Back in the early-1990s, Phil Mickelson, who just won his fifth AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am title in 2019, was playing Yonex clubs. Fred Couples was a Lynx guy (remember the Boom-Boom driver?), Wilson was still known for its outstanding forged irons and wedges and Etonic was still an iconic golf shoe brand along with FootJoy.
Before Mickelson started playing Callaway in 2004 (and Titleist before that), he won on the PGA Tour 17 times with Yonex clubs. In the United States, he was the face of the brand.
Since Mickelson left Yonex in 2000, Yonex hasn't exactly resonated with the U.S. golf market, so little that most golfers in North America probably weren't even sure that Yonex was still in the golf business.
But the Japanese company appears poised to gain some notoriety again in the United States (Yonex has a sizable presence in Asia, of course). Last year, according to Yonex assistant sales manager David Cho, four players on the PGA Tour had Yonex irons in their bag without being compensated, and after hitting them, I can understand why. (Yonex does have a couple of LPGA players under contract: Hyo-Joo Kim and Suzuka Yamaguchi.)
While forged irons are a niche market with recreational players, the beauty of these clubs is undeniable, as is the feel, given that they are made entirely at Yonex's Japanese factory. Plus, Yonex has added a more forgiving cavity back, the CB301s (which are still beautiful and played in a combo set by the tour pros) or CB701s (bigger head, more offset) that appeals to a wider range of golfers. Yonex also makes its own shafts, not surprisingly excelling in the graphite department given its outstanding reputation in tennis racquets (Naomi Osaki just won the Australian Open using Yonex).
Of course quality like this comes at a premium price. Yonex's forged irons (MB501, CB301, CB501, CB701) starts at $240.00 per club, but they're pretty special.
Lynx Golf ready for U.S.
Last I saw Lynx, it had become a brand of Golfsmith, then Dick's Sporting Goods after Golfsmith's bankruptcy. What most of golfers in the United States didn't know is that the Lynx Brand has been gaining momentum under different ownership in Europe. A little over a year ago, husband and wife Steve Elford and Stephanie Zinsor secured the U.S. rights from Dick's and are serious about bringing the Lynx brand back to the forefront here.
The company was a full participant at this year's PGA Merchandise Show, both at demo day and with a substantial booth inside the Orange County Convention Center, offering a wide array of products, including blade irons (which retail for $699, 4-PW.)
Lynx also has a new driver, among its many new products – the Prowler VT Switch Face, which isn't so cheap. You've heard of TaylorMade's Twist Face technology?; Well, Switch Face Technology allows the user to literally change the face of the driver to change the loft of the club, creating a true loft, instead of what most companies do by changing the hosel in their adjustable driver.
Some 10 years in the making, this innovation isn't cheap. The driver costs $525 and comes with two faceplates. Additional plates are $120 each.
Wilson back in a big way
Wilson is simply one of the most iconic brands in golf, going back more than 100 years. The brand could have its own Hall of Fame section with staff players that included Sam Snead, Walter Hagen, Arnold Palmer, Patty Berg, Nick Faldo, Payne Stewart, John Daly, Ben Crenshaw, and Vijay Singh, just to name a few. Palmer and Crenshaw both used Wilson 8802 putters, with Crenshaw's "Little Ben," one of the most famous blade putters of all time.
Wilson Golf didn't exactly go away, but its reputation in golf waned in the 1990s and 2000s. Lately it's been rebounding nicely with a new generation of equipment and players, who include Padraig Harrington (who has been with Wilson through thick and thin), Kevin Streelman, Ricky Barnes and Gary Woodland, who just recently signed with Wilson.
Woodland has been playing Wilson's gorgeous new forged Staff Irons and according the company, testing out the new Wilson Staff Cortex, winner of Driver vs. Driver 2 as seen on Golf Channel.
The Chicago-area based company had a large presence at the PGA Show in January, both at Demo Day and in the convention center.
As for what Wilson is offering these days, it's plenty, including new golf balls, woods, hybrids and irons. The latest golf ball is the Duo Professional, a urethane covered ball that sells for about $35 a dozen, for those who are looking for great performance at a little more palatable price.
Aside from the Staff Cortex Driver, Wilson is also offering the new D7 driver, woods, hybrids that company says features "lightweight distance technology to encourage greater levels of forgiveness and yardage from the tee."
“The process of creating the D7 driver started with designing the head shape and then stripping out all available weight, almost 25 grams. This weight was strategically returned to the head with the goal of improving the sound of the driver and optimizing ball flight with Dynamic Launch Control,” said Jon Pergande, Global Innovation Manager at Wilson Golf.
Wilson is also offering the new D7 "performance" irons. They feature something called "power holes," but when you get to the pitching wedge there's just one row of these power holes to make them better for distance control.
For golf purists: Ben Hogan Co.
While Wilson and Yonex make beautiful forged blade irons, Hogan has never taken a back seat to anyone in that department. Originally founded by the great Ben Hogan himself in 1954, the Hogan Apex irons were the most popular iron on the PGA Tour through much of the 1970s.
The equipment company has certainly gone through its ups and downs under different ownership, including Spalding and Callaway. But more recently, Hogan is regaining momentum under a different model, new owner and new business model.
You won't find Hogan clubs in retail stores or golf shops, only online at the company's website, which allows them to make clubs one set at a time and keep costs down. Simply put, Hogan wants to keep the brand alive and viable for the accomplished and avid golfer, but has no illusions of competing with the major manufacturers.
If you go the website, you can see Hogan's offerings, which feature some old familiar brands. The Fort Worth White forged blade irons (4-PW) are particularly gorgeous and not that expensive at $700 a set. Plus they offer a trade-in and demo program.
Etonic Golf offers great value
Etonic actually goes back to 1876 and takes credit for inventing the first golf specific shoe in 1945. Later it would become the first golf shoe to use Gore-Tex to make them waterproof.
Etonic remained popular for decades, but after it was acquired by Spalding back in 1996, it had a hard time keeping up with the technology and trends of shoe stalwarts like FootJoy, adidas and Nike in particular -- especially after Nike signed Tiger Woods.
Etonic Holdings LLC, a collaboration of the Weisfeld Group, Anthony L&S Footwear, and The Castlewood Group, though has re-emerged in the last year or so as a partner of Ray Cook (another brand you might have been wondering about), offering a totally new line of golf shoes that are both inexpensive and much more comfortable than what it had in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as apparel and gloves.
The best news is that if you're looking for value, Etonic might be a good place to start. Its most expensive shoe, the Stabilizer, sells for just $70 and there's a whole range of shoe models for less than that.
This is the shoe currently worn and endorsed by everyman John Daly, who is also donning Etonic apparel and using Etonic gloves. The company's high-end tour glove is just $13, by the way, and you can get a pretty nice looking performance pullover for just $40.