Nike Golf has come a long way in golf since it signed Seve Ballesteros to peddle its first line of spiked golf shoes in 1985. The Oregon-based company did not even make its first clubs available to the public until 2002; the Nike Pro Combo Irons that sought to weld the forgiveness of a split cavity head with the accuracy of a forged blade into a single iron.
It was not until later still, in 2006, that Nike Golf turned its design wizards loose on the driver. The result was a radical new square design christened the Sasquatch. In 2013 came the world’s first high-speed cavity back driver known as the VR_S Covert. It wound up in the bag of Rory McIlroy who soared to the top of the world golf rankings. And now in 2016, we see the release of the Nike Vapor Fly Driver – the next generation of the successful Vapor line.
To enact this transformation from footwear maker to high-tech golf club manufacturer Nike assembled what it called a “dream team” of club and ball designers and poured them into a crucible of research and testing called The Oven, which it set up in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite their location near a public driving range, the 50,000 square feet of top-secret research facilities are anything but open access. Seldom do any but the four dozen or so Nike Tour golfers score a gold-plated invitation to peek inside.
It is not by happenstance that The Oven bakes its new golf ideas in Fort Worth. The historic cow town is Ben Hogan’s backyard and Tom Stites, the chief club designer at Nike, cut his teeth as a club designer for Ben Hogan Golf – beginning by crafting clubs from the specifications given by Hogan himself. Stites lorded over the development of every golf club, which meant all the sticks used by Tiger Woods, brought to market by Nike.
The Post-Stites Era at Nike
Stites retired from the day-to-day grind of manufacturing golf clubs in 2013, easing into a role of guru and visionary. The first Nike line to emerge from The Oven in the wake of Stites’ departure has been the Vapor family of woods, so-called because balls flew so high and far off their clubfaces that the only thing that could been was the trail of condensation left behind.
For 2016 – scheduled for release in January – the Vapor family, now in its fourth generation, will consist of the Vapor Fly, the Vapor Fly Pro and the Vapor Fly Flex 440. The Vapor Fly and the Vapor Fly Pro will feature models through the bag from drivers to irons. The Flex 440 boasts an adjustable head that the golfer can switch from low-spin to mid-spin settings.
Thank the Nike “Athletes”
Nike exhaustively tests golfers, which the company invariably refers to as “athletes” as in all its sports, for the ongoing Vapor advancements. Changes include making the backs more rigid to produce a livelier face, while the driver crown on the new versions has also been shaved by 30 percent to gin up the clubhead speed and permit Nike engineers to push the center of gravity lower. This promises lower spin rates at impact, a higher launch angle and, most importantly for the non-Rorys and non-Tigers of the world, more forgiveness.
But not even Rory McIlroy hits every shot pure. He was quick to praise the Nike Vapor Fly Pro for its expanded sweet spot after using his new electric blue driver to outpace the field in driving distance on the way to capturing the Race to Dubai championship in November. Of course, it should come as no real surprise. McIlroy was the main athlete consulted in the development of the Vapor Fly Pro – he gained three extra miles per hour of ball speed with his new ultra-lightweight weapons. So expect to see the four-time major winner blasting it another ten yards further off the tee in 2016.
The all new Nike Vapor Fly drivers are now available. Learn more here: