Written By: John Barba
So…What’s The Deal With This Nike Volt/Vapor Anyways?
MyGolfSpy was 1 of 15 invited guests to The Oven to check out Nike’s new Vapor gear. The event focused on drivers, FW’s and hybrids (well, mostly drivers), but we got to see The Oven as few outsiders ever do.
After a welcome presentation from Rob Arluna, (Category Business Director for Nike Golf), we split into 4 groups for breakout sessions:
- Nike Vapor Pro & Speed Drivers
- Nike Vapor Flex Driver
- Fairway Woods & Hybrids
- Facility Tour
- Driver Fitting & Club Test Session.
Nike Golf To Be More Like Overall Nike Brand Now
For starters, what’s with this Volt/Vapor thing? Arluna says it’s part of Nike Golf’s effort to get more aligned with the overall Nike brand. Volt yellow is Nike’s franchise color (along with Nike’s shoebox orange) and Vapor is a franchise name. Across Nike’s product lines, anything Vapor is usually the lightest and highest performing in its category. For golf, Vapor means using weight effectively, allowing for precise fine-tuning.
Arluna said Nike plans to leverage the Volt image, and thinks golfers will embrace it. “Frankly, we know it will be polarizing. But that’s okay. You’ve got to take chances and push the envelope.” Pushing the envelope and pursuing innovation were key themes all day. The slogan “there’s always better” isn’t just a catchphrase to Nike. They pursue it with what appears to be near-maniacal zeal.
More Golf Balls In A Year, Than Most Hit In A Lifetime
At Nike product innovation truly does begin with the athlete – something that’s done throughout Nike. I spoke with several engineers and designers who work hand-in-glove with Tiger, Rory, and others to find out what’s in their brains and put it into a golf club.
“These guys hit more golf balls in a year than most people hit in a lifetime,” said master club builder Mike Taylor. “They know better than anybody what their clubs should be doing. And they can tell you more than any robot ever could.”
This work, says Nike, leads to better equipment for consumer.
What You Need To Know (Nike’s Vapor Innovations)
- Modern Muscle Technology: Found in the new Vapor irons (not discussed at this event).
- RZN technology for weight management: RZN is light, strong, carbon-infused material used for weight management. It’s what makes the Flex line possible.
- Covert Cavity Back: The Covert name is gone, but the cavity carries on.
- Flex Flight: The little AA battery-looking thing in the Flex driver. Nike says it allows for CG optimization and precisefine-tuning.
- Compression Channel: Nike says new manufacturing techniques allow them to incorporate a compression channel – that groove-gap type thing on the sole just behind the face – with the Covert Cavity Back.
- Flex Loft 2.0: New loft adjustment device. Same adjustability but Nike says it’s 30% lighter.
- Counter Flex Putters: Not on display, but basically a way to counterweight your putter any way you like by adjusting a weight in the shaft.
NEW Custom Fitting Program
- Performance Fitting Centers: A full fitting experience with swing and equipment analysis, lessons and play. First one is already open in Sea Island, Georgia with plans for more worldwide, including 3 or 4 in the US.
- Performance Fitting Studios: Partnership with Nike brand-believing fitters for full bag fittings.
- Best-in-class fitting carts and bags: For retailers, with training for retail fitters and sales associates on key product line features.
To Be Better, You Have To Be Different.
Our first breakout was with Nate Radcliffe, Director of Engineering, and his team to discuss the Vapor Pro and Vapor Speed drivers, although most of the time was spent on the Vapor Pro. Radcliffe repeated the mantra: innovation is driven by their athlete’s insights. They say Nike absorbs the athletes’ passion and knowledge and look for ways to innovate, because “there’s always better, and to be better, you have to be different. Better is not the same, by definition.” says Radcliffe
Radcliffe said thanks to Tiger, the Compression Channel is back. Radcliffe says the new channel is shallow at the club center to help enhance the so-called “trampoline affect,” but deeper at the heal and toe
“We’ve all jumped on trampolines – lots of bounce in the middle but a lot less on the outside,” he said. “The deeper channels at the heal and toe of the driver create a ‘springboard’ affect, making distance loss minimal on off-center hits.”
You should be able to feel the difference on toe and heal strikes (and as I learned during driver testing, you can).
Introducing: The Nike Vapor Pro
The Nike Vapor Pro is Rory’s club. Head is 460 CC and has a slightly different toe design than the Covert 2.0 Tour (Rory’s input).
