit with it, it was impressive to see how the spin stayed pretty damn close to a good shot.”
3. TaylorMade Qi10 LS
Another driver tied to a few high-profile names was TaylorMade’s Qi10 LS, which made its Tour debut last week in Dubai. Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood used the low-spin model for the first time but offered little in the way of insights behind the design. Rory’s comments at the beginning of the week were a perfect example.
“It’s just a new driver I’ve been playing around with,” he said. “I still want to go out there and try to win the golf tournament, but it could be a good time to test it out in competition. You’ll probably see a new driver in the bag this week.”
It’s always best to play coy and let the commentariat make some assumptions about what’s going on in advance of an early 2024 launch. One thing we can confirm is TaylorMade’s carbon face is making a return, as evidenced by the “Carbon” wording found on the face.
The silver line visible on the upper portion of the face also looks eerily similar to the laser alignment system TaylorMade added to its Stealth fairway woods several years ago as an alignment tool.
Outside of those observations, we’ll have to wait for TaylorMade to lift the lid on what’s going on underneath the hood.
4. PXG 0311 Black Ops
Rounding out the pros-using-new-drivers theme, soon-to-be PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Eric Cole was spotted using PXG’s 0311 Black Ops prototype in Georgia. The driver was initially spotted by GOLF’s Ryan Barath in the Las Vegas Tour event, but last week was the first time a pro officially put it in the bag.
“I’ve been testing them for a little bit now,” Cole said. “I was out in Scottsdale last week testing them and they’re really good. I got one in my bag right now that I’m seriously considering playing. They’re very forgiving and you’re getting a little bit more speed in my case. It’s kind of an easy thing if you’re getting more speed and they’re just as forgiving that I’m using now, which is an older PXG driver, it kind of makes a lot of sense to play it.
When pressed to add a number to the speed he saw during testing, Cole said it was significant, especially for someone playing a driver that was already built for his game.
“The one that I’m using is probably 2 or 3 miles an hour faster ball speed, which is enough to make a difference,” he said. “There’s actually some of the other ones that aren’t quite as forgiving that are even faster than that. A lot of the new models, the new stuff they have is great.”
Lost and found
For years, Cameron Champ relied on a Ping Rapture 2-iron as a secondary option off the tee, going all the way back to his time playing golf at Texas A&M University. Hoping to make a slight tweak to the lie angle, Champ had the club bent flat and watched the hosel snap during the process. Compounding the problem, Champ didn’t have a backup at home and struggled to locate a clean used option on the secondary market.
“All of them were so beat up,” Champ told GOLF.com. “I figured that was it for the club, so I moved on to other options.”
Before leaving for Sea Island, Champ’s luck changed when he unearthed a Ping Rapture 2-iron from an old golf bag at home that was caked in dust and dirt.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it,” Champ recalled. “It was just sitting there next to a bunch of other clubs. It’s one of those clubs I loved having in the bag because it could hit a bunch of different shots. I plan to use it a ton going forward.”
Champ confirmed typical carry for the 2-iron is 260-plus yards. It’s a club (and distance) most pros would love to have in their arsenal. With his favorite weapon back in play, Champ is ready to rekindle some memories.
Quick-hitters: Denny McCarthy switched to a 10-degree Titleist TSR3 driver (Project X Denali 60TX shaft) after using a Callaway Rogue ST Triple Diamond for most of the year. … Ryan Moore let his 7-year-old pick his putter with his Tour card on the line. He secured full status on Sunday with a T8 finish.
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