As we’ve said, ‘tis the season. Mizuno drivers on the USGA List, F-MAX Airspeed from Cobra (with Speedzone on the way), and now it’s Vokey’s turn to start the two-month-long tease before the release of SM8 becomes officially official. Given the typical cadence of the industry and its collective desire to squeeze whatever benefit it can from the money otherwise wasted on the boil that is the PGA Show, you can expect the full story to land the 3rd week of January.
Inventories have reached sufficient quantities to fill a tour truck, which means Vokey loyalists on the PGA Tour have the option of putting the new wedges in play for the first time at Sea Island this week. Not that some didn’t previously have access to unmarked prototypes. Those were incredibly well received. While that part is boilerplate for nearly every tour validation story, it’s a particular bit of background, which, in greater context, may provide some insight into what we can expect from the SM8.
The full quote from Titleist reads: “Those prototypes were incredibly well received, with players commenting on improved flight and feel, and overall better results.”
So what can we make of this?
Progressive CG has been a significant part of the Vokey wedge story over the last couple of iterations. Technical details aside, it boils down to moving weight around and optimizing the launch and spin characteristics at each loft. This is an area where Vokey has been meticulous to the point of accounting for the influence of the grind on the center of mass. It’s a level of detail meant to ensure that a 54° M Grind offers the same flight as 54° F. Vokey believes the launch and spin properties shouldn’t change because of the grind. That sounds reasonable to me.
Expect that story to evolve, and things like progressive hosel lengths will likely continue to be a part of it.
The feel piece should raise eyebrows. Vokey wedges are cast from 8620. The company could shift course and forge the SM8 from something like 1025 (Mizuno style), but I doubt it. An entirely new material is possible, but my guess is the feel improvements will come either from tweaks to its 8620 alloy or refinements to the head shape (topline thickness, perhaps) to smooth out vibrations a bit.
Feel may also partially explain the cosmetic departure from previous Vokey iterations (geometry plays a significant role in feel). I suspect, however, that bit is more of an aesthetic necessity to allow for a more seamless visual transition from Titleist’s modernized T100, T200, and maybe even T300, iron sets.
The bottom line here is that we don’t hear many complaints about the feel of Vokey wedges, so there’s no reason to expect a significant change.
In my mind, there are two areas where I believe Vokey has an opportunity to improve on the previous generation.
The first is with its grind offerings. Vokey guys will tell you that its selection of grinds is its biggest advantage in the market. No other company offers as broad a swath from super-low bounce (4°) to high bounce (14°) across its lineup. As a result, none of its competitors can match Vokey’s capabilities to precisely fit golfers based on their swing, course condition, or general playability demands.
With that in mind (and with competitors narrowing the gap a bit), it’s reasonable to assume Vokey has looked at further extending its grind offerings. Recent Vokey Wedge Works offering suggests the D Grind (described as a better player’s high-bounce wedge) will trickle down from lob (58° and 60° in SM7) to sand wedge lofts (54°, 56°) in SM8. In fact, book it. It’s going to happen.
Other recent Wedge Works releases point to the possibility of a return of a mass-market T Grind in higher lofts. That one is less certain, as is the possibility of an entirely new grind as Bob Vokey’s apprentice, Aaron Dill’s influence grows.
There is a functional limit to the number of SKUs Vokey can offer, which explains the company’s propensity for keeping mainstays in the lineup, while shuffling less popular grinds in and out (and in and out of its Wedge Works platform) with each new release. It provides variety without oversaturating the retail market. With SM7, Vokey offers 23 unique combinations of loft and bounce/grind. That number may tick up just a bit with SM8, or it could hold steady. I’d be shocked if it dropped.
The second opportunity for improvement is with Vokey’s groove and/or finish technology. Renowned for its Spin Milled grooves, short of some durability tweaks, Vokey hasn’t refreshed its groove story in years – it hasn’t needed to. In dry conditions, Vokey wedges are inarguably among the highest spinners in golf.
As our wedge test showed, however, as moisture is introduced into the equation, spin from the SM7s dropped appreciably. In those situations, our data suggests Vokey wedges are the very definition of average. That’s not good enough for the market leader – at least it shouldn’t be.
Whether it’s via the finish (PING’s Hydropearl) or updated moisture channeling groove tech (Mizuno’s Hydroflow Microgrooves), we’ve seen that technology can combat spin degradation. With golfers becoming more knowledgeable about how course conditions can impact the performance of their equipment, Vokey may not want to wait until SM9 to join the spin preservation party.
While it hardly qualifies as an improvement beyond your personal preference (unless it helps to preserve spin), Vokey traditionally adds and removes finish options with each release. The SM7 is available in Tour Chrome, Jet Black, and Brushed Steel. Among those three, there’s something there for almost everyone. Of the three, however, brushed steel is the one I’d expect to be upgraded (albeit with something similar). Call it tweaked rather than completely replaced.
Tour Chrome will always be in the lineup, and Jet Black seems likely to carry on (if for no other reason than I want it to).
Vokey’s competitors are making fresh noise with raw options, so it’s possible that a raw option could slide back into the lineup as well – though if Vokey does offer raw, it’s unlikely to promise you more spin because of it. Finally, Slate Blue, which was featured in a pair of semi-recent Wedge Works releases, could find its way onto the sell sheet – though it could be limited to custom order, and will definitely require an upcharge.
The More Things Change…
When you’re the runaway #1 at anything, there’s little upside to reinventing the wheel. Vokey wedges are dominant on tour, and dominant at retail, so don’t expect a radical departure from the past formula. As you, me, and everyone else (Vokey included) continue to learn more about wedge performance, there will be opportunities for improvement, and while it’s certain Vokey will look to advance performance wherever it can, with SM8, I mostly I’d expect Vokey to keep what it’s doing.