Written By: Tony Covey

Nearly every Callaway story of 2013 that can be told has already been told.

You know the storyline. Callaway was sucking wind. The products were garbage (they weren’t), the marketing was worse (it really was); golfers were turning their noses up at the brand at an alarming rate (true story).

Callaway was teetering on the precipice of irrelevance, and nearly all hope for salvation was lost.

Callaway’s ship was sinking.

Queue the dramatic music. Let's go with Flight the Valkyries or something like that.

Mere moments before the mast slipped beneath the waves for eternity, Chip Brewer arrived from Adams to save the day.

At the risk of mixing my metaphors, while it probably wasn’t the case in reality, the movie version of the Callaway story will almost certainly show Mr. Brewer riding into Callaway HQ on a white stallion…one that for the purposes of the point I’m trying to make, is a really strong swimmer…you know…for a horse, because the horse had to swim to the sinking ship.

What was I talking about?

Right…The Callaway turnaround has been super dramatic.

Callaway X2Hot-50

You want the quick summary? Everything that actually matters is up.

  • Metalwoods – Up (26% YTD).
  • Iron Sales – Up (and more profitable).
  • Putter Sales – Up? Yup.

Better still, operating expenses are down…which is pretty much as good as metalwoods being up.

If you ignore that whole $13 million in the red thing (they’re working on it…and their work is working), things are looking pretty damn sweet at Callaway right now.

Rolling into 2014

While certainly not the only reason for Callaway’s recent success, their X Hot fairway wood provided the catalyst for their resurgent 2013. The damn thing is responsible for an 83% increase in fairway wood sales. I don’t care where you started or what you’re selling; an 83% growth in anything other than a brain tumor is generally cause for excitement.

The X Hot fairway was huge.

While Phil Mickelson’s Open Championship victory will no doubt be viewed as the defining moment of Callaway’s Tour season, I’d argue that it was actually Phil’s win at the Waste Management Open that put the X Hot fairway on the map and kicked off their big year.

We’ll give Johnny Miller an assist for his never-ending focus on the club (even if he never quite got the name right), but regardless of who gets the credit, it was a big win for Callaway.

The company took that early momentum, built on it with the Franken Wood/3 Deep, and rode it all the way to a massive increase in fairway wood sales.

Like I said, 2013 was a solid year all around for Callaway, and it all started with the fairway wood, which is exactly why I’m starting with it again for 2014.

X2 Hot Fairways

Callaway X2Hot-43

For Callaway the answer to the question, “How do we sustain our momentum in the fairway wood category”, is “Hey, let’s release a whole bunch more fairway woods”.

Across the regular and pro lines of X2Hot, Callaway is releasing an astounding 13 different models.

13. That’s more fairways than fingers.

Standard X Hot is available in 6 different lofts. The Pro series includes 4 additional lofts AND the 3 Deep (14.5°) line is expanding to include 2 Deep (12.5°) and 5 Deep (18.5°). If you’re struggling with the math, Callaway is going a total of 10 Deep.

Holy shit that’s a lot of fairway woods.

Who the hell still makes an 11 wood? Yup…Callaway.

This is borderline insane, but in a good way (if you love fairway woods).

The performance stories behind the new fairways are basically exactly what you’d expect. The new models have thinner faces that produce more ball speed (Callaway says 1.4MPH on average), which – you guessed it – means X2 Hot is longer (Callaway says 4.1 yards on average) than its predecessor.

Callaway X2 Hot Pro Fairway-4

Additional weight has been moved lower and more forward, the internal standing wave (the design feature Callaway uses to push CG closer to the face) is bigger, and just for good measure, MOI on both the Pro and Deep versions has actually increased.

If there’s a knock on the X2 Hot Fairway it’s that instead of making their fairway adjustable – as many of their competitors do - Callaway has chosen to go with a glued hosel.

Last November Callaway’s Luke Williams told me that there are inherent performance sacrifices that must be made to account for the additional hosel weight with a smaller head. Callaway has, to this point anyway, decided not to compromise.

