We Tried It: Mizuno’s Hot New Woods

When it comes to equipment, Mizuno has been a top contender in the forged-iron category for what seems like forever. Year after year, they crank out irons that not only look like works of art, but also, in the right hands, perform as good as an iron possibly can. But this go-around, we wanted to take a look at something else Mizuno has been doing really well. You may not think of metalwoods when you think of Mizuno, but we're here to tell you it's time to change your thinking. The latest crop of woods from Mizuno don't disappoint, as we found out during some hands-on testing with a driver, fairway wood and hybrid club.

JPX-800 Driver

Looks And Feel: The forged, all-titanium JPX-800 driver is a real treat to look at. Its dark navy-blue finish sits well in the bright sun, and the shaping of the club makes it easier to align than a traditional pear-shaped driver would be. (The JPX-800 has more of a triangular, modern head shape.) When combined with a custom white Mitsubishi Rayon Fubuki shaft, the driver almost has a nautical look to it. As for how it feels, we expected this driver to feel great, and it does. The feel on solid shots resembles what a forged iron from Mizuno feels like: smooth and buttery. Off-center hits felt slightly firmer, but the Ultimate Dynamic Stability and Hot Metal face technologies really made the sweet spot feel huge. We hardly missed.

Performance: Hitting the JPX-800 Driver was quite a surprise. From a company that tends to make irons designed for better players (except for the new JPX-800 irons, which are insanely long and forgiving), we expected this driver to cater more toward lower-handicappers and be a little more challenging to wield. We've even read the reviews of this driver from other sources, claiming the ball flew lower and with modest distance. Dare we say, we disagree with that assessment. We found this driver was both easy to hit and flew higher than several other drivers we've tried this year. Maybe it was the finely tuned Fubuki shaft, the 45.5-inch shaft length, or just plain ol' good design, but this driver was easy to align and flew really straight. Best of all, we found shots hit with this driver to be very consistent in terms of ballflight (moderate to high) and spin rate (moderate.)

Bottom Line: In the midst of adjustable-driver tech, it's good to know you can still buy a great driver without adjustability features. The JPX-800 is as straightforward as it gets in terms of clean aesthetics, ample forgiveness and distance on both solid and off-center hits. Thanks to a square face angle, this driver showed some maneuverability as well, which is ideal for players who like to shape shots. It's a top pick among nonadjustable drivers for 2011.

Pros: Solid feel, surprisingly forgiving on off-center hits.

Cons: No left-landed models, and we question the need for that extra long shaft.

JPX-800 Fairway Wood

Looks And Feel: Like the driver with the same name, the JPX-800 fairway woods have a deep navy-blue finish and a modern head shape, albeit in a low-profile, fairway-wood design. Shots hit on the sweet spot felt firm and responsive–which, by the way, is what we want from a fairway wood. Off-center hits had a tinge more vibration, but again, that's to be expected from a stainless-steel design. On a side note, the beveled leading edge really made solid ball contact easier to achieve–something we wish we saw more of in all fairway-wood designs.

Performance: The JPX-800 fairway wood has more of the feel and performance we've come to expect from Mizuno. Better players will like the square face angle, making it easier to hit a variety of shots. Higher-handicappers or slower swingers may see their shots fly to the right, but the right shaft and flex combination ought to mitigate that. As for distance, we hit several bombs from the fairway that rivaled a few of our tee shots. The ball flew with a moderate trajectory–again, better players will like this, slower swingers and/or higher-handicappers will want more height in their fairway shots.

Bottom Line: Look for the JPX-800 fairway woods in the bags of better players who want a no-nonsense fairway wood that delivers on just about any shot you try to hit with it.

Pros: Long and maneuverable.

Cons: Slow swingers will want a softer shaft and/or more loft to get the ball airborne.

JPX-800 Hybrid Looks And Feel: Right away, you can tell the JPX-800 doesn't look much like the other woods in the series. The paint scheme is the same, but the wing-style, perimeter-weighting look on the crown makes this club look like it's geared for some real game improvement. Whether hit from the fairway or rough, this club feels heavy–which, in our opinion, helps prevent us from trying to lift the ball in the air.

Performance: It may be the "ugly duckling" of the group, but the JPX-800 hybrid might be our favorite in the JPX-800 line. It's got just about everything working for it: It's easy to hit, it's long, and it can be used to hit a variety of shots. The "Drop Down Crown" pushes the CG low for a quick, high ballflight, and again, the beveled leading edge makes for clean, crisp contact with the golf ball. We tested this club with a Fubuki shaft (all the clubs we tried had one) and found the ball flew high and long. Better yet, unlike some easy-to-hit hybrids that have a lot of draw bias, we didn't feel as though this hybrid forced us to play a draw. Put it this way: We hit a few 215-yard shots dead straight that landed on the green with little to no forward roll. We'll take that all day, folks.

Bottom Line: A wonderful hybrid that can be played anywhere on the course. We also like the hosel's adjustability, in case you want it to be tweaked a degree or two, flat or upright (we suggest you try to match your irons, since hybrids are designed to be swung like one).

Pros: Remarkable playability.

Cons: The crown is a bit funky looking, but you'll get used to it.

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