News & Opinion

Hey, buddy, need a lift on that tee shot?

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

The first thing that catches my eye about the new Bridgestone Tour B JGR driver is the color: bright canary yellow.

No, the driver head isn’t yellow. It’s a very traditional metallic black with a very traditional shape (if anything in modern equipment can be called traditional). The grip on the Tour B JGR driver is bright canary yellow. The same is true on the fairway woods which I tried: a 3-wood and 5-wood.

I like yellow. I live in Pittsburgh, so anything close to black and gold, the color of the “Stillers,” as locals call them, is not only applauded but seemingly mandated by law. Canary yellow isn’t Steelers yellow, but my fellow Yinzers (Pittsburgh residents) aren’t going to quibble. Close enough.

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Bridgestone’s Tour B JGR driver is designed for mid-range handicappers and up who need a little lift, more forgiveness and less spin. Yet, it works for Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar, too.

The first law of golf equipment marketing is to draw attention. We’ve seen clubmakers paint outside the box in the past. Remember TaylorMade’s old copper-colored heads, along with the BubbleShaft? Later, TaylorMade moved back to black, then to white metal heads. The copper-and-white heads were great marketing tools and easy for TV viewers to identify which PGA Tour players were using TaylorMade. Ultimately, though, it’s about performance, not color. And I heard a fair amount of grousing from pros and amateurs alike about those white heads being a little too reflective.

Callaway and Adams went with blue heads for a while. Wilson made a driver head the color of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from Oz. Cobra has toyed with orange in honor of its top endorsee, Rickie Fowler.

Yellow grips? I’m good with that flavor. You’ve also got to have a technology tale to tell to get the consumer interested. I don’t know how many of these stories are pure marketing and how many are based on technological advancements that work. Color me skeptical. Or yellow.

The Bridgestone lemon grips had me at hello. There is nothing to dislike about the Tour B JGR driver ($399 suggested retail) head’s shape, just as there isn’t anything distinctive about it. The JGR looks like what our 21st-century drivers usually look like. Ditto for the 3-wood and 5-wood. They look normal. That’s a plus and what I prefer.

Here’s where my story turns into a cautionary tale. My golf game is fast approaching Social Security status, if you get my drift. If you don’t, let’s just say I’m not getting any younger or picking up clubhead speed. Just the opposite, especially after the meniscus in my left knee tore apart in 2015 after a baseball injury decades earlier.

It’s been frustrating trying to recover my golfing form. The outside of my left knee is shot, my doctor informed me. I have been subconsciously bailing out on finishing any golf swing since then, to protect that knee. I had stem-cell injections at the start of 2017 and have seen big improvement of late. Since June, I have started to swing in a way that feels vaguely familiar. (Those of you who saw my old swing offer condolences, no doubt.)

But I chickened out when I had a chance to test-drive the Tour B JGR family. I always used stiff shafts. Because of my recent struggles, maybe it was time to try regular shafts, so that’s what I ordered.

This is why you should get fitted before making any major golf equipment purchase. Even with what I perceive to be reduced clubhead speed, the fairway woods produce sweeping draws. Although I can’t swear that’s not the new me, too, but I clearly screwed up on the shaft choices. Which is a shame because I like the way the ball jumps off the 3-wood and 5-wood. With different shafts – I’m working on that – they’ve got potential.

The Tour B JGR driver (10.5 degrees, in my case) is a different matter. I was losing drives to the right, and I always had a right-to-left ball flight. When my friendly neighborhood club professional suggested removing the 10-gram weight from the Tour B’s rear sole, I started hitting it down the line with some decent velocity and height. The face feels a little firm and the sound is a little tinkly, but two good shots and those minor details are forgotten.

I’d also like a little better aiming help. The Tour B’s crown has a subtle, curved ellipse from head to toe, with a grooved indenture in the middle. It’s all black, though, and not easy to see. I’d like something more obvious, but then, my current driver has a Norwegian flag on its crown, with one of the flag’s stripes lined up right behind the sweet spot. So, I’m spoiled. And for every golfer like myself who wants alignment help, another golfer prefers a blank, clean crown. I get it.

The driver is designed for mid-range handicappers and up who need a little lift, a little more forgiveness and a little less spin. That’s exactly what the driver did for me after I took out the optional weight. Surprisingly, a few of Bridgestone’s PGA Tour players are using the driver, notably Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar. You may recall Snedeker shot 59 at the Wyndham Championship. Yes, he used the Tour B JGR model.

The driver has what Bridgestone calls a Boost Wave crown that flexes at impact, which is what helps the face create a slightly higher launch angle. The Tour B has a variable-thickness face for speed. The fairway woods ($229 suggested retail) have milled faces with grooves that you can feel if you run your fingertips across the clubfaces. The grooves supposedly maintain contact with the ball longer and reduce the spin rate.

It’s hard to make any technical talk sound sexy and believable to consumers, who have been pitched some far-fetched techno-tales from other equipment-makers in recent years that haven’t always performed. Color all of us skeptical now.

I like Bridgestone’s plan: go with attention-getting yellow grips, and rely on word of mouth by players. I’m optimistic about the clubs, but I’m not done testing. Next, I have to do what I should have done in the first place: get properly fitted for the correct shafts.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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