Nike VRS Driver Review

"The combination of more distance and obscene accuracy offered by the VR_S had our senior tester more excited than he's been since Viagra hit the market.  You might not know it but this is the driver review you've been waiting to read all year...trust me!"

Nike VR_S Driver

(Written By: @GolfSpy T) Can we talk about me for a minute? I don't know how you answered that question, but regardless, we ARE going to talk about me for a minute. Spending a day at the annual PGA Show demo day sounds like a golfer's dream. And I suppose in a lot of respects it is...unless you're me. With all the picture talking and talking to people I need to do, there's barely any time to actually hit any of the 10's of thousands of clubs that are on hand. At the 2011 show I hit one club...that's right, one. At this year's show I set more time aside for fun. I hit 3. The club at the top of my list, and the one I hit first was the Nike VR_S driver...and that was before I had even heard of a Speed Trial.

So why would a Nike driver be at the top of my list? I don't have a rational explanation (what's rational about golf), but Nike drivers just seem to perform well for me. Really, really well. I bagged the first Victory Red STR8-Fit for nearly a season (a lifetime for me), and only put it away because I didn't exactly love the sound/feel aspect of things. I hit last year's VR Pro lights out, but didn't love it (again...golf...not rational). But...I've had the VR Limited in the bag since last fall (and love the feel). So yeah, given my personal history with Nike drivers, I was anxious to see what the guys at the Oven had cooked up for me this time around.

So back to demo day...Despite not bothering to get lose, I piped my first swing right down the center of my target line. And then, with GolfSpy X watching, I did it again, and again, and again. Not wanting to spoil a good run, I put the VR_S back in the bag and walked away. I'd seen enough. Of course, as most of you know, what we think we see, and what the numbers say actually happened are often two completely different things. So in the interest of not getting to caught up in my own perceptions, I decided to leave the VR_S alone until our demo clubs arrived. Maybe I hit it well, but even if I did, there's not a chance that 4 others guys would have the same experience, is there?

Hmmm...maybe there is.

The Marketing Angle

It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so in the interest of saving several hundred of them, here's the simple version of what you need to know:

Moving on...

How We Tested

The 5 golfers (Tim is still unavailable due to injury) for whom we collected detailed performance data were asked to hit a series of shots on our 3Track Equipped simulators from aboutGolf.  As usual, testing was done at Tark's Indoor Golf, a state of the art indoor golf facility located in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Detailed data for each and every shot for which we collected data is viewable just below the performance section of this review.. This data serves as the foundation for our final performance score.  Our testers were also asked to rate the Nike VR_S Driver and provide feedback in our subjective categories (looks, sound & feel,  perceived perceived forgiveness, and LOP (likelihood of purchase)).  This information is used as the foundation for our total subjective score.  Testing was done using 8.5°, 9.5°, 10.5°, and 11.5° drivers in , A (Senior), Regular, Stiff, and X-Stiff flexes. All drivers were outfitted with the stock Fubuki K shaft (and yes...it's most definitely the "Made For" kind).

PERFORMANCE SCORING

Like the the last several driver tests we've conducted, tests of the VR_S were conducted under our updated testing protocols. Full details of our testing and scoring procedures can be found here. The short version is that scores are calculated based on a point system. Points are determined per shot using a formula of distance minus accuracy. Based on previous test results, we've assigned each of our six testers a theoretical maximum point value. The percentage of that maximum theoretical score that is achieved by each individual tester represents the individual score for the Nike VR_S Driver. The total performance score is determined by the average score for our testers.

Distance & Launch

How we got there wasn't necessarily pretty. We saw some lower than standard launch numbers, and couple of drives that produced more roll then we usually see, but when all the data was crunched the numbers that matter (total distance & accuracy) were stellar.

