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Steelhead XR Irons and Hybrids – Callaway’s Dr. Alan Hocknell

1200x1200-Steelhead-XRMost all of us would love to see how an old classic car would perform with today’s technology.

Say a 1965 Ford Mustang.  A friend of mine is doing just that, taking a ’65 Mustang and completely renovating it with the comforts of today. Power windows, electronics, suspension you name it.

But, when you get down to it, when you turn the key, it still performs pretty much like a 1965 car.

Not so with this new reincarnation from Callaway Golf.  It’s a club that you loved 15 years ago with performance you never could have imagined back then.

The beloved Steelhead family from the early 2000’s is back and better than ever with the new Steelhead XR irons and hybrids.

Dr. Alan Hocknell, V.P. of Research and Development, Callaway Golf
Dr. Alan Hocknell, V.P. of Research and Development, Callaway Golf

Dr. Alan Hocknell, a.k.a. “Doc Hock” from Callaway Golf, was kind enough to spend some time with us discussing exactly just what they did in bringing this outstanding line back and the new technology that oozes from every iron and hybrid.  From utilizing some of the shapes of the old X line to incorporating Face Cup technology to help with off center hits and flighting the center of gravity throughout the set to maximize ball flight and spin.

Take a listen below on Soundcloud, on our website or subscribe free to the GolfBetter Podcast on iTunes.

Better yet, give these new clubs a test drive for yourself at one of our stores.

You won’t believe the feel and performance!

Tom Brassell: Welcome to GolfBetter at Worldwide Golf Shops. Hello everyone. My name is Tom Brassell. Thanks so much for joining us. We say it every time, if you’re a first time listener, long time subscriber, or maybe somewhere in the middle, either way, we are just glad you joined us. Especially glad today because our guest joins us from out in Southern California. He’s the Vice President of Research and Development for Callaway Golf. Dr. Alan Hocknell. Alan, thanks so much for joining us, man. It’s great to have you with us.

Dr. Alan Hocknell:  Hey thanks Tom. Yeah, it’s really great to be here and we’re pretty excited about this product launch so thanks.

Tom Brassell: I did a look back. It’s been a long time. Do you remember how long it’s been?

Dr. Alan Hocknell:  Oh gosh, was it 2000 was the Steel Head X14 iron? Something like that?

Tom Brassell: No, no we did it in ’12. It was me, you, and Harry Arnett.

Dr. Alan Hocknell: Oh, me and you, last time we were together.

Tom Brassell: Happy Harry. He actually let you get a few words in so it was good.

Dr. Alan Hocknell:  Now that’s rare, yeah.

Tom Brassell:  But hey, thanks so much for joining us today. I was watching your videos and something really resonated on what Harry said on one of your videos about the goosebump potential in this launch with SteelHead. This is really something because you are bringing back something that was like the Beatles way back when. It was a huge, huge hit and now you’re bringing it back and making it better, right?

Dr. Alan Hocknell:   Yeah, that’s right. I think it’s a great idea conceptually. There’s some real advantages in some of the older X Series shapes that we used once upon a time. A lot of people had a great experience using those known for forgiveness and distance and scale. But the question that we asked ourselves internally here is could we take the best of the characteristics of those older clubs and put that together with some of our most modern technology, particularly the face cup technology, and produce something that has benefits from both of those. That was really the sort of inspiration for this SteelHead XR Iron.

Tom Brassell: The face cup technology along with this steel head iron, obviously the sweet spot just goes way, way out. An off center hit is going to be much better, correct?

Dr. Alan Hocknell:  Yeah, that’s what we’re really looking for. One of the things that we would measure for forgiveness in an iron is how much ball speed you have when you don’t quite hit the center of the face. A lot of amateur golfers, they don’t hit the center of the face. Particularly, they hit low and toe and heel so we wanted to make sure that the face cup had flexibility in all those areas in order to create ball speed when you don’t hit the center of the face. Yeah, the sweet spot, if you like. Making that larger and making it in the right location on the face as well for where people actually hit the ball. Those were two important objectives in designing a game improvement type iron like this one.

