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GolfWRX goes inside ‘The Oven:’ Nike Golf R&D

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There’s barbed wire on the fences that surround “The Oven,” the research and development center for Nike Golf – one of hardest-to-visit places in the golf industry. But that’s just to keep the cows off the driving range, because they’re everywhere in Fort Worth, Texas.

As exclusive as The Oven is – other than Nike Staff, only a select amount of professional golfers, top amateurs and teaching professionals are allowed to visit – it couldn’t be located in a more average location.

The Oven was built beside a public driving range where average golfers who dream of hitting just one shot as well as Rory and Tiger dig their swings out of the dirt. If those golfers didn’t look carefully, they’d likely miss the nondescript signage and the perfectly maintained grass. They’d have no idea that both Tiger and Rory could actually be hitting balls less than a lob wedge away from them.

During the week of the PGA Tour’s 2013 Crowne Plaza Invitational, which is held just a few miles away from The Oven at Colonial Country Club, five lucky GolfWRX Members visited The Oven for a once-in-a-lifetime golf trip. They were told to bring their full set of golf clubs, but not so they could play a round of golf. Those clubs were to be analyzed in The Oven’s lab and on the range. At the end of the trip, all five members would be sent a full set of Nike Golf clubs that were hopefully better than their gamers.

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Click here to read more about the trip in the forums. 

It’s important to note that these were five GolfWRX members. If golf IQ was calculated by rounds logged, time spent reading about golf equipment and dollars spent tinkering with new clubs, these guys were full-fledged golf Einsteins. But unlike a lot of serious golfers, they weren’t closed off to the idea that clubs from Nike, a relative newcomer to the golf equipment industry, could beat the more established names in their bags.

Game on

After all five members (and three GolfWRX Staff members, including myself) landed in Fort Worth and checked into the Sheraton, we went to a more traditional Nike sports event – a Texas Rangers baseball game at the Ballpark at Arlington.

If Nike Golf’s PR Specialist Gretchen Wilhelm wanted us to watch the game, she made a mistake by inviting Nike Golf’s entire staff to come with us. The fittings and tour were supposed to take place on Tuesday morning, but started a day early – at least in spirit. We made our way around Nike’s two-room suite in left field and began asking the Nike team every question we could think of about Nike Golf clubs and the company.

“Where is Tiger on the Covert driver?”

“What was it like to sign Rory?”

“What do you guys think of (insert club) in (insert shaft) if I (insert trajectory problem)?”

Several drinks and barbeque-stained paper plates later, the game was over, and the anticipation of the next day’s fittings larger. In only a few short hours, the members would be testing their clubs against the Swoosh, and they couldn’t wait.

Oven Time

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The worst part about the trip to The Oven was the weeks spent waiting for it. That eagerness had to be at its worst when we first arrived on site and were told that our first stop would be a presentation. We were teased by a trophy cased filled with memorabilia from Tiger Woods’ most memorable wins on the way to an auditorium without a golf club in site.

Was it interesting to hear firsthand about Nike’s process for attracting the best athletes, creating products to enhance their greatness and delivering them to consumers in a delicious marketing sandwich? Absolutely. But the range was so close, and the R&D labs were right around the corner!

The Fittings

I’d always snickered at Nike’s habit of calling its golfers “athletes.” Was there something I didn’t know, like that Seung Yul Noh could reverse dunk or that Suzann Petterson was a former Olympic gymnast? Aren’t we talking about a game where it’s not too far-fetched to birdie a six-pack and six holes at the same time?

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums.

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If you take a look through the roster of Nike Golf athletes, it’s obvious that Nike takes the term “athlete” to heart with its signings. With the exception of a few, the Nike Golf Staff could alternate photo shoots at Golf Digest and Men’s Fitness. But according to Nike Golf Global Director of Communications, Beth Gast, the reason for the term goes deeper than that.

Gast says that Nike calls its golfers athletes because of the support the company gives them. Like Nike’s athletes in most other sports, Nike’s golfers are part of a team. That team — the engineers in R&D, the fitters and club builders at The Oven and the Nike staff that travels the on the PGA Tour — creates clubs, balls, shoes and clothes with the sole purpose of making its team of athletes better.

