It’s a plot straight out of any late-90’s high school angst comedy that probably starred Lindsey Lohan: two popular/mean-girl rivals are vying to be Prom Queen, while nobody pays any attention to the quiet science nerd getting an under-the-radar makeover. Come prom time the two popular girls knock each other out while the made-over nerd becomes Belle of the Ball.
I admit it's a stretch, but the analogy can work for today’s discussion if you think of Callaway’s Rogue and TaylorMade’s M3/M4 duo as the rival Mean Girls, and think of Mizuno’s new driver lineup as the science nerd.
Sorry – I raised teenaged daughters. Sometimes I have flashbacks.
Mizuno often gets overlooked when it comes to metal woods in general and the driver in particular. The JPX-900 was a middle-of-the-pack performer in MyGolfspy's 2017 Most Wanted Driver testing, but it was only 1.7 yards shorter than the champ, Srixon’s Z 565. Mizuno is resetting its metal woods lineup for 2018, a process that started last November with the introduction of the ST 180. Today Mizzy is finishing the reboot with the release of the GT 180 driver and fairway metals.
OEMs like tying metal woods and irons lineup into one big, happy - and branded - family, often with two drivers: a Player’s model and a Game-Improvement model. TaylorMade sorta-kinda broke that mold when it introduced M1/M2 (you could make a case it started with R1/RBZ). Instead of GI vs. Player’s, the drivers were separated by maximum adjustability with moveable weights versus minimal adjustability with more ball speed technology.
Mizuno’s 2018 lineup follows that model. The ST 180 is for the non-tinkerer and is designed to maximize ball speed (ST stands for Speed Tech), while the new GT 180, which replaces the hyper-adjustable JPX 900, is for the mad scientist (GT stands for Gravity Tech). Gone is the super-forgiving, high launch, high spin JPX EZ.
“We’re trying to speak less to handicap and more to player type,” says Mizuno Golf Club Engineer Chris Voshall. “The GT is for the tinkerer, the guy who likes to mess around with it. The design focus of the GT is to put as much weight as possible in adjustability.”
We’ll take a look at how ST/GT fit into the overall Mizuno strategy and assess where Mizuno is in the North American marketplace later on. First, however, let’s dive into the GT 180’s form and function.
The Most Adjustable Driver in Golf?
That’s how we described Mizuno’s JPX 900 driver when it was released nearly a year and a half ago. The new GT 180 has the same level of adjustability, but with a slight twist (and no, it's not in the face).
The GT 180 features two moveable 8-gram weights that can slide along a center track (you can set both weights up front, leave one up front and one in back, or both in back, or anywhere in between), as well as slots on both the heel and toe if you wanted a draw or fade bias.
This is the same setup as the JPX 900 except for one thing: while the 900’s weights were physically larger due to a plastic coating, the GT 180 weights are all metal, smaller and denser.
“It used to be you could only put one weight in the heel, and the other would have to be on the toe or in the center,” says Voshall. “Now you can fit both weights on the heel or all the way on the toe. So instead of 8 grams pushed to that extreme you can now push 16 grams to the extreme. It takes that level of adjustability that much farther.”
The GT 180 also has a face angle adjustment to let the face show as open, neutral or closed when soled on the ground at address, again the same as with the JPX 900, but with a smaller, lighter adjustment piece.
“Performance-wise, it doesn’t really do anything,” says Voshall. “It’s just frustrating to have a driver that performs for someone but doesn’t look right at address. Even someone like Stacy Lewis – she’s a hoverer, yet as she addresses the ball, she sets the club on the ground. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Face angle adjustability allows us to overcome that obstacle whether you’re a hoverer or not. When you set the club down, does it pass the eye test?”
Even though TaylorMade continues blowing its Twist Face trumpet, face-twisting isn't anything new for Mizuno.
"We've been compensating for golfer's miss-hit patterns for years by giving the toe and heel sides of the face a bit more bulge than the center," says David Llewellyn, Mizuno's R&D Director. "This counteracts the greater amount of gear effect that occurs further from the face center and gives the ball the appropriate amount of side spin to curve back to center. (It's) not a design element we've advertised, just one of those increments that happen over time."
Does that sound like Twist Face? It kinda sounds like Twist Face.
Take away the adjustability and the GT 180 head is very similar to that of the ST 180. The internal waffle pattern crown allows Mizuno to thin the crown without losing strength, which saves about 5-grams. To make the face as hot as possible, Mizuno uses Forged SP700, a high-end titanium alloy that’s about 10% stronger than the more commonly used 6-4 titanium.
“It’s been on our radar for a long time,” says Voshall. “The biggest hindrance to putting it into a production club has been the cost.”
Expensive, of course, doesn’t equal good. The SP stands for Super Plasticity, and Voshall says when the material compresses at impact, it shows a stronger rebound force than 6-4 or Ti811 titanium, which results in more ball speed. He adds the SP700 face is so hot it exceeds the .830 COR (Coefficient of Restitution) limit, while still conforming to the USGA’s CT (Characteristic Time) limit of 257 microseconds.
