Here’s a question – when you’re a new and/or relatively unknown brand, how do you establish yourself? Is it better to do what everyone else is doing and hope you do it better?
Or do you try to do something different?
The former is ballsy, but the odds are stacked against you because you have to somehow navigate your way through a crowded market and hope – hope – customers will not only notice you but get what you’re saying – and you have to hope whatever it is you have really is better. A newcomer has to differentiate and to differentiate one must be, well, different.
In most any business, to establish yourself you have to be similar enough to what people expect but to get really noticed you have to pave your own way and be willing to shake things up, without going too far. And you have to be willing to take your lumps along the way.
It’s a delicate balancing act, and it’s why the status quo is such a harsh mistress.
We saw something at the PGA Show Demo Day yesterday that certainly qualifies as different. The MyGolfSpy Staff to a man said it’s interesting. Now, there’s a difference between good interesting and WTF interesting, but what we can say is the English reboot of the classic Lynx brand, and its new Prowler VT driver will be getting some attention – thanks in no small part to something called Switch Face Technology.
Face To Face
Adjustable hosel technology has basically been your jacks or better to open in the driver game for at least a decade. It’s so common that it’s noteworthy when a driver doesn’t have it. But there are shortcoming to the adjustable hosel.
First is the weight. Even the lightest assemblies can move 15 grams into the hosel and away from areas where it might offer more forgiveness or lower spin. The second shortcoming is the balance between loft, lie and face angle. As you loft up, the face angle closes. The opposite happens when you loft down. If you need to hit the ball lower but have a slightly over the top swing, you’re in a bit of a quandary.
Lynx says it has a unique solution to the problem with removable and interchangeable faceplates.
I told you it would be interesting.
“It’s a way of adjusting your driver and getting a true loft,” says Steve Elford, C.E.O and, along with his wife Stephanie Zinser, co-owner of Lynx. “An adjustable hosel isn’t giving you a true loft, and we also know we have to compromise where the weight is going.”
The Prowler VT with Switch Face Technology allows you to do just that: switch loft and face angle specific faceplates instead of adjusting the driver at the hosel. The head is two separate pieces: an 8-1-1 cast titanium head and a face plate cast from TC-4 titanium and CNC milled to a specific loft and face angle.
There are five lofts (8- through 12-degrees) and 5 face angle options (1- and 2-degrees open, neutral and 1- and 2-degrees closed) for a total of 25 options.
“If you put an 8-degree face on it, it will be 8-degrees, and it will sit square,” says Elford. “If you want it 1-degree or 2-degrees open or closed, you can do that as well with different faces, but it’s a true loft rather than a slightly contrived one.”
So rather than referring to instruction sheets to figure out how setup your driver, you simply pick the loft and face angle you want, and away you go. The face itself is attached to the head with 5 screws embedded in the face itself, so you won’t have to worry about losing them
Turn and Face the Strange
Switch Face Technology has been nearly ten years in the making because, as Zinser tells MyGolfSpy, “it’s bloody difficult to do.”
“It’s been tried, but the sound was dreadful,” she says. “And we all know if something sounds bad, it’s going to feel bad.”
“We know more about titanium now, and about CNC milling,” adds Elford. “One of the problems we had to overcome was the bang. It was really hard to make it sound good – early models sounded tinny, just horrible.”
We had the chance to demo the Prowler VT at Demo Day yesterday, and it’s fair to say Lynx has licked whatever sound issue they may have experienced. It has a nice, solid feel and a muted sound that’s well within what most golfers would consider a good sounding driver. We only had perhaps a dozen swings with the driver, but I can say it neither outperformed nor underperformed my Srixon gamer, and that was with only one face plate to try and with the stock UST Mamiya Recoil shaft.
You may be searching your memory banks for other clubs with removable faces and saying “Hah! This is nothing new.” TaylorMade tried something similar with the XFT wedge several years back. The rationale was wedges tend to wear out, so why not just make a wedge with a replaceable face. It was a great idea for Tour players who liked their wedge set up but who tear through wedge grooves like it’s their job. The concept never caught on at retail though, and it’s probably a good thing for TaylorMade because you want golfers to replace their wedges and not just the faces.
“If it was easy to do with a driver it would have been done before,” says Zinser. “I don’t think any of these big companies, despite the fact they claim to have these big R&D departments, I’m not convinced they’d want to take this risk.”
Face The Music
There are lots of questions that need to be asked about this idea, and many of the answers will come over time. But a couple of obvious ones are how durable is the face and are we worried the face could come loose?
