Big Dogs and Wicked Sticks — 2012 golf gear

Let the big dog eat -- drivers tested yesterday at the Golf Lab.

One of the great perks of writing about golf is getting to test out the latest equipment. For the last three years I’ve written Sympatico’s Golf Guide, a section that has both written and video segments about this year’s gear. That includes irons, hybrids, drivers and a handful of other elements that we get sent. I always look forward to the day when I get to try it all out — and this year we were trying to be a little more scientific about it, with assistance from The Golf Lab and its founder, Liam Mucklow.

Every year I find it hysterical when we lug all of this gear to one place. In the past, when we’ve done it at Launch or Lakeshore Links, people often thought we were preparing for a demo day. We are — sort of — but not everyone is invited. Instead it is usually three or four guys hitting irons and drivers until their hands and backs are sore. Even with a workout program I’ve been following from TPI, I’m still not in golf shape, where your stomach muscles and hands are accustomed to hitting balls for a couple of hours.

Since I didn’t actually hit anything at the PGA demo day in Florida, and have only played a couple of rounds this year, so I knew this would be an interesting experience. I actually tested a couple of clubs for a Toronto Star feature a few weeks back, but it was limited to a couple drivers and two sets of irons. The Sympatico testing, on the other hand, had around 10 drivers, and seven or eight sets of irons.

So what impressed? Interestingly — but perhaps not surprising — I was longest with the Long Tom, Cobra’s driver with the 48-inch shaft. I was also quite accurate with it, hitting a cut back to the middle. It was the only driver where I managed to hit something over 300 yards. I must admit to having a bit of a love/hate relationship with the club, which I used in a couple of rounds last year. It certainly goes a long way, but aesthetically it isn’t the most attractive driver I’ve seen (mine is in the “raw” finish — which kind of makes it look like something you’d find in a wrecking yard).

Ping’s new i20 driver was also a hit with everyone that hit it — as were the corresponding irons. I’ve been fit for the G20 driver, but the i20 is aimed at players looking for more workability. I didn’t notice that as much — but I had plenty of distance (I averaged over 280 with it, which is pretty decent for my weak fade) and loved the matte finish on the crown.

And yes, I smacked a few with both TaylorMade’s new R11S and Rocketballz. I didn’t love the R11 and I’m still not fond of the new version. Something in the face feels too firm to me — though that it is specific to my perspective and not really a comment on the club. But frankly it just doesn’t seem to work for me, even though I don’t mind the white club head. Rocketballz, on the other hand, was a success. I’ve hit it before and found it longer than average and quite straight and that’s without having been properly fit for it. I’m a convert — and I am among those that felt the name of the new driver was ridiculous. And while the Rocketballz three wood may not have been 17 yards longer than my current fairway metal, I’ll say I did clock a couple over 250 — and both the trajectory and line were impressive.

On the irons side I’ll say that I’m not trading in my Titleist AP2s any time soon, but was intrigued by Ping’s i20 irons. I’ve never played Ping irons, but found the aesthetic toned down from previous generations. The top line is relatively thin and there is minimal offset. Once again it has a matte finish so there’s no glare. I’d say these are downright good looking clubs — and the performance, as expected, was top notch.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to some of the so-called “game improvement” clubs — those big-bottomed heads with their chunky top lines. That included the Rocketballz irons, and the new RAZR X HL irons, which seemed boxy to me. I’m sure there’s an audience — and you can call me a traditionalist, but I just can’t wrap my head around them.

At the end of the day, we’d hit about 150 shots with the drivers and an equal number with irons. I had a nice blister on my thumb, and was a little sore. One thing was clear — I’d be fit before I’d buy any driver. The Golf Lab, the various manufacturers or a place like Modern Golf (the Toronto version of Hot Stix that opens soon and is manufacturer agnostic), can all fit you. There’s a lot to matching the right club head to the right shaft — and I wouldn’t waste $400 on a driver without going through a fitting.

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Jeff Lancaster

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • RT floats between a 4 and 7 based on the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of playing with him. And I’ll 2nd the need for custom fitting to really get the most out of today’s equipment. Much to the dismay of my favourite retail golf store, my annual equipment purchases are WAY down after receiving several fitting recommendations over the last few years. Buying golf equipment off the rack is like playing roulette, you can come out a winner once in a while but it’s awfully expensive trying to get there.

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