In what has to be one of the fastest turnarounds from Spy Pic to announcement, Callaway has made the impending release of their FT Optiforce driver officially official. The quick turnaround time is fitting giving Optiforce’s emphasis on speed. Simply put, the FT Optiforce is the fastest driver Callaway has every produced. At least that’s their story.

Go Ahead…Be Irate

I know…it’s absolutely ridiculous. This is the 3rd new driver Callaway has released in the last year. They’ve got a lot of damn nerve. If you just bought RAZR Fit Xtreme or XHot (or XHot Pro), you should be pissed. It might even be worth a call to your Congressman. Your new driver is obsolete, and there are some who might even have you believe that the release of a new driver just knocked 5 yards off what’s in your bag. It’s ridiculous, right?

Not so fast. Well…wait…the new driver is fast, but don’t rush to judgement fast…or quickly.

The FT Optiforce isn’t replacing anything (unless you buy one and it replaces your driver). Optiforce, for all intents and purposes, is a new, distinct, 3rd offering in the Callaway lineup.

While I’m not sure Callaway would break it down quite like this, my take is that the RAZR Fit Xtreme is their pro driver, Xhot is for the average golfer, and Optiforce will fill the niche for the guy looking for an ultra-lightweight driver, because, as you probably already know…and as Callaway definitely wants you to know, speed equals distance.

And not for anything, PING has 3 distinct drivers in their lineup, and nobody ever seems to bat an eyelash.

If you want to be cynical…joke about how Callaway just released the Wilson D-100, but let’s not get too wrapped up in the “here we go with another new driver every 3 weeks thing”.

Lighter = Faster = Longer

Anytime there’s a new driver release, especially from one of the big golf companies, we hear all about with COR (it’s actually CT) maxed out, it’s impossible for anyone to produce a driver that goes appreciably longer than another.

Whether they’re delusional, or just full of shit, I can promise you that you won’t find anybody inside anybody’s R&D department who actually believes there’s no more distance to be gained. Some talk about aerodynamics, some talk about launch angle and spin, while other talk about new materials, but nobody ever tosses up their hands and says we’re done.

There’s too much money to be made selling the dream.

Callaway’s Optiforce is a driver designed to leverage aerodynamics. Not surprisingly, Callaway’s Dr. Alan Hocknell has asserted that the Optiforce is the “most aerodynamic head technology” Callaway has ever produced.

The math is pretty simple. A more aerodynamic head allows for more clubhead speed, which in turn creates more ball speed. As it says in that graphic up there, it’s not complicated.

With FT Optiforce Callaway has paired the aerodynamic head with a stupid light, 43g Project X Velocity shaft. The total club weight of the 10.5° model is only 290 grams. The swing weight is D0 (standard model, D2 Pro). That’s right D-Zero…for a driver.

The idea, and it’s not exactly a new one, is that lighter, more aerodynamic clubs will generate more swing speed, and that swing speed will absolutely translate to better ball speed. Callaway’s Dr. Alan Hockell the head speed produced by the Optiforce is “measurably faster”.

Let’s Not Get Stupid

There are a few things that Callaway did right when it comes to Optiforce. Chief among them is the simple fact that Callaway didn’t go full-on, all-in stupid with the ultralight concept. In many cases, ultralight models have been released with the implicit assertion that everyone would benefit from a lighter driver.

Callaway has taken a slightly different approach. Instead of trying to force every golfer who might be interested in the aerodynamic benefits of the Optiforce into a lightweight shaft, Callaway is offering the Mitsubishi Diamana S+ (64g in stiff flex) as an alternative for guys who want/need a more traditionally weighted shaft.

While not groundbreaking, Callaway has also chosen to offer both shafts in the 3 most common flexes (regular, stiff, x-stiff). Unlike some others, they’re not taking the dictatorial position that X-Stiff players must use the heavier shaft, or regular flex players must use the lighter-weight model.

Consumers want choices. Callaway would seem to get that.