Tom Brassell:  For someone who might not remember the older club, and you mentioned the shape that they like, can you kind of go through that on audio here of what that might be like?

Dr. Alan Hocknell:  Yeah, I mean Steel Head X14 from back in 2000. That has a relatively long blade. It has decently wide sole but not overly wide. It was known for having a fair amount of offset. It had a bit of a signature look to it. There is sort of a little bit of a hitch in the top line that led to a relatively narrow hosel. It had a short straight hollow hosel as well. The S2H2 technology. It had the bore through shaft. It had a 360 degree undercut in the cavity and back of the iron. There were a lot of features that that thing had that gave it performance in its day and we wanted to take some of the best of those features in order to put the weight in the new iron in exactly the right sort of place to enhance the performance of the face cup.

Tom Brassell:    I heard on a broadcast one time and I’m not sure if it was Nick Faldo or somebody who made the statement. He said, “When you are a good player, you’re going to hit your short irons low. Flight them low and you can hit your long irons high.” Easier said than done but with the technology behind this, can you share a little bit about that?

Dr. Alan Hocknell: Yeah, absolutely. I think something that we have focused on in our better player irons for a little while now is to have this idea of a flighted center of gravity height. What we mean by that is the center of gravity is low in the long irons and it rises through to a higher center of gravity locations in the short irons. That produces the characteristic of launching the ball more easily in the long irons. So higher flight in the long irons. Then it actually has the opposite effect in the short irons. It knocks down the flight so that it is not too floaty. Gives you a lower trajectory with more spin which has better stopping power. So that is something we’ve been using in our better player irons for a little while.

For the first time here, we’re introducing that idea of the flight and center of gravity into a game of proven iron in Steel Head XR. The test data that we have with amateurs is that those players would benefit from this type of characteristic, too. Easier to hit in the launch angles of the long irons. A little bit more spin and a sightly lower flight in the short irons for a more attacking short game, if you will.

Tom Brassell:  Yeah, without really having to alter your swing. When you see the videos about trying to flight an iron down, this way it’s kind of built into the equipment for you.

Dr. Alan Hocknell: Yeah, that’s right. We’re definitely building that in for you so you don’t have to learn how to hit those different shots. That usually results in a more fond short game where you can play a more attacking game. But doing it without having to learn a whole new technique is definitely an advantage for average players.

Tom Brassell:  Dr. Alan Hocknell with us. Doc Hoc as he is known around the world and on the Twitter verse you are like a legend. You are like Dr. J. You’ve got the Doc in your name. Now I want to talk a little bit about the hybrids because this is exciting stuff.

Dr. Alan Hocknell: The hybrids are an interesting area for us. We tried to produce hybrids for the same characteristics as the irons that they launched. In this case we wanted pretty game improvement characteristics to it. Just recently, not that long ago, we launched an apex hybrid. It was really a departure for us into a new shape. We designed it with better players in mind but actually found out that it had sufficient forgiveness in it. A much broader audience in terms of player ability than we first thought. Actually we’re very successful with that hybrid so we decided we would take the idea and expand on it to make it more game improvement. So we took the apex shape but took the face and made it longer, made it taller, made the body deeper front to back. All those things were good for improving the level of forgiveness. The sweet spot area of the face enlarges with the size of the face. That ease of launching characteristic increases as the weight goes further back from the face as well because the body is stretched out a little bit.

So we took those ingredients and made a much more forgiving hybrid than we’d had in apex but still with that same basic shape, DNA if you like, the people gave us a lot of good feedback on. Then we went and added to it for the first time the speed step technology that we put in the XR16 driver for the first time earlier in 2016. If you remember that is something that worked with Boeing on in large amount. A project that they had to really understand the air flow over those driver heads, the R16.

Now the hybrids don’t have quite the same aerodynamic problems in that the face isn’t quite as large, the body’s not quite as large, they are not moving quite as fast. But we understand that air flow over the face and over the crown a lot better now. We put the speed step on there for the first time in order to give that head every aerodynamic advantage possible in delivering the club with speed to the ball and getting good distance.

