Not many bags on tour carry the mystique and secrecy that Hideki Matsuyama’s does. Yes, we have seen pictures and general WITB info, but the why and the how have been under lock and key. The only other player I can think of that shuns information snoopers as much as Hideki is Brooks Koepka. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, a player’s bag is his own and whether he chooses to share the exact ingredients is his decision.
However, today is a new day, and I was finally given an inside look into the why and how of Hideki’s bag. At a glance, it might look like any bag on tour, but it’s the nuance and the process that pique my interest. I’ve been inside the Cleveland/Srixon headquarters in Huntington Beach, California, and the guy has his own wall. That’s right, some players have a drawer or cupboard—this guy has a wall. It consists of old sets, prototypes, extra sets, and things that could work at some point. Besides Tiger’s cage at Artisan, it’s the most fascinating space I’ve seen dedicated to one player. Bryson’s old stock at Cobra is a close third, but I don’t understand half of the clubs that are in there—it’s golf nerd sightseeing on steroids, Jolt cola, and Pop Rocks.
For the purpose of this deep dive, I was able to ask some very targeted questions to one of the members of Hideki’s team who is tasked with keeping the bag humming at all times.
Thank you to Yoshihiro Iwamoto for the awesome photos!
Hideki Matsuyama WITB: The Set Makeup
JW: Historically, Hideki has preferred heavier shafts and swing weights. Is that to complement his unique tempo, or is it to satisfy launch conditions more?
Srixon: Hideki is constantly testing driver shafts, including lightweight options. He has found that heavier shafts allow him to generate more clubhead speed with his swing. Hideki also believes that heavier shafts help create and support his unique tempo.
JW: What launch data numbers are his sweet spot, what does the driver have to do numbers-wise?
Srixon: Hideki is very protective of his launch monitor numbers, and he is constantly tracking them and analyzing them. Based on PGA Tour launch monitor data, he averages mid-to-high 170s ball speed, low to mid-2,000s RPMs backspin, and 100 feet peak height.
JW: Any internal weighting to the driver head?
Srixon: Through the fitting process, we did quite a bit of testing and definitely explored different internal weighting options with hot melt. Hideki enjoys the test process and exhausting all options before making a final decision. With the ZX5 driver, we ended up finding a very unique place to put the hot melt, but that is a secret we prefer to keep.
JW: Is there a certain acoustic he prefers?
Srixon: Hideki has a very sensitive sense of hearing. This drives his extremely particular passion for finding the perfect sound and feel. For drivers, he prefers a higher pitch sound over a muted tone, which may also be a reason he prefers the larger game improvement shapes on woods. In addition, Hideki’s sense of sound even trickles down to his ball preference. It is incredible what Hideki can sense when ball testing, specifically in his short game and putting.
JW: What about the ZX5 has he responded the most to?
Srixon: The key factor for him was the ball speed. The ZX5 was a touch hotter for him compared to the ZX7 and it beat his previous gamer. In addition to the ball speed, he really likes the new shape of the ZX5 from the address view. This is a critical step in the introduction process. If Hideki has any issues with the address shape, he will not test the product. We included a lot of his feedback into the ZX driver shaping and masking. He prefers a very straight topline with a nice contrast between the crown and face.
JW: In testing, how did the 7 perform for him, and what were the deciding factors getting into the 5?
JW: In regards to the sole grinds, how has the sole been modified to give him the preferred turf interaction? In addition, Hideki is a player that prefers offset vs no offset?
Srixon: We are constantly adjusting to Hideki’s swing and changes to his thought process. Recently, we have added a small C-grind to the leading edge of his irons along with a flat “full” sole design. In addition, Hideki is one of the leaders in developing the toe and heel notches. He strongly believes the toe and heel notch creates a more consistent, smooth turf interaction. Hideki has always had these notches in his irons, and he was a huge part of bringing the notches back in the ZX line.
With regards to offset, Hideki prefers some offset over zero offset in his irons. He has the most specific eye, and he loves to tinker and test all products. The key areas for Hideki when it comes to irons are the general hosel shape and taper consistency, the blend between the face flat and hosel, and most importantly the smooth transitions from the hosel into the leading edge–there needs to be offset as he wants the transition to be smooth and almost straight.
JW: Beyond the sole grinds what other accommodations are made to get his irons dialed in?
