Titleist launch time means Steve Pelisek time so I caught up with the President of Titleist Golf Clubs to get the back story on the 718 irons.
Hi Steve. This time around with the 718 range you have six sets of irons, which seems quite a lot, so can you tell me why you have gone down that route?
I must admit we were a little bit concerned by having six sets of irons because you don’t want to overwhelm people and you don’t want confusion. We look at it in these terms though. We have always had MB and CB which are largely Tour irons and are a very small percentage of our sales if you will, so maybe we are taking some liberties, but we won’t count those as part of the six!
We also have the relatively new T-MB that we introduced a couple of generations ago that is really a utility iron, T-MB was born of 712U where U stood for utility and it was very popular and it is still in a lot of bags, and a lot of Tour bags too. Basically the feedback was I love that platform, I love that whole idea of making a long muscle back looking blade so why don’t you make a whole set. So again maybe we are taking liberties, but we don’t count those in the six in the terms of the real hard core choices.
The overwhelming majority of our fittings and quite frankly of are sales are going to be in AP1, AP2 and AP3 and we think there are really clear positions there for each one of those. We need all three of them, we’ve needed AP3 for a little while now and we just wanted to make sure that when we offered a club like that, it was the best of its kind.
That was one thing I noticed with the 716 range that you kept the position of the AP2, but the AP1 went further towards playability and there seemed to be a gap there, so is that what the AP3 is there for?
Exactly. When we first introduced the AP franchise in 2008 the AP2 wasn’t supposed to be a tour iron. Remember we had MB and CB for the tour and AP2 was that highly technical blade looking club that has got these amazing inertia properties, it’s got a dual cavity, and it is a really easy club to hit for those who want to play a blade looking club. What happened was, quite unexpectedly, AP2 became very popular on Tour.
Adam Scott kind of got is started because he was the first guy who grabbed it, and you think of him as more of a blade player, and he played fantastically well with it. Today it is our most popular Tour iron and the Tour guys have said for the last couple of generations, “hey, don’t mess with AP2, it is ok to make it more forgiving, pack more forgiveness into that compact blade, but don’t change it”.
All the while AP1 was getting longer and longer and longer, so yes the gap between the two was getting pretty big and we needed to fill that gap and that is what AP3 does.
So what sort of players would you expect AP3 to fit relative say to AP1?
We call AP3 the “Players Distance Iron” and I think that is a pretty simple position. You know a guy who likes the look of a more compact blade, it’s a little bigger than AP2, but they want distance, they need some speed and a lot of these guys will be some of the original AP2 players.
You know they were launched 10 years ago and now a couple of generations later they still love that club but find they are 5-6 yards shorter and they want to see if we can give that back to them, and now yes we can. That is what AP3 is about. We call it 1 + 2 = 3. It is the best parts of AP1, the distance and forgiveness, and the best parts of AP2, the compact look and feel.
I’ve been through a Titleist fitting session with the AP1, AP2 and AP3. With the AP3 there was certainly a much higher launch than with AP2. Is that because golf balls are spinning less, so you had to get the launch up?
The launch is coming from the tungsten. Tungsten is a really heavy metal and we pride ourselves on being able to make a very forgiving in a package that is really still pretty compact and we do that with the tungsten.
It is a very dense material, you can put chunks of it way down in the heel and toe and that does a couple of things. Firstly it gives you great stability and forgiveness, but it also gets the CG really low and low CG means high ball flight.
Within a set there are different ways to get distance in an iron. The easiest way is just to strengthen lofts, but that isn’t technology that is just bending the club strong and if you don’t do anything else all you have done is turn your 6-iron into a 5 and a half iron and so on and so forth.
We are very conscious of making sure that through the set, no matter how strong the lofts are, you hit irons into a pin and it has to be at a trajectory that will stop the ball where it lands, if not you are just wasting your time, it is not going to work, it’s just not a playable golf club. So yes we dial in appropriately high trajectories and it is then up to the golfer to decide which one works best for them but they are all very playable.
Everybody talks about forgiveness and you are saying the 718 irons are more forgiving than previous generations, so how would you define forgiveness?
For us when we talk about forgiveness we mean ball speed. Consistently high ball speed. It is more than just an accuracy thing, it is ball speed that translates into distance.
You think about an iron. If I have got 148 yards to the flag and 145 yards over water, if I mishit the shot a little bit the ball still flies nearly the full distance. That is how we define forgiveness. If you make generally good contact we will deliver you consistent distance through consistent ball speed.
How we summed up the main design objectives for the whole 718 line was we wanted more speed and we want more forgiveness. So the more speed will get us more distance and the more forgiveness will get us more distance, more often.
Now going onto AP1 specifically, that has turned out to be one of the bestselling irons in the UK overtaking the AP2. In the 718 AP1 the cavity almost becomes closed in the 5 and the 4 iron and it has become a hollow iron there. Can you explain why that is?
