It’s been a curious couple of years for Mizuno. To borrow a show-biz analogy, the golf division of the billion-dollar Japanese sporting goods giant has been the darling of the critics, but performance at the box office has been, well, meh.

Mizzy’s overall business in the America’s (they combine North and South) has been operating in the red for each of the past two fiscal years – including a $23 million loss last year – with overall sales decreasing in each of the last three years. While there are no golf-specific numbers, company reports cite severe price competition in both golf and baseball, as well shrinking markets for both as key reasons.

Crazy numbers when considering Mizzy’s iconic status in both sports, especially golf. We’re currently halfway through the 3rd Quarter of Mizuno’s fiscal year and although 1st Quarter sales in the America’s were down 12% (2nd Quarter results haven’t been posted yet), a full golf season of the JPX 900 irons and metalwoods, a US Open victory and the MP-18 launch should give Mizzy a badly needed boost.

To further stir the sales pot, Mizuno is adding another entry to its lineup, the ST 180 line of metal woods.

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Not Another Driver?

Before you start yakking that Mizzy is going all Taylormade or Callaway on us, this isn’t that.

Yes, Mizuno gave us the JPX 900 driver last fall. The ST 180 lineup, however, is an on-schedule replacement for the 2-year old JPX EZ metal woods, which were released in November of 2015. The JPX EZ’s were high MOI and geared towards mid- to high-handicappers, and the ST 180’s represent the natural evolution of the EZ’s…sort of.

The JPX EZ’s center of gravity was among the deepest MyGolfSpy measured in 2016, making it one of the more forgiving drivers of the year, but the CG was also among the highest measured. For the mid- to high-handicapper who needed forgiveness and help getting the ball up in the air, it was a solid performer. For better players, though, the EZ could launch a little too high with a little too much spin.

To make the ST 180 a little more better-player friendly while maintaining the EZ’s forgiveness, Mizuno is taking a page from PING’s playbook: keep the CG as far back as you can, but drop it as low as possible for the forgiveness the mid- to high-handicapper needs, and the lower launch and lower spin the better player wants.

And do it while eschewing overly complicated moveable weights. Or any moveable weights at all, for that matter.

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Waffles and Waves

While low and back CG with a high MOI is a neat trick, the recipe is pretty straightforward – thin out the crown as much as possible to save weight while expanding and lowering the sweet spot. But straightforward doesn’t mean easy.

Mizuno thins out the crown by using an internal waffle pattern – think PING’s visible Dragonfly crown, only it’s waffles, and it’s inside, so you can’t see it – to save 5 grams. To expand the sweet spot, the ST 180 uses a special, high-end titanium alloy Mizuno calls Forged SP700. Mizzy says SP700 is about 10% stronger than the more commonly used 6-4 titanium, and it has a much finer grain structure, which helps sound and overall face hotness. In the never-ending hunt for a larger sweet spot, Mizzy says the ST 180’s sweet spot is roughly 30% larger than the competitions.

As Reagan used to say: Trust, but verify.

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To get the sweet spot lower, Mizuno has refined its Sole Wave Technology – the little waves in the sole that allow the face to flex at impact. Mizzy has added some mass to the first couple of waves and made those first few waves a little deeper for better and more responsive energy transfer.

Does it all work? Mizzy tested the ST 180 head to head with the Epic and the M2 and you’ll be shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn the ST 180 performed better. Ball speed was identical to Epic and a couple MPH higher than M2, launch angle was a tad higher Epic, and a tad lower than M2, and spin was a wee bit higher than Epic but a fair bit lower than M2.

Bottom line is nearly two yards more carry than Epic and nearly three yards more carry than M2.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and MyGolfSpy will run its own tests come Most Wanted Driver time.

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Shafts ‘N Such

Mizuno has a reasonably aggressive no-upcharge list of shaft options, with 12 choices across four flexes, including the Kuro Kage Silver TiNi Dual Cor, the Tensei White, Orange and Blue, and the Bassara E42.

The Tensei Blue is the stock option in stiff flex, while the Tensei Orange is the stock regular flex shaft.

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The ST 180 uses the same Quick Switch adapter as the JPX 900, which lets you choose from five standard lofts (7.5 to 11.5) and three upright lofts (8.5 to 10.5). The driver is also available in a high launch option, with loft adjustable from 10.5 to 14.5 degrees. Both are available in left and right-handed models.

Golf Pride’s M31 360 grip is stock.

The ST 180 sells for $399.99 and is on sale now.

ST 180 Fairway Metals

The fairway metal story is similar to the driver story – lower the sweet spot, boost the heel-toe MOI and heat up the face for more ball speed.

Mizuno is using 1770 maraging steel for the face, which is stronger and more flexible than the commonly used 455 stainless steel and can, therefore, be made thinner which can be, therefore, hotter. PING, Wilson, Srixon, and others use maraging steel in their fairway metals, but this is a first for Mizuno.

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Mizuno’s Sole Wave and Waffle Crown Technologies are also part of the fairway story, all in the name of saving and redistributing weight, lowering the sweet spot and boosting the whole ball speed thing.

The ST 180 Fairways are available in your basic 15-degree 3- wood and an 18-degree 5-wood in right-handed models, but only in the 3 for lefties. Mizzy’s Quick Switch adapter lets you adjust each up or down 2 degrees.

The Tensei Blue is the stock shaft, and the Golf Price M31 360 is the stock grip. It sells for $249.99 and is also available now.