Srixon: Hideki’s general iron shape has stayed consistent throughout the years. We have done some testing with different offsets, CG location, muscle and flange shaping, and topline thickness, but we generally come back to his baseline gamer. He enjoys the testing process and making sure he has the best product for his game in his bag at all times. Currently, we have been tinkering with his long irons, and he will change what is in the bag depending on the tournament. He has tested all of the new ZX products (ZX Utility, ZX5s, and ZX7s) long irons and has put the ZX Utility and ZX7 4-iron in his bag. The ZX5 and ZX7 irons had his sole ground to his spec.
Similar to the head design, he likes to test shafts all the time. Hideki is constantly looking for the best combination of the length, loft, and lie to hit the gaps he needs for that week. In terms of builds, Hideki has a very heightened sense of feel and one area that constantly comes up is how he can feel the weight. For his builds, we weight sort and document everything for each club build. We also travel with pre-cut lead tape in half-gram and one-gram increments, and Hideki will apply the tape to different areas of the club (muscle, flange, hosel, shaft), depending on how the club feels while testing. When iron testing, Hideki likes to have a full set built rather than just a few lofts. We do this because if he likes the iron while testing, then we have the full set ready to go for him to test right away.
JW: From 52 to 60, it appears that Hideki has multiple angles ground into his clubs. Can you explain each nuance and what purpose it serves?
Srixon: All three sole grinds have a similar characteristic. Hideki doesn’t change his 52-degree sole often, but he is constantly tinkering with his 56 and 60. All three soles have a subtle C-grind shape. The 56 and 60-degree have an aggressive heel relief. Hideki also utilizes a similar subtle leading-edge grind that is in his irons. Hideki will vary the width and bounce angles of the three surfaces depending on the conditions and shots that he is looking to hit. These three tiers as well as the sole radius (the sole curvature from heel to toe) allow us to manipulate the sole design to achieve the turf interaction and versatility that he may be asking for without changing the address shape. In the 56 and 60, Hideki plays a very straight leading edge with little-to-no offset. He plays his 60 and 56 weaker to help remove the offset and maintain a very straight, smooth transition from the hosel to leading-edge
JW: Is there a miss you tend to build out of his clubs (left or right)?
Srixon: Hideki does not like to see the ball go right. He likes to hit it straight and see the ball fall left. If a driver has a right miss, it has no chance to make it in his bag.
JW: He prefers higher MOI heads. Why is that? And what is he trying to achieve more than anything?
Srixon: Spin, forgiveness, launch, speed, etc. This is driven by the address shapes. Hideki always gravitates toward larger heads at address because they look easier to hit. As stated with the irons, Hideki has an extremely critical eye, and if a product look does not meet his expectations, he won’t even try to hit/test it. This also means Hideki is always looking at all driver shapes and giving us feedback on his preference.
JW: Can you explain the detailed testing process Hideki goes through to put any club in his bag?
Srixon: Once he finds a shape he likes, we will start to dial in the performance of the driver. We typically need to manipulate the masking line between the crown paint and face to achieve the topline shape, face angle, and lie angle that he wants to see at address. Ball speed is always critical for him. The new ZX driver with Rebound Frame has really helped us improve our competitiveness this year and it has been unmatched for him, in particular with the ZX5 driver. When ball speed is sufficient, we work through the fitting process (adjusting loft, CG location, and shaft) to dial in the ball flight and spin numbers that he wants to see. If it feels good on the range, Hideki will take it to the course to confirm he can hit all the shots he needs.
JW: With his unique tempo, what types of shafts does he respond the best to?
Srixon: Hideki tests many different shafts, but the tendency is to fit him in higher kick point shafts.
Hideki Matsuyama WITB
*Hideki’s detailed specs are under lock and key. We will update WITB with any changes when he makes his first PGA Tour start of the year.
Driver: Srixon ZX5 (9.5 degrees/flat)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI 8 TX
3-wood: Taylormade SIM Max (15 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD TP 9 TX
Utility: Srixon ZX (4, 23 @ 22 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI HY 115 TX
Irons: (4) Srixon Z7 (5-P) Srixon Z Forged
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
Wedges: Cleveland RTX 4 Forged Prototype (52-10, 56-8 @57.5, 60-08 @ 62)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
*Hideki found in testing that a stiffer profile in his wedges suited his launch preferences.
