Mizuno Seeks to Reinsert Itself in the Driver Conversation 
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Mizuno Seeks to Reinsert Itself in the Driver Conversation 

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Mizuno Seeks to Reinsert Itself in the Driver Conversation 

In the summer of 2018, I wrote a story for our Know Your Japanese Golf Brands series that summarized more than 100 years of Mizuno history.  

At that time, Mizuno was well into a revitalization of its iron business. Though it enjoyed a stellar reputation among better players, the lineup had grown bloated and arguably stale. Despite the best efforts and best intentions, Mizuno had shanked its way through the game-improvement category for years. Player’s irons are nice but game-improvement is where the industry makes its money. 

Fortunes changed when Mizuno launched the Hot Metal iron as part of the JPX900 series. Clean by category standards, Hot Metal proved to be the game-improvement iron that established Mizuno as a serious player in the segment. Several revisions later, Hot Metal is Mizuno’s best-selling model. Not bad for a brand once regarded as exclusively for better players. 

By any reasonable measure, Mizuno’s iron business was moving in the right direction. That was only the beginning. Behind the scenes, the company was laying plans to tackle an even bigger challenge: reestablish the Mizuno brand as a credible player in the driver category. 

The Demise 

Once a mainstay on the PGA Tour, the quick version of what led to Mizuno’s fall from grace with the driver can be summarized as a series of unfortunate events: a misreading of the tea leaves, PING’s release of the G2 (seriously) and the bad decisions that followed. The finer points are for another day but the summary version is that as a Tour driver brand, Mizuno had lost all credibility. 

Its weekly driver count had sunk to near zero. 

When it couldn’t convince brand ambassadors like Stacy Lewis and Luke Donald to put its drivers in play, Mizuno compensated by writing contracts that mandated that the company’s headcovers be used to hide its competitors’ products. 

It’s not a great look when the No. 1 player in the world pulls off a Mizuno headcover to reveal a TaylorMade driver. 

“Our brand ambassadors were damaging our woods reputation.” says Chris Voshall, Mizuno USA Golf Product & Marketing Manager. 

So diminished was Mizuno’s driver credibility among the world’s best that Mizuno’s Tour team stopped spending time, or perhaps more directly, wasting time trying to fit Tour pros into its drivers. It wasn’t happening.  

The driver was never part of a contract.  

A Change of Plans 

The view from Mizuno corporate HQ in Osaka, Japan.
The view from Mizuno corporate HQ in Osaka, Japan.

In the summer of 2018, Mizuno was about halfway through the lifecycle of a two-driver lineup. 

The ST180 was the closest thing Mizuno had to a driver for the masses—the everyman club that sales numbers suggested almost no man wanted. The GT180 was the follow-up to the JPX900. It was the lower spinning of the two and offered an excessive amount of adjustability. Between the weight tracks and the lie adjustment mechanism, the GT180 wasn’t so much an innovative statement as it was the strong suggestion that Mizuno was trying too hard. 

If you needed further evidence that Mizuno had lost the plot with the serious golfer, both heads were available exclusively in blue. 

The unfiltered truth of the matter is that Mizuno’s designers weren’t making drivers for Tour players because nobody expected Tour players would use them. 

It was time for a reset. 

Development was well underway on the ST190 driver when, at a meeting at its corporate headquarters in Osaka, Japan, Mizuno made an especially bold decision, given the reputation of its drivers among the world’s best. 

2019 would serve as an adjustment year for its Tour ambassadors. They’d be incentivized to play the driver but it wouldn’t be required. Come 2020, Mizuno would play by new rules: any professional under contact with Mizuno would be required to play the driver. No exceptions. 

For the plan to succeed, Mizuno would need to get serious about a driver in a way it hadn’t been in more than a decade. 

Part and parcel of every equipment story are the details of how the hot new widget was designed with insight and feedback from the Tour staff. 

That hadn’t been the case with Mizuno. 

“I wouldn’t say we kept them in the dark. We always gave them feedback,” says Voshall. “We always got their opinions on stuff but to say that their feedback had massive effect in terms of the direction that that product was already going would be false. The wheels were in motion, and we kept them in the loop.” 

The ST190 represented a fundamental shift in Mizuno design philosophy. Instead of giving Tour pros a heads up on what was in the pipeline, Mizuno began to actively seek their input during the development phase. 

“What we always heard from Tour players is, ‘Just make it a little bit more serious, remove a lot of the bells and whistles on the bottom,’” says Voshall. 

