One of the cool clubs that really caught our eye back at the Japan Golf Fair was the ONOFF Labospec wedge specially made for top Japanese pro Shingo Katayama. Last week ONOFF sent me a sample for testing and I was able to spend some range time with it as well as a round out at Katsuura Country Club so here is a brief review. Katayama who played Ping Eye wedges early in his career requested a similar style wedge as homage to the Ping eye. Onoff created the new Limited Labospec wedge W358 and decided on ST22 steel as the material. ONOFF wanted a wedge with the durability of stainless steel but the soft feel of a forged club. ST22 is softer than typical cast stainless irons and wedges but it does not need to be forged. It can also be bent and adjusted like a forged club. The W358 is a 59* wedge and named 358 due to featuring a 3.5mm height cavity and 8* of bounce.
The 59* W358 in fact has 10* of bounce at its highest point but due to a multi grind sole, sits at address with 8* of bounce. The two stand out characteristics of the W358 are the head’s unorthodox shape and its wider than normal sole. Katayama has always been a strong believer that one can never have enough forgiveness, as a pro or an average golfer. He was one of the first tour pros in Japan to play graphite shafts in his irons and while he has the choice of playing ONOFF’s athlete model Type S or Black driver, he always plays the Red driver or Type D. The sole of the Labospec W358 while wide for easy bunker use and play on lusher fairways has a very versatile grind with multiple relief, allowing for the head to also excel in tighter lies and be opened up when necessary.
Its Ping Eye inspired shape may take getting used to for some but the design is rather effective. The very high toe creates a lot of real estate for the better player to work the ball thus creating more spin control. Yet again the rounded leading edge and offset create plenty of forgiveness and allow a player cleaner impact in various lies which result in more accurate shots and more spin.
Speaking of spin, the wedge performs admirably. The USGA conforming grooves are made to the limit allowed and the sand blasted face is micro milled for lots of additional friction and bite. I really appreciated its versatile sole. I used the wedge in bunkers of couse but also on short chips, approaches 75y or so in and even for a lob shot. In all cases, and no matter how I addressed the ball, the wedge kept its face and score lines squarely aimed at the target. The wider sole excelled in the sand and I was in and out of bunkers without any stress including one bunker that was as deep as I am tall. Just opened up the face, swung away and out it came.
Feel wise, the wedge is softer than some cast models but not mushy soft. It provides soft (soft enough to feel the ball compress on full shots) but solid feedback and you know exactly where you are hitting it on the face, ie picking it low on the face to bring trajectory down or running it right up the face for more spin and stopping power. I think its a good looking wedge, from the cavity side, its very slick, while at address it is shape may take getting used to but its gray matte finish is a plus. ONOFF is offering a very small amount of the Labospec Shingo Katayama W358 Wedges to the public and all custom built by their Labospec department for each customer who orders. It certainly is versatile enough and unique enough that I have ordered one for my bag. Get yours here while they last!
Royal Collection had quite a few new products on display at this years Japan Golf Fair. Last year we saw the released of the DB forged wedge line along with their Tour VS fairway woods and the popular TRC utility hybrid. This year RC headlined with the release of their new ENDO produced BBD 105 V Forged Driver that features a 450cc head volume with an ultra thin 0.35mm crown produced via chemical milling along with Endo’s performance enhancing and top grade VL Titanium face. The body is made of KS100 Ti similar to previous TourStage drivers.
RC’s newest release product is the BBD 505V Utility Hyrbid produced of SUS630 (body) + 455 stainless steel face which creates that satisfying semi crunchy impact we all know and love. The V sole helps the club cut through the turf at impact, reducing friction and lost swing speed resulting in better impact and better performance. Available in 3 lofts 18/21/24 with a stock graphite shaft the Tour AD RH produced by Graphite Design thats available in multiple weights from 50 grams to 77 grams. An optional NSPRO hybrid 100 which is a 99 gram shaft is also available and brings the price of the club down a bit. I would suggest steel for those who don’t require as much distance yet desire a straighter lower ball flight but most outside of that should go with the graphite.
