Katsumasa Miyamoto was one of the main players under TourStage sponsorship and it appears he is getting along well with the new Bridgestone gear. While Miyamoto-san doesn’t have any victories on the U.S Tour he is in double digit territory with his wins on the JPGA.
Note the X-Wedges are still in his bag dispite Bridgestone releasing new wedges, expect more JPGA pics here at TourSpecGolf shortly. For more images follow the jump!
I’ve had the chance to spend more time on the LPGA tour here in Japan recently especially when they roll into my area here in Chiba. Last week was The Cyberagent Ladies at Tsurumai and this week the first Major of the year at Ibaraki Country Club. It’s always fun to watch the girls play and check out what clubs they use. For the average golfer which makes up the largest portion of golfers here in Japan, the ladies tour is much more reflective of what is mainstream. Sure the guys tour is full of great players and gear but most average golfers don’t play blades or compact cavities nor do they tee of with compact deep drivers and X flex shafts.
I was able to get out to Ibaraki on Tuesday for a practice day. Practice days are great days to go as players are more relaxed since scores don’t count yet and they pretty much play a practice round and hit the driving ranges and practice putting greens to fine tune their swing and clubs. Its very interesting to see which players practice a lot and which players not so much. Many of the big pro service/tour vans were parked in the woods between the two designated driving ranges. There were trackmans on the ranges and craftsmen getting the girls to try new shafts, prototype clubs and of course brands pushing their clubs on girls who don’t already play their brands.
When there is a major in Japan, several top US LPGA pros always make the trip and this time the World Ladies Championship – Salonpas Cup as its called features top pros Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Momoko Ueda, Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie all coming across the Pacific to play. Ai-chan (pictured above with her caddie Michael Seaborn gauging distances at the range) is to ladies golf what Ryo Ishikawa is to mens golf in Japan, a star and everywhere she went cameras and event staff followed. I was able to watch her play a few holes, practice on the range and spend time on the practice putting greens. Golf publications were dissecting her bag so I just peeked over their shoulders to see what she had. Many of the top Tourstage pros have begun pushing the ViQ brand more, which everyone knows is the more average golfer model. Ai-chan carries the new ViQ driver as well as not yet released ViQ Forged (yes finally they appear to be coming back!). A few other top Japan based Tourstage pros are also carrying the ViQ Forged but top Japan based Chie Arimura is playing the X-Blade 705 Type M.
Michelle Wie was accompanied to Japan and around practice day by her parents who watched over her on the driving range and walked the course with her. I actually had the pleasure of eating lunch at the table right next to hers in the clubhouse… wow she is tall!!! And boy does she hit it long. While many of the Japanese players barely hit 160cm, Michelle at 185cm towers over them. Many of the tour van staff around the range gawked at her size and distances.
One of my favorite new pros is Ohe Kaori. She is only 153cm tall but has a very dynamic swing. Two weeks ago just after her 22nd birthday she won her for Japan LPGA tournament, the Fujisankei Ladies Classic by simply hitting it straight and putting it in the hole which is what we all want to do. Even at 153cm she drives the ball well over 250y with her new Legacy Black 9.5* and Kai’li Prototype. She is still playing the original Legacy Forged irons which have long been one of the most popular irons geared towards average and improving golfers.
As always Srixon/XXIO is in full force on the ladies tour and there was a very large amount of players gaming the new XXIO 7 woods and irons (especially irons). The Gloire driver was in the bag of Shinobu Moromizato who on this event 3 years ago and the new Titleist VG3 forged also made an appearance in the bag of Erika Kikuchi. Two of the top Korean pros on the ladies tour, SoHee Kim and Eun-a Lim also sport Yururi Tour Wedges which was nice to see. Momoko Ueda who you can see in the picture above I snapped joking with her caddie, is now playing the Legacy Black Forged after years of playing the original Legacy Forged. Finally Ji-Hee Lee who must have been on the range for 3-4 hours straight plays a really awesome bag with ONOFF Type-S Driver, Type-D 3 and 5 woods, Type-S 21* ‘UT, ONOFF Forged 4-PW a Beres W103 Wedge and the Shingo Limited W358 wedge. The perfect ONOFF Bag!
