Editor Review 4/24/2012:
Pros: Cannon! This Driver can bomb drives. Instils confidence at address.
Cons: Try to get fitted or hit before you buy to pick the right shaft
Bottom Line: This is a monster and needs to be considered when testing drivers
A little background on me – I’m 35 years old, played for about 25 years, and my current index is 3.1. I generally fluctuate between 1 and 4. My driver SS is around 115, though it’s not quite up there yet, as it’s early in the season. The biggest issues in my game are putting and the occasional big miss off the tee (usually either a block or a big hook). My testing for this review involved playing about a half dozen rounds (mostly in Texas, though a couple were in Michigan), a couple of range sessions, and one session on “Trackman the Game” at a local shop to get some hard numbers on each club. When I get to those results, I’m not going to include distances, because the day I got these numbers, it was about 45 degrees with a 15-20mph tailwind, so I don’t think there’s a lot of value there. My testing methodology was to hit 10 shots with each club, switching clubs after 5 balls. With the 3 woods, the first 5 shots were hit off the deck and the next 5 were hit off a tee. I threw out any swings where I totally mishit it (maybe a half-dozen shots in total were thrown out). Numbers provided are averages for each club. Now, onto the review!
The VR_S driver has a pretty traditional appearance at address. The shape is rounded, with no sharp edges. There is no alignment aid to speak of on the crown, which is something that I’ve grown to prefer. The clubface has a couple of different alignment cues with the “NexCor” graphic in the middle of the face, as well as the grooves framing the center, which are very adequate for lining up the center of the face to the ball. The face is also pretty deep, which is a look that I like, and it’s one of the primary things I like about the look of the VR_S compared to my TL310. There are some crown graphics which are more for appearances than for alignment. I generally prefer an unadorned crown, but I don’t find the graphics to be distracting or ostentatious. The driver also has the Str8 Fit technology that allows it to adjusted to 8 different loft/lie settings, and allows easy shaft switching. My understanding is that previous iterations of this adjustability were controlled by a mechanism on the hosel, and that hosel design was a sore spot for a lot of people as far as appearance goes. The new version is essentially the same idea as what TaylorMade uses, and the hosel on the VR_S looks completely normal.
The headcover is pretty sharp looking, but over the course of a few rounds, I found that it isn’t a great design for protecting the head. The driver head slides into the top of the cover, and is secured with a magnetic closure near the bottom of the cover, which is clasped around the shaft. However, there is a pretty large amount of the crown that is still exposed to other items in the bag. I have a couple of alignment sticks that I keep in my bag (they get more use as a hanger to keep track of my putter cover while I’m by the green), and those got into the gap in the driver headcover a few times and scuffed up the crown a bit. To protect the head, I’d recommend a different headcover.
Performance/Playability Off the tee, my primary concern is avoiding a big hook, because that’s a shot that just kills me. I’ve been very happy with my Cleveland TL310 in this regard, because, despite the light construction, it is very good about keeping the left side out of play. The VR_S driver has a very similar headweight as the TL310 (It’s actually a few grams lighter), and with the same shaft, I expected similar results. My first range session with the driver, I experimented with some different settings. In the standard setting, I found myself hitting some pretty big hooks, and the same was true of the upright setting (both left the effective loft at 8.5*. I eventually settled on the “R” setting, which drops the loft to 7.5*. This resulted in a pretty flat trajectory and minimized any movement to the left (aside from some bad swings that no technology can save). The low trajectory also seemed like a good thing for the time that I was going to be spending in Texas (4 rounds). In comparisons to my TL310, the distance seemed like it was comparable, though with a lower trajectory. One round in Michigan prior to my trip seemed to bear this out. I was hitting the ball about the distances I would expect, based on SkyCaddie readings. However, I did find that the miss to the left was more prevalent, so that was a negative. But I hit 6/11 fairways with it, which isn’t terrible for me for my first round in a month. My first two rounds in Texas, I drove the ball great, except for one snap hook OB in the second round. I was 8/12 in fairways the first round, and a better than it looks 6/11 on a very tight course the second round. That one hook was the only penalty stroke I incurred during those two rounds, and a couple of the missed fairways were due to the ball going farther than expected into bunkers. After that, my swing kind of fell apart, and my driving accuracy fell off. In total, in 6 rounds played, I hit 56% of fairways, compared with 60% with my TL 310. With the small sample size, and the inclusion of a couple of early season rounds where I didn’t have my best stuff, I’d consider this to be a pretty even battle. I hit a few absolute bombs with this driver during this trip – one involved driving it just over the green on a 340 yard par 4 (with a 15 mph tailwind and a rock hard fairway, but hey, I’ll take what I can get)
Forgiveness-wise, I found that toe shots went a long way – almost no distance loss. This is an area where the Nike clearly beat my TL310. Though my gamer is forgiving, it’s also a slightly smaller head, and that extra volume seems to give a little extra forgiveness on misses. Heel contact, which is my primary miss with the driver is punished a little more, but I’ve yet to find a driver that gives a great result when you hit it off the heel. Since I returned to Michigan, I’ve adjusted the driver back to the neutral setting to get a little higher launch, and the launch monitor results are with the driver in that setting.
Launch monitor results
The carry distance was within 3 yards of each other and overall was within 4 yards, with a slight edge to the Cleveland. The monitor showed that there was no significant difference in performance between the two clubs:
Nike: Ball speed – 158.7, Launch – 10.8*, Spin – 2692
Cleveland: Ball speed – 158.8, Launch – 11.1*, Spin – 2665
I really like the feel of the VR_S driver. Prior to this, I don’t think I had ever hit more than a couple of balls with any Nike woods. The VR_S feels powerful, like the ball is shooting off the face – almost a little feeling like the face is a trampoline. It gives very good feedback – off-center strikes lack that explosive feeling that you get when you hit it on the screws. The sound is pleasant to my ears, as well. My TL310 has a decidedly high-pitched sound, which I don’t love, while the Nike has a deeper tone to it. It’s a little more hollow sounding than the sound I associate with the VR Tour/Pro drivers (I’ve played with a few good players who have used those drivers over the past year, so I’m pretty familiar with their sound), and I prefer the VR_S sound.
The Bottom Line
The VR_S driver is a definite contender to be in my the bag this year, but it’s most likely going to be with a different shaft, if that’s the case. I love the feel of the head, and I think with the right shaft, it could be a monster. I don’t think the C.Kua is the best shaft for this head, and I think it would benefit from a higher launch/low spin shaft. I placed an order for a GD AD-DI 6 to try in it, and I will update this review when I’ve had a chance to try that out. I also ordered the new shaft to play at 45″ in the VR_S head, because I think some of the control issues may be related to the extra half inch of shaft length. The VR_S is supposed to be a lower spin head than the TL310, and as I get back the few MPH that I dropped during the winter, I think that will become more important. If you’re looking for a driver that’s a little under the radar this year, I’d recommend giving the VR_S a shot, but be sure to get fitted for the right shaft. My understanding of the stock Fubuki K shaft is that it won’t be a good fit for a lot of the big hitters that populate WRX. Nike has a pretty good selection of custom shafts available, so you should be able to find a winning combination.
Here is a video interview with Nike Golf Tom Stites: