Our annual Most Wanted tests continue to be our gold standard for 100-percent objective, data-driven performance evaluations. That said, we know there are a multitude of other considerations that go into buying new gear and some of them are inarguably subjective.
That’s not a bad thing.
Our annual Editor’s Choice awards honor those products, technologies and companies based on the opinions of the MyGolfSpy staff, player feedback and, in some cases, our belief in how a product will impact the industry landscape in the future. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity for us to venture beyond the data and share some of our favorite products of 2021.
The reality is we are in an era where advancements are seldom monumental and often incremental at best. That said, there will always be innovators, difference makers and needle movers. This season, we found a number of excellent products, a few missed opportunities and, as always, several categories where nothing much grabbed our attention.
Here are this season’s award winners.
Golf Equipment Story of the Year: COVID
COVID was THE golf story in 2020 and continues to be THE story in 2021. For golfers, COVID has created packed tee sheets and significant supply chain issues industry-wide. Even if you can get a tee time, it may be months before you can put that new gear you ordered in play.
Not so long ago, the most efficient companies were shipping custom orders out the door within three days. Now, six to eight weeks is the standard. Some manufacturers are suggesting you order now for Christmas delivery. With container prices on the rise and raw materials in increasingly short supply, COVID’s impact is likely to linger well into 2022.
Golf Club Technology: COBRA 3D-Printed Putters
In late 2020, COBRA released the KING SuperSport-35, a putter that was 3D printed using HP MetalJet technology. It provided an introduction to what was possible with 3D printing.
This year, the company released its full line of putters in more than a decade. And while across the retail lineup only the support structures were 3D printed, it was enough to suggest that 3D printing will be a forward-facing part of golf club manufacturing in the years to come.
We may not see another fully 3D-printed head for a while but you can bank on an increasing number of 3D-printed parts finding their way into the clubs you buy.
Driver: TaylorMade SIM2
2021 was a standout year for drivers but among an excellent crop TaylorMade’s SIM2 lineup stands out. It seems to be in nearly every bag. In the second (and likely final season) of the SIM franchise, TaylorMade took a chance and ditched its signature movable weights in favor of refined shaping and an innovative, though risky, aluminum backpiece. The result most certainly grabbed our attention. We weren’t the only ones.
Any time you bring new materials into the equation, there’s the potential for failure but TaylorMade succeeded across the board with three distinct models that fit a wide range of golfers and cemented its position as the No. 1 driver brand in golf.
Fairway Wood: None
Given the fairway wood’s status as one of the least replaced clubs in the bag, it’s clear that manufacturers struggle to make an impact. With that in mind, we’ve once again declined to give an Editor’s Choice Award in the category. The staff certainly has favorites: the Titleist TSi line is popular, the Srixon ZX took Most Wanted honors and Callaway always seems to find a bit of extra distance.
With that said, we didn’t see anything groundbreaking and our minds were, once again, left unblown.
Hybrid: Big Hybrids
We’re not going to award a specific model but it’s certainly worth giving COBRA and Callaway a nod for attempting to extend a largely stagnant category with the KING Tec and Epic Super hybrids respectively. These bigger designs provide more distance and higher MOI while creating a workaround for some of the technical limitations created by the smaller footprint of hybrid clubs.
While technically we’re talking about bigger, longer hybrids, functionally they’re not much different than a shorter, smaller fairway wood. Golfers don’t like shorter so I suppose one could argue the big hybrid sub-category is driven as much by semantics and mildly offensive prices as radical tech but if that translates to performance, who cares?
Players Iron – Callaway Apex Pro
In a category where technology is seldom the difference-maker, Callaway’s Apex Pro was a runaway winner in our Most Wanted Player’s Iron Test. Golfers have responded to the Apex franchise as well. It’s the best-selling iron family in the market and readers have raved about their on-course success after being fitted into Apex Pro.
Admittedly, a good bit of the player’s category looks and performs similarly so it’s rare that anything stands out in the category. Apex Pro did.
Player’s Distance Iron – NONE
Titleist’s T100S and new TaylorMade P790s just launched while staff favorites, the Mizuno MP-20 HMB, are at the end of a cycle. We think there’s a world of potential for both performance and excitement within this category but this year it feels like we’re simply at the wrong place in the cycle.
Game Improvement Iron – Mizuno JPX921 Hot Metal
In some respects, the Mizuno JPX 921 Hot Metal doesn’t look like a game improvement club. It’s not ornate or flashy and forgoes bold displays of visual technology in favor of Mizuno’s textbook clean lines. It’s not as small as Mizuno’s flagship offerings but Hot Metal almost passes for something that would appeal to the better player. The beauty of JPX Hot Metal is that it strikes a near-perfect balance between distance, forgiveness and all-around performance. A perpetual standout in Most Wanted testing, the JPX Hot Metal is always at the top of our recommendation list in the game improvement category.
Super Game Improvement Iron – COBRA FMAX Airspeed
In a world where the super game improvement category has evolved to be as much super distance as game improvement, FMAX Airspeed stands almost alone as a solution for golfers looking for a more playable (and arguably sensible) take on the category. COBRA FMAX irons offer high launch and more spin than others in category. It isn’t the longest iron in the category but for golfers who want to get the ball in air and hit more consistent shots (once upon a time that was the goal of the super game improvement category), FMAX Airspeed is a standout.
