By Gary Van Sickle
ORLANDO, Fla. -- I once wrote that Demo Day at the PGA Merchandise Show was the greatest day of the year. Maybe I exaggerated, but it's definitely in the top five and well ahead of Groundhog Day, Bring Your Dog to Work Day and Arbor Day.
At Demo Day, nearly all the major golf manufacturers set up stations around a gigantic 360-degree range at Orange County National. I was here to check out what's new in golf equipment for SI's Golf Plus, but I was also on a more selfish mission. My Cobra driver, which I've had for the last five or six years, passed away recently. The cause of death was a cracked face, and now I'm looking to make a new hire.
Over the years, I've developed a few rules for Demo Day. First, only three swings per club: I don't want my swing to adjust to a new club, and I need to pace my aging body so I can get around the whole circle. Second, don't make snap judgments. I've fallen in love with clubs at Demo Day only to be disappointed when I bought them. My search for a new driver is not over, but thanks to Demo Day, the field is narrowing.
Callaway was my first stop, where I picked up the new Big Bertha Diablo 9.5-degree neutral model and bashed three straight beauties without so much as a warmup, a pleasant surprise. The club has kind of an odd-looking back end, but that's OK. I also tried the FTiQ, which has a squarish, carved-out look, but no luck there.
Cobra and Titleist returned to the Show for the first time in several years. They were sorely missed. I thought maybe I could find a great-great-grandson of my late Cobra SZ440, which I liked because it felt like the ball jumped off the face. The Cobra S9-1 fit the bill. It had a nice look, not unlike the muscled top ridge of my old club. It's big, but the head's thickness tapers off at the back and looks less like a flying saucer than some previous models.
At the Titleist bays, I wore out the turf trying various versions of the 909 D2, 909 D3 and DComp. The D2 is a mid-launch club, the D3 is a low-launcher for high-ball hitters, and the DComp the highest launching version of the three. I liked the extra hang time on the DComp. I think that could be a winner.
The Mizuno MX 700 made me think of John Daly. I mean, heads are limited
to 460 cc, but this thing just looks like it's been on a bacon-burger-and-beer
diet. I clouted it pretty well,
however, and I
noticed it has a quieter sound than some previous Mizunos I've hit.
Powerbilt isn't a big player in golf, and I probably wouldn't have stopped there if it hadn't introduced a new Air Force driver, right, that features a chamber filled with nitrogen gas. The pressurized gas adds strength, allowing thinner walls and less weight. I tried two models. The rounder one, the PV (as in Player Version), wasn't bad. You can work the ball a little better if you're one of those few players who knows what direction the driver is headed.
But no three shots felt any better than the sleeve I pounded with the Adams Speedline. It's got a more traditional head shape and some interesting grid lines around its edges. This one definitely advances to the playoff round.
My last stop was Nike. The buzz at this year's show will likely revolve around Nike's new SQ Dymo S2 STR8-Fit driver, which can be adjusted to eight different loft-and-lie positions. This idea is the next innovation after last year's interchangeable-shaft clubs. I hit it reasonably well, and the adjustability makes a lot of sense. TaylorMade started this trend with its successful movable weights. Now we've evolved to adjustable loft and lie.
It's like buying the characteristics of eight different drivers. TaylorMade has a similar new driver but didn't attend Demo Day, so I didn't get a chance to try it out.
What's going to end up in my bag? I don't know yet, but I'm encouraged. In the past few years, I haven't been all that excited about the trend toward bigger and squarer heads. Nothing had proven itself superior to my old Cobra. But I could easily put any of these clubs in my bag and be happy. Thanks to Demo Day, I was able to check them all out in one afternoon.
(Photos: David Walberg/SI)