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Q&A with Fourteen Golf’s Rusty Estes

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Twenty years ago, Rusty Estes couldn’t hit a wedge shot.

Actually, he was a 16-year-old who could hit a lot of different wedge shots for a boy his age, but there was one shot in particular he couldn’t hit.

Estes noticed that when he attempted to hit low-flying, high-spinning chip shots around the greens, which he tried to do with a square club face and a short, speedy action, that the trailing edge on the toe of his wedge would catch the grass, which slowed the club down.

That loss of speed cost Estes the spin he was looking for, which is why he took his wedge to the maintenance facility at the course where he worked at a began grinding down the troublesome area of the sole with a stone grinder (the same grinder the maintenance staff used to sharpen the blades of its equipment), until the wedge slid through the grass the way he wanted.

Estes didn’t know it then, but that day was an important one for him. He’s now one of the most respected grinders on the PGA Tour, and has spent most of the last eight years as the director of Tour operations for Fourteen Golf, a Japanese golf equipment manufacturer known for its high-quality wedges and irons.

Our Zak Kozuchowski had a chance to talk to Estes about Fourteen Golf, the difference between cast and forged clubs and what he’s learned about wedges in the last 20 years.

ZK: You’ve come a long way from that stone grinder, Rusty. What are you using now to shape clubs?

RE: I have a several different tools that I use to achieve the shapes that I am looking for in creating our wedges. I do the majority of my shaping on a variable speed Burr King (1.5 inches by 60 inches), using sanding belts ranging from as low as 40 grit to as high as 200 grit. The sanding belts get me the overall shape that I am looking for and I use four different versions of 3M scotchbrite belts for the polishing aspect. From there, I hand finish each of my custom grinds by hand, assuring the finish that the player is looking for.

ZK: Your company, Fourteen Golf, gained notoriety in the United States in 2002 when its HI-858 driving iron was used by Ernie Els to win the British Open. The HI-858 and its follow up, the HI-660, also found its way into the bags of many other Tour players, including major champions David Duval and Justin Leonard around that time.

Just a few years later, however, the company decided that it wanted to focus on wedges. Why?

RE: Trends of new product development. At the time of the introduction of the HI utility irons, very few OEMs offered a true long iron replacement club. The replacement was often found in the form of a high-lofted fairway metal. The HI provided an option that allowed players a replacement that was easier to hit and control versus the fairway metal.

Since the HI’s introduction to the Tour, several OEMs developed a “hybrid wood,” and those products have become extremely popular among professionals and amateurs. With this new trend, we had an opportunity to redirect our focus and efforts into our wedges — wedges that already had a huge following on the Japanese and Asian tours.

We worked extensively with our R&D team in Japan to design and develop a series of wedges that PGA Tour players would find appealing and carried tremendous performance. Plus, Fourteen Golf is a full-line equipment company. Wedge provided us an avenue to further introduce our products and develop our brand as a full-line OEM.

ZK: Aside from grinding, one of the most important parts of your job as director tour operations is identifying talented players on the tours who can serve as ambassadors for the Fourteen brand. What makes you favor one player over another?

RE: A staff player is a personal reflection of the brand. Our staff carries a wide variety of personalities and demeanors, however, they all carry traits that we embrace at Fourteen Golf — style, professionalism and hard work.

Click here to see more discussion in the forums.


John Mallinger’s wedges, shot at the Honda Classic. 

Click here to see more discussion in the forums.

ZK: The newest member of Fourteen’s tour staff is John Mallinger, who is one of the most accurate players on the PGA Tour this year from inside 125 yards. Staffers Arjun Atwal and Ryuji Imada are also very good wedge players. What can golfers learn from the clubs these players use and how they use them?

RE: You’ll find a lot of uniqueness to how each of them play and practice.

Mallinger has a very consistent routine, and his wedges are ground and bent to his eye specifically. His clubs are bent to specific lofts that will fill the voids in the lower aspect of his bag, especially. He is very particular with turf interaction and how the club appears at address.

Atwal has a less structured approach to short game, hitting shots primarily with feel. His wedges are made to be very versatile, allowing him to the ability to hit  a wide variety of shots.

Imada possesses a tremendous amount of creativity and shot making skills in his wedge game. His wedges have been heavily modified and ground to get him the most versatile soles and bounce configurations of the three guys.