What the GolfWRX members probably didn’t expect was that for a day, they would become part of that team. They were about to go through an extensive fitting that went above and beyond what they’d ever done anywhere else: four stations (woods, irons, wedges and putters) that would tune each club to their habits and preferences.

I won’t bore you with the details of each members fitting, but here are the highlights:

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Tai (member name Pure745), a plus-handicap from California who is legendary for his custom-club habit, spent thousands of dollars on top driver heads and shafts for a launch monitor shootout, but he didn’t include Nike drivers in his testing. Nike’s VR_S Covert Tour driver beat his gamer in ball speed. Click here to read more about the fitting results from each player in the forums.

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George (member name MNNikeGuy) loved his Nike VR Pro Limited Edition driver, but found way more distance and consistency with a Nike VR_S Covert Performance driver with a UST Mamiya Pro Force VTS Red shaft.

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Ryan (member name swanry30) decided to part ways with his TaylorMade RocketBladez Tour irons for a set of Nike Pro Combo irons. The new irons and True Temper Project X iron shafts gave him more distances due to less spin, and a more penetrating ball flight that resulted in a tighter dispersion.

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums.

Scott (member name scotvw13) worked with Nike Golf’s College/Amateur Golf Manager Marlin “Cricket” Musch and has left his old wedges behind for a set of Nike new VR Forged wedges, which he was able to open up for high, soft shots around the green without fear of blading his shots.

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Shane (member name shakey) found that his Nike Method Midnight 006 putter was good, but he could do better. David Franklin, Nike’s putter guru who invented the Method putter, fit Shane into a Method Core MC11W putter that was an inch shorter and 1 degree more upright than his gamer. The results were a shorter skid and more consistent direction.

The Tour

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Rory McIlroy’s prototype Nike wedges, which received finishing touches on the grinding wheel before being sent off for testing. 

I thought the excitement level would drop off after the fittings, but I didn’t anticipate what was in store for us during the tour of The Oven’s R&D faculties.

Inside The Oven, we saw equipment that only a small percentage of golfers see (or care to see, really). We saw golf balls hurling toward club heads at speeds that are impossible for the average golfer to create (Nike calls it durability testing). We also saw how the acronyms that have come to define advances in the golf industry – COR, MOI, CG – are actually measured.

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In the “Grind Shop,” we saw a set of Tiger’s game-used Nike blade irons and sand wedge. If the members weren’t sold on the performance of the Nike clubs in their fittings, they were likely swayed by the awesomeness of being able to leave fingerprints on Woods’ clubs.

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums.

tiger woods nike equipment

Above: A photo of a Tiger Woods unfinished 60-degree wedge. Nike Master Model Maker Mike Taylor and his staff grind these raw wedge into the exact form of Tiger’s previous wedges using templets and models for comparison.

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Above: Photos of a Tiger Woods 56-degree wedge that he gamed and returned to the Oven. It has a moderate amount of bounce (10 to 14 degrees) and a blunted leading edge. The added bounce and blunted leading edge allow Tiger to get agressive with his wedge shots without fear of chunking it. 

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Above: Photos of Woods’ 7 iron (you can click to enlarge). The team at Nike Golf asked Tiger to send back one of his favorite set of gamer irons for research. When I asked Mike Taylor what he was looking for, he said: “Everything.”

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums.

Party

Like many great days, the night ended with a party. Kyle Stanley and Jhonattan Vegas joined us for a Q&A session, as well as some friendly competition where we tried to hit it inside Stanley’s wedge shots, and out putt Mr. Vegas.

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Above: Jhonny Vegas takes on a GolfWRXer in a putting contest.

There was food and drink as well – Chef Tim Love of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth created dishes that were much better than they sounded – Rattlesnake and Rabbit Sausage, Elk Burgers and Jalapeno Cucumber Margaritas.

Exotic food is good jumping off point to say this: things are not always as they seem. To paraphrase the five members I spoke to about the trip:

“It was even better than I expected it would be.”

The funny thing is, I feel the same way.

