Dr. Tom Harper, Nike Europe's golf business director, talks to Craig Dennett about the launch of the new Nike Vapor metals.
Where have the main improvements been made between Covert 2.0 and Vapor?
We’ll start with the replacement for the Covert Tour. The closest in the new drivers is the Vapor Pro driver . What we’ve been able to do through a lot of computer work and really understanding how to make a better performing driver, is that we have really firmed up the cavity at the back of the driver.
If we can make that area of the cavity more stable so it vibrates less through the impact of the golf club, we make the face work harder and flex more, and that creates more ball speed, so with the FlyBeam construction of the new cavity in the Vapor Pro driver and also in the Vapor Speed and Vapor Flex driver, we’re able to make the back part of the club more stable and the face can deform more, allowing the club and ball to be in contact a little bit longer and then we can get more ball speed away. That’s a big improvement for us.
It’s the first time we’ve been able to combine the cavity back with the compression channel. The compression channel is a technology that we first launched on the market place ahead of other competitors who have also done some kind of sole channel slots, but to combine that with the cavity back presented a bigger engineering challenge.
We’ve now been able to work those into the design, so not only are we able to maximise the stability of the back and the face, but also shots that are a little lower on the face, the compression channel really helps that part of the face act like the centre of the face, so we’re a little bit better in that respect, too.
From an adjustability point of view, we’ve made some improvements to our FlexLoft adaptor. We’ve been able to strip out 30% of the weight, that gives us a little more discretionary weight in the head to deal with, it also helps us balance the centre of gravity locations in the clubhead to a better position, we’ve also dropped the clubhead weight a fraction so that we can deliver the clubhead to the ball with better speed.
All of those combined we’re seeing increased ball speed and slightly higher launch angles and we’re seeing a reduction in spin. Those facets working together are helping us achieve longer driving distances in all of our tests and with all of our consumers, most obviously Rory who put it in the bag at the Ryder Cup and saw significant gains in carry, anywhere between eight and ten yards on each drive.
This is the first time anyone has seen the Flex driver, and we know Tiger had a big influence on its design, what was the thinking behind bringing that to retail?
We know with the Flex driver that consumers want to be dialled in to the best level we can. With the new Flex driver, we have a FlexFlight cartridge contained within the cavity. We use a RZN housing, a lighter material than titanium, so we can free up that weight and then you can disconnect the FlexFlight pod and rotate it 180º and put it back. There’s a 9g change in weight. That changes CG by 2.5mm and we can see about a 400rpm change in spin and a small change in launch angle and MOI, but we also enable people to dial in their fitting just that little bit better, we can drop the spin or increase spin to where they need it to be. Take that fitting just a little beyond with FlexLoft, we have the ability to choose from 15 different settings. With the combination between FlexLoft and FlexFlight, we can offer 30 different settings and make those adjustments very quickly to suit the conditions or the golfer’s swing.
It includes FlexFlight technology, do you see people outwith the fitting centres playing about with the adjustments?
I think when we first pioneered adjustable technology with StraightFit, we saw fewer people making those adjustments. At that time when you made one adjustment, it affected lie angle and face angle and loft at the same time and it became quite a complicated relationship. Having the ability to decouple face angle and loft and be able to specify for example one open and one up to 11.5, the complexity of the engineering increased but the actual understanding of the technology became much easier to use. So we’ve seen more and more people using it and setting it to different positions through time. When we thought everyone would change and not many did, but I think now that we have that decoupling of face angle and loft, people understand the technology better and people are making those changes.
We’ve almost stopped putting instruction manuals out and showing people how to change it because it is so intuitive that you don't need them anymore.
Are there specific levels of ability each driver is aimed at?
There’s definitely a performance differential between the three. The categories aren’t driven by ability or handicap, it’s more to do with launch angle. For a golfer that can benefit most by having a higher launch angle, we’d look to have them try the Speed version first.
If it’s someone who wants to have a more penetrating flight with a lower launch angle or even just to try and bring spin down then we would introduce them to the Pro or the Flex in the low position, that would be the best mechanism to control and bring spin levels down.
Once we’ve optimised trajectory that they want then traditionally they will repeat that swing more often without trying to force it to achieve a certain trajectory.
How important is the Volt colour to the range?
We were introducing a new franchise, the Vapor line of products, and I think giving it a unique visual identity was important. We’ve seen a number of our athletes switch into the new product and I think there’s been more coverage and more recognition of there being a new product in the bag, so I think having that combination of a new brand and giving it a distinctive and recognisable look has worked hand in hand well together.
Feedback on the new colour scheme has been overall very positive. It is a high contrast finish and it can polarise opinion, but we’re not afraid of people having a strong opinion of our products.
We've seen the Vapor line in other sports before, are there certain characteristics that have transferred?
You’re exactly right, Vapor exists within other Nike categories. Vapor is always a pinnacle or premium product and it always revolves around weight management.
It’s always about having lighter weight or having weight where it matters and helps to provide the best performance and that is really in keeping with what we do in the golf clubhead. We’re providing optimal weight management to give better performance through multi-materials, through use of RZN, or just through perimeter weighting through cavity back.
We know that Volt is an important colour for Nike, we’ve seen it in football and in athletics. We believe that we’ll be part and parcel of that brand identity for Nike athletes.
How was Tiger and Rory’s feedback used in the development of these metals?
There’s kind of three legs to a stool. We have the sports marketing, the designers and athlete. The designers are integral as to how we make clubs. The engineers need to make clubs and there’s also the consumers and other retail players so it’s not just the athletes. We tend to say at Nike we start with athlete. If we can get the insight of the best players in the world and what they want to see and we can help them through science to help them perform better, if we can get those two legs of the stool then usually the third leg follows, but certainly it’s a combination between those three.
What specifically did Tiger and Rory contribute to the process?
They’re both aware that there’s always better, there’s new technologies and they’ve seen it through their careers. They typically don’t want to see a change or something significantly different in the address position. We work with them closely on the address position, be it amounts of offset, appearance of the face. Tiger’s feedback was that he liked the colour on the grooves. We have the Volt colour against the black face and that helps him visually to line up the centre of the face and he can see the loft on the driver which he likes to see. Small things like that, which might be details that others can’t see, we’ll work with them on that, on how long a clubface is, how round the toe is or the pear shape is and we’ll work with individuals on that to see what works with them and what works for the best players in the world giving consumers the opportunity to play a driver that was designed by and is used by the world’s best athletes