And, yeah, pick up a can of black paint. 

Success Came Unexpectedly and Early 

Mizuno ST190 Drivers

The ST190 was the first generation launched under Mizuno’s new approach and the company had few expectations so early in the rebuilding process. It came as the best of surprises when Keith Mitchell, who had played Mizuno irons through college, ditched his TaylorMade driver for the ST190.  

Voshall says Mitchell was initially just going through the motions. Sometimes, Tour players test stuff for no other reason than they’re under contract with the irons. It’s as much a courtesy as anything else. That was the case with Mitchell and the ST190 but the results were eye-opening for everyone. 

Mitchell’s gamble on the Mizuno driver paid off. In March 2019, he won the Honda Classic with the ST190.  

A mind-blowing footnote in all of this: Mitchell’s was the first Tour win with a Mizuno driver since Vijay Singh won the 2000 Masters. 

It was far too early to say Mizuno was back but Mitchell’s win helped clear some hurdles inside the company. It was validation that Mizuno drivers could win on Tour and, with that, helped alleviate some hesitancy on the part of Mizuno’s Tour team to push the driver. 

“The fact that the Keith test went so well right off the bat I think helped ease a little bit of anxiety from everybody in terms of whether we were making the right choice or not,” says Voshall. 

There was still plenty of work to be done and Mizuno’s newfound unwillingness to negotiate around the driver created a fresh set of consequences. 

There is No Plan B 

In 2018, Eddie Pepperell had won the British Masters and was firmly established as one of Mizuno’s favorite ambassadors. Whether a matter of performance or simply a matter of comfort and trust, Pepperell never got comfortable with a Mizuno driver. When 2020 rolled around, he became the first test case and, ultimately, the first casualty of the new policy.  

While there was some discussion about backing down, Mizuno stuck to its guns. Real progress in the driver category required a hard line in sand. 

“I think everyone thought we were bluffing,” says David Matthews, Mizuno’s Western Golf Brand Marketing Manager. “We had to go through a very painful process of losing people who are valuable to play the long game to come back to where we should have been all along. 

“There couldn’t be a plan B. Plan A had to be the one and only plan and the plan is our players must play our drivers. That’s it.” 

The plan was the reason Mizuno didn’t sign Lucas Glover after he couldn’t get a driver to hook enough for his needs. 

Mizuno also missed out on arguably the most recognizable name in the game short of Tiger when the player flat out refused to even test the driver. 

“I remember sitting in the room and we’re like this may be dumb, but if he’s not testing it, we don’t want him,” says Voshall 

In hindsight, are there any regrets? 

“Kinda, but I think it’s a bigger thing. It’s not a regret. It just speaks volumes to the damage that we had done to our reputation. That he literally said he would not even try it, like to be so close-minded to it, means that it’s not even that you don’t know us, it’s that you have negative confidence in us. 

“I think we’re to blame for that. I don’t think he would have ever said to Callaway, ‘I will not try your stuff.’  We bred that behavior, sadly.” 

The failure to sign top-tier talent was rapidly becoming a source of frustration. Mizuno’s Tour staff was bringing elite players to the table—the caliber of guys any brand would love to have on its roster—but the guys at corporate were standing on principles and rejecting them over the driver.  

“You’ve got to design products that work for the Tour, the Tour staff has to ensure the contracts are rock solid and, when you sign a player, he can’t be testing a PING three months later,” says Matthews 

Those decisions left Mizuno in unfamiliar territory.  

More Money Than Mizuno Can Spend 

Often frugal, Mizuno ownership is often reticent to spend, let alone spend big, on Tour pros and other brand ambassadors. But, as part the efforts to regain credibility at the elite level with the driver, the corporate bosses loosened the purse strings. 

“It’s a tricky thing with your reputation, not just with players in terms of knowing your woods, but also your reputation with managers in terms of knowing what Mizuno is willing to pay,” says Voshall.   

“With a lot of the big names, we never really got much of a shot because they assume Mizuno will not put up the money. We’ve made multi-million-dollar offers to multiple players. It has them kind of reconsidering: ‘Wait, maybe I can’t just dismiss Mizuno or someone who won’t pay them.’ 

“We’re definitely not throwing peanuts anymore.” 

Mizuno had money to invest on Tour but because of its unwillingness to budge on the driver, the Tour team was struggling to find players willing to sign. 