I was invited to the season ending Tour event at beautiful King’s Fields Golf Club here in Chiba. The Hitachi 3tours Championship is held at the end of every season to benefit children charities here in Japan. Top players, 6 on each team, representing the JGTO (Japan men’s tour), JLPGA, and Senior PGA Japan compete against other for bragging rights only. All proceeds from the tournament go to charity. The morning starts off with 3 groups of 6, or 2 on each team playing alternate shot. This goes for 9 holes. The afternoon session sees 6 singles matches pitting a top men’s pro against a senior pro against a lady pro. Points are scored 3.0 for a win, 2.0 for second or 1.0 for 3rd (both points are split in the case of a tie).
The men’s team featured top pros like Ryo Ishikawa, Yuta Ikeda and money leader Sang-Moon Bae. The senior side was led by Nobuo Serizawa and Kiyoshi Murota while the ladies team featured Sakura Yokomine, Yukari Baba, Ritsuko Ryu, Miki Saiki, Shiho Oyama and money leader Sun-Ju Ahn. Players are very relaxed as the tournament is for fun and they joke around and simply enjoy the last event of the season.
Camera crews and media were out in full force and I was lucky to get spotted on the tube a few times by neighbors thanks to my bright blue top (see first pic)… seems like everyone else was in black or white.
The weather was simply amazing and actually quite warm for almost mid December. Though the grass has browned for the winter the course was in amazing and rather lush conditions. For the 3tours event, the tees are of course staggered with Men’s pros playing from the Champions tees, seniors from the back tees and ladies from the regular tees. The ladies were on a roll all day and even though they had to content with over 500y par 5’s, several girls were able to get 2 and dominate the scores with superb putting.
The girls won the first 4 singles matches, followed by a second by Sakura and Sun-ju splitting first and second points in the last group. It was enough for them to have a dominating 24.5 point win versus 16.5 for the JGTO and 13 for the PGA Seniors. All in all a very fun day and I look forward to the 2012 season!
Yesterday was the final round of the Konica Minolta Cup or better known as the LPGA Championships, one of Japan’s Majors at beautiful Kings Fields here in Chiba. I was lucky enough to meet Keita-san from Keigekiku Yururi who was attending the Major to provide Pro Support for 3 of his top pros, who had made the cut for weekend play. Pro Service responsibilities include attending tournaments not only during competition days, but more importantly during practice rounds and events like the Pro-Am to make sure pros have their clubs setup and tuned properly as well using those days to let other pros try out and test clubs. I followed Keita-san on the course to cheer on Yururi users and of course for me, lots of other pros who I also like.
Meeting pros and seeing them face to face like Sakura Yokomine, Momoko Ueda, Yoko Mitsuka (who won), and up and coming players like Rikako Morita and Ritsuko Ryu was very exciting. I went to the driving range and watched Sakura hitting balls and warming up before the round and just being able to watch the girls strike the ball up close inspired me to get out and practice.
The day started early as I headed over to Kings Field at around 6:30am. The drive was only 30 minutes away and I got there in time to get onto the range and watch Yururi Pro So-Hee Kim and Momoko Ueda warming up before their tee offs. So-Hee struggled a bit during the first day of the tournament but still made the cut and finished strongly with a one over 73 today to finish at +8 and a tie for 34th overall. The course was difficult and of the 132 competitors ONLY 4 finished the four days under par. Kings Fields is a very challenging and sloping course with many hazards and with the weather unpredictable during the last few days, scores were just as unpredictable. I began the morning following So-Hee in a group with Na-Ri Kim and Yumiko Yoshida. By the 2nd hole it began pouring and then thunder and lightening which halted the round.
The weather cleared and it turned out to be a beautiful but hot day and a great final run watching Yuko Mitsuka come back from 3 shots down to win. I’m a dedicated follower of the JLPGA and many of its players though most of it has been in High Definition only. Seeing everyone live and up close in action, I can’t wait till the next tournament where hopefully I can go for full tournament as well. Until then its off to the driving range to practice my swing!
They are sold out at the moment, because of Akira’s unique business model of only building clubs for their own tour players and the left overs being sold to the public they have run out of Tour Wedges. I’m awaiting an update from them to see If and when more will be produced.
I was not very happy about this so what Akira has done is offer us their latest unadvertised unnamed wedge. Not sure what we should call it and I don’t know how long it will be available. I know frustrating isn’t it. I decided to post pics anyway and to write this blog post to let everyone know that if you purchase the Tour Wedge in the proshop that you will be emailed the option of these rare beauties to replace it.