“The massive challenge with the face was to make it thick enough to be conforming,” says Alex Bridges, Lynx’s International Sales Manager. “With TC 4 titanium, some of the original faces were too hot, so we had to thicken them up to get the ball speed down to conforming levels.”
Bridges says the faces have been tested with thousands of high-velocity impacts to ensure durability, and those same tests satisfied concerns over the face coming loose.
Another concern is driver physics. Most 2019 drivers feature either crown or sole waves that collapse at impact and act to give the face a little more flex for better ball speeds. The question – and head to head testing will provide the answer – is can the Prowler VT, with its separate screwed on face – be able to flex enough to provide the kind of ball speeds needed to be in the discussion with mainstream brands?
As for taking away your ability to tinker, studies have shown over 80% of the golfers don’t adjust their drivers more than twice, and many of those adjust it either one time or not at all. Lynx assets there’s still the opportunity to tinker with different faceplates (although the cost of each face may curb the tinkering – more than on that later).
‘With an adjustable hosel, you’re actually never really changing the physical loft of the face compared to the rest of the head it’s on,” says Zinser. “You’re adjusting the way the clubhead approaches the ball, but you’re not actually properly changing the loft of the striking plate. We also sell adjustable drivers, and we don’t think there’s anything wrong with adjustable drivers, but are you really going to innovate or not?”
Innovation will come at a price. The final version of the VT Prowler is being finalized and will go into production in March. We should see them here in the U.S. by mid-summer at an asking price of $525.00 for the driver and two face plates of your choosing. Additional faceplates will sell for $120.00.
“It’s been a long process and an expensive process to make this thing,” says Elford. “We think it’s a ballsy price, but we think it’s a fair price for the latest thing.”
“If you price it low people will say you don’t have much faith in it,” adds Zinser. “You can’t win for losing on that one.”
Risk and the Status Quo
Pricing aside, is this idea – which you can’t deny is interesting – a necessary innovation or another solution in search of a problem? On the one hand, you could say a Titleist, Cobra or PING as $399 to $499 gives you more adjustability for a good bit less money and are, for better or for worse, known and safe brands. Lynx is more money for less adjustability and is an unknown brand, at least in North America.
On the other hand, there are shortcomings with hosel adjustability that we’ve just come to accept. The actual lofts are approximations, and even though you can adjust to a half a degree, the face angle will change with each adjustment. We go to great lengths to get properly fit, and then try to fine tune with what amounts to a semi-blunt instrument. An open-minded fitter should be able to dial you in with a precise loft (even though the faces are in 1-degree increments) and face angle while keeping the two separate. You won’t have to sacrifice one to get the other.
And what goes without saying is the driver, no matter how many faces, has to perform well enough to be at the very least in the conversation with the safe choices. That’s an uphill battle for an established brand, but even more so for a relative unknown such as Lynx.
But it’s that unknown status that actually makes Lynx a company uniquely suited to take this kind of risk.
“The big OEMs don’t have to prove themselves and have too much to lose,” says Zinser. “A big company with a hired CEO and shareholders, they’re not motivated to take a really big risk. If it’s wrong, it falls on them. It’s a risk-averse mentality that’s understandable if you’re an employee rather than an owner.”
Lynx, of course, is family run by Elford and Zinser, and in the grand scheme of things is tiny.
“But I don’t think TaylorMade or Callaway have a monopoly on all the good ideas,” says Elford. “I really don’t.”
“If we didn’t do anything, we’d be accused of being boring,” says Zinser. “I’d rather go out interesting than boring any day of the week. And the golfing consumer really can’t complain that there’s nothing new if they throw bricks at people who try to shake things up a bit. No matter how cynical you may be, you can’t deny there’s a difference between an adjustable hosel and changing the actual faceplate for loft and face angle.”
How successful the Lynx Prowler VT and Switch Plate Technology will be depend on how you keep score. If Big 5 level volume is your measuring stick, well we can just stop the discussion now. It’s not happening now or five years from now. If you consider success selling 100, 500 or even a thousand drivers, then that’s a different conversation. What is clear, however, is a brand in Lynx’s position isn’t going to get anywhere by doing the same thing everyone else is doing.
“We’re not doing this out of pure bloody mindedness,” says Zinser. “We’re doing it because it’s different and we think it’s good innovation. If we don’t do it, then who are we? We’d be just another golf company.”
“Lynx was always known for being an innovative brand and we want to revive the brand and the attributes the brand was known for: performance, innovation and quality, and for being a cool, funky brand to have in your bag.
Golfers will buy Twist Face, Screw Face, Flash Face or whatever face the big guys tell you to buy without even questioning it, so seriously, why the hell not Switch Face?
If nothing else, it’s different.
And is certainly is interesting.