By Jeffrey A. Rendall; Images Courtesy of Titleist
We see it in many facets of our world – professionally proven technology translating to the average consumer. Millions of dollars and thousands of hours of research and development brings results, efficiency and convenience to scoreboards, kitchens and offices everywhere.
Think about it -- someone studied for years to design the ‘thing,’ then someone else equally learned honed the idea into something useful for those at the top of the food chain, then it finally trickles down to your retail store shelves. There are lots of examples.
When we watch those amazingly aerodynamic racecars speeding around the track, we’re really just seeing the technology we’ll find someday out on the neighborhood streets. And what about all those neat doohickeys garnered from the space program? It’s been years since I’ve had a glass of Tang, and I’ve never sampled food squeezed from a tube, yet I still appreciate how the astronauts’ trial and error has improved my standard of living.
|The Titleist 983 Drivers -- Models K and E.|
It also seems to work that way with golf equipment, and that’s best demonstrated by Titleist’s top of the line products, the Pro V1 (and Pro V1x) golf balls and 983 drivers.
It’s no secret that golf’s elite professionals choose Titleist in large numbers to help them convert potential into performance. On the 2003 PGA Tour, Titleist tied Taylor Made in number of wins in the driver category (16), and ran away with the season victory totals in golf balls, with its Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls trumping all the other manufacturers combined, many times over (including victories in three of the season’s four major championships).
Such stellar products start in the lab, move to the workbench, then to the test range, and finally to the first tee. After the professionals have their turn playing and refining a new product, then us consumers get to enjoy the fruits of theirs and the scientists’ labors.
Chris McGinley, Titleist’s Vice President of Golf Club Marketing, expands on the 983 driver’s attributes: “983 drivers, if fit properly, provide a more optimal launch condition experience that improves ball flight and maximizes distance. The 983 drivers offer the professional and competitive golfer long distance with a flatter, more controlled trajectory – and the aspiring player with solid feel, outstanding playability and increased distance.”
In other words, what works for Ernie Els and Davis Love III will work for you, too, if perhaps on a smaller scale.
|Bob Vokey poses in front of some of his sand wedge creations at the Titleist Research & Development facility in Carlsbad, California. This is where it all starts for Titleist's golf clubs. Photo By Jeffrey A. Rendall|
We’ve been mentioning 983 drivers in the plural sense because the series comes in two models, the 983 E and 983 K.
Jeff Meyer, Director of Metal Wood Development at Titleist, designed the two different heads and describes the differences: “With the 983 E and K, our goal was to develop two different drivers with two specific sets of ball flight characteristics. The K is a very forgiving driver – and if fit properly, everyone from beginners to the top tour professionals will see results with it.”
I can’t speak for beginners, but Els and Phil Mickelson use the K model, so there’s certainly something more than magic in that Titanium face.
“The E, however, is targeted for the higher ball speed player who’s looking to reduce backspin off the driver. This driver is also very difficult to turn over, so this type of player doesn’t want to see the ball going left,” Meyer added.
|The Titleist 983K Driver.|
Davis Love III uses the E. He won four times in 2003 – because the ball went straight.
Technically speaking, the 983 drivers improve on the older Titleist 975 models, due to some construction method improvements. Again, Meyer expounds: “These particular designs involve a cast body with a face insert. We’ve developed a process called automated plasma welding, which is proprietary to us. The process allows us to control very precisely the thickness of the weld – whereas with manual welding, you’re going to get variations in thickness.”
“Automated plasma welding produces very consistent COR (Coefficient of Restitution, or the controversial ‘spring-like effect’ of clubfaces) from head to head,” Meyer said.
Ah, the infamous COR -- it keeps us talking about equipment while waiting to tee off and watching discussion panel reruns on the Golf Channel. Since the modern, thin-faced Titanium clubfaces can be manipulated to produce more ‘spring’ on the golf ball, there’s been much debate on where the limits of COR should be placed. The ball may only rest on the face for microseconds, yet the longer it’s there, the farther it’ll go. Doglegs and par fives beware – you’re becoming obsolete.
Not necessarily the case, says Meyer. He says designing drivers is all about allowing players to hit it as far as they’re able, and not a yard farther: “We look at producing distance as a function of fine-tuning or optimizing a player’s abilities to get the most out of what he can achieve. We’re looking to get the right weighted shaft, loft, head size and launch conditions. With the limitations put in place by the USGA, there’s only so much you can do with the face.”
|The Titleist 983E Driver.|
That’s true, but there are currently no such limits (or should we say, fewer limits) on the golf ball, and that’s where the preponderance of the controversy lies. Golf architects from Jack Nicklaus to Pete Dye claim the golf ball’s ruining the game, forcing the construction of 8,000 yard layouts and rendering obsolete old-time classic golf courses such as Oakmont or Baltusrol.
But it’s also claimed by these observers that the new ball technology only helps the high swing speed professional hit the ball even farther, while your average white tee player swinging at 85 mph can’t hit the darn things any longer than the balls of forty years ago.