Putter: Scotty Cameron Circle T GSS
Grip: Scotty Cameron Standard Pistol
Ball: Srixon ZStar XV
Many thanks to Noelle Zavaleta at Srixon for facilitating!
Korea’s FreeFlex shaft proves that lightning strikes twice
The biggest obstacle to success is said to be a closed mind. If past innovators had not been bold in trying new things and testing conventions, we may still be playing with featheries and hickory shafts. Thanks to their pioneering ways, the game was able to evolve into the wonder that it is today and I am grateful for all the advantages I have enjoyed.
According to a recent YouTube video uploaded on TXG, one such innovative product they have tested in recent years is the Autoflex shaft. Despite the shocking pink color and a high price tag, the whippy shaft from a relatively unknown Korean manufacturer has won over a significant number of golfers with its promise of distance and accuracy while going easy on the body. The shaft opened up a whole new shaft category by itself, and after almost three years it is still pretty much the only fighter in the ring.
So why haven’t more companies been entering this niche pioneered by Dumina? The market is clearly there. Surely, there must be other manufacturers capable of putting out their own versions? Is KHT really something that no one else can figure out? Whatever the reason, there hasn’t been any serious contenders making a run at the champ. Until now, that is.
In the absence of established shaft makers, I did see a lot of individuals on various online forums trying to find their own version of a cheaper Autoflex. Affectionately dubbed as OttoPhlex, I have come across several impassioned posts where golfers have detailed their endeavors to find an effective replacement. To their delight, many have said their bargain shafts also produced noticeable distance gains while retaining accuracy.
That’s just awesome. I think it’s great that Autoflex generated such an interest in golfers to turn over every stone in our search for all the advantages we can get. One caveat, however, seems that an OttoFlex shaft that worked wonders for one guy sprayed the ball all over the place for another. Of the various OttoPhlex shafts I have seen online, I have yet to see a true contender that worked for a wider group of golfers like Autoflex.
In a way, Autoflex reminds me of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., the unbeaten boxing champ. Love him or hate him, one can’t deny that his boxing skills are effective. Similarly, whatever Korea Hidden Technology may be, it simply works and deserves its just dues.
A Korean Lightning Strikes Again
Now a promising new challenger has entered the ring to contend for the title of the ultra-light premium shaft. The contender, also hailing from South Korea, goes by the name of FreeFLexx (OttoPhlex was taken, obviously) and comes with an extraordinary spec sheet. And to save you readers some time, the shaft is nothing short of amazing.
Dr Seung-jin Choi, founder and CEO of SJ (Special Joy) Golf Engineering Lab, is a lifelong golfer/entrepreneur with an impressive resume and some pretty unconventional ways of thinking. With a PhD in materials engineering, he has over 30 patents in various fields, including materials engineering, architecture, and industrial design and 12 patents (and growing) in golf clubs and shaft design. His appetite for knowledge is only rivaled by his keen ability to adapt and apply them effectively to his research and inventions.
Ever since AF came on the scene, I’ve been waiting for other OEMs to offer similar tech and performance to the AF at a lower price tag so that it can be more accessible to a wider audience. Err… let me return to that idea later.
When I first met Dr Choi, I thought I’d stepped into a golfer’s version of Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory. I’d love to mention some of the jaw-dropping golf innovations he is working on, but an embargo dictates otherwise. But I guarantee you will hear more of his mind-blowing creations soon. Just remember I said it here first.
Opening the box, I half-expected to see the color pink and breathed a sigh of relief at the sleek matte black carbon weave design. But aesthetics aside, the shaft had to first check all the requisite boxes for me to even consider it a true contender to the AF. After all, this weight class is not for just any AF wannabes or conventional senior-flex shafts.
To be clear, I am a big fan and user of AutoFlex shafts. But seeing the FreeFlex shaft check all the same WOW factor boxes gave me goosebumps. “Has AF finally found a match in the FF?“
From Theory To Reality
According to Dr. Choi, FF technology is a totally different animal from KHT in concept and manufacturing method and is solidly rooted in measurable and verifiable science. It all began over two years ago with a single question, “Which part of the swing most determines the performance of a golf shot?”
After consulting hundreds of top amateurs and pros along with top professors in sports sciences, he determined that an effective downswing transition was key to long and accurate shots. This led to his next question, “Can a shaft be made to provide golfers with a repeatable and effective downswing transition for better impact and ball control?” With this specific goal in mind, Dr Choi embarked on his research, drawing on his 30+ years of golf experience and scientific background. To many people’s surprise, he was able to prove some pretty eye-opening facts along the way.
