Callaway Golf has just (quietly) announced the impending retail availability of what's being called the XHot 3Deep fairway wood; presumably because it will be the 3rd version of the XHot line offered to consumers, and because the biggest feature is the deeper face (10% higher than XHot Pro).

Given the online golf connoisseur's penchant for whining about companies releasing too much gear every year, it's possible that Callaway might ruffle some feathers by releasing another iteration of XHot. It's an out of the box move for a company trying to fight its way back to the top, and out of the box is more or less the story of the new Callaway least on the marketing side.

What remains to be seen is whether the consumer will see XHot Pro 3Deep as a unique performance proposition, or whether it's destiny is to be just another club on the rack...almost totally indistinguishable from the one next to it. For a company that has recently championed the idea of clear marketing segmentation, 3Deep would seem to blur those lines just a bit.

The Origins of XHot

As you may be aware, the XHot line was born largely from a mandate from new CEO Chip Brewer. Callaway engineers were tasked with creating a fairway wood that could match, and ideally outperform anything on the market right now. And so XHot was born.

Phil Mickelson (and probably everybody else) wanted a fairway wood that was more versatile, easier to shape, and of course, really long. To better service the needs of their tour staff (and to get that pesky competitor's fairway wood out of Phil's bag), XHot Pro was born too. Think of them as fraternal twins.

While the XHot and XHot Pro do a good job of covering the needs of a healthy percentage of the market, it turns out it's not quite ideal for everyone. If one of those guys it doesn't work perfectly for is you or me, chances are not much happens. If one of those guys happens to be Phil Mickelson...well some changes get made.

XHot Pro 3Deep is the result of those changes.

What XHot 3Deep Means for Phil Mickelson

Phil's tendency is to strike the ball a bit higher on the face than many. Essentially Phil hits the ball above the conventional "sweet spot", or more simply put; Phil hits it high on the face. With XHot Pro above the sweet spot contact results in a decrease in ball speed, and an increase in spin rates. Neither is really what you're going for with a 3 wood.

With the new XHot Pro 3Deep, Callaway designers were able to increase face height, and raise the center of gravity. The result is a head that maintains ball speed for above center contact, while improving spin robustness. Spin robustness, is the variance between high and low spin rates off a given head. The lower the variance, the narrower the gap between high and low spin. As much as anything else, spin robustness is an indicator of what happens when you don't quite hit the sweet spot.

"The most meaningful club Phil has ever put in his bag..." - Jim "Bones" Mackay

While the on-course impact of 3Deep remains to be seen, Mickelson's caddie, Jim "Bones Mackay is calling 3Deep "The most meaningful club Phil has ever put in his bag". Because of the added distance from 3Deep, Mickelson's plan (always subject to immediately change) is to hit fairway off the tee in most situations, while turning his driver into a pure bomber for those situations when he wants every yard he can possibly get.

According to Callaway's Randy Peterson, the versatility of XHot 3Deep will allow Phil to do some experimentation with the driver. Callaway is going to look at longer (46") shafts, as well as possibly changing the weight configuration, and even the loft. It sounds like the goal is to focus exclusively on squeezing as much yardage as they can out of Phil's driver, even if it means sacrificing some accuracy to do so.

When you consider Mickelson's erratic tendencies with the driver...hold on fellas...this could get interesting.

Tour Issue Comes to Retail

What's most interesting about 3Deep's upcoming availability is that it marks one of the rare occasions when a golf club adapted to the specific needs of a PGA tour professional will find its way to retail. Most of us realize that a good bit of what's in the bags of the tour guys isn't exactly the same as what's on the store shelves. There are some who are ignorant of the fact. Some accept it. Some whine about not being able to play exactly what the pros play, and some take to eBay and a couple of other Tour Issues dealers and spend ridiculous sums of money for products that in many case don't fit them.

Most of us...we're no Phil Mickelson.

While I'm not certain I buy into Callaway's claims that consumers asked for this club (most consumers are just finding out about it today), I suppose I can appreciate what Callaway's doing. Essentially, they're getting the jump on the any potential consumer demand for a "tour" product with the very real benefit of keeping the Callaway name and products fresh on the minds, and ideally, the tongues of consumers.

When Chip Brewer ran the show at Adams it was anything but unusual for tour issue prototypes to pop up in the golf forums on an almost weekly basis. Those images not only guaranteed Adams almost equal time, they also helped provide a legitimate meter of consumer interest in the products.

Without spending a dollar Adams was able to stay in the news, do a little bit of market research, and distance themselves a bit from the reputation of being simply a hybrid and game-improvement company.

By bringing what legitimately qualifies as a Tour prototype to retail, Callaway, under Brewer's influence, appears to be engaging in a similar strategy, even if the consumer demand piece feels a little more contrived. Unlike the Adams days, it's not like pics of the 3Deep were being drooled over in every golf forum on the planet. Buzz is being built...retroactively.

Nevertheless, I'll give Callaway plenty of credit for demystifying the product (toning down the Tour Issue mystique) and drawing some clear and easy to understand distinctions between the XHot Pro and the XHot Pro 3Deep.

It's simple really. If your tendency is to hit the ball below the center of the clubface, XHot Pro is the better choice. If you're like like flashing thumbs up, and you strike the ball above the center of the face with your fairway woods, 3Deep will likely be the better choice.

The challenge comes in letting the consumer knows he has options, and doing it without causing confusion.

As is always the story with XHot, Callaway maintains that both the Pro and Pro 3Deep models are Longer from Everywhere.

Availability and Options

XHot Pro 3Deep will be available in 13° and 14° (RH) and 13° (LH). Stock shaft is a 43.5" Project X Velocity.

Look for the XHot 3 Deep to hit store shelves sometime next month. Retail price is $229.99.