Tom Brassell:  I remember that very well especially around the PGA merchandise show time because that’s why we couldn’t get anywhere near you. It was such a buzz about the driver.

Dr. Alan Hocknell:  That project was very successful and the marketing folks got a hold of it and Boeing embraced that as well as part of their project to make people aware that they are a very inventive company. Working on a project outside of aerospace was a very cool project for them, too.

Tom Brassell:  When you bring back a name like SteelHead back into the market like it was, what kind of feedback did you get during testing from obviously the people that were testing it, better players, and so on and so forth?

Dr. Alan Hocknell:  We certainly found that a lot of people that we brought in to help us with the testing had good recollections of playing well with Steel Head X14 irons a few years ago and/or had friends who played well and they remember even certain tour players at that time playing with them. There was a lot of expectation put upon us about how can you take what was good about that and make it better. I think we were pretty successful in the feedback that we got in that we retained the forgiveness characteristic. We retained the feel. We retained the somewhat icon look and shape and size of the iron. But we did add a significant amount of ball speed which results in overall better distance. Overall we got a pretty good thumbs up from the people that we brought in here. They were saying, “You know, you did the right thing taking this idea of taking what was best in an iron that was a little bit a go but certainly a classic in terms of the Callaway spectrum of irons and then adding the most modern ball speed technology to it seems like a good idea.”

Tom Brassell:   It’s exciting, it really is. Before I let you go Alan, just a little technical I guess on the set make up. What kind of options are available there as far as set makeup and shaft options as well?

Dr. Alan Hocknell:  Sure. There’s the regular composition of 3 through the wedges. Then there are hybrids available as well in 3, 4, 5, and I believe 6 so there are any number of combinations that you could do using all of those. A lot of the sets that we sale end up being irons with two hybrids. Either a 3 and a 4 hybrid or a 4 and a 5 hybrid. There’s certainly an opportunity for golfers to get fitted into exactly the right composition of irons and hybrids for them. Then with the shaft, the shaft on the iron and steel is an XT95 Shaft from True Temper. It’s something that we are really pleased to put in this iron because it probably represents a class or grade of shaft that you’d expect to find in a more expensive iron than this one. So we are really pleased that that high quality shaft is being brought into the steel area.

In the graphite side of things, we have a great shaft. It’s the Metrics F15 which in testing performed really well with these irons and hybrids in terms of being relatively light weight but still being very stable and a good feeling graphite shaft. So really pleased with the overall set options available and the shafts that go with it.

Tom Brassell:  You said two words in there that resonated with me. You said, “Get fitted.” With all these options I think it is more important than ever for the customer to go invest in a little bit of time and get fitted for these irons, right?

Dr. Alan Hocknell: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. You know, we could produce all sorts of test data from people that we invite in to help us test and averages and other statistical kind of basis for describing our products but really what matters is you the golfer as the individual and how this set can be figured to make you as an individual a more successful player. I absolutely recommend that fitting is the best way to configure the set for you as an individual. When that happens, you’ll see all the benefits get amplified.

Tom Brassell:  Alan, thanks so much for the time. It’s great to have you. This is really, I’ve said it about a number of times, this is exciting stuff. We’re looking forward to getting this product into our customers hands and it’s great talking to you. Hopefully we can do it again and it won’t be a two year wait this time, right?

Dr. Alan Hocknell: Yeah, thanks for having me Tom. It’s really good to be able to talk about it. We’re really proud of the products and thanks for giving us the opportunity to talk to you.

Tom Brassell:   Best to all of our friends at Callaway Golf.

Dr. Alan Hocknell: Thank you.

Tom Brassell: He’s a legend. Doc Hoc. That’s what his Twitter handle is. What he goes by out at Callaway, Dr. Alan Hocknell, Vice President of Research and Development for Callaway Golf. Make sure to get out and get fitted. Give these clubs a shot. Steel Head XR irons and hybrids. They are something, something else. Special thanks to Doc Hoc for joining us and to you our listeners. We’ll do it again next time when we have another episode of GolfBetter at So long.