“This titanium actually helps to somewhat skirt the .83 COR rule while still conforming and staying within the 257 CT rule,” says Voshall. “Essentially the material has a higher COR to CT relationship than other types of titanium.”
SP700 isn’t new to golf – you've seen it in Titleist's C16 concept driver, and in Tour Edge's XJ1 driver. Other companies have used the material in Tour issue clubs. “There was always the run of Tour woods for TaylorMade that would use SP700, where the retail models would use 6-4 or something like that,” says Voshall. “It was used in applications where cost didn’t matter, but ball speed did.”
Mizuno is also getting creative with its shaft offerings for GT (as well as the ST). The stock shaft is the Mitsubishi Kuro Kage TiNi Dual Core, but Mizuno is offering its retailers Shaft Packs – a package of shafts that can be swapped into the GT or ST (both play at 45") at no upcharge. Included are Kuro Kages in different flexes and weights, as well as the Tensei White, Orange, and Blue in different flexes and weights. The Mitsubishi Basara is also included as a lightweight (43 gram) option.
The GT 180 fairway metals also retain the adjustability of their JPX 900 predecessors, featuring a single front-to-back sliding weight in the sole. Mizuno is using the same 1770 Maraging steel face, but with a slightly thinner geometry for faster ball speeds.
The GT 180 driver will be available in a 9.5 degree loft that’s adjustable two degrees up or down. The fairways are available in a 15 degree 3-wood as well as a strong 3-wood called the 3TS (for Tour Spoon). Both will be for right-handers only. The limited offerings appear to encourage a bit of natural selection: the ST series has a broader offering, with an HL driver model as well as 3 and 5 woods in both left and right-handed. Mizuno feels both offerings are suitable for better players, but that higher handicappers may tend to be drawn more to the ST line.
The GT 180 driver will retail for $499.99, and the fairway metals for $299.99. They start shipping today and should be in retail next week.
Mizuno’s Big Reset
Mizuno has spent the last year taking stock of what the brand is, and what it isn’t. And what it isn’t is EZ.
“EZ was a miss for us, and it showed us we can’t be everything to everybody,” says Voshall. “Whenever we sat in a meeting and talked about making a club, we didn’t want to turn this guy off, we didn’t want to turn that guy off, so it became a blah club that appealed to nobody. It’s better to make a focused club that someone will look at and say ‘that’s for me,’ as opposed to making the average club for the average guy that nobody wants to be."
“We asked ourselves what does that Mizuno player look for,” he adds. “And it’s not that Super Game Improvement type thing. We’ve sharpened our focus. We can’t be everything to everybody.”
That’s why Mizuno doesn’t want its woods tied in with its irons anymore, as it doesn’t consider the ST to be a GI driver and the GT to be a better player’s driver.
“We wanted to make two drivers that could speak to a wide level of players, and really take the better player approach first. We want to have a decent MOI, that’s why the footprint’s large, but we’re focusing more mass forward to make sure you get lower spin for the better player. It’s easy to manipulating spin and launch up if you need to – add loft, use a softer tipped shaft. But if you start too high it gets really difficult to jack it down.” Chris Voshall, Mizuno Golf
So Mizuno’s big reset leaves it with two metal wood families in the GT and ST 180’s, the CLK hybrids, the S18 and T7 wedges and two iron families (JPX 900 and MP 18).
As we told you last November, Mizuno had a rough FY 2017 in the Americas (Mizuno lumps North, Central, and South America into one business unit), and president Akito Mizuno pledged to fix that. Mizuno’s most recent quarterly reports indicate that while overall sales are down in the Americas (blame it on Brazil and footwear), equipment sales are slightly up, and Mizuno cites “signs of recovery for the golf market and a satisfactory golf custom fitting business” as key reasons.
“Since going to a more focused launch, the JPX 900 stuff crushed it for us,” says Voshall. “We want to make sure we can maintain the 900 in year two and then let MP be what it is.” Voshall says the JPX 900 iron line represents about 80% of Mizuno’s business and its best selling iron is, ironically, the JPX 900 Hot Metal – a cast game improvement iron, two areas where Mizuno has been notoriously weak.
Voshall adds Mizzy’s metal woods – the forgotten science nerd – are also showing gains, steadily improving since the JPX 850 launched in 2015. Voshall says market share is closing in on 1%, which may not sound like much (it isn’t), but it does represent a huge increase from the .25% share of just a few years ago. He adds that since the launch of the 850 Mizuno has invested more time, energy and money into metal wood R&D
Still, irons drive Mizuno’s business, and Voshall believes the focused approach has fueled a turnaround.
“We’ve seen success going from eight sets of irons down to six,” he says. “And I think we’re more likely to go down to five than we are to go back to eight. We’ve heard from retailers that it’s ridiculous what some of these companies have in line. They appreciate a cleaner approach.”