"The numbers say the Nike VR Pro driver is impressively and deceptively long. All 6 of our testers produced A-Level performance scores. I'm inclined to label Nike the most underrated and under appreciated of the "Big 5" OEM's (TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist, Ping, and Nike).
Nike VR Pro Driver
(Written By: GolfSpy T) We've already looked at a number of drivers this season. As a golf equipment junkie it's reasonably safe to say that I enjoyed testing all of them, but as far as my own personal buzz level is concerned, there wasn't a single driver on my list that I was more anxious to test than the 2011 Nike VR Pro Driver. Considering the driver market is dominated by TaylorMade, and that Callaway and Titleist can claim the bulk of the remainder, I can understand why you might wonder why a Nike driver would be so high on my list. The thing is, I absolutely loved last year's VR STR8-Fit Tour. Well, I mostly, kinda loved it.
The whole of the truth is that I was indifferent about the looks, wasn't in love with the feel, and liked the sound even less. Of course, I also hit it a fairly long way, and found more than my fair share of fairway woods. The latter more than made up for an of the other qualms I had about it, which is why it spent the majority of last season in my bag.
I don't carry the VR STR8-Fit anymore, but there are days (even weeks) that I sometimes miss it, so for very obvious reasons I was interested to find out whether the new model could live up to last year's.
Upgrades, Changes, and the Status Quo
Apart from what's different visually (I'll cover that in the looks section), this year's VR driver features and upgrade to Nike's Compression Channel Technology. The new Variable Compression Channel reportedly increases impact speeds at more spots across the club face. Based on the diagrams, it looks like what Nike has tried to do isn't completely dissimilar to what Cobra has done with the E9 technology; essentially creating sweet spots along the diagonal (low on the heal, high on the toe) that golfers actually hit (or mis-hit).
Last season's Aldila VooDoo shaft has been replaced with a "made for" variant of Project X graphite. As with the previous model, the 2011 VR Pro driver features Nike's STR8-Fit system which allows for 32 different shaft positions. The STR8-Fit system remains unchanged, so the criticism we had for last year's model is still true. I think 32 different settings are at least 16 too many; at least where adjustments at the shaft are concerned. There's such a minute difference in shaft position from one setting to the next that it can be very difficult to truly understand exactly where you're configured. The grip still plays a role in alignment, which we don't like, and even though Nike's battery-powered adjustment wrench is probably the coolest on the market (it beeps when the shaft is secure), it's extremely easy to mar the ferrule when making adjustments. In general I've found adjustability systems that secure the shaft from the sole of the club (TaylorMade, Cobra, Titleist) are much easier to work with.
Shaft: Nike Project X Graphite
Grip: Nike VR Tour Velvet (GolfPride) STR8-FIT
How We Tested
The 6 golfers 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 now viewable in the interactive portion of this review. This data serves as the foundation for our final performance score. As a supplement to our 6 performance testers, a subset of additional golfers were given the opportunity to test the Nike VR Pro Driver and provide feedback in our subjective categories (looks, feel, sound, perceived distance, perceived accuracy, perceived forgiveness, and likelihood of purchase). This information, which we also collected from our performance testers, is used as the foundation for our total subjective score. Testing was done using a 9.5° and 10.5° drivers in both regular (5.5) and stiff (6.0) flex.
In today's world of distance driven marketing it's almost refreshing when a company isn't bombarding you with ads proclaiming their driver is 10 yards longer than their competitors, it's somewhat surprising that a company with pockets as deep as Nike's, for the most part, has chosen to stay out of the big OEM distance wars. The lack of emphasis on distance in their marketing is even more surprising considering how long the VR Pro proved to be during our testing.
Certainly the VR Pro proved to be among the most difficult to fit. Some guys who normally play stiff shafts put up better numbers with the 5.5 (regular flex). I haven't been able to hit a 10.5° driver without ballooning in years, and yet the 10.5° degree head proved to be a better fit for me. My point is that every driver is different, and at least where the VR Pro is concerned, you'll probably need to do some experimenting to find the best fit (even if you're simply choosing from stock selections).
That said, our testers in general produced lower launch angles than most any club we've tested to date. While it can sometimes be easy to get caught up in a detail like that, what's more important is that our testers also produced some of the best distance scores we've seen this season. Aided by our big hitters (CJ and Dan), our testers combined for a raw distance average of just a hair over 254 yards. When we calculate our scores (which we normalize based on swing speed), we find that all 6 of our testers produced A-Level performance scores. As they often do, the big hitters posted scores above 97. Two more testers posted scores above 95, while the bottom two managed scores above 92.
Though as we'll discuss in the subjective section, our testers perhaps didn't realize (or want to realize) exactly how far the their shots were traveling, the numbers say the Nike VR Pro driver is impressively and deceptively long.