I wouldn’t recommend any of their wedges to the average consumer, because they’re too unique. But what golfers can learn from them is that each golfer has to identify what they want out of their wedge games and pick a wedge accordingly. Ultimately, the product has to look good to them at address and provide performance for their level of ability.

ZK: Throughout the years, there has been a lot of heated discussion in the GolfWRX Forums about the trade-off between cast and forged clubs. You’ve been grinding clubs for Fourteen’s Tour Staff for the last eight years, as well as a lot of other Tour players. What do they say is the difference between cast and forged?

RE: The main feedback I’ve received is based primarily on feel, both the actual sensation of the strike and the enhanced feel around the greens. The majority of players feel that they have more control over both their distances and trajectory with forged clubs.

ZK: Your thoughts?

RE: From all of the testing, both in consumer and professional arenas, I feel that forged products tend to have a tighter dispersion and more consistent spin and trajectory on center-face strikes versus cast products.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in the development of both cast and forged products over the years. Casting has made tremendous strides in its process, feel and performance, and many cast clubs are great parts. However, in a game of inches, I would prefer to have a club in my bag that has the advantage, no matter how small or large.

ZK: Fourteen seems limited is the amount of wedge grinds that it currently offers to consumers — only its 56- and 58-degree wedges offer more than one stock sole grind. Are there plans to release a wider variety?

[youtube id=”xrUHcX7H3b8″ width=”620″ height=”360″]

RE: The development process is ongoing, and we currently have several prototype models in play and in the testing phase on Tour. We believe that the Tour is a proving ground and want to assure that each product is Tour worthy prior before it is released to consumers.

ZK: What’s more important in a wedge, fresh grooves or the proper sole grind?

RE: Neither. Center of gravity trumps them both, however fresh grooves outweigh the importance of sole grind.

ZK: Really?

RE: Yes. Center of gravity is a constant, an imperative.

Think about it. Grooves wear down, get dirty and collect debris. Plus, golfers have to take into consideration the type of ball (compression, launch and spin characteristics) they’re playing, the weather (which should include but not be limited to temperature, elevation, wind) as well as the type of lie, turf type, turf height and sub layers of turf.

The sole and its interaction will change depending on ball position, angle of attack, face angle, lie angle, hand position and swing/shaft plane. In all of the scenarios, however, the club’s center of gravity hasn’t dramatically changed — it remains fairly constant.

And golfers can create spin without grooves. Just think of the spin you create when you hit a shot in the center of your driver, which probably doesn’t have grooves.

ZK: That being said, what should golfers look for when they’re buying a new wedge?

RE: Golfers need to identify the characteristics of a wedges that give them the most confidence and fills the voids in their games. Confidence goes a long way in creativity and execution — again, it’s a game of inches. From there, find the lofts that fill distance gaps and do not beafraid of bounce. And always, when in doubt, ask your local PGA professional or certified club fitter.

ZK: Thank you for your time, Rusty. 

Click here to see more discussion in the forums.

Check out the photos of the Fourteen wedges Rusty was grinding before he took them the wheel in the gallery below.

 

Click here to see more discussion in the forums.

 

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Equipment

SPOTTED: 2019 Aldila shafts

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aldila-2019-shafts

With the beginning of the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing on now, we are really starting to see more 2019 gear work it way onto tour trucks, and onto the range for player testing…and into our forums (in picture format, at least).

Some of the most recently spotted pieces are the 2019 Aldila ATX shafts, including what appears to be an 85g hybrid shaft and a 120g iron shaft.

aldila-2019-shafts

We can only speculate that the hybrid is a low launch shaft — based on the PGA  Tour testing being done, but this could be a shaft more suited for the growing popularity of the driving iron category vs. wood-like hybrids in the previous couple of seasons.

The 120g iron shaft has a lot of people talking, since Aldila has leaked some information in our picture thread

“It utilizes a custom prepreg made at our facility in Poway that features a “Metal Mesh” material that is combined with Carbon Fiber to help add stability and weight in the irons.”

aldila-metal-mesh

By using this custom material, Aldila could be solving the common problem that a lot of people have with graphite, and that is the club total weight — although in this case 120g is similar to a lot of steel iron shafts already being used on Tour. As prototyping goes, this material could be put to use in lighter versions of the shaft and have a greater benefit in the sub-100g category — if they plan on going that route.

