The PGA Tour's Transitions Championship at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor two weeks ago was a chance for locals to watch some of the best players in the world. There is nothing like seeing a professional hit an effortless 300 yard drive. Though 99 percent of golfers can't play like the pros, they can at least look like them. Equipment manufacturers know this, which is why they pay the pros big bucks to wear their shoes, pants and hats. And especially to use their clubs. Equipment representatives are camped all around the practice putting green and driving range at most tournaments, hoping players will try their clubs and eventually use them in a tournament. If a player likes a club or starts playing better by using a certain club, word spreads like wildfire.
A prime example is TaylorMade's new white drivers, the Burner SuperFast 2.0 and the R11. They seemed to be in the hands of just about every player at the Transitions Championship. TaylorMade says the club has been put into play more than 120 times worldwide this year.
Martin Laird, Jonathan Byrd, D.A. Points, Luke Donald, Rory Sabbatini and Michael Bradley have won 2011 tournaments with the white drivers. Other notable pros using them include Camilo Villegas, Dustin Johnson, Paula Creamer, Jim Furyk and world No. 1 Martin Kaymer.
"Now we are obviously all trying to switch to the white drivers, the Burner 2.0, new version,'' Furyk said at the Transitions Championship. "I think it's actually a better driver, because I think it's more forgiving.''
What's the big deal?
The white drivers started appearing in professionals' hands at the PGA's opening events in Hawaii in January. They became available to the public in early February. The drivers retail for around $400 at most golf shops.
"It is by far our best seller,'' said Larry Hibbler, assistant manager of the Edwin Watts Golf store in Palm Harbor. "We have a hard time keeping them on the shelves. We got a heads-up that this might happen, so we ordered plenty of them. I think more than anything it's the white head on the club that people like.''
It is hard to miss the white head. The idea is to make the clubhead more visually appealing at address. It also is supposed to cut down on glare. It reflects 100 percent of the light and eliminates so-called hot spots, the glare that comes off dark-headed clubs.
The clubface is black, which is supposed to make alignment easier. The white head, coupled with the black face, gives the feel of having a big-headed driver in your hands.
Another noticeable feature is the shape of the head. It has a tapered back that gives it a slight V shape. The idea is to reduce drag on the club through impact. And because it is light (10.19 ounces), it is supposed to allow for more clubhead speed, which ultimately means more distance.
The R11 model has options for adjusting clubface angle and weight. The face can be adjusted plus or minus 2 degrees in either direction. That allows for more of a fade or a hook on drives.
Also, 10-gram and 1-gram screws can be placed in the heel of the club. Putting the 10-gram weight in the heel promotes a draw; putting it in the toe encourages a fade. TaylorMade says the weights provide up to 25 yards of right-and-left adjustment.
All that may sound like too much technology for the average golfer, but the clubs are showing up more and more on tee boxes throughout the country.
No longer driver's fault
Less than 20 years ago, some players were still using persimmon wood drivers. Usage shifted to metal and gave us the oxymoron "metal woods.''
Then came oversized metal drivers, square-backed drivers, steel drivers and titanium drivers. There are drivers with 7 degrees of loft up to 12 degrees. And now there are adjustable drivers.
Club makers are always trying to find that extra little bit of innovation to add a few yards to a drive.
"You need to be a nuclear physicist to figure the R11 out because you have so many settings,'' tour pro Kenny Perry told USA Today. "In the old days you had to learn how to hit the driver and work with it. Now we tell the guys at TaylorMade what we want, and they will build it. Now we have no excuses. We can't blame the driver anymore."
It's hard to say what will be the next big thing in club manufacturing.
"Maybe I'll invent a green-headed driver,'' said Hibbler, the Edwin Watts Golf store assistant manager. "Or a pink driver for ladies. You never know what people are going to want next.''