MGS Distance Score: 95.16
Accuracy scores will certainly never be as high as distance scores. I think most of us would agree that it's a hell of a lot easier to hit a golf ball far than it is to hit one straight. Although I'd have to go back through and look at each review (I hope to post that comparative data soon), I believe the average distance from the center line for the drivers we've tested this season is somewhere in the 18-20 yard range. Framed in that context, the accuracy results for the Nike VR Pro driver were a bit of a mixed bag.
3 of our testers missed by an average of 22 to 25 yards. 2 more missed by between 15 and 18 yards. And finally there's me. Just as I did with last year's model, I posted by far some of my best accuracy numbers. My average miss was just under 9 yards, which is significantly better than I've done with any other club this year. In fact, in the 2 seasons I've been writing reviews for MyGolfSpy, the 3 drivers that performed best for me have been the Adams 9064LS, and the two Nike Victory Red drivers (2010 and 2011 models).
When we crunch the numbers (which involves dropping the best and worst), we find that our testers missed by an average of just over 20 yards, which it turns out is, well...average.
MGS Accuracy Score: 86.57
Just as was the case for our distance scoring, every one of our testers posted A-level consistency scores. On the low end was a just under 92, while two scores of roughly 98.5 were posted on the high end. With that in mind, it shouldn't surprise you to see (as our interactive data shows) that the Nike VR Pro driver produced some of the tightest grouping of shots (per tester) that we've seen. Yes, a tester or two did spray the ball around a bit. That always happens, but as a whole our testers produced consistent and repeatable results (relatively speaking, of course).
MGS Consistency Score: 95.75
When it comes to Nike golf clubs, and particularly their more conventionally shaped drivers, it's probably about time I (and the rest of you) stopped being surprised by excellent performance results. Last year's VR Pro driver was among the very best we tested all season (I'd rate it #2 overall), and while for reason's you'll see below Nike still has some work to do, where drivers are concerned anyway, I'm inclined to label Nike the most underrated and under appreciated of the "Big 5" OEM's (TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist, Ping, and Nike).
MGS OVERALL PERFORMANCE SCORE: 91.35
My sense of things is that Nike, as a golf brand, has been somewhat polarizing. With what could be called the "Tiger Effect" many golfers flocked to the brand because they wanted to play what the best in the world played. Of course, I would suggest that golfers in equal, if not greater numbers, appeared put off by the brand as though Nike hadn't earned its spot on the pro shop wall.
A half a dozen generations of clubs later, the Tiger Effect has dissipated as quickly as the man has tumbled down the world golf rankings, and even if golfers don't speak of Nike with the same reverence as other brands, we're finding that biases on either side or dissolving, which makes asking for measured subjective feedback on a Nike driver a more reasonable proposition than it would have been 2 years ago.
A couple of things should probably be clarified out of the gate. Nobody at Nike has told me as much, the VR Pro driver, though it carries the VR name, and features a Compression Channel, doesn't really look the part of a direct replacement for last year's VR Tour STR8-FIT. In fact, in my mind, it's more an attempt to bring a 460cc footprint, and STR8-FIT technology to last year's smaller "Tour" model (which coincidentally also featured a Project X shaft).
While we described last year's model as being shaped a bit like a softball, this year's is as traditional in design as any Nike has ever made. The visible remnants of Nike's PowerBow technology that gave the rear of the crown a two-tiered look are gone; giving the VR Pro a blemish free look that is as smooth as a baby's bottom.
It's just my 2 cents here, but the sole graphics (which shouldn't matter anyway), are perhaps my favorite in the industry. I think the Compression Channel looks cool (actual technological merits aside), and the logos and paint-fill are just very well done. Those details alone were enough for me to rate the looks a 9, while another tester gave it a perfect 10.
Of course, there's no pleasing everyone. Some testers mentioned the lack of an alignment aid, while others commented on how bulky the STR8-FIT hosel looks at address. This little detail has come up just about everywhere Nike drivers have been reviewed, so hopefully at some point Nike engineers will do something about it.
Overall it was a mixed bag, with one tester absolutely less than thrilled about the looks (4). Most everyone else rated the club an 8+, which to me, sounds fair enough.
MGS Looks Score: 86.00
Nike drivers traditionally have a very solid (hard) feel to them. While we do find an occasional tester who really loves what I'd describe as more of aluminum bat feel, the majority of testers tell us they prefer the type of feel more commonly associated with TaylorMade or Titleist drivers.