The COVID Boom 

Good Good’s Garrett Clark and Grant Hovart with Luke Donald and Mizuno’s Chris Voshall

The combination of COVID and money to spend created a perfect storm for Mizuno

It’s well-documented that COVID brought new golfers to the game in droves. To its credit, Mizuno was among the first to recognize that something was different about this group. Unlike their pre-COVID counterparts, the new generation of avid golfers didn’t carry the baggage of history. 

One way or another, they had no preconceived notions about Mizuno drivers. 

“I feel like this new generation of golfers is way less locked in on old opinions. They’re willing to try anything,” says Voshall. “I think Trackman and Foresight and all the fittings allow numbers to dictate what works. That has helped us overcome some things because a [bad] reputation can go away pretty quickly if you show better numbers.” 

Unlike more established golfers, the COVID generation was willing to give Mizuno the chance to compete in the fitting bay. While Voshall has no expectation that Mizuno is going to win every time, it’s not lost on him that you’ll win a lot more when given an opportunity to play. 

It was against this backdrop that Mizuno took what, at the time, seemed like yet another bold move.  

Mizuno signed Good Good’s Grant Hovart and Garret Clark to ambassador deals. Clark signed at the end of ‘21 and Clark followed in early ‘22.  

“We signed Grant and Garret early on when the industry wasn’t interested in getting involved,” says Matthews. “Everything was still about Tour players.” 

As the industry has shifted towards influencers as ambassadors, both have since moved on to more lucrative deals but Voshall and Matthews agree that the pair were instrumental in exposing Mizuno to an entirely new demographic of golfers. 

Mizuno continues to dabble in the influencer market but Matthews says it’s proving more difficult to find value. “They’re asking for 10 times what they’re worth so we’re taking the approach: Who are the right people we can get?” 

“We’ve always steered away from sexualization of the brand,” adds Voshall. “We’re not going after that.” 

A New Approach to Everything 

Mizuno Ambassador Ben Griffin

Lessons learned during the driver revitalization project and the Good Good experience have shifted how Mizuno approaches more traditional player signings. 

“It impacts the kind of players you sign,” says Matthews. “When you approach a 27- 28-year-old player who is already established and say, ‘How about a Mizuno driver?’ as soon as that reaction is, ‘Oh, no. I kind of feel bad things,’ it doesn’t matter what the results are anymore. 

“With a 19-, 20-, 21-year-old player, you can start the fitting process with the driver and there’s no resistance because their experience with Mizuno drivers is the last two to three  years and all they’ve had are positive things.” 

There’s perhaps no better example than Ben Griffin on the PGA Tour. Without an equipment contract and searching for a driver, Griffin tested the Mizuno driver and loved it. Once the driver goes in the bag, the rest is easy. 

It’s a similar story for Marco Penge. An up-and-comer on the DP World Tour, Penge is one of the longest hitters on the circuit. “He never questioned it [the driver],” says Matthews.   

“It was the quickest fitting in the world and you suddenly realize there’s this generational thing about what people remember and what stigmas they’ve got about various brands. 

“It changes the way you think about doing everything. It changes the sort of players you go for. It changes how you sequence the fittings. Every part of what we do is different than where we were 10 years ago. “ 

Matthews says Mizuno’s new R&D center wouldn’t have happened without the need for a home base for its younger players and those players don’t happen without the driver project. 

Mizuno’s current Tour staff includes a few players at the highest levels but a bigger group is the pipeline. Mizuno is working with the American Junior Golf Association as well as the Clutch Pro Tour in the UK. It’s an approach Matthews calls “an investment in later.” 

The ST Evolution 

Mizuno ST 230 MAX Driver

Since Mizuno pressed the reset button on its driver program, the technology has steadily evolved as it has iterated from ST190 to the 200 series to where it is today with the four models that makeup the ST230 lineup.  

With each release, Mizuno has alternated between adding speed and increasing forgiveness. 

With ST 190, a new face material help Mizuno get faster. With ST 200, added stability; 200 Z and X got faster; the 220 series more forgiving. The initial offerings in the 230 series further increased speed while Mizuno’s latest, the ST230 MAX, is its most forgiving. 

“Are we where we want to be?” Matthews wonders aloud. “We’re pretty bloody close.” 

If there’s a missing piece, it’s that for all Mizuno has done to elevate its drivers, there’s nothing it can point to that’s uniquely its own. Everybody has some form of face technology. Signature technologies like the Shockwave sole and CoreTech Chamber are Mizuno versions of things that everyone else has. 

Who’s to say Mizuno’s version is better than theirs? 

