Kenji Kobayashi, Chief Designer and CEO of S-Yard golf continues to follow his passion for designing beautiful golf clubs that perform as good as they look. Following the successful releases of the T.388 Driver and the Bold Wedge, S-Yard has released Mr. Kobayashi's latest driver, the XV. Mr. Kobayashi realized as great as the T.388 is, with 388cc head and shallow face (meaning low teeing of the ball) is not for everyone. So with that in mind he sought to create a driver that would be sold side by side with the T.388 and encompass the same premium quality and design with top notch performance as its smaller sibling. The XV, a premium Endo forged 450cc driver was released this week to huge fanfare in Japan, especially among those who clamored for a premium Kobayashi design but were not confident enough to play the T.388. I was lucky enough to be one of the first to get the new XV driver so today I will share my initial impressions on the clubs design and performance here on the blog.
For those who do not know Mr. Kobayashi, back in 1993 S-yard produced the world's first all forged Titanium driver called the T.301 which they produced at the Endo factory. The T.301 was designed by Kenji Kobayashi, who not only went on to become the president of Endo manufacturing, the worlds largest and highest quality forging house, but also one of the most respected and revered figures in the Japanese golf industry over the last 20 years. Mr. Kobayashi's designs, and knowledge of golf club manufacturing as well as the creation of the T.301 Forged driver led many in the industry to refer to him as the "father of forged Titanium drivers".
In 2001 he officially became the president of Endo manufacturing where he also took over the reigns of Endo's private brand Epon Golf. Many golf enthusiasts will be familiar with many of his Epon designs including the Technica and Technity series, as well as more recently the AF line all the way up to the ZERO driver and Z:EN putter as well as his influence on many top global golf brands which produced their clubs at Endo under the design eye of Mr. Kobayashi. Fast forward to the summer of 2011. Mr. Kobayashi decided it was time to retire as the president of Endo and open up some free time to enjoy the recreational side of golf after 40 yeas of being involved in the business side of golf. His retirement did not last long as S-Yard came calling as they knew Mr. Kobayashi would be the man to lead their brand back to and beyond the same lofty heights of success it had before. Early 2012, Mr. Kobayashi became the president of S-Yard in charge of the direction of the company as well as golf club design and earlier this year he began his dream lineup by releasing the T.388 driver and Bold wedge.
As many of you have probably read, Mr. Kobayashi is not your typical CEO of a golf company. He spends more time in his personal workshop dreaming up ideas and designs and them creating molds of each club with his very own hands. Back in February, when we were at the S-Yard headquarters in Ginza, Mr. Kobayashi had already established the design for the XV and was demonstrating how he finalizes the shape of each head. In the showroom next to his workshop, there is one single spot light installed in the center of the room where Mr. Kobayashi places each head as if at address and then rotates the club while walking it 360 degrees under the light to see how the club appears at ever possible angle and simulating the sun in different positions in the day. He explains that how a club appears at address plays a huge factor in how a player will hit that club. He wants all his designs to give a golfer confidence at address and a clear view of how the head lines up with the ball. "How well one can hit the ball is very much influenced even before a golfer swings" he says.
One of the most exciting things about working at TSG is when new clubs for testing arrive at my door. When the XV arrived today I ripped off the plastic with no hesitation, like a kid on Christmas day. It is very obvious even at first glance that this head is a compact design even though its 450cc large. The T.388 was a much smaller head, with a shallower face meaning a lower tee up height for a penetrating drive that won't lose distance even on a super windy day. Another thing I liked right away was the lack of words or stampings on the head. Simply "XV Forged Titanium" Mr. Kobayashi carried over the performance characteristics of the T.388 into the XV which is the same but at the same time different. At 450cc it is 16% larger in overall size than the T.388, this allows for the XV to have a much deeper face. One of the adjustments many golfers getting the T.388 had to make was teeing the ball lower. That is not the case with the XV. The deep face and allows for the CG to be placed high and short in the XV which like the T.388 create a low spin and strong launch. Due to the depth of the XV face, the CG position is quite a bit higher in distance from the sole compared to the T.388. The beautifully shaped XV face also provides a larger hitting area which technically should translate into a larger sweet spot which would be amazing considering how surprisingly forgiving the T.388 already is.