It’s a purdy wedge, I haven’t hit it yet, It’s a RAW head so it will wear but it’s also a heavier head for tour use. It’s basically their H1 series with an RTG finish and slightly different stampings. Just wanted to let everyone know. And for those waiting on the M215 #3 wood those should be in any day now.
It’s easy to look past Akira with their huge product line not to mention everything is named prototype and designated with a letter and numbers. Many customers have been emailing asking about all the difference between the models. Hidden in that expansive line up are some true gems. One of the most notable would be the Prototype M215 recently seen in K.J Choi’s bag and PGA tour player Jeff Street. A couple of months ago TSG got a few of these shafted up with the Diamana Kai’li to try out and the results were unexpected.
Tatsuro and I have given the M215 by Akira a good beating and it flat out performed with excellent results. There is a good chance that a 3/5/7 wood combo is in my bag’s near future. The feel and sound at impact is hot, metallic, with a slight spongy aspect to it. Did I mention this thing was hot? Super hot off the face!
It’s appearance is pretty straight forward no unnecessary tech or gimmicks attached. Although it has a weight screw it’s not adjustable, the Akira Tour dept uses this screw to match swing weight for professional players. Looking down at the M215 it’s nice and compact with a slightly open face angle at 15* yet the 5 & 7 woods are dead square. Face depth was what I consider perfect, not ultra deep like Royal Collection but not shallow like the PRGR Egg im gaming now.
Dispersion with the Kai’li was incredibly stable and straight, I was producing a piercing medium trajectory with above average amounts of carry and a big kick n roll forward. As far as distance goes it’s not the PRGR Egg but I can live with that as with a 3/5/7 combo I think my distance gaps would be more consistent and reliable. Already we are seeing delays on the 15* model but in a couple of weeks that should be taken care of.
Recently one of TSG’s members BogeyDog posted his thoughts in our forum click here to see what he says about his first 36 holes with his new 5 & 7 Akira M215 Fairway Woods.
As we near another British Open at Royal St. George, I thought I would go through the list of players from Japan competing in this years Open. It’s always a good opportunity not only to see some Japan tour players but also to see some JDM gear in action. I’ve also got a few pictures of each players bags, though not necessarily what they will be playing at the Open.
Ryo Ishikawa – Yonex: Ishikawa has been altering between his trusty tour cavity backs and new Yonex muscle backs all year. What will he play come Thursday? He relies on his new 380cc driver and ST 3 Wood and surely that 16* 0 iron will come in handy for him especially if the wind picks up. Can the 19 year old finally come through on the world stage? He’s got the raw skills but still lacks composure under pressure and the ability to be consistent. He must tame his wildness to be successful.
Yuta Ikeda – Tourstage: Ikeda is the new top man for Tourstage and sports the all Bridgestone bag unlike most pros that have a mix mash of brands. From the X-Drive 415 to GR utilities to 905 CB Limiteds and even TS Wedges and putter, Ikeda is the anti Ishikawa, quiet, reserved, not flashy at all. In Japan he is the young man (25) who’s an old man based on his demeanor.
Hiroyuki Fujita – Yamaha: Fujita is one of my favorite golfers. At 42 years young he is full of experience and has superb touch around the greens. He is not overly long compared to the young guns but he is just as styling on the course. He games the Yamaha V425 Tour and V Forged Tour Model but struggles sometimes with the left side. I’m always rooting for him.
Tadahiro Takayama – Tourstage: There was a time where Takayama was one of the hot up and comers for Tourstage on the Japanese tour. He faded for a while and was quiet before coming back strong over the last two seasons. Takayama is gaming the X Blade 901 Limted Blades and X-Drive 705 455 driver. He’s a streaky player who can either be hot and contend or disappear on the first day.
Tetsuji Hiratsuka – Tourstage: Like Fujita, Hiratsuka has been around on the Japan Tour and has been a mainstay with Tourstage. Still gaming the 09W-01-01 Prototype which the 703 Limited is based on, he also games the newer X-Blade 705 Type M. Another player who is up and down and can get hot… (or cold).
Hiroo Kawai – Taylormade Japan: At 39 Kawai got his first Japan Tour win of his career and it happened to be a Japan major at the Nissin PGA Championships which got him into the Open. He games the R11 and the Japan model R9 Forged. I don’t really know much about him since he really only broke out this year.
