WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Wilson D9 driver leads a new wood family with the company’s most intense re-thinking of face design in its history. In fact, the thought process on the face for the new driver went beyond human cogitation and heavily into computer simulation, producing a variable thickness design without a single spot where the face thickness is contant. That design results in more consistently higher ball speeds at face center and beyond.
Price: Driver, $350; fairway wood, $220; hybrid, $200 (at retail on Jan. 26).
THE DEEP DIVE: The real genius in the metalwoods design process today seems to be about doing things in ways you hadn’t considered before. Wilson’s design team across all sports, known as Wilson Labs, found that one of the best ways to come up with a new plan is to find inspiration not just from human brains but from the thoughts, shapes and angles conceived by computers.
That combination of human engineers, computer simulations and even the decidedly analog input of tour players like Gary Woodland and Brendan Steele, led to the company’s most aggressive driver face design in its history. The design grew from computer modeling of 17 different segments of the face, running hundreds of simulations at a clip. The end result was more face flexing and better ball speed for both the best hits and those not quite your best, all from a face with a variable thickness pattern its team hadn’t considered or couldn’t even have imagined.
The design is known as the PKR face for “peak kinetic response,” which is basically geek-speak for pushing the limits of the spring-like effect test while still staying durable. Similar versions of the face were tested and played on tour early last year as part of developing a consumer driver that learned from the best players at the same time it was learning from high-speed computers. Speed is one way to describe the performance objective of the design, said Wilson’s Jon Pergande, global innovation manager, but speed is also an even more apt description of the design process.
“We were able to get to this solution quicker because we had done a lot of the work virtually,” he said. “It takes us five steps down the road so then we can spend time on these small tweaks, not the big changes. We’re prototyping a much more advanced design right away.”
While past Wilson drivers had variable thickness patterns that were typically thicker in the middle and thinnest at the perimeter around that central portion, this design moves from thick and thin sections in a less regimented design, said Bob Thurman, vice president of Wilson Labs and Wilson Sporting Goods research and development.
“This face has no place where there’s constant face thickness,” he said, noting that some of the thinner sections are close to the center, a pattern that would have normally been thought of as a durability concern until computer simulations showed that it wasn’t. “It really does turn into a system where it’s not like it’s thicker in the middle and you just taper it out. It’s more like recognizing we need it thin here to solve this problem and thick there to solve a different problem.”
One key solution of the new variable pattern is lining up the driver’s center of gravity with the place on the face with the highest measured flexibility. That means the most direct transfer of energy at the most active spot on the face. Another came in improving the sound of the head’s larger frame, again aided by a computational optimization process. Rather than using two ribs in the rear interior to control vibration, the smarter choice was to move a single larger rib far forward, close to the face. Conventional thinking might suggest that putting more internal mass forward would hurt forgiveness.
“With the large head one of the goals was actually to move weight forward to hit those center of gravity targets so this was a win-win,” Pergande said. “We got weight in a direction that helps us compared to where we started, and we got a sound where we wanted it to be.”
Also helping weight distribution and sound is the use of a multilayer carbon composite crown. Seen on previous Wilson drivers and borrowed from some learnings in the company’s tennis racket division, two different layers of carbon composite surround a layer of kevlar to strengthen the crown and damp vibration for improved sound.
The driver also continues past Wilson ideas on internal weighting based on loft. While there is a more central and forward weighting on the 9-degree model, the 10.5- and 13-degree heads feature progressively more of a rearward and heelward mass. Also, the design features a 10-gram fixed weight chip in the rear perimeter that helps increase off-center hit stability or moment of inertia (MOI). It also allows that weight chip to switch to just three grams for the softer shaft flexes, creating a superlight model that weighs less than 280 grams with an ultralight grip, as well, a concept that’s been part of Wilson drivers for several years, including most recently the D7.
“It’s really an effort at making the club the most playable for the typical consumer using that loft,” Pergande said.
The rest of the D9 metalwood lineup also includes new thinking on the face. While the company’s metalwoods have used high-strength Carpenter Custom 455 steel in the past, the D9 fairway woods and hybrids for the first time employ a variable face thickness pattern for better ball speed on center hits, high and low and heel and toe as well.
Both the fairway woods and hybrids also benefit from a weight-saving crown structure. Large thinned out sections separated by thicker bands save as much as six grams that help to lower the CG and improve perimeter weighting.
The D9 driver ($350) comes in three lofts (9, 10.5 and 13 degrees) and is not adjustable to save more mass to improve the head’s mass properties. The D9 fairway woods ($220) come in three lofts (15, 18 and 21 degrees), while the D9 hybrids ($200) feature six lofts (17, 19, 22, 25, 28 and 31 degrees).
The Wilson D9 lineup will be in stores Jan. 26.