Wedge – None
We waited for the results of our wedge test before deciding on NONE. That’s not to say there aren’t noteworthy wedges on the market. The MG3 suggests TaylorMade is finally a serious player in the wedge space, PING’s Hydropearl 2.0 finish and friction face spin in wet conditions far better than anything on the market, Vokey’s impressive array of bounce and grinds provide greater fitting versatility and Mizuno’s wedges—like the new T22 wedges —never seem to get the attention they deserve. All of that said, while there’s a lot to like, there’s arguably not a clear standout within the category.
Blade Putter – None
There’s always going to be massive overlap in the blade (or blade-ish) putter category. To some degree, every large manufacturer is making the same designs which means it’s difficult for anything to stand out from the crowd. As with several other categories, this is a case where we found plenty we liked, some exciting stuff, but nothing that gets our juices flowing from a performance or price perspective.
Mallet Putter: Odyssey TEN
Odyssey Golf demonstrated its multi-material mastery with the 2021 TEN mallet putter line. Team Toulon tweaked the geometry of the original Stroke Lab TEN into a boxier, hole-free high MOI design. The result was an outstanding performance in Most Wanted testing and a growing number of satisfied golfers.
The Odyssey TEN mallet line featured the most comprehensive suite of alignment options in the putter corral. The minimalist could choose a single line but, from there, one could line up their putts with a 2-Ball, lined 2-Ball, Triple-Track or go all in with Triple-Track 2-Ball alignment scheme. Add in armlock and broomstick shaft options and you are looking at a TEN for all styles of player.
Golf Ball – Titleist Pro V1/Pro V1x
With everybody in the ball business struggling to keep up with demand, Titleist did what we’ve come to expect—release another generation of outstanding golf balls. The new Pro V1 and Pro V1x are among the top few most consistent balls we’ve tested in Ball Lab and both models produced consistently impressive results during our 2021 ball test. While performance needs vary, where quality and consistency are concerned, the new Pro V1 family is nearly impossible to beat.
Golf Shaft – Mitsubishi MMT Iron Shafts
It’s not new for 2021 but this season Mitsubishi’s MMT iron shaft emerged as the undisputed leader in high-performance graphite iron shafts. If MMT’s growing popularity among fitters wasn’t enough to warrant your attention, Abraham Ancer won the WGC-FedEx St. Jude with MMT in the bag. Rickie Fowler appears to be turning things around with MMT in the bag as well.
While we’re a long way from replacing steel, with three to six full sets in play and another 10 or so with some MMT in the bag each week on the PGA TOUR, Mitsubishi’s is the rare graphite iron shaft that has found traction with better players and started a conversation with the rest of us.
Training Aid – The Stack
Despite the old adage of “putt for dough …”, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests a strong correlation between longer drives and better scores. To that end, there’s an increasing number of tools entering the market to help you gain speed. The Stack system, developed by PING’s Marty Jertson and leading golf biomechanist Sasho McKenzie, takes the art of speed to a new level.
The Hybrid length Stack stick includes five precision-machined weights but what gives the system its power is the smartphone (and tablet) app that tracks your progress and motivates you to stick to an ideal training schedule—right down to the number of seconds between swings. (That reminds me I’m late for a session!)
The Stack costs a bit more than other speed systems but it’s far and away the most advanced speed program on market.
Glove – PXG Players Glove
A newcomer to our testing, the PXG Players glove made quite an impression. It was our choice for the Best Premium Glove of 2021 and with good reason. Its superb comfort and fit make it feel like you’re not wearing a glove at all. Throw in top-quality Cabretta leather, outstanding grip and feel throughout the swing, and you have our Editor’s Choice for 2021.
Rangefinder – Precision Pro R1 Smart
The Precision Pro R1 Smart has all the same bells and whistles you’d expect from a premium rangefinder but adds MySlope—a feature that uses slope and barometric pressure info to make a club recommendation based on your actual distance. As you’d expect from a premium rangefinder, the Pro R1 smart offers clear optics and a simple-to-read display. The magnetic mount is just icing on the cake.
Priced below many other brands, the Precision Pro gives you everything you need at an affordable price.
Spiked Shoe – Under Armour HOVR
The Under Armour HOVR took Most Wanted honors this year thanks to its outstanding stability, traction and comfort. Under Armour perhaps isn’t the first name you think of when shopping for golf shoes but the HOVR suggests the company belongs in the conversation with the biggest names in golf footwear.
adidas Tour 360 XT-SL TEX
Exceptionally lightweight with an outstanding mix of stability, traction and comfort, the adidas Tour 360 XT-SL TEX was our pick for the best spikeless shoe of 2021. While other spikeless brands often rely on a mix of vibe and style to move the needle, adidas continues to churn out a growing list of high-performance winners in the spikeless category.
Golf Company of the Year – TaylorMade
With every company in golf setting sales records, we could make a case for nearly any brand but, in our opinion, TaylorMade stands above the crowd. We’ve already mentioned the SIM2 lineup. The P-Series iron family is arguably the best looking on the market right now (and you won’t hear many complaints about the performance, either), the ball business is growing and even the wedge lineup needs to be taken seriously.
TaylorMade is doing all the right things while becoming a fundamentally more relatable company. The emphasis is still on its impressive PGA TOUR staff but it’s no longer at the expense of everyday golfers. The list of positives is long but the bottom line is that a company that was sold for $425 million just a few years ago was flipped in 2021 for a reported $1.6 billion. It’s an absolutely insane number considering that, unlike its biggest competitors, TaylorMade has been all but exclusively an equipment brand. No shoes, no shirts … no problem. The sale price is a massive indicator of how far to the good TaylorMade’s momentum has swung.