Scott Manwaring, Callaway’s director of R&D for irons, hybrids and wedges, has been with the company for nearly two decades, and he’s worked in club design since the mid-2000s. He’s seen a lot in his time at the Carlsbad-based company, which under the direction of CEO Chip Brewer, is putting product front-and-center, according to the R&D specialist.
The company’s latest product to stand front and center: Callaway’s XR and XR Pro irons with Callaway’s Face Cup 360 technology.
Manwaring, who graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in mechanical engineering, said he was incredibly proud of the new XR and XR Pro irons, which were the focus of our conversation.
Note: Topics in bold with Manwaring’s replies beneath
Callaway’s primary focus, how it influences product
The broad umbrella changed with Chip coming here. He said, “Be proud of the product that you’re creating.” Before, it was a lot more nuanced and complicated.
Chip is driven on the product front. Callaway spends more than $30 million per year in R&D, so that philosophy comes from Chip himself: Be proud of it. Drive every last detail, do it as quickly as possible.
That has to drive its way into every category. With the X Hot fairway wood, we took it all the way to the finish line. The next year, we said, “Let’s get the hybrids.” This was the first year that that mantra really hit irons. I obviously had a lot going on, and we’re trying to change a lot of products, but you can only turn a boat so fast; this is the first year we said, “Let’s really drive it home in irons.”
Developing the XR Irons
On the Apex iron, where your COGs are a lot higher, it’s easier to fix that one. When you get down to the $799 category, you have to think a lot harder about every nickel you spend and why you spend it to give the consumer the best value and also make a product you’re proud of. That just takes a little more time and effort.
Just to give you a perspective of what a pain in the a** this iron was to make: We did eight prototyping iterations with the suppliers alone — You know, get the part back, test it, change it. That is at least five or six more than we would normally do. That doesn’t even count internally. We did about four or five…using our own machines.
Addressing concerns about hot spots
We were aware of the complaint. From our position, a common complaint is just an opportunity to do something completely different and completely out of the box.
You have this opportunity with Chip coming on board and saying, “Do something different…do something that you’re proud of. Do something that’s harder.”
You have this great opportunity to break the problem up and really dig into every detail…and think in different ways to tackle all those items.
An overview of Cup 360 technology
Talking about the 360 cup face: By separating an iron into two pieces, you inherently increase the complexity and the cost. And when you weld two similar materials, it’s kind of counter-intuitive. But we needed to cast the face independently because we needed control of every…point on the back of the face.
We needed to control the thickness at every location to avoid changes in thickness that create hotspots.
You’re seeing a lot of companies take the easier solution and not keep the CG in the optimal spot, because they know they need to control face. And you see them taking the simple solution and not worrying about the thickness.
You’re still using the same FEA tools and all the stuff you’ve used in the past, but when you do things like this…when you’re trying to get the distance, plus maintain consistency, your material properties become way more critical. So all your analysis tools start to struggle. You pick up failure modes that are somewhat unexpected.
I think one aspect that’s kind of lost on everybody here is when we did the face cups on the fairway woods and the hybrids, you had this eggshell principle going on where it was a closed-back system…it was naturally stronger and thicker.
On a cavity back iron, when you open up the back of that iron, you’re now on a way more flexible system. Dealing with your durability requirements and your strength requirements is a lot more complicated. And when you overlay the cost…you’ve got a real problem.
The face cup, it’s just as critical as the body. When you separate the face cup…it allows you to minimize your hotspots, especially when you cast it, because then you don’t have any machining marks, you’re not dealing with forging or some of the inherent problems that come there with draft analysis and some of the complexity there…and the cost.
The COR testing becomes obvious. You put that cup face on there and your COR gains across the face are just incredible. So the face cup is critical, but then you’ve got to move to the body. The second you…pull the mass away from the face…your center of gravity just climbs immediately…and then you’ve washed out all the gains. So, step two is finding a body design that when all that energy is transferred off the face, it doesn’t die.
The XR Pro
On the Pro, we wanted to not offend PGA Tour players with the thicker top line. Getting that just right—where it still has the durability and still has the ball speed and still has the COR numbers we were interested in, and it still has the CG and can carry the load—it was a challenge.
Your thickness on that top line: As you get that face to transfer energy more efficiently to the ball and ultimately also to the body…it becomes a trampoline. And if you wanted the metal rims around the trampoline to be thinner, the person jumping on it is still transferring the same load, and if you start thinning those rims down too much, they just give out.