Callaway X2 Hot Pro Fairway-3

Others in the industry have told me different stories, but ultimately, with so many options in the lineup, even without adjustability, Callaway should be able to fit just about anyone into X2 Hot.

In the most simplistic of terms, Callaway’s story is what you’d probably expect from anyone in the golf equipment business. X Hot Fairway was really good (and it was), and X2 Hot is even better (we’ll get back to you on that).

X2 Hot Fairway Specifications

x2hot-fairway-spec

X2 Hot Pro Fairway Specifications

x2hot-pro-fairway-spec

Retail Price for the X2 Hot Fairways, including the * Deep lineup is $229.99.

The Rest of X2 Hot

We started with the Fairway woods because it made for the best segue from the introduction (shameless, I know), but before we get to the rest of the lineup, I wanted to touch on a couple of general points that hold true for the entire X2 Hot Metalwoods lineup.

The Paint is Darker: Last year’s X Hot lineup featured a medium grey paint with a matte finish. Not everybody loved it (not everybody ever does).  This year Callaway has gone a couple of shades darker (like somebody used the Photoshop burn tool). It’s not black, but we’re definitely wearing a darker shade of grey, and I think it’s for the better.

Aldila Shafts are the Real Deal: Last year Callaway talked about the shaft as an opportunity to add value rather than cut costs (maybe taken frm the Adams playbook when Chip Brewer was there). With X2 Hot they’re expanding that mindset to include “REAL” Aldila Tour shafts in both standard and pro models throughout the entire metalwoods lineup.

Pro models will feature the Aldila Tour Green while Standard models will be equipped with the Tour Blue. Flex to Flex the Blue will play about 8CPMs (3/4 of a flex give or take) softer than the Green.

Pro Models are Graphics-Free: As has become a welcome tradition with Callaway, Pro models of the fairway, hybrid, and driver feature accent and alignment free crowns. Standard models have alignment aids and crown graphics (driver and fairway only).

With the X2 Hot line, we challenged ourselves to reinvent each product to meaningfully improve distance, speed and forgiveness across every category. We worked hard for every extra gram of discretionary weight, every thousandth of an inch of metal, to increase ball speed and overall distance while improving total performance, especially on off-center impact.” - Dr. Alan Hocknell, Senior Vice President, R&D, Callaway Golf

Callaway X2 Hot Hybrids

Callaway X2Hot-7

I’m one of those guys who think hybrids are underappreciated, and for my money are the unsung heroes of the golf bag. They’re long enough to play off the tee on plenty of par 4s and unreachable par 5s, and controllable enough to keep in the fairway from nearly anywhere.

What’s not to love?

And so it’s with my appreciation for the hybrid that I find the X2 Hot incarnations so intriguing.

Once again, the performance stories are boilerplate. It’s got a thinner face (28% vs X Hot) that better maintains distance on mishits. The crown is thinner, and with a lower CG placement, the new ones will spin less.

Overall we’re talking about a little bit more distance with slightly better dispersion patterns.

X2 Hot Hybrid Specifications

x2hot-hybrid-specs

Looks Matter

XHot hybrid was fun to hit, but it wasn’t much to look at it. With X2 Hot Callaway has made some not so subtle refinements that make the new model much easier on the eyes.

Obviously the paint is an improvement (it’s obvious to me anyway), the offset has been noticeably reduced, and for those who love a really compact, almost iron like hybrid in the spirit of the Adams Idea Boxer or the original Nike VR, has Callaway got something really nice for you.

Callaway X2Hot-3

The slightly raised toe is distinctive, and really makes the Pro version look like a tiny little driver that shows plenty of face (it probably looks taller than it is), but there’s nothing in it that makes it look the least bit intimidating off the deck.

I’m admittedly less of a fan of the standard model. The design is very much game-improvement, but within that segment it should hold its own just fine.

X2 Hot Pro Hybrid Specs

x2hot-pro-hybrid-spec

Like the fairways, X2 Hot hybrids are also glued hosel designs.

Retail price for the X2 Hot Hybrids is $199.99

Callaway X2 Hot Driver

Callaway X2Hot-30

Can you believe I didn’t lead with the driver? Insanity I know, I’m crazy like that sometimes.

