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Equipment changes come full circle for Choi

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By Zak Kozuchowski

GolfWRX Managing Editor

There’s a simple rule most golfers follow when making equipment changes – don’t mess with success.

And golfers certainly shouldn’t switch from a set of clubs that helped them win the biggest tournament of their lives – at least not for a while. But that’s exactly what K.J. Choi, winner of The Players Championship last year, has done in 2012.

In early March, Choi put away the set of Miura CB-501 irons that he used in his victory at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course for a set of Cleveland 588 CB Forged irons. Just a few weeks later he sampled another manufacturer’s clubs, Ping i20 irons. But as the one-year anniversary of Choi’s win approaches, he again finds himself using the same set of irons that he used last year at The Players.

Many people will jump to point out that Choi’s tinkering was unnecessary – he should have been working on his game instead of trying to catch lightning in a bottle with an equipment change, they might say. But there’s another way of thinking about equipment changes. Bill Choung of CompuGolf Center in Dallas has been working with Choi on his equipment since March 2010. Since Choung opened CompuGolf nine years ago, he has been seeking to answer a simple question,

“How does an equipment change impact the golf swing?”

He’s found that changing equipment has a very real impact on a player’s swing, especially with tempo and rhythm.

The goal of Choung’s work with Choi has been to give Choi a higher trajectory and more spin on his iron shots. Choi felt that he wasn’t hitting the ball high enough or with enough spin to control his distances at major championships – setups that generally have firm greens and tight pin positions.

There are several different ways of achieving that goal, and Choi and Choung have tried just about all of them. Choi played the 2011 Masters with a 6-iron hybrid, which gave him a higher trajectory, more forgiveness and more spin. But Choi felt that he was sacrificing workability and feel, which led to more experimenting.

Choung hit paydirt when he built Choi a set of Miura CB-501 irons just days before the 2011 Zurich Classic. To create Choi’s desired ball flight, Choung used KBS Tour parallel tip shafts, which are different than the taper tip shafts used by nearly every other PGA Tour player. Whereas taper tip shafts are precut to a specific length for a certain club (6 iron shafts are generally used in 6 iron heads), parallel tip shafts are uncut, which means that they can be trimmed to fit any iron head. This allows the club builder to trim the shafts to the exact stiffness that a player desires.

Shaft stiffness, which is measured by the frequency of a shaft, is important because according to Choung it changes the way a player loads and unloads the club during the swing. When trimming Choi’s parallel tip shafts, Choung cut more off the butt end of the shaft and less off the tip, creating a “softer” tip that allowed for a higher trajectory and more spin. Choi liked the combination of the parallel tip shafts and the Miura CB-501 head, and the results proved it. That week he put the clubs in play to finish in the top 5 at the 2011 Zurich Classic, and of course, to win The Players two weeks later.

There are at least two reasons why Choi decided to change from the iron set that brought him a $1.7 million payday and a new level of fame in the golf world. First, he received information that parallel tip shafts were not generally played on the PGA Tour, which made him interested in trying taper tip shafts. Second, he changed because he was in the process of trying out different iron heads and shaft combinations that he thought might improve on the results of the Miura set he used to win The Players.

When Choi changed to a taper tip shaft, he was forced to use a softer flex to give him the trajectory he wanted. While this resulted in the desired higher flight, he lost consistency and control.

Science or art?

Talking about Choi’s golf clubs in terms of shaft frequency, spin rate and launch angle creates the assumption that his swing is always the same. While Choi does have one of the most consistent golf swings on Tour, even he falls in and out of bad habits. That’s why it’s Choung’s belief that no matter how technically sound a golfer’s fundamentals are, the golf swing is still an organic movement.

“When [golfers] change clubs, what they are really doing is changing their swing,” Choung said. “More than anything, they are inducing a change in tempo and rhythm.”

So it’s no surprise to Choung that Choi has returned to his Miura CB-501 irons with parallel tip shafts. He was struggling during the time he was playing Cleveland and Ping irons, shooting only two rounds in the 60s during that period. Last week, when he returned to the Miuras, he shot two rounds in the 60s and finished tied for 39th. It wasn’t a huge improvement, but it was his best finish in relation to par since the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January.

