By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Images courtesy of Nike Golf
BEAVERTON, OR – Listening to your Tour staff is imperative when designing new and better golf products and that’s exactly what Nike did in creating the latest iteration of the company’s Vapor Pro Combo irons.
Phillip Hatton, Product Line Manager for Nike Golf clubs, confirms: “The new Vapor line of irons were designed from the ground-up with input and insights from our Nike Golf Tour Staff. In particular, Tiger Woods was instrumental in the development of the new ‘Modern Muscle’ design.”
Hatton said Nike master irons craftsman, Mike Taylor, has worked with Woods for over twelve years. During that time, Taylor discovered the secret to perfecting Tiger’s irons was to add weight to the toe. Doing so effectively balanced the CG (center of gravity) in the center of the club face, something that’s often lacking in traditional iron designs which inherently exhibit a heel-biased CG.
“That led our team along a path of prototyping and testing new muscleback designs that balance the CG in the center of the face,” Hatton added. “Athlete feedback, together with robot testing, validated a remarkable improvement in energy transfer, stability, and subjective feel. And the 'Modern Muscle' design was born and incorporated into all three irons: the Vapor Pro; Vapor Pro Combo; and Vapor Speed.”
Again, feedback from the pros was instrumental in moving the needle. The “Muscle” Hatton refers to is the robust looking bulge on the back of the club head. Using computer animation, engineers have perfected the distribution of weight to maximize forgiveness in irons heads.
Hatton elaborates. “In addition to the Modern Muscle design, the most notable advancement in the Vapor Pro Combo irons is in the multi-material 'RZN Cavity' construction of the 2-7 irons. Consisting of an ultra-flexible ‘Spring Steel' face plate that’s laser welded to a Forged 1025 Carbon Steel body with deep RZN-filled cavity, the result is faster ball speeds, increased stability on off-center shots (i.e. more 'forgiving'), together with the soft and consistent sound and feel that athletes have come to expect from Nike forgings.”
“Completing the Vapor Pro Combo set are one-piece, forged ‘Muscle Cavity’ 8-AW irons for a superior ‘combo’ of powerful and stable long irons with pure and precise short irons.”
In other words, the Vapor Pro Combo irons contain essentially two completely different club head designs. A simple perusing of the set reveals a stark contrast between the long and short irons. All the irons in the set look the same at address, however – the difference is well hidden from view when looking down at the club.
Hatton says the original Nike Pro Combo irons, launched in 2003, were also born from Tour Staff input on three sets of prototype irons: a full cavity set; a split cavity set; and the original Forged Blades.
“Requests came to combine the three sets into one for the optimum combination of forgiveness and feel; hence, the Pro Combo combination set was born utilizing full cavity long irons, split cavity mid irons, and muscleback short irons,” Hatton said.
The Vapor Pro Combo is the seventh generation Pro Combo combining the new Modern Muscle design with two distinct chassis constructs that further advance power and stability in the long irons, and precision and feel in the short irons.
Having tried a number of the Pro Combo generations, we can definitely say the concept works. The long and medium irons are easier to hit than with most iron sets. The differences are subtle, but misses tend to be less severe than on poorly struck shots in other models.
The short irons show somewhat less distinction with other designs. They certainly offer consistent performance, but that’s pretty much true across the board.
Being mid-handicappers, we’re partial to easier to hit clubs. The concept of the Vapor Pro Combo irons would seem to be geared towards our ability group, but Hatton says better players will like them too.
After all, they designed them.
“In terms of chassis shapes, the clean and traditional profiles of the Vapor Pro Combo were developed specifically to satisfy our Tour Staff, and will therefore appeal to the most discerning avid and accomplished golfers.”
“In terms of performance, the 'RZN Cavity' and 'Muscle Cavity' chassis technologies unlock a unique combination of power, stability and precision not normally associated with Tour-designed irons; which, in turn, broadens the playability to a wider range of golfer abilities.”
Another player-friendly feature of the Nike Vapor Pro Combo irons is the set configuration. Like many sets these days, there is no 3-iron. For irons traditionalists, this creates somewhat of a gap – but you can still order one through Nike’s custom department, of course.
Hatton says it was a combination of factors that led to omitting the 3-iron in the Pro Combo standard set: “Golf balls that spin less on long shots; hybrids that are demonstrably easier to hit high and long; iron specs designed to improve club-to-club distance gaps (longer lengths, stronger lofts and wider loft gaps); and, lastly, launch monitor data that validates optimal launch conditions.”
“While many golfers continue to use both #2 and #3 irons for the added shot-shaping attributes, and there are certain courses and shot types where such irons are the preferred clubs (an example being Rory McIlroy using a Prototype Pro Combo #2 iron for crucial shots when winning last year's Open Championship at Hoylake), for most golfers a hybrid is often the easier and more consistent option.”
Rory McIlroy can get away with using a 2-iron, where most recreational players wouldn’t even consider buying one – at least these days.
As mentioned above, Nike offers three types of Vapor irons. We chose Vapor Pro Combo because of our past experiences with Pro Combo irons.
Hatton suggests a slightly different path in making your choice. “First, prior to visiting a store, my advice would be to educate oneself, either online at Nike.com and/or in golf publications, and identify a shortlist of iron models that best match your needs -- such as a preference for maximum distance and forgiveness that you get with Vapor Speed irons; or a preference for the shot-shaping precision that you get with the Vapor Pro irons; or a combination of both, as with the Vapor Pro Combo irons.”
Once in-store, Hatton says to seek the advice of knowledgeable staff to guide you through a fitting and dial-in your product’s specs. And, lastly, during a fitting session, consider both objective performance data and subjective preference on feel and aesthetics.
With most companies’ premium irons being of the highest quality, your own preference on feel and looks are important in choosing between them. We enjoyed the Vapor Pro Combo irons and had good success with them.
Feel was excellent and distance seemed to be slightly higher than average – perhaps due to stronger lofts. We’re not claiming that we instantly started knocking down pins while using them, but they’re definitely competitive with what’s out there.
The only way to determine the difference between Nike’s and other companies’ products is to try them. It makes a trip to the golf shop all the more interesting – and you’ll definitely find there’s a contrast for you.
Nike has come a long way in a relatively short time in golf club manufacturing. “Behind every Nike Golf product is the history, heritage, values and experience of a committed team at The Oven – Nike Golf’s industry-leading golf club R&D center – that designs and develops products for the world’s best athletes, and is dedicated to serving all golfers with the most advanced performance,” Hatton said proudly.
The company boasts two of golf’s highest profile names in Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. It’s only natural for Nike’s club designers to listen closely to their feedback. Thankfully for us, it appears that they did.
Available at your higher-end golf retailers and club pro shops.
Check out more information about Nike Golf products at: www.nikegolf.com . Like you’d expect from Nike, the website puts on a good show, too.
Web page: http://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/golf/clubs/irons#5173RvjMzO-2
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