I’ve often said that some of golf’s commonly-held conventions should be re-examined lest we may have overlooked anything. With new materials and applications for its use being discovered each year, I definitely think new ‘breakthrough’ discoveries are possible. AF and FF are just the tip of the iceberg.
Before I begin, let me also state that I am an absolute novice when it comes to shaft engineering and manufacturing. I still don’t know what KHT is about, and I am just as ignorant about FreeFlex technology (FFT) as it, too, is veiled in secret and awaiting a patent. So bear with me as I try to explain the idea and innovation of FFT, as translated from speaking with the inventor.
FreeFlex Tech – The New Secret Sauce?
Prototypes of the FreeFlex shafts were first launched in April 2022 exclusively in Korea and were tested extensively among the pros and the club fitting community. Soon, word of mouth began to spread among the pros, who were taken aback by the performance benefits of FF. More interestingly, the FF also came under scrutiny from the sports academia as well as the club fitters, most of whom were absolutely skeptical that the shaft can do what it claimed. And Dr Choi was more than happy to show the science and the research to back up his work with FreeFlex.
Having listened to the inventor, however, I can’t really fault them for being doubtful. After all, Dr Choi’s questions and unconventional thinking challenged many of the established notions that I also thought were rock solid. For example, can a single shaft exhibit two different flexes? That is, can one side can be stiff to promote accuracy while the other side is flexible to add an extra kick for more distance?
When everyone said that’s impossible, Dr Choi said “I’ll show you. Let me boot up my computer.”
“We have developed a unique shaft to which the pronate and supinate principles have been applied by considering not only the swing toque acting upon the shaft; but also in considering the warping moment and bending torsional moment to optimize Impact and MOI.” – Dr. Seung-jin Choi, inventor of FreeFlex Technology
Before all this, I thought I knew the relationship between a shaft’s flex and torque. Namely, a low torque corresponds to a stiff flex and vice-versa, and more flex may lend itself to more distance, but at the risk of less accuracy. Despite what I thought I knew, Dr. Choi informed me that this was not always the case. In fact, he found that torque and flex (CPM) can be independent of each other and that a 35g shaft with 170cpm can have a torque as low as 2.0. That’s even lower (and firmer feeling) than an extra stiff tour shaft!
In explaining how he can manipulate torque and flex in any combination desired, the actual math and science went straight over my head but I was offered a simpler explanation. Imagine that one side of the shaft has a limiter on it, while the other side has an accelerator. The limiter prevents the shaft from twisting and bending past a certain threshold to increase the chances of the shaft returning back to its original position for accuracy. In turn, the accelerator would activate on the downswing to increase club speed for added distance. As improbable as it sounds, this is the basis for FreeFlex.
But hey, we all know that anyone can talk the talk and all is for naught if it can’t perform. So can FF really put its money where its flex is?
Battle Of The Flexes
Over the past three years, many golfers have given testimony to the effectiveness of AF and I have also enjoyed my own AF to mostly good ends. While I’m not the foremost expert by any means, below is my own assessment of the similarities and differences that I have observed between AF and FF.
Overall, I found that FF not only was comparable to AF in both distance and accuracy, but it also offered three key differences which may be welcomed by golfers hesitating to pull the trigger on the pink bomber.
The first difference was the swing weight recommendation for both shafts. The AF 405 and FF 405 had similar weights (45g raw) and flex (190cpm), but the swing weight was totally different at C8 and D1.5, respectively.
From the beginning, AF shafts have frustrated many a golfer trying to get the swing weight down, since the average driver heads were too heavy. As a result, it required switching to lighter head weights or removing them altogether. In addition, certain brand club heads were not suitable for AF, and sometimes the overall driver build length had to become shorter as well. Needless to say, this irked a lot of players and golf fitters who had never encountered such hurdles in their drivers. It is a testament to AF’s performance that so many golfers have put up with it at all.
In comparison, the FF shafts seem more accommodating in this department. The recommended SW for the 38-series is at D2~D5, which should make club fitting all that much easier for a wider variety of driver heads.