We think AP1 is the best game improvement iron in golf. Sometime people think they are not good enough to play a Titleist iron, but that is not true. We just try to make them look really good and we think AP1 is the best game improvement iron. It is our maximum distance, maximum forgiveness, but still with that Titleist look and feel.
One of the things we knew we could do to make it a better set was stretch out the gaps in the long irons. Too often we see golfers come with a set of clubs and at the long end of the set the gaps just aren’t big enough. You know, I hit the 5-iron five yards longer than the 6-iron, I hit the 4-iron five yards longer than the 5-iron, that is a waste of a club.
We wanted to do something to the design of AP1 to stretch those gaps back out and what we learned from T-MB and 712U was that if we used this hollow construction and make a sort of mini-utility iron out of the 4 and 5 from the set we can make them longer.
So the 4 and the 5 iron in the new 718 AP1 set are actually hollow irons in the mode of T-MB or even our C16 Concept irons. You’ll find that the gaps are stretched out at the long end of that set and we think it is just a phenomenal set of irons.
One thing at the other end of the AP1 set is that the wedges are getting so strong. You have a wedge that has a loft with 48° stamped on it which is probably the first time I have seen that. Is that symptomatic of where we are in that these clubs are getting too long in the short end, in terms of what they are called?
Absolutely. I don’t think they are too long, but we felt that again that this set of irons delivers exceptionally good playability from a trajectory stand point. That ball is going to land and it is going to stop. Now that is what it is really for, because the pitching wedge in the AP1 is 43°, it is strong. Our biggest concern was when you go to outfit yourself with wedges, we want to make sure that you know that.
Too often the common default gap wedge loft is 52°. Well that was appropriate back with 47° and 48° pitching wedges and Bob Vokey always says he doesn’t want to see more than 5° or 6° between the lofts in your wedges. So we made what we think is an exceptional gap wedge and we stamped a big old 48 on it so you understood that this is probably what the gap wedge should be for this set.
If I could side-bar on this one, for years the 52° wedge was one of our bestselling wedges because everyone thought that was what your gap wedge is. Finally with SM6 we now sell more 50° wedges than 52’s which we saw as a great sign that people are paying attention to gapping themselves correctly.
You can only take 14 clubs with you so take 14 that will do something for you. We are seeing more savvy on the part of dedicated golfers to outfit themselves appropriately, so yes we stamped the 48 on it because we wanted to clearly tell that story.
Clearly with the 6 sets, after you have been through a fitting there will be a lot of blending between the sets for the clubs you have through the bag. Would it be better to therefore just have the lofts on the irons rather than numbers to allow you blend properly across the sets?
Trust me it has been discussed a lot of times but we are a little concerned of the conventional wisdom of how people talk about golf clubs, you know, give me my 5-iron, I hit 5-iron into 16 or I hit 8-iron at 17 today. It might be a little bit of a stretch to take numbers off and go purely loft, but we had designers for years who have said that is really how it should be.
It is interesting the results we have seen and we talked a bit earlier about the Tour where more than 70% of the guys playing Titleist irons on Tour, and we are the #1 iron on Tour, they play mixed sets. Only 1 out of 4 plays a single set all the way through so we are conscious of that, they do mix and match, usually the mixing is on the long end of the set but sometimes you can come up with an odd-ball set. Again I’ll use Adam Scott as an example, he has two 5-irons, but he is not paying attention to the number on the bottom of the club, he is paying attention to how far he knows he hits them and he is trying to fill gaps.
So does it really require players to have a fitting session if they want to figure all that stuff out?
Our research shows most dedicated golfers play with a set of irons for 4, 5, 6 years. So for that length of time using the clubs why not take an hour, and it is easy to find a really good fitter, and let them do their work. Figure out how far you hit the irons and if you do see a little compression in your gapping at the long end of the set, you love AP2, try AP3 and if you look at the AP3 which has a little bit of offset in it and you are not sure about that, then try the T-MB because it doesn’t have that offset in it! There are great choices in it to really help you fill gaps and we just think it is worth the hour to do that.
We see the blending story across manufacturers with more options available within a range as you have here with the 718. Has there been any thought to thinking for this kind of player they should have 2 or those irons, 3 or those irons and 4 of those irons and then bringing them together in one set and then saying this the set for a certain type of player?
We think it is hard to do that. It is hard to cross the whole gamut of players and come up with defined “sets”. If we took for example AP1 in the 4-iron and then blended it down through AP3 to AP2 in the short irons I am not sure that would be particularly favoured by any golfer, because in each case you have individuals who would prefer the AP2 4 iron over the AP1 or he prefers the short irons in a particular set. We are just open to mixing and matching.
Seven out of ten sets of irons we sell are made to order. We make custom clubs in six places around the world because we need to and the average turnaround time in all six of them is less than three days. We pride ourselves on being the best maker of custom clubs on the planet, you know higher quality and faster delivery. We are good at it so we don’t mind if you want to match the set – it works for a lot of players.
Thank you Steve and good luck with the 718 range
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