What these critics are really complaining about is solid core ball technology, led by Titleist’s Pro V1 (and Pro V1x) golf balls, since they’re the industry leaders. In the old days (with wound balls), a 275 yard average would easily lead the professional Tour. These days, many of the top players average over (or near) 300 yards – and 2003’s leader, Hank Kuene, topped 320 yards (321.4).
That’s blasting it a ways out there, folks.
|Titleist's golf balls -- widely available, widely employed.|
Titleist’s Pro V1 (and Pro V1x) golf ball receives the lion’s share of scrutiny, since one out of every four golf balls (amounting to about 40% of golf ball derived revenue) sold is a Pro V1.
The ball’s popularity, according to Titleist’s Vice President of Golf Ball Marketing, George Sine, is due to its improved playing characteristics over older wound ball products. Solid core technology, simply put, allows you to do more things, according to Sine: “With the emergence of the ‘power’ game in golf, we’ve found that the stronger the player, the more speed, the more spin he imparts on the golf ball, the more the golf ball design required a low spin rate to create a trajectory that was penetrating in flight without up-shooting.”
“These types of launch conditions are more easily addressed by multi-component solid construction golf balls. Wound golf balls resulted in higher than desired spin characteristics, and became somewhat obsolete as soon as technology developed something better,” Sine said.
Golf’s seen it before. The gutta percha ball of the early 1900’s was replaced by a crude version of the wound golf ball. More recently, the persimmon ‘wood’ drivers went the way of the Dodo bird, in favor of these big-headed Titanium jobs like the 983. Unlike the Dodo, however, you can still find outdated golf accoutrements in museums, if not stores.
You can’t fight progress, so why try?
|Bob Vokey works closely with many of the game's best players. He's happy to apply what he's learned to your sand wedge, too. Photo By Jeffrey A. Rendall|
By the looks of it, few people have resisted. The Pro V1 is prevalent just about everywhere, with average players liking it as much as the pros. Sine says the ball’s performance characteristics translate easily: “Because of the Pro V1’s spin characteristics, durability and velocity, it’s able to deliver exceptional performance to high speed players as well as average speed players. It’s a complete package, and serious players recognize that.”
Sine also said there are other Titleist/Acushnet products that are perhaps better suited to help low swing speed players achieve more distance – and they’ll definitely go farther than the golf balls of forty years ago.
Another big Pro V1 improvement over the older wound balls is durability. Sine explains: “Wound technology was disadvantageous to average players for several reasons. Because of its increased spin, they’d lose distance. But also because of the Balata covers, the balls tended to wear out easily. The new urethane covers take care of that – you have to mishit it pretty badly to make it unplayable.”
After several years of success with the Pro V1, the Pro V1x was developed for that player with a high launch and high spin – where even the Pro V1 imparts too much spin around the green. Sine admits it’s more of a ‘niche’ ball, for those professionals and low handicappers who can take advantage of the ball’s super high performance characteristics.
|The Titleist Pro V1 Golf Ball|
It’s the ball of choice for PGA Tour leading money winner Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. For most of us human-types, the Pro V1 is more our speed (myself included).
Testing out these products, perception and hype meets reality. I tried a 983K driver with a Grafalloy Prolite shaft. I’d asked for a super-stiff tip to try and bring the ball flight down, and also requested 8.5 degrees of loft. My driver swing speed tested between 108-110 mph, which places me in the league with some slower swinging professionals. I was not professionally fit for this club, as is highly recommended – by Titleist and myself.
After using the club for about three months, I’d say it compares favorably with other top-of-the-line drivers I’ve played. The ball flight was a bit higher than I’d still desire, but I’m guessing it’s because I failed to select the proper shaft. Distance was a bit hard to measure because of this season’s extraordinarily wet conditions, which precluded much roll.
I’d certainly recommend this driver – true to Meyer’s words, it is a very forgiving club. But if you’re going to spend the money for this type of technology, take the time to make sure it’s the right combination of loft and stiffness for your swing.
As far as the golf balls, I’ve been using the Pro V1 for a couple seasons (along with some other brands), and I’d definitely say it’s worth its price. The thing just seems to fly forever, and I’ve gotten in trouble a lot less because of its elimination of excessive side-spin, which is the bane of many longer hitting average players.
|The Titleist Pro V1x Golf Ball.|
The Pro V1x seemed a bit harder in feel – and Sine said that’s because of the ball’s higher compression. I noticed very little difference in distance, and would probably choose the Pro V1 just from a feel standpoint. Again, I don’t have the swing speed to play the Pro V1x, so I can’t make an educated judgment (but the professional results will speak for themselves). If you’ve got it (the swing speed), use it.
Coming off this review, I’m more convinced than ever that you’ll receive good value on your investment by purchasing the best equipment from Titleist and other manufacturers. But there’s no experience quite like trying it out for yourself, hopefully under the watchful glare of a knowledgeable professional. That way, you’ll know for sure whether the technology translates to your game – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when it does.
The Titleist 983 drivers and Pro V1 (and Pro V1x) golf balls.
Available at your higher-end golf retailers and club pro shops.
Check out more information about Titleist products at: www.titleist.com.
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