While I don’t really for see any of the Japan Tour players making a run at the Open, frankly the course is nothing like what they play in Japan, I’ll root for them nonetheless. And if one were to show up on the leader board it would be great for Japan. Thanks to the favorable time difference, the Open here in Japan will be aired on prime time which is awesome as I rarely get to watch any of the US based events live due to the time difference.
So what do you think? Who will win this years British Open?
Akira Golf – TourSpecGolf will be offering Akira Limited Tour Issue products via the TSG ProShop starting tomorrow. The Akira Golf Company is under Azumo Holding Co. which is a division within Hitachi which is a huge multinational corporation specializing in high tech manufacturing and services in Japan. They produce everything from electronics to military technology for the JDF and a variety of countries. That said the backing of Akira Golf is obviously substantial but it still operates under a Tour Only design and distribution concept.
Akira produces clubs for the Tour Player, they produce small batches with little to no concern about revenues or the standard consumer market. Several months ago I hit a variety of their golf clubs in Japan and with the drivers especially I noticed the ball flight was lower than most which is similar to Ryoma & JBeam in some respects. Now that we have a relationship with Akira I better understand why that was, It’s the JPGA & PGA tour players input that weigh’s heaviest on the design and performance of the golf club.
Notice how the irons and blacked out driver images above are labelled “PROTOTYPE”. There are two famous designers at Akura Golf, one is Masuda-san who was the personal crafter and design consultant for Jumbo Ozaki. The other is Horie-san who worked for Daiwa for over 15 years through the 80’s and 90’s. Some of the clubs are labelled M109 or H109 the first letter designates which designer it came from. On that note Akira Golf also designs Prototype Golf Clubs specifically for players. The top image in this blog post shows a Proto iron called the KS-201, well the KS = Kawano who is a Rookie in 2011 on the JPGA tour. The driver designated as K109 was produced specifically for Kenichi Kuboya Akira’s Marquee JPGA Pro.
The Prototype series are all designed for the top level or professional athletes, The TM series is geared toward the better player as well. Akira also has a lot of products to offer the mid to high handicap level and while TSG may sell some of it we will focus primarily on the rare and more limited Tour Issue & Prototype models.
More on the Prototypes – In regards to drivers Akira makes small batches for the Tour Pro. This allows Akira to set the COR much higher than the big box manufactures due to the rejection ratio. Big OEMs have to produce thousands of driver heads, then they hand pick the hottest and send those to the tour. So in some cases 1 of 500 or 1 of 1000 will have the on the edge of legality COR for their most important contract players. Each Akira driver is like that 1 of 1000 head. They produce smaller amounts higher tolerance because there is a lot less risk of rejection and its all for the Tour Pro anyway.
When it comes to their wedges, many may not know this but there are wedges on the PGA tour that are considered grey, some perhaps illegal. They are carved very aggressively and again hand picked the same way the drivers are. Akira produces very aggressive original design CNC grooves right on the edge. Big brands have to go well below the limit to again avoid the risk of mass rejection.
Above we have pictures of a putter never seen before in the public. It’s called ” The Weapon to Win” designed by Masuda-san. It’s scheduled for a limited release August in Japan only. Last week sunday it won a JGTO event. I will be posting more pics of it as I have it in hand. It’s a stunner! Actually this week will be sort of an Akira week. A few weeks ago a huge box arrived at the TSG offices with all their products. I’m pretty critical when it comes to design and I must admit through the entire Prototype & TM series line up it’s top notch.
In 2011 at the Japan Golf Fair Yonex Golf showed off it’s new EZONE line which marks a major change of direction in the companies product line. Since acquiring their star player Ryo Ishikawa Yonex Golf has been trying to appeal to the better player with his pro edition clubs. Back in late February at the show we didn’t expect the new Yonex EZONE 380cc Driver to wow us like it did. Popular member and forum personality Stew aka Supo67 found the 380 to be one of the best drivers of the show where he produced some of his best distance gains and very tight dispersion even against other much larger headed drivers.
Upon returning from Japan I posted our usual content covering the show and Yonex took notice and reached out to us to form a special partnership. Here at TSG we have the unique capability to offer you the customer heads only of all models woods, irons, and wedges included. We were also given a fitting cart to do some T&E. After a few weeks hitting these extensively we are ready to display the Yonex Ezone Driver Review. It’s my personal take on the clubs along with TSG Club Tester Tatsuro Oshimoto’s comments in the Video below.