Choung said that Choi’s performance since switching back to parallel tip shafts might have improved because of the increased tip diameter of parallel tip shafts — .370 inches instead of the .355 inch tip that taper tip shafts offer. So why don’t more Tour pros opt for parallel tip shafts if they offer more stability? According to Choung, it’s because parallel tip shafts are much more labor intensive to build. Choung and his staff at CompuGolf can build a set of taper tip shafts in about 30 minutes, while it takes them about three hours to build a set of parallel tip shafts.

A lot of independent club builders and even Tour vans can’t justify spending extra time to create frequency-matched sets either, but Choung’s research has shown the value in it. Because of the chaotic nature of the shaft industry, where one industry’s stiff flex is another’s x-flex, Choung places huge value in frequency matching, which streamlines the frequency throughout the set. For example, Choi’s driver shaft frequency, the base measurement Choung uses to find the frequencies for the rest of his clubs, is 271. As shaft length decrease, however, frequency must increase to match. Choung and his team did testing of exactly how many cycles frequency should increase as the shaft shortens .5 inches, and their researched concluded that four cycles is best. That’s why Choi’s 4 iron, which measures 38.5 inches, has a frequency of 314, while his 60 degree wedge, which measures 34.5 inches, has a frequency of 334.

So what does all this mean for the average golfer? Even if you don’t swing like Choi, Choung said that there is still good reason to go through a verifiable fitting process, especially processes like his that have an improvement guarantee.

“A lot of golfers come to me and they say I’m hitting my driver well, but can’t hit my irons,” Choung said. “Or they say that they’re hitting their irons well and can’t hit their driver. Often there’s a total mismatch between the driver and the irons. They’ve adapted their swings to either the driver or the irons.”

If you still can’t be swayed to go through a custom-fitting process, Choung has this advice for you. The club that you liked demoing so much – buy it. But don’t order it. Buy that exact club. Because chances are, the one you order will be slightly different.

Click here for more discussion in the “Clubmaking” forum.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. John

    Sep 19, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Jon, oftentimes players prefer softer wedges as they are not making full/all-out swings with those clubs. They are looking for more feel and control in the short, scoring shots. For this reason, we often build the wedges a little softer than the rest of the set.

  2. Jon

    Jul 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    I don’t understand the math. If 4 cycles per 0.5 inches is the rate, how do we go from a 38.5″ 4 iron at 314 cpm to a 34.5″ wedge at 334 cpm? Four inches is eight one-half inches, times 4 cycles, is 32 cycles. 314+32=346, not 334. The article makes no sense.

  3. Michael

    Jun 8, 2012 at 4:33 am

    Old news from the building stand point. I try to avoid using taper tip shafts, since you can’t make a set with a correct frequency slope. You would have to have to many sets in your workshop, to do it right and you would have to through away to many shafts, that just don’t fit into a matched set. This is why I always try to work with parallel tips.

  4. Tim

    May 17, 2012 at 1:23 am

    Mike, Really? That my friend, is how you frequency match a set of clubs.

  5. Ian

    May 12, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Bill Choung does great work. He did several clubs for me in Dallas years ago as well as clubs for many of my friends….the work was always first class

  6. Mike Krzewsky

    May 11, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I heard this guy is not all that great and he had originally messed up KJ’s clubs by cutting the tip end instead of the butt end.

  7. Brian Cass

    May 11, 2012 at 9:59 am

    This is why Villegas and McDowell have struggled after seemingly nonsensical equipment changes (McDowell wins at Pebble then takes a signing bonus to Srixon…where’s he been of late?) Villegas wins Honda then switches to TMade (where’s he been of late???).

  8. Sam

    May 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Had that exact same thing done several years ago to a set (frequency matched parallel tip shafts installed). Initially felt soft but played some marvelous rounds with them. Went back to tapered tips and regretted selling the set ever since.

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Equipment

Callaway Epic Forged irons: Premium speed in a forged body

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With the release of the original Epic irons, Callaway did something they had never done before—build an iron that oozed ball speed and hid a lot of tech in a mid-sized package. Now imagine all that technology and greater speed in a more refined shape with a forged body…that is the all-new Epic Forged.