We snuck a peak at a new Royal Collection wedge on the horizon called the DB Milled Wedge which isn’t even listed on their website yet. Compared to the DB Forged the DB milled features a smaller more compact head shape and size and is also made of soft stainless steel instead of carbon steel. There are two versions of DB milled wedges one is the straight face with nearly no offset and the other has a small amount of offset. The way to designate between the two types is by the letter T after the words TOUR GRIND. One of the things I liked most about the DB Forged was how soft it felt and how easy it was to hit. This new DB milled I have not hit but based on what we saw it is geared toward the better ball striker and tour player who usually requests a firmer feel and that may be why they chose stainless over carbon. As for most amateurs and normal players like myself we tend to gravitate toward softer feeling clubs.
There were several other new releases such as the Royal Collection PRO-TX Tour Trajectory fairway wood which is geared toward the better player as well as many mid to late 2011 releases were also on hand such as the SFD Black series aimed at the golfer seeking more forgiveness. The Tour VS Driver and Fairway woods and even past models like the Endo Tour VS Forged irons and the RC Forged muscle backs. Don’t forget to drop into our RC Forum thread to join the conversation (click here) and also check out the full image gallery featuring all of TSG’s high resolution images from Royal Collection at the 2012 Japan Golf Fair (click here).
Below we have a short Video of Tatsuro going over the highlights of RC’s newest clubs, Enjoy!
Kenmochi once again had new products to wow us at the Japan Golf Fair. Last year it was the introduction of a new driver and putter but this year was back to their bread and butter, wedges and irons. Kenmochi is named after Master Norio Kenmochi , a grinder who comes from a long line of swordsmiths in Japan originating from the same villages as legendary swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. With 800 years of sword making tradition in Master Kenmochi’s DNA and background, he has used expert grinding skills to create his line of Kenmochi wedges and irons.
The first thing that caught my eye when I stopped by the Kenmochi booth was their new 951 Muscle Back. A back to basics blade with minimal graphics and a stand out knick in the toe. The 951 would look cool in anyone’s bag especially being available in either silver or black satin models.
The head is compact with minimal offset and Kenmochi tries to purposely leave the face and bottom sole thick so as to provide a pure and soft as possible feel. A sharp top line and boxier toe make the iron very attractive face on and at address as seen below:
Along with the new muscle back, Kenmochi has added a new wedge to their lineup the 103 model which essentially repaces the KW-02 as the conforming model. The KW-02 took the original Kenmochi wedge shape and simply added conforming grooves. The new conforming Kenmochi Wedge 103 is an all new design.
The 103 like the new 951 blade comes in both silver and black satin. It features a multi level grind with slight toe and heel relief and a lot of trailing edge relief. Some may say it reminds them of a TVD style shape and I would say that would be a fair observation. While the 951 muscle back is forged from S25C, the new 103 is forged from softer S20C for more bite and spin control.
We are looking forward to getting our hands on some testers and will have the new heads in the pro shop soon.
Yonex has always been a solid performing golf brand and a few years ago when they signed a 16 year old phenom named Ryo Ishikawa, many in the golf industry wondered what impact the singing would have on Yonex. Fast forward to 2012 and Ryo Ishikawa is certainly the face of Yonex Golf and while he has not had the same success overseas, he easily ranks among the most popular athletes in Japan. Ishikawa’s singing has not only increased Yonex’s marketability and image but has allowed Yonex to pump more of its resources into developing a wider and better line of golf clubs. This of course has resulted in more sales.
While the Yonex booth at this year’s fair did feature many models carried over from last year, they did have an update EZone SD series of clubs and an all new Royal EZone premium line of clubs. The SD line is a rather moderb looking line of clubs aimed at average golfers who want distance and ease of use performance without breaking the bank. On the other hand, their new Royal EZone line is a premium lineup made for slower swingers and average golfers ready to spend for the best in technology and design.
The above Royal Ezone driver is a multi piece carbon composite head which uses high intensity 8AL-1V Titanium and and a new HD-HM carbon crown. It is ultra lightweight at 276g or less depending on flex and 46.25″ for maximizing distance. The Royal EZone line also features a carbon composite FW and high rally maraging steel irons, all with distance in mind.
When snapping pics of the main EZone line it amazed me how traditional looking the heads are at address. For those who have never seen the new Yonex clubs in person, the pear shape at address (especially of the FW) may surprise many. And this goes for their fairway woods and utilities as well. No big heads at address here. Take a look starting with the EZone 380 driver at address:
And then the EZone St FW at address:
And here is the EZone Utility:
Overall a very nice flow across all those heads. On the irons side, we saw models for all levels of players from the premium Royal EZone irons, to the average golfer EZone SD and forged EZone cavity bags for the better player and of course the forged Ryo Ishikawa blades.