Distance: Overall all 3 models did well in carry, for me the distance was above average, The trajectory was lower on the 380, perfect on the 420 and 450. I did get a good amount of float while the roll was average with the 420/450 and a perfect mid trajectory and lots of run with the 380. The 380cc head + Graphite Design Tour AD DJ-6 or DJ-7 especially in the 10* would be my ideal setup. I have the TourStage 415 9.5* with DJ-6 to compare it to and all was equal in distance yet the Yonex flew straighter and a bit higher. The 380cc for Tatsuro rivaled his Jbeam in distance but had a wider dispersion. Based on our results it seems they have medium to medium spin rates which support a straight shooter in gaining distance. We both hit the 380 longer than the 420 and 450cc models.
Forgiveness: The 450 is one forgiving driver, the 420 excels as well. It feels like there is a good amount of mass or a very stable and solid structure behind the heel and toe that kept the ball on target. While Tatsuro hit’s it dead center like a machine my shots impact all parts of the face. It’s no where near Ryoma forgiving but I can safely say it’s better than most on the market today. The 380 was surprisingly easy to hit but not forgiving on mishits low.
Feel: Usually when venturing into bigger heads things get tin like or hollow. Tatsuro and myself both thought it felt well constructed and the sensation was stable/solid. We did not think it was soft nor hard feeling. The sound was solid pure as well very clean sensation and it took impact well. The 380 feels hard when hit poorly while the 420/450 takes bad shots very well.
Trajectory/Dispersion: We had the full line of Rexis shaft’s and both the graphite design Tour AD DJ-6 and DJ-7’s in stiff flex at our disposal. I’m not usually a high ball hitter and would normally go with a 10*. My gamer Ryoma is 9.5* The Yonex 380 9* provided me with a similar trajectory to my Ryoma. The 380 and 420 in 10* was near perfect as well. I would go with 9* on the 450 head and 10* with the 380/420. The Tour AD shaft is designed for a high ball flight. It was a good match with the 380 head but I would need a lower trajectory shaft with the bigger heads.
Design: Easy A+ to yonex on the design, they managed to build 3 driver that all feel playeresque. The 380 is has the best shape of any driver I have ever seen. They all have nice deep faces and a sensation of substance behind it. I love the fact that the CG is center of the club face as well. The 420/450 both feature 8AL-1V cast Titanium bodies while the 380 is 6AL-4V. All three models have SP700HM rolled Ti faces and a high strength carbon crown. If you look at the face pics you can see where the body material ends and the SP700 kicks in.
With the soon to be released and Limited Edition Fourteen V5 Forged T.S Wedge coming april 1st we decided to begin a new weekly series called Inside the Fourteen Tour Van. As of right now we hope to have enough information bi weekly to keep Fourteen fan’s updated on the latest on the PGA Tour
I posted a video last week reviewing the new V5 T.S wedge and at the very end mentioned on tour they were doing custom grinds for the PGA tour players. On March 10th at the WGC Cadillac Championship a few of these wedges showed up, have a look at the pics below, Fourteen will not comment on who’s they were but TSG easily put two and two together and figured out the below wedge was recently produced for Matt Kuchar. In the below image it shows a heavy weighted V5 T.S Wedge in 60* that has had a leading edge rounded off then bent to 62* letters custom stamped 62* and KK as were added in the last pic. In april there is a retail version 62* coming out so were unsure why they didn’t just start with that raw head vs bending a 60*.
we don’t know how many V5’s are in play on tour but between these images and the pics of the tour wedges at the Japan Golf Fair we have seen some stamped KUCH, some AA, a wedge stamped RB or BEEMER, and one marked CC and speaking of BEEMER or RB, I think we can safely assume that’s Rich Beam.
Above are some spy shots of some V5 T.S wedges custom ground for RB that feature a lot of offset and lots of crazy stamping, I personally don’t mind some offset in my wedges yet understand that the majority of our customers don’t like it. The V5 T.S wedge being released april 1st has no offset but I’m curious as to why people tend to stay away from the trend RB enjoys.
Which leads me to the question why do so many people NOT like offset in their wedges when in many cases it would support their short game? Is it the visual aspect, the macho less offset is better attitude, or they have never tried it? Sound off in the poll below…