“Does PING think we’re stupid?”
I might be paraphrasing, but the sentiment comes from a reader who didn’t like what he saw in our First Look Piece on the G400.
To be sure, it’s not unusual for a golf equipment company to release a next big thing that’s nearly no different than the last big thing. The demands of the one-year cycle mean we often get products that don’t do what the manufacturer claims. Sometimes we get a fresh coat of paint intended to disguise a step backward. In the absence of actual innovation, you can always rely on a good story. When that fails, trade on your reputation, and hope nobody notices the little man behind the giant curtain.
That’s how it works, and so yeah, you bet there are some golf companies who think you’re stupid. Their business thrives on your ignorance; their success depends on it.
But PING? C’mon.
We’re talking about a company that rarely promises more than modest distance increases, and when it does, it’s generally quick to point out that not everyone will see gains. Sure PING’s been known to do some outside the box thinking, and there’s plenty of that with the G400, but what we get when we sit down with PING is matter-of-fact engineering and science, lots of charts, and plenty of discussion about trade-offs and compromises. Without fail, I always walk away with a larger vocabulary.
The PING business is driven by knowledge and the founding principle of helping golfers play their best.
This particular case in point is the new G400 Driver.
Evolution That Matters
Every golf company wants to evolve its products, but in the golf industry, evolution is often bound to the annual cycle. Whatever innovation that exists is calendar driven, which means that it happens in baby steps; sometimes minimal, occasionally incremental but appreciable, and sometimes not at all. But every now and again, everything comes together, and the latest and greatest really is significantly better.
Callaway will tell you Epic is just such a product. I’m here to tell you that the G400 just might be too.
Consider this; the week the G400 driver hit the USGA conforming list, 12 PING staffers put it into play. Did I mention that it was the week of the US Open? Now I’m not one who much concerns himself with Tour usage, but 12 PGA Tour professionals putting a new driver in the bag for the first time at a major. That doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t.
So why the exception to the rule?
Before we get into what’s different and exciting with G400, I think it’s important to define innovation within the PING universe. Consult your dictionary if you like, but most of us have an idea what innovation is. It usually describes something new (often exciting) that hasn’t been done before. In the golf equipment world, the definition is often expanded to include something that may have been done before but has been repackaged with a new story.
For its part, PING thinks about innovation a bit differently.
Consider the relationships between things like aerodynamics (which have a strong correlation to head size) and MOI, strong vs. stretchy face materials, or the ubiquitous forgiveness vs. workability problem in irons. These are situations where improvement on one side of the equation creates and almost inherent degradation on the other. It’s what PING calls the trade-off curve, and only when the company’s engineers find a way to sever those inverse relationships does PING say it has innovated.
With that out of the way, let’s get to it.
It’s a terrible pun, made worse by the fact that if you’ve been waiting for PING to offer movable weights in its drivers, you’re going to have to keep waiting. PING believes it provides a better fitting experience with three distinct models than it could be by offering you things that slide, flip, or otherwise migrate about the clubhead.
To that end, the G400 series is comprised of 3 familiar models, so for the sake of the story, here’s your quick overview:
- The suffix-less G400 is the standard offering and will be the best fit for the majority of golfers.
- The SFT is designed to fight the slice by offering 10 yards of left-favoring shot shape correction.
- The LST is the low spin model. It has a slight fade bias, and loft for loft it reduces spin by 300 RPM over the standard model. The tour shaft will cut spin by another 200 RPM or so.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss the five areas where PING has improved its G series.
Although it’s the most trivial of the enhancements, the cosmetics of the G400 are what we all see first, so that’s where I’m starting.
Other than those of you who are opposed to Turbulators for aesthetic reasons, and I suppose allowing for some of you who might be put off by the Dragonfly Crown too, there’s nothing particularly off-putting about PING’s G Series (and G30 series before it) drivers. They look perfectly ok. Not sexy, not bad, just ok.
With the G400, PING felt it was important to elevate the design. And while that’s true for every aspect of the new model, it’s most readily apparent in the cosmetics. For the G400, PING wanted to achieve an aesthetic that would stand out in the marketplace and wouldn’t look outdated months or even years down the road. Taking inspiration from the auto and consumer electronics industries, PING believes the G400’s matte black with vibrant copper accented design presents an image that’s bold yet timeless, much like the PING brand and its products.
While it isn’t any surprise that PING’s now signature Turbulator tradition carries on, some will be surprised to learn that they’re more prominent than ever. The idea is that bolder Turbulators will heighten focus and provide better alignment.
The Dragonfly feature which debuted with the G Driver has been extended the full length of the crown (what PING calls the infinity edge). PING has also added a textured detail to the back region of the crown. The new aerodynamically-neutral feature softens up the lines a bit while drawing attention back towards the face and Turbulators.
While I don’t have anything specific to say about it, I should also mention that the Vortec cavity continues as well.
It’s time for the obligatory weight savings portion of our story. I could argue that this one is a bit more impressive when you consider that PING is among last still using all titanium construction. It’s not that PING can’t use composite. It could, but the company believes it can still make a better driver using all-Titanium construction. There’s likely some validity to that argument considering that, even with composite crowns, few of its competitors have come close to matching PING’s forgiveness.
