Touring professionals and their golf equipment can be like a soap opera. These gifted players constantly look for a new golf club or ball that allows them to fall in love all over again.
Forget them for a moment. Let’s focus on golf equipment for consumers and ordinary golfers.
This brings us to Nike’s equipment gathering called Innovation Unleashed here at Nike headquarters. The company’s headline introduction for 2014 probably will be the RZN family of balls. This might be a bold statement, considering Nike has made significant changes in its Covert line of metalwoods and will bring VRS Covert 2.0 to market in January.
Nike president Cindy Davis calls her golf ball engineers and scientists the “dream team.” Davis herself can be labeled an ordinary golfer, albeit with a 4 handicap. “I really believe that golfers of different abilities will play these new balls and immediately notice the difference,” she said. “The balls are that good.”
Good, she says, because of a new resin core design. Good because of the sound and feel. Good because spin and carry have been optimized for the entire spectrum of golfers.
Black and Platinum are four-piece balls, while Red and White are three-piece balls. Touring pros will use Black or Platinum. Tiger Woods, who has played the Nike One Tour D ball for more than four years, is experimenting with the RZN Platinum. Whether he will switch is unknown.
Black is a low-spinning ball, while Platinum is a mid-spinning ball. Woods has always liked balls that provide a large measure of control around the greens.
Nike says the 2014 RZN balls are 10 percent softer than the 2013 20IX balls, but touring pro Paul Casey, who is here, went further. “I think that’s a conservative number,” Casey emphasized. “It feels a lot more softer to me.”
Added Casey, who uses the Platinum, “It doesn’t have a clicky sound around the greens, which is great, and for me the new ball is one or two yards longer (with a driver).”
Casey’s honesty is refreshing. In a world of clubs and balls with huge distance claims attached to them, Casey is pleased to get an extra yard or two.
Average golfers might do better. Nike’s Speedlock core technology is designed to deliver more energy at impact, and it is the average golfers of the world who lose the most energy with offcenter hits.
Speedlock features an interlocking core design. The core’s surface is similar to that of a waffle iron, promoting a tighter bond with the compression layer that goes on top of the core. Nike says this will bolster ball speed, distance and consistent flight.
Most touring pros maximize the energy transfer between layers of the ball, but most amateurs do not.
Comparing RZN Red and RZN White, the Red model promotes a longer carry while the White model accentuates a softer feel.
Other benefits of the four new RZN balls: Nike says the lightweight core allows more weight to be moved to the perimeter of the ball, increasing stability. And a new coating on the outer surface is designed to grip the grooves for better control on wedge and iron shots.
If Nike indeed has a dream team designing its golf balls, the leader is Rock Ishii. Nike’s chief golf ball designer, Ishii can be seen one moment with touring pros, helping analyze their needs, and the next moment with roughbound hackers, prescribing the balls they should play.
Here at Innovation Unleashed, the unassuming Ishii quickly credited DuPont for a softer and faster resin material.
Meanwhile, Mike Pai, Nike’s category director for golf balls, sounded a little more like a friendly carnival barker. “We are all about new horizons,” Pai said. “We want to make old balls obsolete and bring new balls to all golfers. We love to help golfers play better.”