Built with the idea of offering speed and shotmaking in one package, the Epic Forged achieves all of that thanks to tech that is being used for the first time in a forged iron. The most notable being the Suspended Tungsten Core—which is comprised of the densest form of this heavy element. The issue with using this almost pure form of Tungsten is that it’s extremely hard to work with when using conventional construction methods. But Callaway defies convention and is using the patented Urethane Microspheres in the Suspended Tungsten core of the Epic Forged to precisely position mass creating the ideal center of gravity. This promotes controlled launch and spin, while allowing the face to flex as needed to create maximum ball speeds.

So what good is all this speed if you can’t control it?

Variable Face Thickness: Sure this tech isn’t new, it dates back to the above Hawkeye VFT driver (that was a great driver in its day), but if the Epic Flash driver has taught us anything, it’s that by looking beyond convention you can find new ways to utilize known technology. Built into the 360 Cup Face, the newly designed VFT pattern helps players achieve even more consistent ball speed and spin rates club to club. The reason this is so important: Callaway knows even average golfers want a club they can hit controlled shots with. A 7-iron isn’t any good if you’re not confident in the hitting the shot you want to.

Don’t think that we’re done talking about what these have under the hood just yet…

Since the Epic Forged irons go all the way into a sand wedge, there were some design decisions to be made to on how to make sure the scoring and recovery clubs still offer forgiveness but with even greater consistency and feel, Starting at the approach wedge and going to the sand wedge (the set goes PW, AW, GW, SW), instead of using the 17-4 SS cup face, Callaway engineers are using a forged faceplate to compliment the forged body. Inside of these still-hollow wedges, they are using a resistance welding technique to precisely locate a MIM (metal injection molded) Tungsten weight to achieve superior trajectory control.

The last piece to the puzzle.

A club will always be the sum of its parts and Callaway is pulling out all the stops with the Epic Star Forged set and the components that will accompany this technology package. The stock options will include Aerotech Steelfiber FC (flight control) and Mitsubishi Chemical’s  Tensei AV Silver shaft to optimize feel and control.  The other upgrade is the Golf Pride Tour Velvet Align Silver Grips (Align grips offer a textured raised rib on the bottom of the grip to help the golfer place their hands in the same position over and over again). All of these pieces come together to create a premium iron from Callaway.

The Epic Forged will be available at retail starting August 2nd. 4-SW. Retail price of $300 per iron.

 

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Equipment

Callaway Epic Flash Star line: Light and launchable

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Imagine being given one job as a design team…

Make it light, use all available technology, make it look really good, and make it fast.

This is the Callaway Epic Flash Star.

This new Callaway Epic Flash Star line includes a driver, fairway woods, hybrids, and a set of forged irons—because forged can be fast too, like really fast. This lineup, which is an update to the original Callaway Epic Star line, is introducing improvements across the board and sets a new level of performance in the premium lightweight equipment category.

When it comes to designing ultra lightweight clubs, there are some serious design challenges because you are limited by the amount of mass you can use move around based on the final target total weight. Even with these challenges Callaway engineers along with component partners have produced a set of clubs that incorporate every available piece of technology, including Flash Face and Jailbreak, to help slower swing speed golfers get back more distance from everywhere. I know it often sounds silly but stats prove that for every club less a player hits into a green, the likelihood of making a lower number goes up. This is why golfers in need of more speed will benefit from a set that allows them to hit those shorter clubs more often.

Epic Flash Star Driver

50 grams.

Thats the difference in total weight between the new Star and the standard Epic Flash Driver. Thats MASSIVE! 50 grams is 22-25 percent the mass of a traditional driver head on its own and when talking about the whole package thats a mass reduction of just under 16 percent ( 15.8 percent to be precise ). Engineers work tirelessly to shave three grams here and four grams there when it comes to club design being able to get 50g out of what is already the lightest club in the bag is astonishing. A lot of that weight reduction comes from the removal of the adjustable hosel making the Epic Flash Star the only driver in the Callaway lineup with a non adjustable hosel. No hosel adjustability means offering more loft options, which include a 10.5, 12, and now a 13.5 degrees (perfect for those golfers who have a difficulty getting the ball into the air).