In the days since the trip, I’ve thought about how a trip to The Oven could be better than a group of golf junkies thought it could be. Just like the five members, I had a chance to test my golf clubs against Nike gear the next day, and think a few of them could beat the ones in my bag. But that’s not what made it great.

I’ll never forget the chills that ran through my body when I set up to a pretend golf ball in The Grind Shop with Tiger Woods’ 3 iron. It also was an honor to hit wedges and putts with Stanley and Vegas. But it wasn’t any of those things that made the trip better than I expected.

The trip was awesome because I got the feeling that there was a team of people working with me to learn new things and go new places with my game. The gear I’ll receive will simply be a reminder of my trip, and will hopefully give me a little extra confidence over my shots. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the golf industry, it’s that new models will be released next year. And we’ll be told that we need to have those clubs to play our best.

What won’t be replaced in the retail cycle is the feeling the trip gave me. For one day, I wasn’t just a golfer. I was an athlete with a whole team behind me. In a lonely game that is so dependent on confidence, that means a lot.

Click here to read more about the trip in the forums. 

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Thom

    Aug 19, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    they are getting better but I think a bit more history and accumulated knowledge will make them a bit more “everyman” friendly. But I have to say they have come quite a way since ’99.

  2. Scott

    Jun 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Other than Tiger has anyone won anything major playing with Nike clubs? You could put a set of Walmart clubs in Tigers hands and it wouldnt make a difference. Their not serious clubs. Clothes yes, clubs no. Rory hasnt won anything since switching to Nike and I believe he tried going back to his Cameron putter not too long ago.

    • peter

      Jun 4, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      @Scott: your first question disqualifies you from commenting – Duval, Immelman, Casey, Choi, Cink, Leonard, Ames, Schwartzel… just to start the list

  3. Swooshmeup

    Jun 2, 2013 at 1:55 am

    Solid… Nike rocks!

  4. Rj

    May 29, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Hope it was great! Looked like a group of nike fan boys with their clothes.

  5. Ken

    May 29, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    You can have all the fittings in the world but until you take the junk out and try it seriously it ain’t nothing but metal. I spent over $2K doing all this great stuff and ebayed it after 1 month. I know it wasn’t me because I am a low single digit and have been playing golf for 42 years including some national amateur events. This is not knocking NIKE but fairways, greens and the environment we play in are never the same. I use different wedges depending on the course because bounce is everything and courses play differently. These guys were fit for that day at that NIKE driving range and practice area and that is it. I would be curious to know of the 5, who is still gaming what NIKE fit them with? Would you use the same driver in Texas in the summer you use in Florida in the summer, I would hope not, at least not the same loft because the ball gets zero roll in Florida in the summer. I guarantee that wedge you play on muni’s is not the same wedge to play at some exclusive private enclave. Do you use the same putter for a 7 stimper and a 12 stimp green or for bermuda versus bent. Don’t think for a second the pros use the same clubs every tournament and that is why shotmaking is not what it used to be 40 years ago either.

  6. Ryan Tracy

    May 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Wow, that must have been an awesome experience! I enjoyed reading all of the blog entries and I wish I had been able to go!

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Equipment

SPOTTED: A PXG “XXF prototype” driver in Charles Howell III’s bag

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In December, we spotted a PXG XXF driver, along with two other PXG drivers, on the USGA conforming clubs list. Flash forward to Monday at the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge, we spotted an XXF prototype driver in person in the bag of PXG staffer and club-tinkerer Charles Howell III.

We are told the XXF driver in CHII’s bag is only a prototype, and that it may never actually be released to the public.

As we originally postulated, it seems from the layout of the weights, or screws, that the XXF prototype is a fade-biased driver; that’s because there are three screws out on the toe portion of the sole, but none on the heel portion. We also guessed that the PXG ZZ has a neutral bias and the PXG XX is a draw-biased driver.

The last official driver release from PXG was a line of 0811X drivers that introduced thermoplastic elastomer inserts into the soles of the drivers to help lower center of gravity — making the drivers more forgiving and spin less — and to dampen vibrations, enhancing sound and feel. Since we haven’t cut open the XXF prototype driver we spotted in CHIII’s bag, we don’t know whether it also has a TPE insert in the sole. But, if the material lowered CG in the 0811X drivers, it’s likely the material would make it’s way into the XXF prototype driver in some capacity to achieve similar results.

