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|The Nike Golf SQ Str8-FIT driver adjusts with a space-aged wrench. (Courtesy of Nike Golf)|
A few years ago, adjustable weights in the heads of drivers (and other golf clubs) were all the rage. This year, it's adjustable clubheads. It seems that every equipment company, from the biggest of big names to component companies, has a driver with a hosel that loosens to let you slide the shaft out and rotate it to change the face and lie angles.
Two of the biggest names in golf's newest arms race are Nike Golf and TaylorMade. We compared the two companies' flagship adjustable head drivers - the Nike Golf SQ Str8-FIT and the TaylorMade R9 - to see what the innovation brings to the game, and which manufacturer does a better job with it.
Nike's 460cc Str8-FIT is a good-looking big-stick, with a somewhat shallower face and lower profile than Nike's non-adjustable SQ Dymo driver. The sound of the Str8-FIT driver is a good bit "clankier" than the non-adjustable club, too.
As for the head-adjustment system, Nike Golf has developed a very cool wrench that slides down the shaft to loosen and tighten the ferrule. Notably, it beeps and flashes when the optimal torque has been reached.
However, the markings on the ferrule signifying the eight possible lie- and face-angle combinations are completely non-intuitive, and you need the instruction booklet that comes with the club to decipher the compass-like hieroglyphics.
This said, the eight different combinations, ranging from 2-degrees open and 2-degrees upright to 2-degrees closed and 2-degrees flat, do make a big difference on ball flight. The open/closed settings really do promote a fade/draw, respectively.
The TaylorMade R9 is not quite the right golf club to compare to the Str8-FIT. The R9 is smaller, at 420cc, and along with the adjustable clubhead, there are also three adjustable weights that can be rearranged to adjust the center of gravity (COG). For these reasons, the ideal comparison would be the new R9 460 driver, but this model - with its 460cc clubhead and no adjustable weights - was not available at press time.
In fact, one drawback of the TaylorMade models in general is that they are much harder to find to demo.
Back to the R9, the smaller clubhead makes it much more of a "player's club." The smaller head also provides a shallower COG, and thus a lower, more penetrating ball-flight. Also, the sound produced by the R9 is a pleasant "ping," compared to the much louder Nike.
Most significantly, though, is a length difference: The Str8-FIT comes with a 46" shaft, whereas the R9 comes with a 45" shaft. The result is about 10 more yards for the Nike model. Again, the R9 460 model, with its larger clubhead, might be more comparable.
As for the adjustment system, the markings on the R9's ferrule are straightforward and easily interpretable. The torque wrench is not as fancy as Nike's offering, but it does the job just fine. The wrench enters the clubhead through the bottom, instead of over the shaft, and easily loosens and tightens the shaft. When it is tight enough, it just skips, like a car gas-cap.
To be honest, I am not fond of the adjustable head technology. My swing has been inconsistent of late, and if I start off a round hooking or slicing the ball, I want to know it's me, not the way I've adjusted the club.
So I asked Andrew Hollingworth, a club-building friend of mine with a single-digit handicap, to test both clubs. Somewhat to my surprise, he said that "the ability to adjust face angle seems like a significant development that might catch on."
However, he also noted that whereas the face-angle adjustment made a big difference in both clubs, the lie-angle adjustment did not. (Lie angle actually makes more of a difference in irons, where the club contacts both the ball and the turf.)
Overall, Hollingworth preferred the R9's sound and adjustment system, but said he would still take the Str8-FIT's added length if forced to choose. He also agreed that the R9 460 would be a better comparison.
The Nike currently retails for $249. The TaylorMade, with its additional adjustable weighting (which we didn't adjust, to be fair to the Nike), is going for $399. So the definite edge goes to Nike. (The R9 460 is closer in price, at $299.)
Finally, I note that both Hollingworth and I settled on the "neutral" position for the clubfaces, opting to control the ball in the traditional way - with our swings. So despite his enthusiasm for the technology, I'm not completely convinced it is worth the price. However, considering that drivers with 0-degrees of closure are hard to find off the rack (most drivers are 1- or 2-degrees closed), perhaps the adjustable heads are a significant development for better players.
July 21, 2009
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.
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