CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Any golfer who has visited Japan knows that the Japanese take the game very, very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that price isn't an obstacle.
When I lived in the Land of the Rising Sun, I observed golfers paying more than $1,000 in cash for a high-tech driver. And even more for a hand-crafted persimmon-headed driver.
What's critical for Japanese golfers is quality; they want the best and they want it to look good.
Japanese equipment companies haven't broken into U.S. markets easily. Prices tend to be too high and the brand names are simply not familiar enough to American golfers, who slavishly follow the handful of well-known companies.
Things are changing, though, in part because American golfers are catching on to the benefits of custom fitting, which has always been popular in Japan. Companies such as Mizuno and Yonex are collecting a few high-profile tour pro sponsorships and beefing up their advertising presence stateside.
One knock on Japanese companies is that they tend to produce high-priced equipment geared toward the better golfer, with less variety for the high handicapper. The new Yonex line of Cyberstar Powerbrid fairway woods and Cyberstar VX irons, however, retain the high performance characteristics that have distinguished Yonex for years while incorporating some game-improvement technology as well.
The Cyberstar VX irons (MSRP $1,280) have mid-sized heads with somewhat thick top lines, which give mid- to high-handicap players more confidence at address. The clubheads themselves are hollowed out and filled with a graphite composite material, which looks like the stuff so many drivers crowns are being formed out of these days and serves to move most of the clubhead's weight to the perimeters.
The VX irons only come with graphite shafts. Between the carbon-filled heads and the UL-Titanium 70-gram shafts, the thing you notice immediately when you pick one up is how incredibly light these clubs are. This allows players with slower clubhead speed to ratchet up their swings and better players to squeeze more speed and distance out of their swings.
These irons are ideal for better players as well, if - and only if - they are comfortable with such light clubs. Personally, I prefer a heavier club, so that I can feel the resistance in my swing and thus feel where the club is at all times. Players like me, whose swings are inconsistent enough to not quite know where they are from swing to swing, might find the lack of tactile feedback disorienting.
At impact, however, shots struck on the sweet spot with the VX literally explode off the club face - high and long. Off-center hits are penalized rather more than other game-improvement irons, though. Nevertheless, the feedback from well-struck balls is very satisfying.
The Cyberstar Powerbrid fairway woods (MSRP $330) are also attractively styled and feature a heavy tungsten weight at the heel and miraging steel clubface. The clubheads are compact, but any fairway wood larger than 190cc is too big anyway. The standard Yonex UL-Titanium shaft is 50 grams.
In the Cyberstar Powerbrid fairway woods and VX irons, Yonex has hit on a combination of features that satisfies both mid- and low-handicappers.
High-handicappers might want more forgiveness. However, if a high-handicapper is concerned more with swing speed than ball-striking consistency, these impeccably styled, rich-looking sticks will even work for him or her.
The only barrier, then, is the price, which, although far less than in Japan, is still at the upper end of the U.S. market. But then again, so is the quality.
Yonex Golf: yonex.com
August 31, 2005
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, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
The commercials for Nike Golf's VR_S Covert Driver are some of the best recent equipment spots on TV, with players teeing off and yelling, "Sorry!" to the groups ahead that they've just purportedly hit into. Based on my testing, I'd say the portrayal of the Covert as prodigiously long is perhaps only a slight exaggeration. This driver is definitely in the top echelon of recent "long" drivers.
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