For the drivers, if previous versions and colorways are any indication, it looks like we will have some new technology packed into popular bend profiles like the NV (Green) and the VS (Blue).  As some members on the forums have already discussed, these shafts will be utilizing graphene (an extremely strong carbon material) for additional stability. 

We also have new Rogue 130 MSI models following along similar lines with both a black and silver.

Here’s some additional information from Aldila

“Building off of the success of the ROGUE® Limited Edition – which featured 125 M.S.I. Graphitic Carbon Fiber, we have taken ROGUE® to performance to another level by incorporating even stronger 130 M.S.I. Graphitic Carbon Fiber. The ROGUE® Silver 130 M.S.I. is a low-launch, low-spin shaft with a low torque tip-section fortified with 130 M.S.I. Graphitic Carbon Fiber, a higher balance point, and a premium ion plated finish.”

Join the discussion in our forums

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Brooks Koepka with Mizuno JPX 919 irons, TaylorMade M5 driver in the bag at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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Brooks-Koepka-Mizuno-JPX919

Brooks Koepka is in action this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship equipped with a new driver and set of irons.

Golf.com’s Jonathan Wall broke the news, via Twitter, that Kopeka has TaylorMade’s new M5 Driver in his bag this week, as well as Mizuno’s JPX 919 Tour Irons.

The three-time major champ used TaylorMade’s M3 460 Driver and Mizuno’s JPX 900 Tour irons throughout 2018, and it appears as if Koepka is happy to make the transition to both manufacturers latest additions of those series of clubs right from the get-go in 2019.

Brooks-Koepka-Mizuno-JPX-919

Koepka is currently T13 after two rounds of play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and sits five shots off the lead.

 

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Equipment

Titleist 718 AP2 Black and AP3 Black released in limited quantities

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FEATURED-Titleist-AP-3-Black-Titleist-AP-2-Black-400

Titleist has unveiled new 718 AP2 Black and 718 AP3 Black irons in limited black finish that will be available to purchase from March 1.

Previously only available in a traditional chrome finish, the new Titleist 718 AP2 Black and Titleist 718 AP3 Black irons are finished with a sleek, high polish black PVD coating. The irons feature True Temper AMT Onyx shafts stock. The shafts’ powder coat matte black finish aims to minimize glare (in addition to looking cool). An all-black Golf Pride Tour Velvet 360 grip is standard as well.

FEATURED-Titleist-AP-3-Black-Titleist-AP-2-Black-400

Speaking on the move to release the irons in black, Josh Talge, Vice President, Golf Club Marketing said

“One request we heard from both tour players and amateurs, particularly those who have gravitated toward our Jet Black Vokey SM7 wedges, was if they could have these same irons in a darker finish. Our team spent a lot of time making sure the aesthetics were done just right. It’s a look that you just have to see.”

A quick refresher on the two models, below.

Titleist-AP-3-Black-Titleist-AP-2-Black-49

Titleist 718 AP3 Black

The 718 AP3 iron is a players distance iron which features a hollow-blade design with high-speed face technology. According to Titleist, the company merged the technology found in their AP1 and AP2 irons to create the AP3, which the company are calling their longest and fastest players iron ever.

Commenting on the AP3, Talge stated

“AP3 truly represents the best of both worlds. We’re giving you the distance and forgiveness of a game improvement iron packed into the look and feel of a player’s iron.”

The set is made up of 4-iron through 48-degree wedge. The AP3 Black irons, which are available for right-handers only, are available to purchase from March 1 and will cost $187.50 per club or $1,499/set of 8.

titleist-ap2-black

Titleist 718 AP2 Black

The 718 AP2 iron features a co-forged cavity back design which aims to provide consistent distance and forgiveness, while also delivering excellent feel to all golfers.

Speaking concerning the AP2 iron, Talge had this to say

“AP2 is the most popular tour iron globally because it combines the look and feel tour players demand with the precise distance control they need to consistently hit their target, shot after shot. For everyone else, it’s the tour iron within reach, because it is so forgiving.”

The set is made up of 4-iron through 50-degree wedge. Also available for right-handers only, the irons are available to purchase from March 1 and will cost $187.50 per club or $1,499/set of 8 as well.

See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the irons in the forums. 

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