Many larger driver heads today feature not only lower center of gravity points but also a longer center of gravity distance from the center line of the hosel. This length coupled with usually a deep CG in the head create a large gravity angle causing a driver head to rotate quickly square at impact. For a slicer or average golfer this is a good thing, but for better players or stronger swingers, it can cause pulls or hooks. The XV and its short and shallow CG prevents over rotation of the head and reduces those shots left. Mr. Kobayashi believes the distance is optimal for squaring the driver head at impact for the most stable direction. As you can see from the image above, the CG point is not only higher on the face but also a tad towards the toe to allow for a higher tee up and more control.
The XV has a very high back crown which is what allows the center of gravity to be placed so high. The variable thickness (internal ribs like the T.388) forged cup face has flanges that expand the full length of the face from heel to toe that overlap the chemically milled crown and chemically milled sole. This is part of S-Yard's active head design that is also used in the T.388. with the upper portion of the crown being much higher it creates a more rigid and strong body which in turn allows the face to transfer and repel maximum energy at impact. In the case of the XV the flanges have been slightly shortened to even further increase energy deflection. The feel is typical Endo with a wonderful soft but crisp impact that it seems like many premium golf club lovers want. This feel and sound is very much the result of not only the materials (ie everyone thinks being forged is all it takes to feel good) but also the active body design and variable cup face.
The XV uses the matte black crown as opposed to gradient and reflective metallic looking crowns which reflect light different depending on the angle of the sun. A shiny and reflective crown changes the appearance and the shape of the head and creates a lack of consistency at address. The matte black finish clearly shows the contours and shape of the head and allows you to frame the ball up perfectly no matter what the conditions are. I find the head size perfect at address. It has the appearance of a head closer to 410cc due to the traditional shape, however its obvious the face area is larger. The deeper face as I mentioned also allows for players to more confidently tee up higher.
For the XV, Mr. Kobayashi called on Fujikura to provide a stock shaft that would fit his requirements. He personally hand picked a prototype Rombax in the 60g range to pair with the XV. Unlike the Tour AD in the T.388, this Rombax has lower torque in order to handle the larger head and reduce twisting and unwanted excess flex creating more consistent impact. The kickpoint is mid to high to keep in line with the stronger trajectory the XV provides. As many know, the Tour AD in the T.388 is a superb shaft and very stable and quite true to flex. The Rombax in the XV is also quite true to flex and thankfully the lower torque does not appear to have taken away any of the feel. Under 100mph is definitely a Stiff/Regular while the stiff could probably handle 105+ mph swings fine (If you check out S-Yard's facebook page you can see Mr. Kobayashi hitting a prototype of the XV and his swing speed is about 110mph - pretty good for 65 years old!).
The weather was not great today with strong winds and light rain. I tried a 10.5* XV in the SR flex and initial impressions were very good. While the T.388 took me several sessions and a few weeks to dial in thanks to the change in size and smaller face, the XV I tee'ed up to my usual height and just swung away. Even in the wind the trajectory was nice and strong with not even a hint of ballooning. The feel of the driver is superb and the larger face seems more forgiving. Like the T.388 run out is amazing even though it was damp, I was still able to get very good run. It has only been a day with the driver but I am already won over by its looks and design. The aerodynamic head and the cool gradient to mirror chrome finish on the sole look awesome. Performance is very promising and as an average golfer the truth is I can use all the forgiveness I can get. Many people say only pros or better golfers can give proper feedback on clubs but I don't believe it. I think an average golfer due to an inconsistent swing can really tell how good and forgiving a driver really is. A better player will always hit the same spot and be super consistent. It is the inconsistency of an average golfer that many golf clubs are designed to try and overcome and the XV does a reasonably surprising job of it considering its compact design. Lets face if if a driver is not forgiving I will certainly know after 10 shots where maybe only half strike dead center in the sweet spot. Next week is Golden Week holidays here in Japan and I have a few rounds scheduled at home courses where I can truly give the XV a run.
So with two awesome drivers available from S-yard, how is one to choose which one is right for them? I will be doing a comparison post of both drivers side by side in the coming weeks but for now, those who love small heads and don't mind teeing up lower and striking the ball with a level blow will want the T.388. Players who want some more forgiveness and like to tee it higher, and feel confident with a slightly larger head will go for the XV. You can always own both! Look for the XV in the pro shop for order soon!