Shape of Things to Come?

By Thomas Heleba
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2007

At first glance, they look like children's building blocks, vast in color and symmetrical enough that one easily could be stacked on top of another without tumbling over. But a closer look reveals so much more, as in how far golf companies are willing to go when it comes to club development.

Yes, the pursuit of golf technology continues to take shape -- quite literally -- and Callaway and Nike have remained at the center of it with their respective releases of the FT-i and Sumo² square drivers earlier this year.

Nicknamed the "Big Chiclet," the FT-i is Callaway's latest endeavor into its weight-shifting Fusion technology platform, which uses multiple materials in club head construction. It comes on the heels of the FT-3, which hit the market last year, and the FT-5, another 2007 product.

According to Jeff Colton, senior vice president of research and development at Callaway, the FT-i ($499 retail) has been in the works for nearly four years. He said the square shape allows for discretionary weight to be positioned toward the outer edges of the club head, leading to a resistance in twisting while increasing the moment of inertia.

"The premise was: 'Okay guys, the rules are getting a little tighter. Let's play within the rules but not be limited by any other boundaries,' " Colton said about the square concept.

"We wanted to develop the world's straightest driver."

That also was Nike's goal with the Sumo², which is the latest club in the company's SasQuatch series. Tom Stites, the director of product creation at Nike, compared the square design to that of a tightrope walker who carries a pole to help him balance.

"By filling in the corners, by moving weight away from the center, the more stable it becomes," Stites said.

The Sumo² ($399 retail) is larger than the FT-i, measuring 4 3/4 inches from heel to toe and front to back to come in just under the USGA's five-inch limit. Stites said the size and design of the club make it easier to hit.

"The people who will have the most advantage is the least skilled," Stites said.

Both clubs have a titanium face and composite shell. Nike announced in mid-March that some of its Sumo²'s had an excessive "characteristic time" -- meaning the driver stayed in contact with the ball slightly longer than USGA regulations allow -- and offered voluntary recalls. The variance had an added benefit of only one or two yards, but Nike submitted a new Sumo² that fell within the guidelines.

The FT-i also includes Callaway's OptiFit Weighting system. This is a key element of Fusion technology, Colton said, freeing up to 44 grams of weight to produce three center-of-gravity configurations -- the draw, neutral or fade. Golfers can choose the configuration that best suits their game.

Phil Mickelson reportedly is intrigued by the FT-i and could use it on the PGA Tour this year, and the same goes for Tiger Woods and the Sumo². K.J. Choi won with the Sumo² last October.

Asked if he expected other players to go square, Colton said: "We're still working on dialing it in. We expected a lot of push-back because of the shape, but people have been hitting it so straight."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company