The second key differentiator between the two is swing mechanics. By nature, I am more of a swinger than a hitter, and AF suits my swing super well. With a slow and measured backswing and a smooth downswing transition, I have gained nearly 20 yards over my past conventional shaft. As such, many golfers have testified to benefit from slowing down and smoothing their transitions to unlock AF’s performance. However, for golfers with an aggressive or quick transition, the AF proved difficult to tame, which has led many to believe that AF is only suitable for smooth swingers.
FreeFlex, on the other hand, claims that its shafts can be swung effectively regardless of the type of downswing transitions. From my own limited testing with three friends in this regard, I can say that FF did fare better than AF for hitters with a more aggressive swing. More specifically, FF shafts were noticeably more resistant to the left side and kept hard hooks to manageable draws to keep the ball in play more often. Dr. Choi also added that the shaft is less prone to break, as it uses higher grade carbon content over its counterpart.The third big difference noted by most testers is that the FF shaft feels more stable throughout the swing. Keep in mind that feel is subjective, and “stable” here is only referring to the feel and not the actual shot result. From my experience, the AF shaft is soft and malleable on both the backswing and the downswing, which took me a few weeks to get used to and trust that the head will return to square.
In contrast, FF has the same low CPM but the shaft is noticeably firmer especially on the downswing, giving a feeling of stability. I was better able to feel where the club head was at all points of the swing, and that gave me a slight edge in confidence on the money shots.
The three aspects were the biggest differences that were reported by FF users, and I can also agree on the observations. On a Trackman, my current AF was on average longer by 2m with a 4% smaller dispersion, while the longest single drive by each shaft favored the FF at 239m to 231m.
What gave me pause was that while AF has been my trusted gamer for the past 2+ years, I only hit the FF a couple of times since receiving it. And despite the short duration and novelty, FF performed just as well for me as AF, with the alluring promise of further fine-tuning and additional improvements to be had. Welcome to the weight division, FF.
Price And Availability
Unfortunately, FreeFlex tech shafts are currently available in Korea for the time being, though an English website is in the works at www.freeflexshaft.com for February. According to the company, offline retailers and custom fitters will soon be available to offer FreeFlex in three color options; matte carbon black, glossy carbon blue, and a one-of-a-kind custom watercolor design.
All these ultralight and performance-enhancing factors do not lend themselves to low pricing either. The retail price of the FF driver shaft is set at $650, and while it is much higher than most premium shaft offerings on the market, it is nearly 20-percent less in comparison to the Autoflex at $790.
For a limited time starting in February, SJ Golf is also taking applications from professional golfers and reviewers to test the FreeFlex demo shafts. Applications and inquiries can be sent to [email protected] and the company will notify the results individually.
And there you have it. The FreeFlex shafts have arrived to join the party and I can’t wait to see who else joins this exclusive club. It would be great to see who rules this ultra-lightweight division, but no matter who is crowned champion, it will be us golfers who will be the ultimate winners.
Coolest thing for sale in the GolfWRX Classifieds (1/31/23): Bettinardi Hive BB0 putter
At GolfWRX, we are a community of like-minded individuals that all experience and express our enjoyment of the game in many ways.
It’s that sense of community that drives day-to-day interactions in the forums on topics that range from best driver to what marker you use to mark your ball. It even allows us to share another thing we all love – buying and selling equipment.
Currently, in our GolfWRX buy/sell/trade (BST) forum, there is a listing for a Bettinardi Hive BB0 putter
From the seller (@Tyrick24): “Bettinardi Hive BB0 – $1500 or trade. Indoor rolled only. Bettinardi SS Pistol GT 1.0. 35″. Lie 68*. Loft 2*.”
To check out the full listing in our BST forum, head through the link: Bettinardi Hive BB0 putter
Modern Classics (Ep. 3): Testing the TaylorMade Rocketballz RBZ Tour from 2012
GolfWRX recently launched a new 8-part video series, called “The Modern Classics,” in partnership with 2nd Swing Golf. Throughout this video series, GolfWRX’s Head of Tour Content, Andrew Tursky, tests out 8 legendary used golf clubs that are still being played on Tour today. How do the older, less expensive products compare to modern technologies?
For episode 3, we highlight the TaylorMade Rocketballz RBZ Tour 3-wood, which first hit the market in 2012. The fairway woods are currently available for $84.99 on 2nd Swing’s website.
Check out the video at the top of the page for more on the product, design, and how it stands up in testing against a modern 3-wood.
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