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Last night at a highly-scripted event held at Liberty National Golf Club, Nike Golf, with the help of Jimmy Fallon, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy unveiled their new line of Vapor Series irons.

The actual presentation was unusually brief and light on any actual technical details (that’s what today is all about). Instead the crowd watched the 3 special guests crack jokes while Fallon and McIlroy took turns hitting to illuminated greens in the distance.

Fallon’s presence was interesting. He certainly ramped up the entertainment value of the evening. If he’s one-and-one with Nike so be it (it was fun), but if the company has larger plans for him, his influence could actually help Nike reach new golfers.


The Vapor Lineup

By now most of you have seen the #MMProto irons that Nike launched in extremely limited quantities a few weeks ago. Those, now known as the Vapor Pro, are part of the new lineup, albeit with one not-so-subtle tweak. The Pro, along with the other two new irons (Vapor Pro Combo and Vapor Speed), feature bright neon accents. FYI, Nike calls the color Volt, and I suspect it’s not going to resonate – at least not in any positive way – with purists, and those of you who are already a bit Nike Golf averse.

This will not come as a surprise to anyone at Nike Golf.

Based on names along, I’m sure you can figure our where the Vapor Speed and Vapor Pro Combos fit in the Nike lineup. And yes…I’m vigorously shaking my head at the use of Speed. Fast/Speed, Speed/Fast…what else do you guys have?

This is a New Nike

One of the takeaways from the business side is that this is a new Nike Golf. There’s a new marketing team in place, the company is more focused on zeroing in on its target demographic (if you’re grumbling about Volt accents, it’s not you), and perhaps most noteworthy, the golf division is becoming more integrated with Big Nike. What that means is that if Nike releases a bright neon signature shoe, the branding (including the color) is going to bleed its way into the Nike Golf product line.

What I saw last night was certainly non-traditional, absolutely polarizing, and totally Nike.

Let’s talk about what’s going on in real world terms. Nike has taken the name, and some of the coloring from it’s Hypervenom Soccer Boot and built an iron lineup around it (technical details not withstanding).

It’s no longer about Tiger and Victory Red. It’s about golf being part of the larger Nike identity.

Initial Impressions

The media had a chance to hit the new product (mostly in the dark) last night. My personal feeling is that Nike should have left the Volt off of the Pro. Blade guys favor clean designs, and the Vapor Pro isn’t that. Color aside, it’s a nice-enough looking blade that feels like it should when you hit it in the middle of the face. Miss it…well, it’s blade.

Nike has always done their Pro Combo set well, and the Vapor Pro Combo is no different. In terms of demographics, they fill the sweet spot in the low to middle handicap range well, and while you’re not going to miss the volt accents, it’s by no means over the top.

The game-improvement iron (Vapor Speed) is where Nike has clearly made the biggest improvement. It’s a demographic that’s likely to be more receptive to Nike branding anyway, and finally Nike can say they have a visually compelling offering. It’s frighteningly easy to hit. It doesn’t matter where on the face you strike the ball, the line and trajectory remain constant. It’s not going to hurt Nike that the product is much easier on the eyes (even with a giant volt swoosh) than previous Nike GI irons.

Details to Follow

We’ll be onsite today and will update the live thread with more details from this morning’s technical presentations. We’ll no doubt hear about things like polymer packings, hollow cavities, and all those sorts of things that golf companies like to talk about.

The story is only beginning.

For now, what I can say is that Nike, a company know for taking bold steps, has taken its boldest leap to date, and arguably there’s no coming back from here. For better or worse, golfers will remember the day the Swoosh turned volt (even if they call it neon).

It’s aggressive. It’s risky, and while I’m inclined to tell you that neon (whatever you want to call it) can’t work in golf, I’m also certain that once upon a time people said the same thing about soccer, basketball, running, and the countless other sports where nearly everything Nike does works.

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