Let’s get real.
More often than not, the only problem golf companies are trying to solve is lack of new product. It’s rare when a company starts with a problem and offers a product as an actual solution. Tired as it may be to some of us, Fast and Forgiving in all its various forms still sells, so there’s no reason for our friends at the equipment companies to wander too far off script. A good story and more of the same is, more often than not, a recipe for success.
That’s why, for me anyway, it’s refreshing when a golf company can clearly layout the design challenge it sought to overcome and then explain how it was able to solve a particular problem. Case in point, the Cobra KING F9 SPEEDBACK. Yes, yes, the end result is still fast and forgiving, but at least there’s some substance to how we got here, which is why I’m willing to give Cobra a pass for making up a word (Aeroficient) to describe the design of its new driver.
Aerodynamic and Low CG Don’t Mix
The problem, as Cobra sees it, is that to get good aerodynamic properties, you have to sacrifice in other places. Better aerodynamic can translate to faster swing speed and ultimately faster ball speeds in a way the USGA doesn’t regulate. But, when you look at the drivers with good aerodynamic properties – PING G400, TaylorMade M4, Callaway Rogue, what you find are center of gravity locations that range from mid (PING and Callaway) to high (TaylorMade).
Raised/domed crowns, turbulators, etc. all that stuff that makes for better aerodynamics pushes weight up and the center of gravity invariably follows. Almost everybody claims low and back. Almost nobody actually is. That’s especially true with aerodynamically efficient designs.
So how you do you make a more aeroficient driver? Cobra’s solution was to reshape the driver in some seriously aggressive ways. Considering how adverse golfers are to anything remotely non-traditional, it’s fair to say Cobra is making a bold move with F9 SPEEDBACK. Will golfers be receptive? I’m not sure, but I love that Cobra is going for it.
Aeroeficiency (I hate myself) begins with a crown that’s 12% larger than F8’s. The larger crown requires a bit of stiffening to prevent energy loss, so Cobra uses a what it calls PWR Ridges to enhance stability (and possible aid in alignment). Normally a big crown is a recipe for higher CG, but with F9 SPEEDBACK, Cobra actually wraps the crown (image below) into the skirt (the side) section of the driver. Despite the larger surface area, Cobra saves about 4 grams.
Next Cobra raised the entire skirt and the rear sections of the club. It creates a slightly boxier look with a trailing edge flat enough to mount a license plate on. The raised back end – think about the rear of a Ferrari –reduces aerodynamic drag. To my eye, it looks like a bigger, more exaggerated take on PING’s Vortec, albeit without the cavity. A bit more drag reduction still is achieved by way of rounded leading edges on the crown and sole.
If that was all the engineers did, you’d have an aerodynamically efficient driver with the highest CG of any non-Max Cobra driver in recent memory. To pull the weight back down, Cobra added a big chunk of mass to the bottom rear of the club where sole and skirt meet. It’s a bit like a fin or the keel of a boat. Pictures don’t do the best job at conveying how unique the shaping is, but it’s the signature design feature of the F9 SPEEDBACK.
The driver looks conventional at address, but side and sole views reveal that it’s perhaps the most radically different take on driver shaping since Callaway and Nike took their shots with square.
To validate the aerodynamic properties of the new driver, Cobra did some robot testing against the competitive set. It added mass where needed to ensure all drivers were the same weight and used the same shaft in every head. Under the same force, the KING F9 SPEEDBACK was a bit faster than M4, faster still than G400, and about 1.5 MPH faster than the Callaway Rogue. Mind you, this test was force equivalent to 120 MPH of head speed, so the differences are more pronounced than the average golfer should reasonably expect. The takeaway is that Cobra believes that the F9 SPEEDBACK driver has the best aerodynamics in golf.
With the aerodynamics and center of gravity stuff mostly out of the way, let’s look at some other features of the Cobra F9 SPEEDBACK.
At the risk of minimizing the importance of the SPEEDBACK design, it’s my non-negotiable opinion that the most significant upgrade cobra made to its 2019 driver lineup is a move back to discrete lofts. Going as far back as Amp Cell, Cobra was in a group with Nike, TaylorMade, and Mizuno that, at one time or another, leveraged an all lofts in one head design philosophy. One head, one loft, a ton of hosel settings, and boom, one size fits all – at least that was the theory. TaylorMade was one and done (R1) with the idea. Nike left the golf business, and last year Mizuno moved back to discrete stamped lofts. For 2019, Cobra is doing the same. Finally!
With F9 SPEEDBACK Cobra will offer discrete 9°, 10.5° and 12° heads. Junior and Women’s heads will be stamped 12.5°. I’d wager the significance of this particular change is going to show up in next year’s Most Wanted testing. Over the past several seasons, Cobra has almost invariably been near the top in driver ball speed, but we’ve had issues with a segment of our testers hitting them straight. I’ve long suspected the face angle implications that come with loft adjustments were at least part, if not all, of the problem. I can’t overstate how big of a deal this is from a performance and fitting standpoint.
