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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: PXG 0311T “Gen2” prototype irons

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After spotting Charles Howell III testing a PXG XXF prototype driver on Monday at the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge, we spotted CHIII and Zach Johnson testing PXG 0311T “Gen2” irons on Tuesday. We are told they are prototypes.

The original 0311T irons, which were released in 2015, were the Tour versions of the initial 0311 irons from PXG. The 0311T irons, while injected with the same thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) material that made PXG’s 0311 irons special, had smaller profiles, thinner toplines and soles, and less offset. They catered more to the Tour player than the original 0311 iron release, but still had the familiar PXG look with screws around the perimeter.

The PXG 0311T “Gen2” irons we spotted on Tuesday at the CareerBuilder have a slightly different look than the original 0311T irons. See if you can spot the differences below.

PXG 0311T “Gen2” 4-iron vs an original 0311T 4-iron

There’s a more accordion-like look on the back cavity of the 0311T Gen2 iron (left), and it seems the overall center of gravity (CG) may be lower in the club head on the Gen2 irons, as well. At least, it appears the club has a lower overall profile. It also appears the 7-screws near the sole wrap less around the toe portion in the Gen2 iron on the left, and there’s one less screw on the high toe portion of the Gen2 irons; possibly another notch in the lower-CG column.

What do you think of the PXG0311T “Gen2” irons that we spotted on Tuesday? See what GolfWRX members are saying about them in our forums.

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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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