By Gary Van Sickle
The new Vertical Groove driver didn’t have a name yet when I tried it out late last summer. It was an unpainted, untitled prototype, so it felt a little like riding in an unmarked police car.
However, it was thrilling to be among the first to try a club whose revolutionary design left me to wonder, How has no one thought of this before? (Merit Golf tried something similar 15 years ago, but it was an epic fail.) There are 17 groove patterns on the now-aptly named Vertical Groove driver, and they run vertically (up and down) on the face instead of the traditional horizontal pattern (side to side).
The grooves help reduce sidespin, in theory, and produce straighter drives. The beauty of the name is, it’s self-explanatory. There’s no need for the usual marketing mumbo-jumbo about COI (coefficient of inertia) and all that. And yes, it conforms to USGA equipment regulations. It ranked among the most innovative new products at the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.
Josh Miller, a former Pittsburgh Steelers punter, sports-talk radio personality and managing partner of Vertical Groove Golf, met me on the practice range at a Pittsburgh-area course so I could give the club a tryout. I wasn’t on my game that day (or that year, for that matter) due to a troublesome knee, but I nonetheless managed a steady diet of straight drives.
For a second opinion, I dished off the driver to a local club professional who was hitting balls nearby. I’ll leave his name out of this, because he’s affiliated with a major equipment company, but he drilled one drive after another on a line. When he was done, he handed the club back with an approving nod and an expression of surprise. I was pretty sure he had expected to hate it. Instead, he gave it a solid thumbs-up.
The Vertical Groove driver was the idea of the late Tony Antonius, whose 100 golf-related patents include using Velcro on golf gloves. He died before the driver was developed, but a group of business partners, including Miller, acquired the patent and carried on.
The company claims the vertical grooves reduce sidespin up to 40 percent. Rubin Hanan, Vertical Groove Golf’s chief business officer, said the club’s performance will benefit all golfers, including low-handicap players, and the clubhead’s decreased sidespin should pay off in increased distance.
“The best thing about this club,” Miller told me at the range, “is that there are times when you don’t deserve the result you got. You say, ‘I know for a fact that shot should be over there in the right trees,’ but it’s in the fairway. I love that.”
The Vertical Groove driver features a 450-cc titanium head and is available in lofts of 9.5, 10.5 and 12 degrees (www.VertGolf.com). It sells for a suggested retail price of $399.99.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.