Our annual Most Wanted tests allow us to take a purely objective and data-driven look at product performance, but as the year comes to an end, we’d like to offer you a more subjective look at the best of 2018. For our Editors’ Choice Awards we consider not only performance but the opinions of the MyGolfSpy staff, and the golfers we speak with on a daily basis, while also considering immediate market impact or a product’s long-term potential to advance the industry. In short, it’s an opportunity for us to tell you about our favorite products and stories from the past year.
For 2018, we’ve added a couple of new categories to allow us to recognize products across a greater swath of the industry.
As has become tradition, our goal with Editors’ Choice is to recognize the products, innovations, and companies that we believe were difference makers in 2018. As is also tradition, the big winner was once again NONE. In hindsight, 2018 wasn’t a banner year for golf equipment. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of solid offerings in every category, there just wasn’t as much that stood out. Is that a sign that innovation and technology are reaching the end of the line, or is it just a lull, an anomaly, if you will, with great things to come in 2019?
Here are this season’s winners:
New Club Tech: NONE
When it comes to club tech, 2018 was a year of potential; there was plenty of interesting stuff, but the jury is still out. 2019 will tell us if products like Barney Adams’ Stability Shaft or the Odyssey Stroke Lab shaft will change the putter forever. There’s promising new face technology on the horizon too. You know the drill…everybody has a story, not everybody delivers. 2018 brought us plenty of promise, but there wasn’t anything we’re willing to call game-changing.
Driver: PING G400 LST
The LST is by far the biggest and potentially only no-brainer on this list. PING’s G400 LST was our Most Wanted Driver winner and performed surprisingly well (given its low spin classification) across our entire testing pool. Most telling perhaps is that the MyGolfSpy staff has access to nearly every piece of equipment on the market, and yet, the LST spent considerable time in nearly every staff member’s bag. For every manufacturer, there are products that underperform and some that exceed every reasonable expectation. The PING G400 LST is definitely a case of the latter.
Fairway Wood: NONE
There were several fairway woods we liked this year. The Tour Edge Exotics CBX was our Most Wanted winner. It’s hard to argue against Callaway’s Rogue Sub Zero for distance, and Cobra’s F8+ is notable for its eye-pleasing compact size. Across the board, there was plenty to like, but nothing that separated itself from the pack.
Once again, there was plenty we liked and a few surprises too. Bridgestone’s Tour B XD-H took home Most Wanted honors. The Titleist 818 did nothing but reinforce our affection for the company’s hybrids. Cobra’s infinitely playable ONE Length hybrid hasn’t received much attention, but it has the potential to solve a lot of issues at the long end of the bag. As with the fairway wood, however, there was plenty of really good, but nothing that truly stands out.
Super Game Improvement Iron: Cleveland Launcher HB
A Most Wanted winner that we think is a cut above; the Cleveland Launcher JB is unapologetically super game improvement. Purists may not love the larger, almost hybrid-like heads, but nearly to a man, our testers raved about how easy the Launcher is to hit and hit well. It’s said that golf is a game of misses and for golfers desperately trying to hit fewer bad shots, Launcher HB is a standout.
Game Improvement Iron: Srixon Z585
Another Most Wanted winner that was also hugely popular with our testers – and the feedback suggests with golfers everywhere. The Z585 brings an aspirational quality not often found in the game improvement space. It’s not compact, but it manages to retain aesthetic features that traditionalists will appreciate. Even if the market hasn’t realized it, Srixon has quietly become a force in the iron category. Its products continue to impress.
Players Iron: MP-18 (SC)
While by the letter, the Editors’ choice award goes to the Most Wanted Winning MP-18 Split Cavity, as a family the MP-18 absolutely shines. The more forgiving MP-18 MMC finished second (behind the SC) in our players iron test, and for golfers seeking a pure blade (or as close to a pure blade as the modern world will deliver), the MP-18 is nearly flawless. From end to end, the MP-18 is of those product lines that makes you question how they can possibly make it better. Fall of 2019 may provide an answer.