- CG is lower by 2.3%, closer to the face by 5.8%
- Head is 4.5 grams lighter
- Ballspeed (based on 95 MPH swing) up .7 MPH
- Launch angle up .5*
- Spin rate down 250 RPM
- Longer by 6 yards
A real deal Diamana+ Blue Board is stock. The White Board and Fubuki Z and ZT lightweight shafts are all no-cost options. Despite the name, Nike says the Pro is pretty forgiving (it is a 460 CC head, after all), but they do think the “Pro”will likely restrict the audience.
Vapor Speed vs. Covert 2.0:
- Deeper face
- Lower, more forward CG,
- Overall CG is closer to the clubface center
- Ball speed is same as Covert 2.0, but Speed is much better on heal/toe hits
- Launch angle up slightly, spin down 400 RPM
- Speed is 3 yards longer with 95 MPH swing speed
- The Vapor Flex had its own breakout, along with the Flex FW’s and hybrids, but the driver dominated the session.
Introducing: The Nike Vapor Flex
Tony Dabbs, Nike’s Product Manager for Clubs, started the discussion with the line of the event: “I’m not a fan of bullshit. In the end, these are just golf clubs. It’s not like we’re fighting the Taliban or anything.”Love the candor!
With that, we started a tear down of what makes the Flex flex.
So what is this Flex Flight? Why Does A Golf Club Have a AA Battery Inside It?
So what is this Flex Flight Adjustability? The “Flight Pod” is that AA battery looking thing that allows you to adjust the club’s CG forward or backward. Its two-way adjustability, along with 3 face angle settings and 5 lofts gives you 30 setup options with one head.
Key Flex points:
- Flight pod weighs 15 grams
- Two options – Low or Mid – reflect ball launch preference
- In Low the weight’s forward, promoting a lower ball flight. It reduces club loft at impact, producing lower launch angle, lower spin
- Mid Position increases loft at impact, increasing launch angle and spin.
- Flight Pod shifts the CG 2.5mm , which Nike says is enough to matter. (When I hit the Flex, the difference was noticeable)
- Flight Pod and housing assembly is made of RZN, 1/3 lighter than Titanium, but still strong enough to do the job
*The Flight Pod adjustment is the 5th and final dimension of fitting, and is all about dialing in the last 200 RPM of spin.
The 5 dimensions are:
- Head selection (Flex, Pro or Speed)
- Flex Loft angle
- Side to side appearance (club head shape)
- Shaft selection
- CG adjustment with Flight Pod
The first two dimensions affect distance the most, the rest are all about fine-tuning the club.
Robot testing of the Pod in different positions shows that changing the CG position results in a 7% change in spin, 2% change in launch angle and 8% change in peak ball height. He said a real golfer with a real swing would probably see even greater differences.
Flex vs Pro vs Speed
- Head Profile: The Flex head profile is identical to the Pro head when looking down
- Face Profile: Flex has a shallower face.
- Head Size: Flex is 420 to 430 CC’s compared to Pro’s 460. The Flex is basically Tiger’s head profile
- Price: (Flex = $499) (Pro = $399) (Speed = $299)
- Forgiveness: (Speed = Most Forgiving) (Pro = Not Far Behind)
It’s very important to communicate the technology of the three drivers so consumers can navigate their way to the right one. As stated earlier, Nike says they’re committed to training retailers to at least know the difference. That said, Nike says you probably won’t see the Flex at Dick’s. They took a wild-assed guess at a sales mix and figure on 60% Speed, 30% Pro and 10% Flex. Those estimates are based on both price point and performance. They don’t plan on categorizing any of the drivers as Game Improvement or Tour, but the names may wind up doing it for them.
Why Is Flex $100 More Expensive? Here Is Why.
So why is the Flex $100 more expensive than the Pro? Tony says it’s the technology, including the Flex Flight Adjustment assembly, the finish, which is apparently different, and that more high end shafts are available at no up charge.
Introducing: Hybrids & Fairway Woods:
- Reduced Flex Loft 2.0 mass is noticed most here in weight management. Makes them similar to glued models.
- Vapor Flex 3-wood is adjustable from 13* up to 17*, 5-wood is 17* to 21*
- Vapor speed is bonded
- Compression Channel is different from the drivers – much deeper up behind the club face, making the club face hotter throughout
- Flex has flatter leading edge than past FW’s, CG is lower/closer to the face resulting in 5 more yards. Diamana Blue Board is stock
Come Inside! The Nike Oven Tour
Next up was the Oven tour. If you like machinery, test labs and craftsmanship then this was Christmas, New Year’s and a ban on Chinese imports all rolled into one!