From the photos, CHIII is testing the XXF prototype driver with a Mitsubishi Tensei CK Blue shaft. We’ll keep an eye out to see whether he puts the driver into play this week, and we’ll update you with more information on the XXF driver if it becomes available.

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the PXG XXF driver in our forums

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Callaway launches new Rogue, Rogue Sub Zero and Rogue Draw drivers, and fairway woods

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With its Jailbreak technology, Callaway’s GBB Epic drivers were the No. 1-selling drivers in the United States in 2017; actually, according to Callaway, they were the No. 1-selling drivers every month in the U.S. in 2017.

How do you back that up? How do you replace a driver that’s been so successful?

Well, apparently you don’t.

Callaway’s new Rogue, Rogue Sub Zero and Rogue Draw drivers, as Callaway says, do not replace its GBB Epic and GBB Epic Sub Zero drivers of last year. Instead, Rogue is an all-new line that improves on the Epic technologies, but the company will continue to sell its Epic drivers.

Actually, if you follow Callaway’s trends over recent years, you may realize that the company should be coming out with an XR 18 line of drivers and fairway woods. That’s not the case, however. In this sense, Callaway is “going rogue.” Company representatives say that with the new Rogue drivers and fairway woods, the company is “doing what the industry is not expecting us to do.” This means that instead of coming out with an XR 18 driver at a price point of say $379, it is launching the Rogue drivers at $499.99 and packing them with improved-upon technologies than were in the Epic drivers, for more forgiveness and better aerodynamics. Callaway also says “the XR line is done for us.”

The original Jailbreak technology in the Epic drivers consisted of two titanium bars that sat behind the face; the idea is that the bars gave the structure more strength, or stiffened the crown and sole, to allow the faces to be made thinner, and therefore faster, without sacrificing durability. But with the Rogue drivers, Callaway wanted to save weight from these bars in order to displace the weight elsewhere (re: lower and more rearward in the head for more forgiveness). So Callaway’s engineers designed new hourglass-shaped Jailbreak bars, which are thinner in the middle portions of the titanium bars, and thicker near the crown and sole. This allowed the company to save 25 percent of the weight from the Jailbreak design without sacrificing the benefits of higher ball speeds across the face. You’ll notice from address (in the photo below) that the body looks a bit more stretched out than the Epic drivers; that’s to drive CG (center of gravity) more rearward to raise MOI (moment of inertia, a measure of forgiveness). The new hourglass design allowed that to be possible, as well getting rid of the weight-shifting track in the rear of the sole, as seen on the Epic drivers.

Callaway’s Rogue drivers, unlike the GBB Epic drivers, use the Boeing aero package — equipped with speed trips on the crown and an overall more aerodynamic shape — that the company introduced in the XR 16 drivers. The Rogue drivers also use a new X Face VFT technology that uses variable face thicknesses across the face to boost ball speeds on off-center strikes. The triaxial carbon crowns of the Rogue, which Callaway calls it’s largest carbon crowns ever, also save weight from the top of the club that is displaced lower in the heads to drive CG lower and more rearward.

The overall result is 0.6 mph more club head speed from the Rogue drivers compared to the GBB Epic, according to Callaway, and a 16 percent tighter dispersion.

There are three different models in the Rogue driver series: Callaway Rogue, Rogue Sub Zero and Rogue Draw. The relationship between the Rogue and Rogue Sub Zero is the same as it was between the GBB Epic and the GBB Epic Sub Zero, with the standard version having a larger profile and more shallow face, while the Sub Zero is a bit lower-spinning with a more compact look and a deeper face. The Rogue Sub Zero has two interchangeable weights (2 grams and 14 grams) that produces about 200 rpm of change between the two settings, according to Callaway.

The new Rogue Draw, with a 5-gram screw in the sole toward the heel, and with additional internal heel wighting, is for those golfers who want to fix their slice. The GBB Epic driver, with the 17-gram weight all the way in heel, hit the golf ball 11 yards left of center, according to Callaway’s testing. The Rogue Draw hits it 18 yards left of center. That means the Rogue Draw will draw the ball 7 yards farther than a GBB Epic set to draw.