“There’s nothing unique to the industry, just our execution,” says Voshall. “We’re missing that super-exciting thing we can shout about.” 

That super-exciting thing is coming but that is a story for another day. 

Mizuno Drivers Right Now 

Keith Mitchell with a Mizuno driver
Keith Mitchell continues to find success with a Mizuno driver in the bag

Today, Mizuno is content with where it is in the driver space. It believes it has worked through the hard stuff. Company-wide, everyone has bought into the notion that Mizuno drivers aren’t inferior anymore. It’s undone some of the negative beliefs and, in doing so, has established trust with its brand ambassadors. 

The driver is no longer a hurdle, at least not with the type of player Mizuno wants to sign. 

That’s backed up by this season’s success on the professional tours. Lights and buzzers may not have gone off to signal Mizuno’s return but there have been a series of moments the show that something is happening. 

Keith Mitchell, the man who put Mizuno drivers back on the map, sits sixth in Strokes Gined off the tee. Grayson Murray won the Sony Open, Bailey Tardy won the LPGA’s Blue Bay and Steven Fisk picked up a victory on the Korn Ferry Tour—all three with Mizuno drivers in the bag. 

Luke Donald and Stacy Lewis are still on staff but both now pair their Mizuno headcovers with Mizuno drivers.

Luke Donald plays a Mizuno driver

The Work to Be Done 

What’s Mizuno’s homework? What does it need to do next? 

Voshall thinks he, and the rest of the Mizuno team, need a technology and a story that’s compelling enough that you’ll want to try a Mizuno driver. TaylorMade and Callaway will almost always get a shot. The next stage of the game requires that uniquely and exclusively Mizuno “thing” that will giving golfers a reason to pick up a Mizuno driver instead of a Titleist or a COBRA. 

If the plan stays on track, Mizuno is confident it won’t be long before it can do just that. 



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Tony Covey

Tony Covey

Tony Covey

Tony is the Editor of MyGolfSpy where his job is to bring fresh and innovative content to the site. In addition to his editorial responsibilities, he was instrumental in developing MyGolfSpy's data-driven testing methodologies and continues to sift through our data to find the insights that can help improve your game. Tony believes that golfers deserve to know what's real and what's not, and that means MyGolfSpy's equipment coverage must extend beyond the so-called facts as dictated by the same companies that created them. Most of all Tony believes in performance over hype and #PowerToThePlayer.

Tony Covey

Tony Covey

Tony Covey





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      Peter

      3 days ago

      I went to Golf Galaxy and was looking at the Mizuno drivers, they were all on clearance. Any Mizuno driver is $300. I checked Dick’s, they are all on clearance. I figured they would be, same parent company. Then I checked PGA superstore, you can get the ST Max as low as $300. TGW.com, ST Max is $300. Can the stores just not sell them? I have seen a number of positive reviews, but it seems they are not selling. At $300, that’s half what the PING G430 is selling for.

      Reply

      Yummy

      4 weeks ago

      Puh-leez.
      For YEARS AND YEARS, in recent years, that is, the LENGTH measurements of the Mizunos were stated at 45 inches, when everybody else were at 45.5 or longer at 45.75, ahem, cough, Taylormade cough cough 46 inches (on a couple of their drivers at one time), even Cobra and Ping had a couple at 46.
      NOW, they are “matching” their lengths to everybody else, and all of a sudden, they gained some yardages to “catch up” to the others just because their clubs are as long in build lengths, which meant that their head weights also matched the others. Until then, being stuck at 45, their heads were a few grams heavier, and even though they were consistent, they were never going to win the distance challenge.
      Now I am not denigrating Mizuno, I play their irons and have done so for a long time, and ALL of their clubs have been absolutely fine for 90% of amateurs who can’t even hit it past 225 yards carry most of the time, it would have made no difference what they were using, but public image and marketing play big roles alongside actual results, and distances had to match the other companies’ clubs to be able to compete in sales.
      Didn’t help that Mizuno never had any big names play their drivers ever, never wanting to pay anybody to play them, not wanting to dial them in more custom options and different head weights and “Tour only” versions to get the mythology working overtime like the others.
      Times do change and things do catch up, and Mizuno has finally stepped it up a little bit, but holding their cards to the chests still, is weird, how they don’t want to flood the market as it were, like the others, even though they have a build factory in Georgia, USA. They can say fitting this and fitting that, but since it’s a Japanese company, after all, will we ever see a place like the Kingdom or TPI or Kierland (Ping) or Callaway etc in the US????? cos that’s what Mizuno needs to do.
      I’ve also found their face angles to be awkward with their adapter, I am so used to the others

      Reply

      Alex

      4 weeks ago

      MGS has mostly crapped all over Mizuno in recent driver testing, especially the X versions. You tubers tend to like the drivers FWIW. The stock shafts are a bit shorter than the other OEMs, which might explain why it scores lower on distance.