So, the Pro iron is an incredible club…some better players hit the Pro farther than they do the standard [XR]. When I was looking at the COR data, I originally thought it was just the offset and they were able to swing at it more aggressively. But…we did a damn good job…it’s incredibly efficient for its face area.
A walkthrough of Callaway’s 2015 irons
With Big Bertha, it’s just “how can we help you?” We’re doing everything we can to help you enjoy the round of golf. We’re going to help you get the ball to fly far. You’re going to have a lot of hybrids in your bag.
With the XR, we intentionally designed stuff in there to help the average golfer that we knew the better player would snub their nose at. But with the XR Pro, Chip said: “You’re not allowed to skimp on the technology.”
In creating the XR Pro, we took everything we learned from the XR—because we did that first—and applied those lessons to the XR Pro in a shape that we knew wouldn’t offend, and it ended up doing really, really well.
The XR is for the center-of-the-green player. The player who isn’t going to work the ball, who just wants to check the yardage and hit it. But in order to help that player along, it requires a certain offset, a certain top line thickness, a sole width to help with turf interaction, a little more MOI. The XR is for that weekend guy that’s out there quite a bit.
The XR Pro…was really going after someone who really likes his Apex irons but would like a little more control. We kind of kept the offset; we narrowed the top line back down. We brought the sole width back down…and this is a guy we see wanting to be a pin-seeker, wanting to really go after it…he’s going to be disappointed if he didn’t pull the shot off. So the MOI is a little lower, the top line is a little thinner. The Pro is for someone who I think is truly passionate about their game.
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The Wedge Guy: What’s your short game handicap?
Well, that was a U.S. Open for the ages, in my book. Hallowed Pebble Beach held its own against the best players in the world and proved that small greens can really give these guys fits. Kudos and congratulations to Gary Woodland for putting on quite a show and outlasting all the others. And to Brooks Koepka for giving us reason to believe a three-peat could really happen.
To me, of course, what stands out is how Woodland elevated his short game for this event. Coming in he was ranked something like 165th on tour in greenside saves but went 16-for-20 last week. Of course, that also means he hit 52 of those small greens in regulation, which certainly outdistanced most of the field. Justin Rose was putting on a scrambling clinic for three days, but his inability to hit fairways and greens finally did him in. So that brings me to today’s topic – an honest assessment of your own “short game handicap.” Regardless of skill level, I have long believed that the key to better scoring is the same for us as for these tour-elite players – improving your ability to get up-and-down.
Almost all reasonably serious golfers have a handicap, just to allow us to keep track of our overall improvement with our golf games. But wouldn’t it be more useful if that handicap was such that it told us where we could improve the most? Unfortunately, that’s not the purpose of the USGA handicap program, so I’ve devised my own “Short Game Handicap” calculation to help golfers understand that this is where they are most likely going to improve their scoring.
The premise of my short game handicapping formula is the notion that once we get inside short iron range, the physical differences between golfers is increasingly neutralized. For most of us, our physical skills and abilities will never let us hit drives and longer approach shots like the best players. But I believe anyone can learn to execute good quality chips and pitches, and even full swing wedge and short iron shots. It really doesn’t matter whether your full-swing 9-iron goes 140 or 105, if you can execute shots from there on into the green, you can score better than you do now.
So, the starting point is to know exactly where you stand in relation to “par” when you are inside scoring range…regardless of how many strokes it took you to get there. Once your ball is inside that range where you can reach the flag with a comfortable full-swing 9-iron or less, you should be able to get up and down in 3 strokes or fewer almost all the time. In fact, I think it is a realistic goal for any golfer to get down in two strokes more often than it takes more than three, regardless of your skill level.
So, let’s start with understanding what this kind of scoring range skill set can do for your average score. I created this exercise as a starting point, so I’m encouraging you guys and ladies to chime in with your feedback.
What was your last (or typical) 18 hole score? ______
_____ Number of times you missed a green with a 9-iron or less
_____ Number of times you got up and down afterward
_____ Number of other holes where you hit a chip or pitch that ended up more than 10’ from the cup
Subtract #2 from #1, then add 1/2 of #3. That total ______ is your short game handicap under this formula. [NOTE: The logic of #3 is that you can learn to make roughly 1/2 of your putts under 10 feet, so improving your ability to hit chips and pitches inside that range will also translate to lower scores.]
I believe this notion of a short game handicap is an indication of how many shots can potentially come off your average scores if you give your short game and scoring clubs the attention they deserve.
I would like to ask all of you readers to do this simple calculation and share with the rest of us what you find out.
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