The Rogue, Rogue Sub Zero and Rogue Draw drivers will be available at retail on February 9 for $499.99 each. Callaway Customs will also be available on each of the drivers in March. See below for more information on stock shafts, and keep reading for info on the fairway woods.

Discussion: See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the Rogue drivers and fairways in our forums

Callaway Rogue driver

Stock shafts for the standard Rogue range from 40-70 gram options, including Aldila’s Synergy and Quaranta shafts, and Project X’s EvenFlow and HZRDUS Yellow shafts.

Callaway Rogue Sub Zero driver

Stock shafts for the Rogue Sub Zero range from 50-70 gram options, including Aldila’s Synergy, Project X’s EvenFlow, and Project X’s HZRDUS Yellow.

Callaway Rogue Draw driver

The Rogue Draw is available in 9, 10.5 and 13 degree lofts. Stock shafts include the same offerings as the standard Rogue model, which include Aldila’s Synergy and Quaranta shafts, and Project X’s EvenFlow and HZRDUS Yellow shafts.

Callaway Rogue and Rogue Sub Zero fairway woods

Callaway’s Epic fairway woods did not have Jailbreak technology, but the Rogue fairways do. Also, unlike the hourglass-Jailbreak that’s in the Rogue drivers, the Rogue fairway woods do not have the hourglass shape, and they’re made from steel instead of titanium. According to Callaway, while it wanted to make the Jailbreak technology lighter in the drivers, it actually wanted to make it heavier in the fairways, thus they’re made from steel and do not have the weight-saving hourglass shape.

Jailbreak in the Rogue fairway woods combines with Callaway’s familiar Face Cup technology. The Rogue fairway woods faces are made from “ultra-thin” Carpenter 455 steel, and the Face Cup is designed to boost ball speeds on off-center hits. Additionally, the Rogue fairways use Callaway’s Internal Standing Wave to position CG low-and-forward for high launch and low spin, they use triaxial carbon crowns to save weight from the top portions of the club to also shift CG lower, and they use the Boeing aero package for more club head speed.

The Rogue Sub Zero fairway woods, which have more compact shapes and deeper faces, also have a 5-gram weight in the forward portion of their soles in order to driver CG even more forward. This design will help high-spin golfers lower spin for more distance.

The Rogue and Rogue Sub Zero fairway woods will sell for $299.99 each starting on February 9. See below for shaft details.

Callaway Rogue fairway wood

Callaway says the Rogue fairways (13.5, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23 and 25 degrees) are available in multiple premium shafts and weights ranging from 40-80 grams.

Callaway Rogue Sub Zero fairway wood

Callaway says the Rogue Sub Zero fairways (13.5, 15 and 18 degrees) are available in multiple premium shaft brands ranging from 60-80 grams.

Discussion: See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the Rogue drivers and fairways in our forums

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Ping’s new Glide 2.0 “Stealth” wedges, and Vault 2.0 putters

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Today, in addition to the G400 Max driver and the G700 irons, Ping also launched Glide 2.0 Stealth wedges, and the Vault 2.0 putters that we first spotted at the 2018 Sony Open in Hawaii. Each of the products are currently available for pre-order. See below for tech info, photos and more about the offerings.

Glide 2.0 Stealth wedges

Unlike the original Glide 2.0 wedges, which were made from 431 stainless steel, the Glide 2.0 Stealth wedges are made from 8620 carbon steel for a softer feel. More obviously, they have a different, darker finish that reduces glare and “makes the wedges seem smaller,” according to Ping. The finish is applied using something called a Quench Polish Quench process for greater durability.

The wedges also have a milled, wheel-cut “half-groove” near the leading edge of the higher-lofted wedges (56, 58 and 60 degrees) to increase spin on shots hit low on the face.

Like the Glide 2.0 wedges, the Stealth versions also have progressive groove designs, which means the grooves in the lower-lofted wedges (46, 50 and 52 degrees) have a larger edge radius than the higher-lofted wedges. Therefore, the lower-lofted wedges will perform a bit more like irons, while the higher-lofted wedges will have additional spin for more control around the greens.