As I have said before, a club is only as good as the sum of its parts, and there is no ignoring the fact that thanks to UST Mamiya, the Epic Flash Star is equipped with a 30-gram shaft: the Attas Speed—yeah you read that right 30 grams! The Attus Speed, until now, has been a product available exclusively in Japan (a golf market know for not turning an eye to premium performing products when they offer a tangible benefit), and is now available in North America.

Don’t think for a second that they are stopping at the shaft either: The club will also feature a Golf Pride 30g JLoo grip. All of this combines together to help slower swing speed players deliver the head back to the ball as fast as they can, with more consistency. All this adds up to a driver that has the potential to deliver some major gains.

Retail price will be $699.99

Epic Flash Star Fairway Woods and Hybrids

Much like the Star driver, the fairway woods incorporate proven technologies, including Jailbreak, Flash Face, and Face Cup—the same tech that has been making Callaway fairways woods some of the longest available dating back to the XR (remember how fast those were compared to everything else?). To give you a refresher on what the Face Cup does, it uses variable face thickness built into the forged 455 Carpenter steel face to promote fast ball speed on all shots especially mishits.  It does this by having the thinnest parts act like a hinge that’s activated the face and gives you all the “spring” you need (within the legal limit).

More weight is repositioned to create greater forgiveness and lower the COG thanks to a new T2C triaxial carbon crown and fixed hosel.

Since this is a full line launch the other similarities include a 40-gram ATTAS Speed shaft and choice of JL00 or J200 (42g) grip. Availability includes  3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 models which is a big expansion versus the original Start line which only went up the the 21-degree 7-wood. Considering the player demographic for these clubs, the 9 and 11s are going to be very popular.

Retail price is $399.99

Epic Flash Star Forged Irons

Meant to be launched!

The Epic Star irons are an ultra-premium forged iron designed for pure acoustics, feel, and explosive distance. Using what Callaway is calling an infinite black finish, every detail was carefully thought out in an effort to help golfers in need of distance get every technological advantage they can.

Just like with the standard Epic Flash, Callaway is using a suspended tungsten core for greater control over launch and spin while High-COR Faces with 360 Face Cup Technology maximize distance off the center and off of mishits. To also help with distance the lofts of the Flash irons are stronger BUT…thanks to the optimized CG locations (ala suspended tungsten ), and super hot faces, the peak heights are less affected.

Just like with the rest of the Star Line, the greatest design advantage they offer beyond the clubhead is the incredibly lightweight total club weight to help players in need of speed maximum their ability and in the end create great swing speed. Thanks to the UST ATTUS Speed ultra-premium iron shaft coming in at only 40 and 50 grams respectively (depending on set configuration and fitting), along with the same Golf Pride 30g JLoo grip used in the rest of the set—players should expect to see at least a whole club gained in distance.

The Epic Star Forged irons are available from 5-iron to sand wedge with a retail price of $325 per club.

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Equipment

Callaway launches technology-packed Epic Flash hybrids

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With Epic Flash drivers and fairway woods firmly in the marketplace, Callaway is following up last year’s Rogue hybrid with the launch of the Callaway Epic Flash hybrid.

Like the Rogue, the Epic Flash Hybrid features Jailbreak Technology for maximum energy transfer. Of course, like with the Epic Flash driver relative to the Rogue, the technology is improved upon in this iteration, according to the company.

Also returning in a new-and-improved form: Callaway’s forged Carpenter 455 steel Face Cup technology-infused clubface.

From the new technology standpoint: Callaway incorporates a MIM’ed (Metal-Injected Molding) Tungsten weight into the sole of the clubhead for “enhanced launch and trajectory,” as well as overall forgiveness.

Additionally, Callaway incorporates its proprietary triaxial carbon fabric (T2C—first used in Epic Flash driver) in a hybrid for the first time. The T2C crown’s weave allows Callaway engineers to allocate more weight lower and deeper in the clubhead.

Product at retail: 8/2. Pricing: $300 each

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