G400’s weight savings come from extending and thinning the Dragonfly Crown. Engineers also thinned the sole and skirt areas as well. You want a number? Instead of sweating over x thousands of an inch, just understand that we’re talking about approximately the thickness of three crisp dollar bills.
You know how the rest of this story ends. PING took its newly minted discretionary mass, along with a bit of extra they got from bumping up the overall head weight, and positioned it low and back.
To be fair, the G400 weight story is actually bit more nuanced. PING added a fixed tungsten backweight that varies in placement depending on the model. It’s way back in the G400, forward of the tuning port in the LST, and in the heel of the draw-biased SFT.
Additional mass is allocated to PING’s custom tuning port. The copper colored 304 stainless steel cap sits on top of an elastomer material used for swing weighting purposes.
The key point is that the new weights are smaller but also denser. That allows for more precise placement of the mass. In the case of the G400, PING was able to position 3X more mass (relative to G) in the back one inch of the clubhead.
It’s the kind of detail that’s easy to skim over, but trust me, it’s kind of a big deal.
The sum total of the enhanced design yields a clubhead with combined MOI over 9000 (9263 to be exact), which PING says makes the G400 the most forgiving driver on the market (by plenty) despite its 445cc footprint. The G400 has a heel/toe inertia of 5342 (g-cm^2). Assuming that’s true, the G400 isn’t just the most forgiving driver in golf, it doesn’t even fit on our CG/MOI chart. We’ll need to expand our x-axis to make room.
Yeah… that’s right, killer MOI in a sub-460cc package.
You know what Turbulators do, but did you know that they’re most effective when the face is square or nearly square? We’re really talking about the bottom of the downswing leading into impact. While this is the range where the club is moving its fastest, it doesn’t spend a substantial amount of time in this zone. So, if PING was going to make a meaningful improvement to aerodynamics, it needed to find a way to reduce drag at points in the downswing where the face isn’t square or nearly so.
When the face is open, as it is for much of the downswing, the hosel is effectively out in front of the head. From an aerodynamic perspective, PING’s Erik Henrikson compares it to driving down the road with a telephone pole attached to the front of your car.
We’re talking about the kind of turbulent wake you can’t Vortec your way out of.
The clubhead is moving more slowly over the portions of the swing where the face is open, but the clubhead is in that face open position for a much longer period, and that presented an opportunity to further improve the aerodynamics.
To reduce drag, PING had to reduce the cross-sectional area of the driver. It’s a bit of a simplification, but you can think of it as the surface area under the hosel section when it’s in the face open position. It took some clever shaping, and a slight reduction in G400’s footprint (it’s why the driver is 445cc), but PING says it was able to reduce drag in the open face orientations, most notably at 20° and 40°, by 40%. The final number settles in at a 15% reduction in total drag over G.
That works out to an average of about ¾MPH of clubhead speed (YOUR actual mileage may vary), and while that may not sound like much, every little bit helps, and we haven’t even tickled your brain’s reward system yet.
To put all of this in perspective – to achieve the same aerodynamic benefit with the G30, PING would have to shrink it down to under 300cc, and while some of you would love to see the compact driver make a comeback, the corresponding 30% drop in MOI is less than awesome.
I can’t say I have an opinion either way about the sound of recent PING drivers, but based on some of the feedback from our First Look post, suffice to say some of you aren’t fans.
PING apparently realized there was a problem of sorts as well because they designed and built a simulation lab to help them refine the sound of their drivers. Without going too deep into the weeds, this new sound simulation environment, which took the better part of 5 years to develop, allows them to predict (and accurately so) the sound of a driver even before the first prototype is made.
PING’s engineers are excited (as excited as PING engineers get anyway) about what the sound lab allows them to do. It’s complex stuff, but in simple, real-world terms, it made it easier for them to design a more pleasant sounding driver, modeled after the i15, i20 and Rapture drivers; models which PING loyalists regard as pleasing to the ear.
What’s perhaps most impressive is that in fine-tuning its acoustics, PING was able to keep its supporting rib structures minimal, and was able to position them such that they don’t negatively impact mass properties. It should also be noted that the sound is nearly identical across all three models.
PING describes the G400’s harmonic signature as being more like a chord than the plucking of a single note. Higher frequencies compliment lower ones, resulting in a well-balanced sound the company hopes will stimulate the amygdala leading to higher confidence and more head speed.
Yeah. I just typed amygdala all matter-of-fact like. It’s just golf equipment engineers applying neuroscience in an attempt to develop a better performing product. No big deal, right? And yeah, I can see where you might be thinking this is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.
Back to the amygdala…
PING’s thinking is that the amygdala, a primary structure of the limbic system often referred to as the emotional center of the brain, can be stimulated by pleasing sounds. When the reward system kicks in, it can untap the golfer’s ability to swing with greater confidence.
In Tour Player testing, PING observed that its staffers were swinging harder, generating more clubhead speed, and ultimately producing greater distance. The company believes it’s a big part of the reason why so many staffers put the driver in their bags week one.
