Written By: Tony Covey
Wilson Staff is Back
Maybe not back in black, or even all the way back, but 2013 has been nothing short of a monster year for Wilson, and if the 2014 lineup is any indication, they're just getting started.
Given Wilson's reputation (both real and imagined), one might assume that whatever success Wilson has enjoyed in 2013 is the result of strong iron sales. That's partly true, the D-100 irons has helped propel Wilson to a 119% increase in irons sales over last year.
That's pretty good...especially if you're Wilson, but %119, it turns out, is relatively nothing.
The real story of Wilson's 2013 turnaround is the unexpected (to me anyway) success of the D-100 series of woods. Admittedly some, including myself, found the D-100 line to be a curious offering from a company struggling to become relevant.
Wilson staffers have won more majors than any company in golf. For a serious stretch of time, Wilson was THE company for serious golfers. And yet, despite the company's tour and elite player pedigree, every single club in the D-100 line of metalwoods falls solidly in the game-improvement category.
This is how you wage a comeback (shakes head, rolls eyes)?
Take the driver for example. It's an ultralight model with no x-flex offering, and nothing below 9°. Despite being infinitely fun to hit, the D-100 was never a real option for higher swing speed players who need a little help keeping the ball down and keeping spin under control. It was never going to appeal to 100% of the potential market.
If anything, the D-100 line was created almost to the exclusion of the better player, and Wilson knew it. As much as anything, the D-100 was a proof of concept designed to prove to the corporate overloads that the new blood at Wilson Staff was capable of not only creating golf clubs that performed; they could create clubs that people actually wanted to buy.
And they did.
Retail Buyers Took Notice
Flying home from this year's PGA show I ended up on the same flight (and consequently in the same airport bar) as my local Wilson Sales guy (shout out to my man Adam). While I was admittedly less than thrilled by the D-100 series, he was understandably excited and optimistic. Sell-Through (orders from retail shops) were way up. The early signs suggested it could be a big year for Wilson Staff.
It has been.
I already told you about that 119% increase in iron sales. Pffft...119%. Check this out. Compared to the previous season:
- Hybrid Sales: Up 269%
- Fairway Sales: Up 344%
- Driver Sales: Up 294%
I could probably do the math, but even the simplest among us doesn't need a calculator to realize that Wilson Staff sales are up a shitload on average.
Those are awesome numbers, and that's without digging into the success of the Duo Golf Ball (for a time it was outselling everything other than the ProV1 at the PGA Superstore). And, from a performance standpoint at least, it's without digging into what quite possibly is the best wedge you've never hit; the Wilson FG Tour TC.
2013 has been a year of epic resurgence for Wilson Staff, but as I said at the onset, they're just getting started.
2014 Wilson M3 Series
Yesterday we posted a pic of the upcoming FG Tour 100 Blade. While everyone loves a pretty blade, those types of offerings will never be your top sellers. To be successful you need to feed the middle without watering things down to the extent that the better player (or the guy who thinks he's a better player) loses interest. That's exactly the challenge Wilson has struggled to overcome for the last several years.
2014 is different. Fresh off the success of the D-100 series, a reinvigorated Wilson Staff finally looks poised to deliver a metalwoods lineup that will not only appeal to better players, but one that is also every bit worthy of the Wilson Staff tradition.
I think you're going to like it.
FG Tour M3 Driver
While recent anomalies like Xhot and RocketBallz have proven you can sell woods with a fairway-first approach, for most companies, it's the driver that powers the lineup. That's been a problem for Wilson. Seriously, when was the last time you got excited about a Wilson driver?
How about today?
As they did with the D-100, Wilson is taking a lightweight approach to driver design with the FG Tour M3. Wilson calls their philosophy "The Right Light". The idea is that while lighter can be better (Wilson's research shows that for 50% of players, swing speed increases as head weight decreases), you still need to serve those players for whom lighter isn't better (that same research found that for 15% of players, swing speed increases as head weight also increases).
The FG Tour M3 Driver offers the versatility needed to better fit a wide range of golfers.
With head weights starting at 198 grams and total weights beginning at 294 grams, the Wilson FG Tour M3, though heavier than the D-100, could be one of the lightest offerings on the market in 2014.
Take notice...I said "starting" and "could". There's nothing definitive in my statements, and that's because the Wilson FG Tour M3 driver can be as heavy as 206 grams (head) and 312 grams overall.
Apart from the hosel adjustability (we'll cover that next), the biggest performance feature of the FG Tour M3 is an interchangeable sole weight (3g, 7g, and 11g) that allows the golfer to tune his driver to reach the desired swing weight and/or optimize performance. It's those sole weights, along with the differing weights in the stock shaft offerings, that account for the range of both head and total weight options.