      Reply

      WYBob

      4 weeks ago

      Nice article and glad to see Mizuno competing again in the metal wood space. I played their drivers 20+ years ago but then drifted away to TaylorMade, Titleist, and Callaway depending on the model and year. Their MP line of irons is what has kept me loyal. My observation is that every company over time has highs and lows in the driver space. My advice to Mizuno would be to continue to evolve, price their drivers and metal woods at a competitively attractive price, and offer an expanded matrix of shafts. Most driver heads today offer reasonably comparable performance, and the key is getting the right shaft-head combination for each person’s swing. Hence why fitting is so important and an area they should put a keen focus on.

      Reply

      Breaking90

      4 weeks ago

      The fact of the matter is that Mizuno will never win the marketing game in the U.S. against TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist, and to an extent Ping. You’ll also never find them in general sports stores like Dick’s like those brands. But look around and they’re performing and acting just like how other Japanese brands are performing and acting.

      BTW – have been playing the STZ-230 since beginning of 2023 and love the driver. Plenty long and I’d say more forgiving than my old driver (Ping G410 Plus).

      Reply

      Bogey Bob

      4 weeks ago

      Great article. Everyone getting fit for a driver should give Mizuno a fair shot as part of the comparison phase.

      Reply

      Will

      4 weeks ago

      I did, found it very straight and consistent, but so short it was basically just an easier to hit 3w. That said, had I gone with it instead of the Stealth 2 Plus I ended up with, maybe I wouldn’t have had to RMA my driver twice in a year for a randomly shattered head…

      Reply

      Bill

      3 weeks ago

      I was open minded in my recent fit, and to my surprise bought the ST 230 Max. New TMs just weren’t a match for me, smoke ai was decent but I didn’t love it. Came down to Cobra, Ping, Mizuno. All were good, ping and look and feel just never seemed right. Cobra LS was absolute bomber, easily my longest, but would get wild with low spin knuckles occasionally. I was able to middle the Mizuno repeatedly, and spin was decent zone. I left yardage on the table, but hopefully the repeatability pays off.

      Hopp Man

      4 weeks ago

      I hit the ST230 last year during a fitting/hitting demo at my golf course, I was underwhelmed TBH, there was nothing special or compelling and it certainly wasn’t better than my Rogue ST Max LS. I also hit their hybrids and maybe a fairway wood as well, none of them seemed to really work for me. I do like their irons, I have had a couple of sets and their irons are nice.

      Reply

      MrHogan

      4 weeks ago

      I like this article, well researched and well written which is no surprise coming from Mr Covey.

      I also like Mizuno drivers and have had many over the past 10 years. Unfortunately during my search for a great Mizuno driver, like many others, I too ended up disappointed.
      I eventually discovered the JDM and latched onto their Mizuno drivers and was more than pleased with the performance. Inventory now includes the MP Type – 1, MP Type – 2, and my current gamer Pro Model – S.

      Nice to see and hear Mizuno is not giving up on producing a better driver. Look forward to seeing some data on the newer products to come, and hey, if MGS has a Mizuno driver test in the future, I’m certainly willing and available to participate. Just sayin..

      Reply

      Ronny

      4 weeks ago

      I stumbled upon the st200g . I’ve played nothing but TM, some callaway and ping over the last ten years and this thing once seeing the numbers was awesome. Similar numbers to my stealth plus but it felt different and it sat open which was a dream for me. Out on the course it was even better. It is NO DOUBT the best driver I’ve played in a long long time. And my arccos stats can prove it. Just as long as TM or anything else out there and forgiving as well. In the bag and I’ve never driven the ball better

      Reply

      Jeff Taverna

      4 weeks ago

      Tony, great article on Mizuno and it’s marketing challenges and performance improvement path. I game the MP-20s and T22 wedges. I would love to see Mizuno move forward in the driver market. (Same for putters).

      Reply

      John S

      4 weeks ago

      If we’ve learned anything in the past decade, it’s that people are going to believe what they’re going to believe even if they’re beaten over the head with evidence to the contrary. Mizuno is smart to target the younger generation before they’ve dug their feet into the sand.

      Reply

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