I’ll leave you to think on this for a bit, while I move on to something a bit more concrete.
Frankly, I’m not sure how deep our readers want to go with metallurgy and face technology (and this is coming from a guy who just finished writing about harmonic signatures and your amygdala), so I’ll be brief.
PING has moved from a T9S to a T9S+ face material which is 4% stronger and more flexible (trade-off curve broken). The primary face structure is forged, and then the strikeface portion is CNC milled into the forged face. While the process is more complex, PING says it yields extremely precise bulge and roll radii, consistently high CTs, and tight controls over face thickness.
Ultimately, we’re talking about greater consistency from part to part.
For the first time, the rough face design previously unique to the LS Tec will be featured on the entire G400 series. The texture reduces spin without having to move the center of gravity forward and reducing MOI. Yup, that’s another example of a trade-off curve being broken.
Does It Perform?
Like any OEM, PING has numbers that suggest its drivers will outperform its competitors’. In PING’s player testing, the G400 was, on average, longer than the current market leader. Perhaps of greater importance, the G400 produced a 40% smaller stat area (what we call our shot area), and the shortest shots (mis-hits) were appreciably longer than competitor mis-hits.
On the Tour side, staffers are being fit into models with less loft (benefit of the back CG). As a result, ball speeds are up 2-3 MPH, and distance is up by about 5 yards.
That’s what PING says. I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust it, PING’s integrity is above reproach. What I’m saying is that every OEM visit includes a collection of favorable numbers.
Here’s what I think you should think about: with the caveat that I didn’t test against anything else, what I experienced on the PING range borders on mind-blowing.
On several swings my clubhead speed reached 109 MPH. My ball speed…160. Distance…290-300.
A little background here… my average swing speed is 105 MPH. On my best day – and perhaps more so in my younger days – I sometimes ramp it up to 107. My ball speed seldom if ever exceeded 155 MPH. This is true for every driver fitting I’ve ever had. I’ve hit balls for Callaway, Cobra, Nike, PXG, TaylorMade, along with PING a time or two before. 109 , 160 and 300, that’s never happened. Never. Ever. Period.
I don’t know if the increases came from a decrease in drag due to a reduced crossectional footprint when the clubface is 40° open. I don’t know if G400 (LST) tickles my amygdala either. What I know is that 109 and 160 is a gear I don’t have, and yet there it is. And it wasn’t an isolated swing. 109 and damn near 160 time and time again. All that and mostly straight ball flight too. I know my game, and what happened on PING’s range was absurd in the most delightful way imaginable.
Subsequent on-course testing at my recent Member/Guest tournament at McGregor Links has completely validated what I saw at PING HQ. Playing from the back tees (the penalty for bringing in a 1 handicap as a guest), I found myself consistently hitting shorter second shots than I normally do from the more-forward white tees. Individual mileage always varies, but for me, the G400 LST is a solid tee marker longer. Again…it’s absurd.
So roll your eyes at the aerodynamics and that stuff about the amygdala if you’d like, I understand, but I’m knowledgeable guy, reasonably well fit into every club in my bag, and I’m telling you I’m seeing upwards of 5 MPH in ball speed and increased distance on the course. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, I can’t imagine anything will.
In which case, I’ve just wasted a good deal of time for the both of us.
Once again PING will be offering two stock shafts. Counterbalanced to accommodate the heavier head, the Alta CB features a new living finish. The copper paint transforms (like magic) to a low glare black when and only when, the shaft is placed in the address position.
A lower launching/spinning Tour shaft is also available.
To give fitters more options with which to work, PING will offer a selection of aftermarket shafts for a modest upcharge. That lineup Includes the ProjectX HZRDUS Yellow (low launch), MRC Kuro Kage (mid launch), and the new Aldila X-Torsion Copper (counterbalanced high launch). The idea is to provide options that complement rather than overlap PING’s proprietary shaft offerings.
Pricing, Specs, and Availability
Loft Options (adjustable up to +-1⁰): 9⁰ & 10.5⁰ (std.), 8.5⁰ & 10⁰ (LST), 10⁰ & 12⁰ (SFT)
Head Weight: Std. (206g), LST (208g), SFT (203g)
Head Volume: 445 cc
Standard Length: 45 3/4″ (Alta CB); 45 1/4″ (PING Tour and aftermarkets)
Stock Grip: Golf Pride Tour Velvet 360 in six sizes (Blue -1/16″, Red -1/32″, Aqua -1/64″, White Std., Gold +1/32″, Orange +1/16″)
Stock Shaft Options: PING Alta CB (counter-balanced) 55 (SR, R, S, X), PING Tour 65, 75 (upcharge) (R, S, X)
Aftermarket Shaft Options (MSRP: $75 upcharge): Mitsubishi Kuro Kage Silver Dual-Core TiNi 60 (R, S, X), Project X HZRDUS Yellow 75 (5.5, 6.0, 6.5), Aldila X-Torsion Copper (50R, 60S)
Fitting and pre-orders begin immediately. Availability begins July 27.
For more information, visit PING.com.