Wedge: PING Glide 2.0 Stealth
Despite increased play on tour, the PING Glide 2.0 has largely flown under the radar. That needs to change. Glide. 2.0 Stealth isn’t the Editor’s Choice because it was a surprise winner, we’re recognizing it here because, by the data, its was the most dominant win in any test category for 2018.
Blade Putter: EVNROLL ER3
What can we say about the EVNROLL brand other than it continues to perform. For the second year in a row, an Evnroll (this time the ER3) took home top honors in our Most Wanted Blade test. Face technology, and grooves in particular, work. The ER3 is further proof that it’s time to hang your no tech putter on the wall where it belongs and fully embrace the 21st century.
Mallet Putter: Tommy Armour Impact Series No. 3 Alignment
Arguably the biggest surprise in Most Wanted Testing ever, the No. 3 tied for first in our Most Wanted Mallet Test, besting putters that retail for literally hundreds of dollars more. Currently selling for just $99, non-brandwashed golfers bold enough to bag a house brand putter have been rewarded with outstanding performance. The bang for the buck argument is easy to make, but what’s most impressive is that the Impact No.3 holds its own at any price.
Golf Ball: NONE
Apologies to everyone who is rabidly devout to a single ball, but when we look at the complete picture, there isn’t a single model that stands out. Chrome Soft increased share, Bridgestone had a resurgent year on tour, Titleist launched AVX while its tour usage (Pro V1/Pro V1X) increased (without paying more guys). Srixon remained grossly underrated. TP5 powered along. Snell, Vice, Cut, and others continued to make noise in the direct to consumer space. There were plenty of good products and good stories coming out of the ball category, but nothing that we believe deserves special recognition.
Golf Grip: Golf Pride ALIGN
This is the first year we’ve given an award to a grip, but we’re big fans of the Golf Pride ALIGN series. It’s true, not everyone loves a reminder grip, but for those who do, the ALIGN is the best we’ve seen over the last decade plus. Initially available in MCC and MCC PLUS 4 styles only, ALIGN technology is now available in Tour Velvet Series (the most popular grip in golf). The fact that OEMs have not only added the ALIGN to their lineups but that it’s starting to trickle out as a stock offering suggests consumers are beginning to embrace the technology.
Golf Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange
The Tensei CK Pro Orange had an inarguable impact on tour this year with seemingly everyone who moved out of something else, moving into it. Counterbalanced with a unique bend profile, the Tensei CK Pro Orange was at one time or another played by Tiger, Rory, and Justin Rose among others. I suppose it’s also noteworthy that the average-golfer-friendly, non-pro variant has become increasing popular in OEM stock and no upcharge lineups as well.
Golf Shoe Spiked: NONE
Like any other year, there were plenty of solid footwear options. The adidas Tour 360 Boost 2.0 is noteworthy as the top choice in our annual Buyer’s Guide. Sketchers, Under Armour, and FootJoy also brought strong offerings to the table. While 2018 was a good year for golf shoes, there wasn’t any single shoe we would classify as exceptional.
Golf Shoe (Spikeless): NONE
Again, we found plenty of solid offerings. The PUMA Grip Fusion took top honors, we still love FootJoy’s Pro/SL, and no amount of whining about looks can offset the fact that Skechers makes an insanely comfortable shoe. There were a plethora of outstanding choices in the category, but none we felt stood head and shoulders, or I suppose shins and ankles, above the rest.
Training Aid (Full Swing): SuperSpeed
A nearly universal truth in golf is that everyone wants to hit the ball farther. The easiest way to do that – at least on paper – is to swing faster. That’s easier said than done for sure, but the SuperSpeed system promises to train your brain to allow your body to swing faster. The system is widely used by PGA Tour professionals, there are case studies that suggest it works, and in forum testing, MyGolfSpy readers have reported gains upwards of 10 MPH. Actual mileage may vary, but if you’re looking to gain distance, SuperSpeed may be your best option.
