Online Extra: A Dream of a Driver for Tiger (extended)

Get a club that fits you, the superstar says. In this Q&A, he explains exactly what that means -- and how it works for him

Prodigious talent has a lot to do with the golfing success Tiger Woods has experienced. But his sticks count for something. Here are the specs on Tiger's driving tool of choice: A Nike Ignite with a 340-cc clubhead with 9 degrees of loft, a 1-degree upright lie angle, and a steel 43.5-inch shaft with Golf Pride Tour Velvet chord grips. The club face's CT, or characteristic time, is 229. That's the projected measurement of "face rebound time," which predicts the spring effect of a club face on a golf ball.

A higher CT number predicts a faster face or spring effect in its tests. The PGA Tour doesn't allow drivers to exceed a 257 CT. "There's no way that the majority of the public can hit my driver," Tiger says. "They're not going to hit it as high or as far as they would their driver."

Now that he's using the Nike Ignite driver, Tiger has moved from 11th to 6th in driving distance, averaging 300.6 yards. Golf's megastar, whose five-year, $100 million Nike (NKE ) contract is the sport's richest, paused between the Master's and the Wachovia Championship to chat with BusinessWeek's Roger O. Crockett. Edited excerpts from their conversation follow. (Note: This is an expanded online-only version of the Q&A that appears in the May 31, 2004, issue of BusinessWeek.)

Q: When did you first put this driver in play?


At the American Express Championship in 2003. It was the brand new Ignite. Later, I switched to this one because it has a slightly faster face, which gives me a few more yards without sacrificing my ability to draw the golf ball.

The frustrating thing is that I loved that driver, but I broke it at the beginning of year. The face cracked the first round of the Match Play Championship. So I went to a driver that was supposed to be my backup, but I hadn't had any experience with it yet. I didn't hit it well because I didn't trust it. I hadn't built any feel or timing out on the range. Usually, I won't put a club in play unless I've really tested it thoroughly.

Q: Where do you test your drivers?


They come to me with the launch monitor, which tells you how fast the ball is coming off and where it's landing. But the best work I do is on my home course [Isleworth in Orlando, Fla.]. I like to practice away from everybody else and see what this thing actually does. I like to hit golf shots in the evening on the golf course with no one out here.

While testing, were trying to maximize the club's launch angle and the ball's spin rate. We're trying to marry the two together. If you can marry the two together, that's the ultimate for any player.

Q: How did you know when Nike found the right driver for you?


I felt a lot more stability in the driver. The ball was coming off a little bit faster because it was a faster face. But more than anything, it was the stability of the impact. And I didn't feel like the head would waver through impact. That's something you find in the bigger heads. The bigger the head gets, the more it wants to wobble as you hit it.

Q: What did you ask Nike to build into its new driver?


A lot of it is what the club looks like in the playing position. I don't care how good it feels or how good it flies. For most golfers, if it doesn't look good, you're going to feel kind of uncomfortable with it.

Since I started at an early age, I was in that era when persimmon was still the dominant wood. I grew up playing that. So that's the kind of look I tend to gravitate to. There's something simple and classic about an old persimmon head.

Q: That's what you told Nike, to build a club similar to the persimmon in design?


Something that resembles it, but they can obviously build technology into the club.

Q: How have Nike's technology breakthroughs helped improve performance?


The larger head and larger sweet spot help. [The sweet spot] is a little wider, and it has a hotter face for more surface area.

Q: Most average golfers like the hot face because they want distance. Do you want your driver to be superhot?


No, no. One of the things that I've struggled with is that the faster you get the face, the harder it is to draw the golf ball because it's not staying on the face long enough. If you get a hotter face, the predominant ball flight is going to be left to right, if not straight.... That's why I had a hard time going to a faster face, and why my face isn't as fast as the Tour standard out there or the recreational standard.

Q: What about shafts? Doesn't a longer shaft give more distance?


It certainly does. But your dispersion pattern becomes greater too. Right now, I'm still young enough and long enough off the tee where I can sacrifice that and still be able to hit the ball out there far enough. I don't have to jump up there and go to a 45-inch driver. I'll save that for the Senior Tour.

Q: Is the technology introduced by manufacturers good for most golfers?


For the recreational golfer, it's fantastic because you have a bigger surface to make contact with. And it's faster on more of that surface. The recreational golfers aren't going to be practicing as many hours as pros. They don't do it for a living. And they need that little bit of forgiveness.

That's what Nike's Ignite driver allows the average consumer to have.... I mean, if you can put a smile on their faces because they're hitting it further and straighter, that's ultimately what it's all about.

Q: What's your advice to business executives who are preparing to buy clubs?


It's all in the approach to the club you're going to buy. What I mean by that is: Get a club that fits you. You don't want to get a club that is 4-degrees upright when you like to play 4-degrees flat. That club doesn't fit you.

My dad was a big believer of having a golf club that fit me. Always have a golf club that fits you, so you don't have to make any swing compensations for that particular golf club. I harp on people all the time when they ask, "What club should I go buy?" Well, go get fitted first. Make sure it's the right shaft for you, the right loft. Everyone has different launch angles, different spin rates.

Also, don't forget your local PGA pro. He can send your specs to a manufacturer. Or you can go buy a set and have it adjusted to you a little bit by a local PGA pro. There are many different options that you have, but you still have got to play the equipment that fits you best.

Q: So picking a certain brand comes in after getting fitted, right?


I would stress for a consumer to go look at what he wants to buy. Just because your friend says it works for him, it might not work for you. But there's no better way to go test a club than to actually go feel it and hit it for yourself.

That's the ultimate right there, when you can actually feel it. Feel the vibrations coming off the shaft. Watch the ball flight. Look where that ball landed and rolled out. Look at the shape of your shots. Does that shaft feel good to you? Is the grip too big or too small?

Q: Isn't that a bit much to consider?


There are so many different options. But if you want to improve your game, you have to take the time to go ahead and do the investigating.

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