Unlike some others, Wilson includes all 3 weights with your driver purchase. No need to hit eBay first, from day 1 you'll be free to either set it and forget it, or mess around to whatever degree your compulsion drives you. Like most other aspects of adjustability, the reality is most golfers won't take advantage of the options, but for the tinkerer, it's one of many features of the M3 series that makes it more compelling than anything Wilson has released in years.
Seriously. I think you're going to like it.
Other key features of the FG Tour M3 design include an adjustable hosel that allows loft to be adjusted from 8.5° to 11.5° in 1/2° increments and Wilson's Neutral Sole Design (NSD) which, like Cobra's Smart Pad, ensures the club sits square and stable when grounded.
Each degree of loft changes launch angle by .6° and alters spin by 270-300RPM.
Finally, from a cosmetic perspective, the M3 driver is engineered to look the part of a better player's driver. The pear shaped head is 460ccs, has a deep face for a more compact look at address, and what Wilson is calling an "iced" matte crown with black PVD finish.
Stock shaft offerings will be the Aldila RIP Phenom which has quickly become one of the go-to standards for mid-launch/mid-spin performance, and the Aldila Phenon NL which Aldila lists at the lowest launching shaft in their current lineup.
Additional shafts will be available through custom.
FG Tour M3 Fairways and Hybrids
As you might expect the FG Tour M3 Fairways and Hybrids feature much of the same technology as big brother. While additional weights aren't included, the same weight-based adjustments are available in both lines.
The fairway will be available in lofts of 13.5°, 15°, and 17°. Each can be adjusted 1° down and 2° up, also in 1/2° increments. Each degree of loft change alters launch angle by .8° and spin by ~200RPM.
Hybrids will be available in lofts of 17°, 19°, 21°, and 23°. Each hybrid can be adjusted 1° up or down from the stated loft. The M3 hybrid's hosel also allows for an upright setting at each loft.
FG Tour M3 Irons
We've been telling you for years that you need to be looking at Wilson irons. Sure, the Ci-11s (game-improvement) performed very well for us, but it's the original FG Tour, and last season's FG Tour V2 that have left the lasting impressions.
The V2s proved particularly awesome because they offered the forgiveness of a game-improvement...arguably a super-game-improvement iron, in packaging that was every bit that of a better player's iron.
Our testers love them. Our readers love them, and if you never hit them, you should.
I think you'll love them too.
Forged from 8620 carbon steel, the new for 2014 FG Tour M3 is the direct replacement for the original FG Tour. The V2 will remain a current offering (and it damn sure should). The new model is slightly larger (longer and taller with a wider sole) and more forgiving than the design it replaces. It has more offset - though it's progressive, and a more modern, rounded shape with more sole radius and camber (the original FG Tours are fairly blunt).
While the description suggests more of a game-improvement design, Wilson maintains that the FG Tour M3 iron falls solidly in the game-improvement category. While I know some of us would like that everything on the market be a true player's club, adding some forgiveness while adding some needed differentiation from the FG Tour V2 makes solid sense.
What we're really talking about is an iron that fits well in the emerging transitional iron category; forged irons for the guy transitioning from a traditional GI design. In that space, the FG Tour M3 isn't just interesting...it's dead sexy.
Wilson Staff is Back in the Big Leagues
Look, I don't have an illusions...delusions really about Wilson's 2014 lineup powering the brand to the #1 spot in golf. Wilson isn't going to unseat TaylorMade tomorrow, and they know that. And 2013, no matter how good of a year it's been, it's still just 1 year, and I think Wilson knows that too.
What Wilson did in 2013 is kick the tires of relevancy. They apparently liked what they saw and that's reflected in the 2014 FT Tour M3 lineup. It's not going to happen overnight, but what I've seen in the last year suggests that Wilson is serious about reclaiming their place in the golf equipment world.
Wilson was stagnant for so long that there's an entire generation of golfers...let's call it what it is...the Nike generation, who've never know Wilson Staff as a top-tier golf company. For those guys, Wilson has never played on the same level as TaylorMade, or Callaway, or even Nike.
It's going to take time for that lost generation to discover the the revitalized Wilson Staff.
As with anything...you have to start somewhere, and that's what Wilson did in 2013. With the D-100 series they laid the ground work...they proved they could make clubs that golfers want. In 2014 they're going to dedicate the same type of effort towards the seriously player, and based on what I've read, and what I've seen, I'm all but certain he's going to like it.
You can expect to see the Wilson FG Tour M3 lineup hit retail sometime in January of 2014.
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- Driver: Cobra KING LTD w/ 75g Aldila Rogue Silver 125 MSI X
- Fairway: TaylorMade SLDR S Mini, 12° Fujikura Speeder X
- 3-4H: TaylorMade SLDR TP S
- 5-GW: PXG 0311 w/ KBS C-Taper S+
- SW: TaylorMade Tour Preferred EF Tour Grind (54° bent to 55°)
- LW: Callaway Mack Daddy PM Grind 60°
- Putter: PING Karsten TR ZING