Our testers averaged 257.44 yards of total distance (244.80 carry). When we yank our soft hitting senior tester out of the equation, the overall average distance number jumps to 269.88. As I'll explain below, these numbers are likely slightly inflated due to Tim's absence, but even if he had participated and posted numbers in the ballpark of his averages with previous drivers, the overall results would still be excellent.

Looking specifically at launch angles we see that our testers as a group averaged 10.43 degrees, which is a bit lower than we'd like. There are some mitigating factors in play (I hit a stiffer shaft, and lower lofted head to help control spin, and Nick hit low bullets - long, but low - all day), but I wouldn't read too much into it.

Take the lowest launching golfer out of the equation, and averages creep up to 11.26 degrees. Interestingly, other than myself, our testes used the same loft as they normally would play, and yet not a single tester managed to get above 12 degrees. It's not a significant point, but it does suggest that if you can control your spin, you might want to look into a higher lofted VR_S  than you might otherwise play.

Accuracy & Spin

Distance is nice...and it's certainly what sells clubs, but I can promise you that in the grand reality of golf, accuracy is infinitely more important. With that in mind, I can't underestimate the significance of a group average of 11.84 yards offline. The guys were absolutely dialed in. Most of our testers hit at least 2 other drivers on the same day, and nearly to a man, the Nike VR_S Driver was the most accurate of the lot.

11.84 yards is well beyond impressive, but when we drop our least accurate tester, group averages improve to 10.45. Now I hate to try and explain away a great result, but just so everyone fully comprehends how we got to the lowest number we've seen to date (best the last driver we tested...the guys are on a roll), here's what happened.

First, two of our testers were slightly more accurate than their historic averages. Above and beyond that, I cut my average yards offline (the best number I've posted since the first VR STR8-Fit, I believe) basically in half. Most significantly, our senior tester posted a ridiculous number. Because he's the shortest hitter in the group, his drives tend not to stray quite as far off the center line anyway (which is why these old bastards always take my money - turns out short in the fairway is better than long into the tree line), but his 6.7 yards offline average would be solid with an 8-iron. With a driver it's other-worldly. Needless to say, the combination of more distance and obscene accuracy offered by the Nike VR_S Driver had our senior tester more excited than he's been since Viagra hit the market. I feel a little uncomfortable.

With regard to spin, our testers averaged 3029.66 RPM of backspin. Our senior tester led the way (which is what we want), while our highest handicap tester actually produced less than ideal spin (1992.20 RPM). For my part, I kept my numbers in check for a change (2666.60) which suggests that the swing changes I'm working on, coupled with a stiffer shaft (and likely the lower lofted club as well), are starting to pan out.

Side spin numbers were exceptional almost across the board. The group averaged 463.26 RPM, but that includes our senior tester who consistently played the fade he's known for. Drop him out of the equation and the group improves to a staggering 286.73 RPM. Yeah...the Nike VR_S Driver is a spin killer that flies almost dead straight, which certainly explains why our testers blanked the middle of the fairway with their test shots.

Overall Performance

All cards on the table, yeah, it's reasonable to assume that like some of the other clubs we've tested recently, Tim's injury and consequential absence from our last few tests has probably bumped scores up slightly. That said, it would be foolish to look past some of the best distance scores, and THE best accuracy scores we've ever seen just because one guy had a sore elbow. We've had an absolute banner crop of drivers in so far in 2012, and there's a case to be made that the Nike VR_S Driver might just be the absolute best of the bunch. It certainly should be on your must-try list.

MGS OVERALL PERFORMANCE SCORE: 93.06

The Interactive Data

The charts below show the individual and group averages (black dotted line) for each shot our golfers took during our test of the the Nike VR_S Driver. If you click on the "VR_S - Test Range tab, you can see where each shot came to rest on our virtual driving range. Hovering over any point will give you all the details of that particular shot. You can use the filters on the right-hand side to show and hide individual golfer based on handicap and clubhead speed. Clicking on the " VR_S - Raw Data" tab will show you the individual numbers and group averages for our testers.

