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Len Ziehm On Golf

Here are the most interesting new golf products for 2015

The recently-concluded PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, FL., (SHOW WAS JAN. 20-23) with Chicago’s two major club manufacturers playing lead roles.

Batavia-based Tour Edge got its usual jump on the competition by formally introducing its line of new irons and putters a day ahead of the 62-year old main event, which drew 40,000 attendees and had over 1,000 exhibitors at its four-day run at the Orange County Convention Center.

David Glod, who founded Tour Edge out of his own garage in 1986, has held his season preview a day ahead of the show the last 10 years. This time he admitted “there’s so many new products it’s almost daunting.’’

The key to Tour Edge’s new club offerings is “robotic laser beam bonding.’’ You’ll be hearing more about that as the season progresses.

Wilson celebrated its centennial in 2014 but Tim Clarke, head of the company’s golf division, thought the milestone year would be just a springboard for things to come.

“Our first century had an exciting finish with (Kevin) Streelman getting a birdie win (a record seven straight birds to finish off a victory at Hartford), Marcel Siem won in Europe and Padraig Harrington won in Asia,’’ said Clarke. “But 2015 will be our best yet. Our product line is as good as we’ve ever had.’’

In addition to unveiling its new clubs and golf balls, Wilson announced the additions of Troy Merritt and Brendan Steele to its staff of touring pros and introduced the latest in its popular four-year TV ad campaign, “Seriously!’’ that features Guy Johnson.

According to PGA of America estimates, if you walked through every mile of the Orlando show to check out all the offerings relative to instruction, fashion, equipment, accessories and technology you would have covered about 10 miles. The two Chicago shows coming up in February won’t be nearly that big, of course.

The Tinley Park Golf Expo runs Feb. 6-8 and the Chicago Golf Show, bolstered by new presenting sponsor Encompass Insurance, will be staged Feb. 27-March 1. By the time they’re over there might well be enough snow off the ground to allow for play on at least some of the Chicago courses. At least one can only hope.

At any rate, this is my opportunity to reveal the products I found the most interesting in Orlando. They underscore how inventive and innovative the people in the golf industry really are.

My favorite was GolfBoard, which brings the concept of surfing to golf. You ride an electric board and it feels similar to snowboarding, surfing or skateboarding. The GolfBoard carries one golfer, who is standing, and his bag. This device speeds up play and makes the player more active than he would be sitting in the traditional cart. Dave Weretka, long-time publisher of GolfChicago magazine is GolfBoard’s representative in the Chicago area.

Swing trainers are frequently innovative, and DST Golf introduced one that is literally and figuratively “Ahead of the Curve.’’ PGA Master Professional Nigel Blenkarne demonstrated how to use what looks like a pitching wedge with a bent shaft. The bent shaft would make the club illegal, according to the Rules of Golf. For practice and warmup, though, it’s fine and Blenkarne said “some PGA guys are practicing with it.’’

In addition to the bent shaft, the club has a white line on the clubhead and a wide, flat sole angle that encourages the proper swing for chip shots. It forces you to be in the optimal impact position.

Ray Rapcavage, a New Jersey resident who considers himself “a good amateur player,’’ brought along the Golf Swing Shirt – a striking orange pullover endorsed by Harrington, a three-time major champion, and teaching guru Jimmy Ballard. You put the Swing Shirt on over your own shirt, insert one arm at a time into the center sleeve and then head for the range.

You may look and feel funny, but those who tried Swing Shirt felt they were striking the ball with body turn rather than the flipping of the hands, and the hands were always slightly ahead of the ball at impact. That resulted in a more reliable motion through the ball.

Putting also traditionally inspires new products. Ed Klein, of Aberdeen, Wash., didn’t come with a new putter. He came with a new grip that could catch on as the USGA’s ban on anchored putting closes in for 2016. Klein’s Arm-Lock Converter Putter Grip. You simply have a new (bigger) grip installed on your present putter. It comes in two models – round and flat – and fits any putter. Klein says either model will make you an arm-lock putter and eliminate the issues presented by anchored putting.

Ball technology may be more ongoing than any area in golf, and OnCore Golf has come out with “the world’s only hollow metal core golf ball.’’ It just gained USGA approval last May.