With the change to discrete lofts comes a tweak to the Cobra adapter. Physically and functionally, the adapter is unchanged . The cobra tips you have will work just fine, but instead of using absolute lofts, the new adapters show the amount of adjustment (+1°, -1.5°, etc.) rather than an absolute loft. You can still adjust by 1.5° in either direction, and there are still upright settings, but it’s a cleaner way to show the degrees of change and eliminates the confusion that came from dealing with standard and plus adapters.
The 9° head is the + Model
Deviating from the last several years, Cobra will not offer a F9+. Instead, Cobra is handling the needs of the typical plus (+) player a bit differently. The mass properties (center of gravity, MOI, etc.) vary between lofts. The 9-degree head is designed to be a true spin killer. That comes via a lower and more forward CG.
Cobra acknowledges that launch and spin difference between F8 and F8+ didn’t prove to be significant. That should be different with the F9 SPEEDBACK. For the faster swinger or the guy that needs to kill spin, the 9° SPEEDBACK should drop spin by about 500 RPM over F8+.
The 10.5° and 12° lofts should perform more like previous standard models. That means a bit higher trajectory and bit higher MOI.
Loft Specific Low Face Radii
As with previous designs, the F9 will offer dual roll. What that means is that the curvature of the face from top to middle isn’t the same as it is from middle to bottom. By using dual roll, Cobra is better able to optimize launch conditions on mishits above or below center. What’s different this time around is that the low face radii will differ between lofts. The premise is that higher speed players don’t need as much help getting low face shots in the air, and they certainly don’t want the spin penalty that comes from more loft. The lower roll radius of the 9° head will produce a lower launch than it will in the 10.5°. Along the same lines, slower swing speed players – guys who play 12° heads – need higher launch and more spin on low face hits, so the lower roll radius is designed to produce higher launch on a low face miss.
We covered Cobra’s milled face story last year. The company maintains that CNC milling the face allows it to more consistently produce its bulge and roll radii and dial in the thickness of each region to maximize ball speed. The design hasn’t change in any notable way from F8, but it’s nonetheless worth mentioning.
Cobra has been all over the map with its movable weight systems in recent years. With F9 SPEEDBACK, it’s sticking with a familiar 2-weight, front to back system. The weights themselves are 14g and 2g. Hopefully, you know how this works by now. Put the heavy weight in the front for lower trajectory and spin. Put the heavy weight back for a higher trajectory, a bit more spin, and an MOI boost.
Cobra’s ability to move mass and impact ball flight is always among the best in the industry and the system itself is incredibly efficient in that there’s not much mass tied up in the structure to support the weights. It’s also simple enough that most golfers can understand it. Bottom line, it’s not a wheel that needed reinventing. Cobra did well not to overthink it.
It’s perhaps noteworthy that weights themselves look like smaller versions of what was used on Fly-Z+. That’s a driver that many remember fondly and some still play. That small detail may boost interest in the driver, while the bold yellow colorway ensures it won’t be missed.
About that Paint
Let’s put it out there. The yellow is bold. Not since Sasquatch has a club manufacturer dared go all-in or almost all-in on yellow. It’s going to be polarizing, but Cobra is at its best when it takes risks. Cobra thinks yellow is a fast color (during the product presentation it showed pictures of yellow Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Formula 1 cars), and well, we’ve already talked about the importance of fast. The company showed Rickie prototypes in several different colorways and Rickie chose yellow – even over Orange. Rickie liked the yellow, so you get yellow.
For those who don’t have the stomach for yellow, Cobra is offering a safe color. Avalanche sits somewhere between frost white and light gray. I was leaning heavily avalanche myself, but when I was fit into the Project X HZRDUS Yellow, the yellow accented head just felt right. A little color never hurt anyone.
Stock Shafts & Grips
Cobra will gain be using 100% real deal shafts that should fit a wide range of golfers.
- For those seeking low launch and low spin, Cobra is offering the Fujikura ATMOS Black TS 7 (S,X).
- The new Project X HZRDUS Smoke 60 (S,X) provides low-mid launch.
- The Fujikura ATMOS Blue TS 6 (R,S,X) is the middle of the road offering.
- For slower swing players and those needing higher launch, Cobra is offering the UST Helium 50 (R,L)
Gearheads will likely notice that the ATMOS shafts offered by Cobra are black instead of the familiar ATMOS white. According to Cobra, due to Tour player demand, Fujikura has started making some ATMOS profiles in black. I’ve confirmed with Fujikura that the shafts are exactly what Cobra says they are. Cobra felt the new black colorways looked better with its yellow and avalanche heads.
The stock grip is a Cobra Connect enabled Lamkin Crossline 58+. Cobra is working with other grip manufacturers and expects to expand its offerings beyond Lamkin in the not so distant future.
Retail price for F9 Speedback Driver is $449. Availability begins January 18, 2019.
For more information, visit Cobragolf.com.