SUBJECTIVE SCORING

We've got a bit of a history here with Nike clubs, and more specifically Nike drivers. With the exception of last fall's VR Limited Driver (my gamer as of this writing), Nike drivers, despite consistently excellent performance numbers, have been absolutely brutalized by our testers on our subjective rating scale. Interestingly, while "Looks" scores have steadily increased with each release, Sound and Feel, and LOP scores have remained consistently low. Is the VR_S the first adjustable Nike driver (the VR Limited features a traditional (non-adjustable, glued) hosel), to break through our tester's wall of hostility? Let's find out.

Looks

It's almost amusing how quickly golf companies have transitioned away from radical geometries, like square and triangular drivers, back to subtle variations of the tried and true, and arguably timeless pear-shaped design. While the VR_S remains slightly roundish, and perhaps slightly elongated, its more conventionally shaped than any previous STR8-Fit enabled driver. At address there's very little not to like...at least where the shape is concerned.

If there's one thing that consistently irks me it's when I have to talk about ridiculous things like "Crown Graphics". In most circumstances it's usually in reference to an alignment aid. With the VR_S, however; Nike seems to have taken a page out of TaylorMade's book, and has gone about the business of trying to spruce things up a bit [Shaking my head violently].

Though they are certainly muted, and only visible when light hits them a certain way, Nike decided to include some bizarre crown decoration. I'm not completely sure what they were getting at, but it has an almost tribal appearance; as if the design would feel right at home on Mike Tyson's face [still shaking my head].

While they chose not to mark the crown with any sort of alignment aid (+1), the did add the Nike swoosh to the rear of the crown.

Finally, as with previous incarnations of Nike woods, rather than use a traditional black paint (either flat, or glossy), Nike once again went with what I've taken to calling charcoal glitter. It doesn't bother me, though some have told me the don't care for it at all.

As with the VR Limited, the face features what I call Nike's infinity graphic, which has replaced the gear graphic found in previous generations. Overall the face is very similar to the Limited across the board. Score lines are more pronounced, and "NexCOR" is printed high on the toe (or as I like to call it, my sweet spot).

The sole graphics are much more muted than I've come to expect from Nike. The traditional red of the VR Series has been replaced by a much darker maroon, and has been reduced to an accent color. While no Nike design would be complete without the Swoosh. While the package is perhaps not as sophisticated as some of the other designs we've seen, by Nike graphic standards, the VR has been toned down quite a bit.

Most significant is the absence of Nike's Compression channel. The technology has been replaced by the NexCOR face (my guess is the inclusion of both would have pushed them behind COR limits). Performance not withstanding, it feels a bit like I've lost an old friend.

The mostly silver and black color scheme is a near perfect match for Nike's Fubuki K, which (you guessed it) is also silver and black. If nothing else, Nike has created a near perfect driver for Oakland Raider fans.

While I did have a single tester tell me he absolutely loved it, he's admittedly the guy who loves nearly everything else. Most everyone else, really, really likes the looks, which was more than enough to keep the score at an A-level.

MGS Looks Score: 92.45

Sound & Feel

This is normally the part of the driver review where I tell you that it's really a shame that the Nike driver is too loud, and too aluminum batty (yes, that's a real adjective) for our testers tastes. Oddly enough, it didn't happen this time. Surprisingly (not because I don't agree, but because well...our guys never like the sound and feel of Nike drivers) there weren't any complaints. If anything, we actually heard what could be described as accolades.

"I was surprised by the feel of this club. I enjoyed swinging it" - Lou Y.

"Nice, sweet sound" - Mark C.

"Good feel, but the shaft seemed slightly light" - Nick B. (there's one in every crowd)

Nick's point about the shaft is worth discussing. Like so many others, Nike has moved to a light (not quite ultra-light) shaft as the stock offering on the VR_S. For some it will actually produces increased distance. For others lighter can mean harder to control (particularly if you have a faster tempo and a quick transition).