Training Aid (Putting): Putt Out
Good putting is about 3 things; reading the line, hitting the ball on that line, and controlling the pace. While putt out can’t do much to help you with the first one, the simple little fold out putting trainer teaches you to control speed while forcing you – if you hope to have any success – to hit the ball on the correct line. What I love about PuttOUT is that it makes practice a game. And while sometimes it’s an infuriating game, you’ll likely stay more engaged for it. While I was initially dismissive, I’ve also become a big fan of the accessory putting mat. It provides a surface that rolls true with alignment lines can help you identify small flaws in your setup.
Consumer Technology: Nikon Coolshot Pro Stabilized Rangefinder
The Nikon rangefinder is our choice in the technology category because it solves a problem we’ve heard about for years. Countless golfers – particularly aging golfers – weren’t able to take advantage of rangefinders because they couldn’t hold them steady enough to lock on the target. Using the same technology found in camera lenses, Nikon Coolshot stabilization technology allows just about anyone to lock on to the flagstick and get an accurate reading.
Enterprise Technology: NONE
Much like our club technology category, there’s plenty of promise in the enterprise technology category, but it’s going to take some time for the next round of innovations to shake out. The launch monitor guys hard at work. Foresight’s putting system shows promise, its Downrange Tracking System could become a staple in R&D departments across the industry, and the upcoming GCHawk could be the next big thing for indoor golf facilities. Trackman improved its face and ball tracking, while the TopTracer range product continues to infiltrate driving ranges across the country. We expect 2019 will offer some breakthrough technologies, but we’re taking a wait and see approach this time around.
Equipment Story of the Year: All 4 Majors Won by Non-Contract Players
Perhaps there’s no greater example of the changing landscape of PGA Tour equipment contracts than the fact that all four of Majors in 2018 were won by players without bag deals. Brooks Koepka won two (U.S. Open and PGA Championship) most notably with Mizuno irons. Patrick Reed won the Masters giving former original Ben Hogan and Nike guy, Mike Taylor the first major win for his Artisan wedge brand. Finally, Francesco Molinari won the Open Championship with 13 TaylorMade clubs in the bag.
None of this means pay for play will go away entirely, but it does suggest that professionals are wising up and realizing that the money that comes from committing to a full bag of one brand isn’t worth risking what they could earn by playing the best clubs for their individual games.
Comeback Company of the Year: Wilson
Feelings aren’t facts, but the vibe is that the idea of a new Wilson Golf may finally gaining momentum. With the Triton debacle behind it, Driver vs. Driver 2 was well received, and Wilson has enough confidence in the output – The Cortex – that it raised the price to $500. Builds on a strong catalog of irons. Still plenty of work to be done, but the company is taking steps to change perceptions, and early indications are its beginning to pay off.
Golf Company of the Year: Callaway
Perhaps more so than in years past, there were arguments to be made for other brands. My colleague, Rick Young, selected Tour Edge, citing its impressive product line and growing presence on the PGA Tour Champions. PING was strongly considered as well based on its exceptional showing in Most Wanted Tests where it took home 14 awards across all categories. When we looked at the entire landscape, however, it was difficult to make a strong case against choosing Callaway Golf for the 4th consecutive year. The accomplishments are again plentiful. While the final numbers aren’t in, here’s how Callaway’s 2018 is shaping up from a retail perspective (dollar share):
- The #1 selling driver model for the year with Rogue
- #1 in the Fairway, Hybrid, and Iron categories.
- #2 in Golf Ball
Those same trends suggest that Callaway will finish the year as a billion dollar company. And while it’s certainly true that the bottom line has been padded significantly by the full integration of Travis Mathew and OGIO, those brands are thriving under their new ownership. The company recently announced the acquisition of outdoor apparel brand Jack Wolfskin, which will further extend its reach beyond the traditional golf market.
Unless a competitor steps up – and frankly, given Callaway’s expanding footprint, that seems unlikely – 2019 is shaping up to be another monster. The upcoming Epic Flash will almost certainly prove the be the best-selling driver of 2019, the same is true of a new Apex iron, and if the momentum continues in the golf ball category, Titleist could find its share consistently below 50% for the first time in longer than recent memory.
This time last year, I thought it was likely that the market would show signs of Callaway fatigue. It appears I was wrong, and given the impending and significant refreshes in key categories, 2019 will likely be Callaway’s biggest ever.