The Stealth wedges come in 17 loft-grind combinations, as listed below:

  • SS Grind (46-12, 50-12, 52-12, 54-12, 56-12, 58-10 and 60-10)
  • WS Grind (54-14, 56-14, 58-14 and 60-14)
  • TS Grind (58-06 and 60-06)
  • ES Grind (54-08, 56-08, 58-08 and 60-08)

They come stock with either Ping’s AWT 2.0 steel shaft ($150) or Ping’s CFS graphite shaft ($175). Additional shafts are also available at no upcharge.

Click here for discussion and more photos of the wedges

Vault 2.0 putters

Ping’s new Vault 2.0 putters have a greater focus than ever on fitting. Using a new custom-weighting system, the putters are available with either steel sole plates, tungsten sole plates that are 15-grams heavier than steel, or aluminum sole plates that are 15 grams lighter than steel. Putters between 34 and 36 inches use steel, putters 36 and longer use aluminum, and putters 34 inches and shorter use tungsten. This allows golfers to have a putter with the correct feel and balance no matter the length.

The 100-percent-milled putters also use Ping’s True Roll technology in their faces, evident by the pattern of cross-hatched grooves that are varied in depth across the face to increase speed on off-center hits. The goal with this face design is to get the speed the golfer needs on longer putts, even if the contact is on the heel or toe.

Five of the putter models (aside from the Ketsch) are made from 303 stainless steel and are available in three finishes: Stealth, Platinum and Copper. The Ketsch mallet is available in two finishes, Stealth or Slate, and combines a 6061 Aluminum body with a stainless steel sole plate. Grip options for the putters include the PP60 (a midsize design with foam under-listing), the PP61 (an “exaggerated pistol” with a rubber under-listing), the PP62 (over-sized with a rounded profile) or the CB60 (the standard counterbalanced grip).

Get the specs for each of the new Vault 2.0 putters below, which sell for $325 apiece.

Vault 2.0 Dale Anser

The new Dale Anser is “inspired by one of the original Anser putter molds created by Allan Dale Solheim and detailed by his father, Karsten Solheim,” according to Ping.

  • Weight: 350 grams
  • Toe Hang: Slight Arc
  • Standard length: 35 inches
  • Loft: 3 degrees
  • Lie Angle: Adjustable +/- 4 degrees

See more photos here.

Vault 2.0 Voss

  • Weight: 350 grams
  • Finish: Available in Stealth finish (Copper or Platinum available on special order)
  • Toe Hang: Slight Arc
  • Length: 35 inches
  • Loft: 3 degree
  • Lie Angle: Adjustable +/- 4 degrees

See more photos here.

Vault 2.0 B60

  • Weight: 355 grams
  • Finish: Available in Stealth or Copper finish (Platinum available special order)
  • Toe Hang: Slight Arc
  • Length: 35 inches
  • Loft: 3 degrees
  • Lie Angle: Adjustable +/- 4 degrees

See more photos here.

Vault 2.0 ZB

  • Weight: 350 grams
  • Finish: Available in Platinum (Copper or Stealth available special order)
  • Toe Hang: Slight Arc
  • Length: 35 inches
  • Loft: 3 degrees
  • Lie Angle: Adjustable +/- 4 degrees

See more photos here.

Vault 2.0 Piper (Mid-Mallet)

  • Weight: 360 grams
  • Finish: Available in Stealth finish (Copper or Platinum available special order)
  • Toe Hang: Slight Arc or Straight
  • Length: 35 inches
  • Loft: 3 degrees
  • Lie Angle: Adjustable +/- 2 degrees

See more photos here.

Vault 2.0 Ketsch (Mallet)

  • Weight: 365 grams
  • Finish: Available in Stealth finish (Slate finish available special order)
  • Toe Hang: Slight Arc or Straight
  • Length: 35 inches
  • Loft: 3 degrees
  • Lie Angle: Adjustable +/- 2 degrees

Click here for discussion and more photos of the putters.

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