The new version is lighter, offers the same updated adjustability of Callaway’s insanely good Optiforce Driver, and oh my god, is longer than the original X Hot Driver.

I totally didn’t see that coming.

In Callaway’s player testing, X2 Hot was, on average, 9 yards longer than X Hot while X2 Hot Pro was 4 yards longer than X Hot Pro.

As you may recall, X Hot was the overall winner in our Most Wanted Driver competition earlier this season, so if X2 Hot is actually longer, and more forgiving like Callaway claims, the X Hot series could be a serious threat to retain the belt in 2014.

Cosmetically, Callaway has tweaked the shape of the standard model to make it look less game-improvement-y. The original was too unsightly anyway, but the new model should appeal more to the traditionalist than the previous model. Well…it might have appealed to the traditionalist if they hadn’t put the damn orange accents on the crown.

Truthfully, when you’re actually trying to hit the ball you won’t notice them, but that doesn’t mean a subset of golfers won’t grumble about it. I just wanted to make sure I was among the first.

X2 Hot Driver Specifications

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X2 Hot Pro Driver

Callaway X2 Hot Pro Driver-2a

In the 440cc Pro Model Callaway has added a 7g external weight screw. Presumably that can be swapped out for different weights to allow the tinkerers among us to hit target swing weights with shafts of different length and weight.

In both models the hosel allows for loft to be decreased by 1° or increased by 2°. Lie angle can be adjusted between neutral and draw. If you’re looking for a point of comparison, Callaway adjustability 2.0 is most similar to Titleist’s SureFit system.

X2 Hot Pro Driver Specifications

xhot-pro-driver-spec2

The standard model is available in lofts of 9°, 10.5°, and 13°HT while the Pro version is available exclusively in 8.5°.

Retail Price for the X2 Hot and X2 Hot Pro Driver is $349.99

And let’s talk about that for a minute…

A Pricing Conundrum

Last season Callaway positioned the X Hot Driver at $299.99. TaylorMade launched at $349.99 with RBZ Stage 2. Things probably could have gone better out of the gate for TaylorMade (it’s trendy to blame the weather), and they quickly slashed prices to competitive levels…and then cut them again to try and hold market share.

We’re hearing that TaylorMade is going to hold at $299.99 this year, which could put Callaway in a difficult competitive position.

For now the price is what it is, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see it drop, or otherwise incentivized before the X2 Hot lineup hits shelves on January 17th.

X2 Hot Irons

Callaway X2 Hot Iron-9

We’ve already heard about Apex and Apex Pro. Joining them (and 2013 carryover X Forged) in Callaway’s 2014 iron lineup is the X2 Hot iron.

Like its predecessor X2 Hot is Callaway’s entry in what has essentially become the distance iron category.

I found X Hot to be a little on the clunky side. It was big, and reasonably bulky. It basically looked like a game-improvement iron, or should I say, it was emblematic of everything I hate about game-improvement irons in general.

This year’s redesign has resulted in an iron that has lost a good bit of the bulk, but according to Callaway anyway, maintained its playability, and of course distance.

Unsupported faces and undercut channels are all the rage in distance iron designs. They’re how companies like Callaway, and Cobra, and Mizuno try to match TaylorMade’s SpeedBlade performance without resorting to slots and goo (the actual benefits of which are certainly a matter of debate).

Callaway X2 Hot Iron-1

While I can appreciate the cosmetic refinements, and I’ve generally told you guys that it’s time to shut the hell up about jacked up lofts, even I have my limits…and that limit is 45° in a pitching wedge.

With X2 Hot Callaway is at 44° (with Titleist). It shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it does suggest to me that Callaway couldn’t quite get the distance they wanted without going a little bit stronger than, well…those guys I already mentioned…TaylorMade, Cobra, and Mizuno.

Reality being what it is, the other truth is that just because somebody might say they have a 45° pitching wedge, doesn’t mean they actually do. Tolerances can always skew in the most favorable directions.

The X2 Hot features Callaway’s new 30WV Grooves which are designed to promote additional spin out of the rough.