We got to see the COR Cannon – where 100 MPH laser guided golf balls are shot at stationary club faces to see how hot they come off (USGA rules say no more than 83 MPG for a .83 COR). One engineer said back when Phil said Tiger was using “inferior equipment,” they put a picture of Phil on a clubface before firing. Watermelons, apples and plastic toys have all found their way into the COR cannon over the years.
Gotta have a little fun at work, right?
The tour highlight was visiting with legendary master club builder Mike Taylor. Mike, like many Oven craftsmen, came to Nike from the Hogan Company. He talked with us while grinding custom wedges for Francesco Molinari and, like every one else, he stressed how much they mine their pros for club design information.
I was standing next to a bag of stray clubs while Mike talked. Taking a quick glance, I noticed a couple of beat up wedges with “RORS” stamped on them.
Mike smiled and said “Oh, that’s Rory.”
A few others had “TW” stamped on them. I knew better than to ask.
Also in the bag – the very first MM Proto’s made for Tiger and Rory, as well as several wedges with their special grinds.
(Preliminary) Club Testing & Driver Fitting
Last up was the club test and driver fitting. We tested the Vapor Pro Combo irons and Vapor Flex hybrids and FW’s. Nike asked for my specs in advance, so there was a set with KBS Tour shafts in stiff ready to rock. I brought my gamers to compare, Srixon Z-TX irons, Cobra Baffler hybrids and a Cally 2-Deep fairway wood for a club-to-club challenge.
Started with the PW, and worked down the bag. My first impression was crisp, a nice, crisp “snapping” sound off the face. My Srixon’s have more of a “smack” sound – a little softer, not quite as crisp.
So a “snap” as opposed to a “smack.” Got it?
Feel was also noticeably crisper than the Srixon’s. That’s not to say the feel was harsh in any way – the crispness felt very good and you absolutely knew it when you flushed one.
The Vapor Pro Combo’s are 1025 forged carbon steel. The 8-PW are muscle-cavity, the 5-7 have a cavity with a little RZN. The short irons are smooth and, as we learned during the afternoon round, able to lay some nice spin on approach shots.
The Vapor Flex hybrids launched noticeably lower (that low, forward CG thing again) with a nice, penetrating ball flight. The Vapor Flex 3-wood was remarkably easy to get airborne, again with a penetrating ball flight.
Next up were the drivers.
We started with a Vapor Pro head and Aldila Tour Green shaft and compared it to my gamer, a Cally X2Hot with the same shaft. I’ve had pretty decent success with the Callaway, but was anxious to see how Nike stacked up, numbers wise.
The Pro, had that nice, crisp snapping sound. Not distracting at all.
We then switched to the Vapor Flex and I felt an immediate difference in the club. It wasn’t so much that it felt heavier, but it felt – I don’t know – loaded.
The first few swings were great. The feel was very, very different from the Pro. If it were an iron I would say the feel was “softer.” The ball flight was similar – penetrating and in the right direction.
What The Numbers Say
We then compared both to my gamer on the Trackman. The Callaway, as expected, was spinnier (around 3800 to 4000) and launched higher. My swing speed was right around 97 MPH (normal) and carry distance was around 241.
Next was the Vapor Pro and right away spin came down to under 3000 RPM, ball flight was lower and swing speed was up to nearly 99 MPH. Ball speed increased and carry distance jumped to 250 – a 9-yard increase.
The Vapor Flex numbers were very similar to the Vapor Pro, but the Pro was more consistent and forgiving. That’s 460 vs. 420, I guess, so we decided to go with the Vapor Pro. Me and Rory.
Rory’s Personal Fitter
After golf was a rooftop dinner with some Nike staffers. I sat with Matt Plumb, he serves as Rory’s personal fitter. Matt had some great stories, but one sticks out about Rory’s struggles with the driver during his first year with Nike.
Nike: Headed In The Right Direction
Near the end of the evening, the entire Nike experience came into focus to me. The folks at the Oven believe very much in what they’re doing, and take obvious pride in their work. Around 10 PM, after a long, long day, Matt Plumb looked at Mike Taylor and, with a gleam in his eye, said to Mike:
“Got some work for you tomorrow.” (Matt)
“Is it good work?” (Mike)
“Oh, Yeah.” (Matt)
“Then let’s get started early.” (Mike)