Golfer First – One Size Does Not Fit All

Unlike some of their competitors, Callaway has made the decision to avoid an one-loft-fits all approach. While both the standard 460cc Standard model, and the 440cc Pro model can be adjusted to the two most common lofts (9.5° and 10.5°), and a degree range overall; rather than try and be all things to all golfers in a single head, Callaway’s different models are designed with very real distinctions between golfers in mind.

Callaway calls it “Putting the Golfer First”.

“There’s a good reason why there are two heads here. I know that you’ve seen in the market this year some companies try to address a broad range of lofts just using one head…8° to 12°, well the truth is…if you think about it, putting the golfer first – which is what we do here, the players using an 8° are very different from those using a 12°.

We change a whole range of variables in-between 8° and 12° including size, MOI, CG Position, Up, Down, left, right, and back and forth, the bulge radius of the head, the weight of the head. So you can’t really optimize a golfer using just one golf club head and try and change it from 8° to 12° just using the loft angle as the only variable”. – Dr. Alan Hocknell, Sr. VP R&D Callaway Golf

Finally, the Callaway FT Optiforce features a new OptiFit hosel that allows for independent adjustment of loft and lie angle. In addition to being able to increase loft by 2 degrees, or reduce it by 1 degree, golfers may also choose an upright setting, which can help promote a draw.

But What Does It Look Like

Credit where credit is due, the new FT Optiforce looks great. The 440cc Pro model is visibly more compact than the 460cc Standard model, but both look outstanding, dare I say traditional at address.

Many other explicitly aerodynamic designs feature some sort of visibly gadgetry. While there’s a segment of the golfing population that appreciates visible technology, Callaway clearly wanted to create something that would be taken seriously by traditionalists and tour pros. To appeal to those players, Callaway needed to bundle their aerodynamics in a traditional-looking package.

“We’ve been able to produce this fast head shape without resorting to any unusual aerodynamic shaping features. There are no fins, or pointy bits or anything like that”. – Dr. Hocknell

Callaway FT Optiforce Specifications:

Retail Price for the Callaway FT Optiforce Driver (both models) which hits shelves July 12th is: $399.00.

Don’t Forget the Fairway Wood

It wouldn’t be a driver release (unless it’s a TaylorMade R1) without a corresponding fairway wood. Given how many Xhot and XHot 3 Deeps Callaway has sold, there’s probably not a huge market left for more fairway woods, but what the hell…Callaway made one anyway.

Slightly heavier variants of the PX Velocity and Diamana S+ are stock. For now there’s a single standard model, and it’s not adjustable.

Comparisons to XHot are natural and expected. According to Callaway, the FT Optiforce Fairway will offer more forgiveness and and a higher ball flight than XHot in a lighter package that offers a trajectory similar to the RAZR Fit Xtreme fairway wood (which you may not even know existed).

FT Optiforce Fairway Specifications:

Retail price for the Callaway FT Optiforce Fairway is $229.00.

The Big Picture

If you haven’t been already, it’s time to start paying attention to the new Callaway. While I’m not ready to declare Optiforce a game-changer, it’s a product that speaks to Callaway’s rebirth and their determination not regain their place atop the golf world. They’re not talking about competing. They’re talking about winning.

From my perspective as a unbiased media guy, there’s a lot Callaway has done right all season – and there’s no doubt they’ve really stepped up their game over the last two product releases in particular. Whether it’s the Callaway Talks segment for both the FT Optiforce and the MD 2 Wedge, the infinitely enjoyable Wedgeducation Mashup, and the actually educational videos they promote, Callaway is killing it over 360° online right now.

While their competitors appear to be spinning their social media wheels a bit, Callaway’s non-stop, people-centric, golfer first approach is resonating. Nobody is marketing online better right now.

From my perspective as a still unbiased, but passionate media guy, I still have my doubts about how successful Callaway’s new approach will be long term. While they’ve clearly had a great year, my take is the company hasn’t had the same impact on the offline world. That part of the golf market remains much bigger than Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You know who is still winning there.

For everything that Callaway has done right, there are still some weaknesses that need to be addressed. Great products…and Callaway has no shortage of them it would seem, will only get you so far. Callaway’s ability (or inability) to step up their game, reach the offline consumer, and tidy up shop behind the scenes, will dictate exactly how far back the brand will come.