X2 Hot Iron Specifications

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Stock Shaft in the standard version of the X2 Hot iron is the True Temper Speed Step 85.

X2 Hot Pro Irons

Callaway X2Hot-16

With the X2 Hot Pro irons Callaway has refined even further. Unlike the standard model, X2 Hot isn’t engineered for distance alone. The cavity isn’t undercut. The face is reasonably well supported. In fact, apart from the obvious perimeter weighting, X2 Hot Pro looks every bit of a players iron.

The topline is thin (I like that). Offset is slight (I like that too). It has a compact, player’s shape (still liking it), and the cavity graphics are less X2 Hotty (I don’t hate them). The badging could be a bit cleaner, but overall it’s a solid looking iron.

The transitional iron category is one I felt that Callaway missed last year. X Hot Pro didn’t quite get them there, and X Forged definitely has more a muscleback slant.

For 2014, the combination of Apex Pro and X2 Hot Pro should provide the low to mid handicap (or low handicapper seeking forgiveness) crowd the legitimate options that Callaway didn’t really offer this season.

X2 Hot Pro irons are designed with Callaway’s 37WV Grooves which are designed to suit the needs of better golfers. They’re engineered to promote a higher launch with less spin out of the rough.

X2 Hot Pro Iron Specifications

x2hot-pro-iron-spec

Stock Shaft for X2 Hot Pro is the Project X 95.

Retail price is $799 steel/$899 graphite for the standard model and $899.99 for the pro model.

General Impressions

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I love every aspect of what Callaway is doing with their X2 Hot Lineup. I was just lukewarm on the drivers last year, and I’m only feeling ever-so-slightly warmer and fuzzier about the new models.

With no disrespect to Callaway, I’m just not a guy who gets excited about fairway woods. I don’t hit them particularly well (straight), so I tend to favor lower lofted hybrids.

My own issues aside, I do love the addition of the 2 Deep and 5 Deep to the lineup. If nothing else, 2 Deep could make for one hell of a scramble club (and yes, I do have a specific event in mind), and among guys who can hit it well, it’s going to be very popular.

For me though, the big winners in the metalwoods lineup are the hybrids. I absolutely love what Callaway has done with the Pro version, and really, I think it’s a great example of what I think Callaway has done really well with X2 Hot in a more general sense.

Callaway X2Hot-49

Differentiation

I talk about differentiation a lot. Too often golf companies stick the Tour moniker on a product without any sort of clear distinctions between it and the the non-tour model. Golfers don’t always understand why they might want to choose one product over its tour equivalent.

With Callaway’s X2 Hot lineup the distinction between standard and pro models is as clear as they reasonably can be.

Pro models are noticeably more compact. Bulge and roll are different. Face angles noticeably change. Shafts are different and perform differently. And as I’ve already said, with the pro models the crowns are clean.

Across the entire lineup, irons included, pro models look how pro models are supposed to look.

Callaway has done an outstanding job of differentiating, and while maybe the distinctions won’t be quite as overt to everyone else, they should ring true when golfers test them out, and ultimately should help consumers choose the club that will actually perform best for them.

Callaway X2Hot-37

What’s Next

Now is when 2014's table is set. Apex and Apex Pro are nice, but with their +$1000 price point, neither is going to be totally mainstream. X2 Hot is the meat of the Callaway lineup, and overall Callaway has done a solid job with it.

There are certainly worse ways to kick off a season.

That said, I’m more curious about what’s next. Callaway has hinted that X2 Hot is just the beginning. The #fiveyearwar thing is real, and that means you’re going to see a lot of new product from Callaway.

Some will hate it, and inevitably comparison will be drawn:

“Stupid Callaway is releasing as much crap as TaylorMade”.

Deep down…actually probably not even that deep down… that’s exactly what Callaway wants. Years went by when they weren’t in the same conversations as the current # 1 company in golf.

That’s changed, and it’s happened faster than any one reasonably expected.

Moving forward, Callaway won’t be content to be in the conversation, they’re going to want to dominate it, and for that to happen they’re going to need a steady stream of new product that golfers find enticing.

While the consumer will be the final arbiter, Callaway thinks they’ve got just that.