Tourspecgolfer has also put together his usual video on the Yonex both which you can view right here!
Admittedly Mizuno is probably one of the better know Japanese brands worldwide. With a strong involvement in all different kinds of sporting goods, Mizuno is well recognized for quality and performance. This year Mizuno Japan is working on a marketing campaign to even further stress the quality of Mizuno golf club manufacturing. The campaign promotes Yoro Japan Crafted and features many of Mizuno’s Japan’s top craftsmen. Commercials, print ads, posters all feature the work of these Japanese artists who forge and grind Mizuno’s top models for the Japanese market.
This years Mizuno booth focused not only on the current club lineup but also the manufacturing process, Mizuno takes from raw steel to forging, to grinding to finishing. Besides displays showing the step by step process of making an iron at Mizuno, the booth at the show featured a mini workshop right in the middle with different Yoro craftsmen through out the day, grinding and finishing forged irons and wedges.
In the last 6-7 years the JPX line has been a staple in the average golfer and premium offerings in the Japanese market. As of last year, the JPX brand became global, sharing many models with Japan. Mizuno did however, still save a few models just for the Japanese market and this year is no different with the average golfer model JPX AD line launching in Japan.
The new JPX AD line includes a new JPX AD driver which complements the JPX800 and Japan model JPX800S, as the high MOI, lightweight distance model for the average golfer and senior player. Two new irons will also be released the JPX800 AD which is a higher handicapper distance model and the JPX800 AD Forged you see above which is for the average golfer and better player wanting a forgiving soft forged iron.
There was also an all new MP Craft driver for the better player. This is Japan’s forged Mizuno driver, with a compact pear shaped head and its called The Craft 611 this time around. It features a varaible thickness webbed crown matched with a variable thickness ribbed face forged from ELF Titanium (which means we probably know who forges this one and its not Yoro Japan Crafted). The 425cc driver is very popular among athlete golfers and single digit players to pros looking for feel, stability and control.
But lets not kid ourselves, the real highlight every year at Mizuno is what new shoes they will have!
A couple of new light style shoes, a new stability shoe as well as an all new all leather pro model MP shoe means we all need new shoes for 2012!
Callaway always has one of the biggest booths at the Japan Golf Fair and this year was no exception. In past years there was a huge emphasis on the Japan only Legacy line but this year focus was instead placed on the new RAZR Fit series which took up most of the booth. Callaway however was not without its Japan only models as the Legacy Black line and domestic market Odyssey putters were also on showcase.
Among the most popular selling putters in Japan year in and out have always been the iX branded Japan only putters featuring a black PVD finish and firmer Japan tour prototype insert. Along with the new ProType Tour Series, Limited Edition models and Flip Face putters, Odyssey Japan will also release the Flip Face iX and ProType Forged iX Milled putters in Japan.
The black PVD Flip Face iX will feature two inserts, a white insert and a black insert, chosen depending on the green speeds and desired feel. The white insert is for faster greens and a soft feel at impact. For slower greens and a more firm feel at impact the black insert should be used . Using the current White Ice insert as a guideline, the white insert is softer and the black insert is firmer. The Flip Face iX will bve available in #1 #5 and #9 shapes.
The new top of the line iX model will now be the black PVD ProType Forged iX Milled putter. This Japan only model will feature a brand new white hot insert and removeable weights. Each putter comes with a weight kit with 2 x 10g, 2 x 15g and 2 x 20g weights allowing a player to adjust headweight from 340 to 360g depending on the type of greens he or she is playing on. There will be 6 models, #1, #4HT (high toe), #5, #5CS, #9 and #9HT (high toe).
Besides the putters, Callaway also showed off their new Legacy Black irons and their Legacy Black woods.
Fourteen is one of the smaller brands in Japan that garners respect as much as the big brands like Tourstage, Mizuno, Titleist and others. They are well know for excelling in designing and producing high performance clubs that also look and feel fantastic. For the past decade, Fourteen has especially been popular with pros and top amateurs in Japan when it comes to wedges, battling it out for top spot along with Titleist Vokeys. Their MT-28 Series has been a best selling wedge in all its genrations and with the release of their new RM-11 wedge last fall, they look to continue that trend.