I'm generally one of those lighter is bad guys. Me and lighter go together like hot cocoa and sugar peas, but I must say that Nike's Fubuki K is more controllable than most. I say that with the admission that  to help offset the impact of the lighter shaft, I tested with a lower lofted head (8.5°) and stiffer shaft (X-flex) than I might otherwise use (although I am coming around to thinking that an X-Flex is probably going to be a better fit in general for me anyway).

MGS Sound & Feel Score: 93.53

Perceived Forgiveness

Let me preface this by saying I truly appreciate the guys who come out and test for us. We pay them nothing and still have the audacity to ask them to take time out of their lives to hit golf balls for us. We couldn't do this without them, but...

What a bunch of oblivious, possibly mentally challenged, [f-bombing] numb-nuts these clowns are. Seriously. We're talking about a group of guys who put on up distances numbers as good as nearly anything else, and who has a group missed the target line by an average of  11.84 yards (and that includes our least accurate tester). Everybody was less than 18 yards offline. Basically these numbers are unheard of, and yet a couple of these guys (who shall remain nameless) actually had the audacity to circle a 7 on their sheets.

Long and straight always = 7? This is what happens when you serve beer at your testing facility. I'm cutting these jackasses off.

Tester Perceived Forgiveness Score: 83.85

Likelihood of Purchase

Don't let the forgiveness scores fool you. While our testers are clearly are incapable of recognizing forgiveness in a driver, the apparently know a good one when they're swinging it. When I see that the lowest LOP score is an 8, it's clear to me the manufacturer (Nike, in case you're just waking up) has pretty much nailed it. The more people they can get to try this club, the more golfers are going to walk away pleasantly surprised (and often with a VR_S in the bag).

Tester Likelihood of Purchase: 95.68

Adjustability (Not Scored)

While it might be unkind, it's certainly fair to say that pound for pound, Nike's previous implementation of STR8-Fit technology was probably the most unwieldy on the market. No doubt 32 different positions sounds like a hell of an idea, but in practice dialing in a precise alignment required making minute adjustment to find a shaft alignment position that was next to impossible to isolate.

Sure, I love that the old wrench beeped when everything was as tight as it should be (lot's of fun on the teebox), but a slip of the hand, and it wasn't just easy to damage the ferrule, it was a relatively common occurrence. And all of that is before we start talking about the extra bulk that came with the hosel design.

While the individual adjustment details aren't quite as easy to comprehend as some of the other systems out there, use of L and R rather than a degree designation does make it relatively simple to grok on a higher level. Need the ball to go right, set it somewhere on the R side. For Left...well you get it.

Unlike a couple of the other adjustable systems, the VR_S doesn't have any movable/adjustable weights. Like every other system out there now, adjustments are managed through a screw on the sole of the driver.

Perhaps the biggest improvement is the scaling down of the hosel area. As I said, previous STR8-Fit designs were bulky. The latest incarnation isn't significantly larger than a traditional, glued hosel.

Overall, the system isn't perfect (it's arguably still the most complex on the market), but it's a huge improvement over the previous system

TOTAL SUBJECTIVE SCORE: 92.29


CONCLUSION

We are on an absolutely astounding run of fantastic drivers. Well, two in a row anyway, and we've got a 3rd in the pipeline that looks like it's probably going to join the top handful of drivers we've ever reviewed, but you can make an argument that the Nike VR_S Driver is the best of the bunch. I definitely have concerns about how well the light shaft would stand the test of time with my swing (though 2 for 2 in testing so far is a fairly good rate), but that only speaks to what we've been saying at MyGolfSpy from day 1. Go Get Fitted! Off the rack is for chumps.

Of course, off the rack performance for the Nike VR_S Driver is stellar. The numbers speak for themselves

MGS TOTAL SCORE:  93.06


 

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