Once again I'll bring up last year's Tour Model for comparison purposes. Unlike other drivers in the Nike lineup, that model featured a traditional, non-adjustable, glued hosel. In my opinion, that was the best feeling driver Nike has ever made (somewhere between a Callaway and TaylorMade where feel is concerned), and I'm admittedly disappointed the VR Pro doesn't match it. I have absolutely no proof, but I suspect the STR8-Fit hosel has a fairly dramatic impact on feel, and if Nike ever decided to product a lower priced, glued model, the results would be better.
MGS Feel Score: 73.10
If it feels like a bat, it should come as no surprise that it sounds like a bat. Even those testers who were ok with the feel mostly rated the sound a point lower. I personally rated last year's model a 7 for sound, and while I had hoped this year's would improve dramatically on what I think is one of the few downsides to Nike's drivers, the reality is, it didn't. It's no worse, but it's no better either, and our testers almost to a man, agree.
MGS Sound Score: 68.80
In almost every review I've written this year, I try and point out the inherent flaws is our testers perceptions about distance and accuracy. Manufacturers appreciate it when testers say a driver is 10 yards longer than anything else (even if it's not), but they certainly don't appreciate it when a tester says a club is 10 yards shorter than anything else (even if it's not). So with that in mind, I want to share a quote with you from one of our testers:
"I found the distance [of the VR Pro] 5-10 yards short of others on the market" - Mark
Now normally this is the type of quote that might cause an OEM to withhold equipment from future reviews. Fortunately for us, Nike has never been one to take a heavy-handed approach to MyGolfSpy. It also absolutely has to be pointed out that Mark is 100% wrong.
Mark has tested every single club we've had in for review since I came on board at MyGolfSpy, so I've got a lot of data to look at, including every driver reviewed thus far in 2011. As it happens there are drivers with which Mark produced better distance numbers (Tiger Shark's PowerPod II chief among them), however; it's also true that he awarded a 9 and 10 for distance to two drivers he didn't hit as far as the Nike VR Pro. I'm not singling Mark out. This type of thing happens all the time. It's exactly why we believe in the importance of collecting actual data for our reviews.
Though the numbers say otherwise, for whatever reason (I believe feel has a lot to do with this), our testers simply didn't think the Nike VR Pro driver was as long as others they have tested.
Tester Perceived Distance Score: 73.10
My average miss with the Nike VR Pro Driver was less than 9 yards from center, so you can be assured I rated it very highly for accuracy. Though the numbers suggest it should have been otherwise, no other tester rated accuracy higher than an 8. Based on the data, for some that's probably accurate, for others, however; I'd argue the rating deserve to be higher. Once again, perceptions contrast reality.
Tester Perceived Accuracy Score: 70.95
In what I'd consider a bit of an anomaly, our testers actually rated the Nike VR Pro driver higher for forgiveness than they did for either distance or accuracy. Two testers (including myself) rated it a 9, while several others rated it an 8. As always, there were some dissenters, who rated it as low as 4. Toss in some 6s and 7s, and things shake out a bit below average.
Tester Perceived Forgiveness Score: 77.40
Likelihood of Purchase
Though it carries the least weight of our subjective categories, LOP often provides a simple summary of how our testers responded to a given club. LOP scores have the lowest average of any category we track, so smaller numbers are more common here than anywhere else. On the high-end we had a couple of 8s, but we also had a single tester who went all the way down to 1. I guess he felt the club just wasn't for him. Most everyone else floated between 6 and 7, which while not outstanding, could certainly be worse.
Tester Likelihood of Purchase: 66.65
Maybe this is just one guy's opinion (although our testers appear to agree), Nike still has some work to do when it comes to fine tuning the details. Apart from the bulky STR8-FIT hosel, they've more or less figured out how to make an great looking golf club. Unfortunately, whether by design, or by accident, the sound and feel of their drivers are distinctly different from most of what's on the market today. While we sometimes praise uniqueness, most like their drivers to sound and feel a certain way that this one doesn't. Having hit last year's VR Tour, I know Nike can do better. And I feel that if they could get that part of the equation (sound & feel) right they would have a major hit on their hands.
TOTAL SUBJECTIVE SCORE: 75.36
It would be somewhat unfair to get bogged down by the subjective stuff. My take away from this is that Nike is flying a bit under the radar (as much as a company the size of Nike can), and consistently producing what we're finding to be among the best performing drivers on the market today. Because of the sound and feel it may take some time to grow to love a Nike driver, but I think it can happen.
A few weeks ago I was playing in a tournament and noticed that one of my playing partners was bagging last year's Victory Red driver. While I won't go so far as to say I got teary-eyed, I will admit that as I looked at my own driver (which I happen to love), I did feel a bit sad that the Victory Red was long since out of my bag.
While it's far too soon to say whether or not I'll develop that sort of affection for the latest model, I've decided I'm going to spend some time on the course with it to find out.
MGS TOTAL SCORE: 89.75
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