The bit news however at the Golf Fair for Fourteen was not about any clubs but rather the signing of PGA pro Ryuji Imada who will now sport Fourteen clubs as he plys his trade on the PGA Tour (joining Arjun Atwal and Chad Collins). Ryuji’s specially made 3 wedge set was on display at the show featuring a 48* and 53* in the new RM-11 Forged as well as a specially made 61* from the previous MT-28 V5 T.S. model.
The RM-11 Forged is one of the cleanest and nicest looking wedges around with its tapered blade and and uncluttered back face. The versatile grind of the Fourteens are always a big draw for golfers of all levels. Along with the RM-11 released late last year, Fourteen showed off its new MT28 J.Spec V4. Those of you who know Fourteen and its JDM releases will know that the Forged J.Spec is designed for the Japanese market, with a rounder head and leading edge as well as a wider sole with more offset. It has always been the automatic wedge in Fourteen’s lineup and is very popular with the average golfer and this year it feartures a new reverse taper design and new trapezoid style score line that increases area by 15% resulting in more spin. Spin is further enhanced by having the face mirror milled to ensure perfect flatness and more bite due to increased contact with the ball. Good news for lefties is that Fourteen will be offering the J.Spec left handed this year as well!
One surprise at the show was the introduction of a new speciality sand wedge, the D-030. As I walked by it I took a second take as the design looked very much inspired by Yururi’s Fried Egg wedge release a few years ago. The D-030 with its wide sole, increased offset and spatula like design, is designed to open up easily and flip the ball right out of the sand by easily entering and exiting bunkers with minimal effort.
Besides all the great wedges, Fourteen also showed off their new forged irons including the TC-930 and TC-530 which join the T-710. The TC-930 is a smaller cavity made for the better player while the TC-530 is mid sized and aimed at the mid capper to average golfer wanting ease of use and foriveness. Both show off Fourteen’s usual clean design and handsome looks and we will soon get to test their performance to match their looks.
All in all, Fourteen had a very nice showing at the Japan Golf Fair. They are very much unappreciated outside of Japan but are a very well rounded brand, with great woods, irons and wedges. Look for more Fourteen reviews soon on the blog and in the meantime check out the Fourteen Gallery in the forum!
Here’s a short video featuring the latest TourStage products as seen at the 2012 Japan Golf Fair. Most notably the newly redesigned X-Drive 707, X-Blade 707 along with the new GR Series. They had a great layout this year with the TourStage Pro Support Van smack in the middle.
When Sri Sports bought Cleveland Golf a few years ago, many were curious how Sri would fit Cleveland under their golf umbrella which already housed top Japan market brands Srixon and XXIO. It slowly became apparent that Sri wanted a premier wedge in their lineup as the wedge has never been a big seller or performer for either Srixon or XXIO. Srixon/XXIO converted over pretty much all of their top Japanese pros to Cleveland wedges and released Japan market specific forged models.
This year at the Japan Golf Fair, I almost could not find Cleveland clubs. The Sri Sports booth which is usually huge and houses Srixon, XXIO and Cleveland was still quite large but almost 80% of the booth was dedicated to the new XXIO lineup. I went to the back of the booth which was facing a wall and suddenly noticed a small rack of Cleveland wedges and a small corner with Never Compromise putters. I have to admit I was surprised. No Cleveland woods or irons, just the new CG17 in black pearl, chrome and the Japan only CG17 Forged.
There are two major changes for the new CG17, the first is how their laser milled face is done. The width of the milling is now 1.5 times larger than the previous CG16 and the design has gone from straight lines to a wavy style milling to create more bite. I tried to take a close up picture in poor lighting to show the milling and surprisingly the picture turned out pretty well. As always Cleveland contiues to use their zip grooves. The second major change is Cleveland decided to bring back the original shape of its ever popular Tour Action 588 wedge for the CG17, slightly higher heel, smallish straight neck and forgiving sole with heel relief all make the CG17 very easy to open up.
As I mentioned Never Compromise also had a little corner with its new Sub30 line of putters which are released overseas. They featured a new Type 50 Mallet with a 350g head that I had not seen before. Otherwise it was the same Type 10 20 30 and 40 that you can find overseas. I was hoping that Cleveland would release some Japan only drivers as they did in the past or a Japan only forged iron but for now it seems we’ll only see the CG17 Forged as the single JDM model.