WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Three new drivers and two new fairway woods comprise Callaway’s new Epic line. The models include the forgiving everyman Max, the “high forgiveness for better players” Max LS and the aerodynamically shaped, low-spin Speed in drivers; and the larger, forgiving Max and smaller, flatter-launching Speed in fairway woods). For each, it isn’t the new titanium or steel alloys in the face or the extensive use of carbon composite in the body that forges new territory. Rather, again it is the use of artificial intelligence to fundamentally reshape the company’s “Jailbreak” structure that joins the crown and sole. These internal designs reflect “solutions that aren’t always intuitive,” including a frame shape on the drivers, and angled, non-circular bars on the woods. They stiffen the body in both a vertical and now a horizontal direction to concentrate more flexing across a greater area of the face.
Price: $530 (drivers); $300 (fairway woods). In stores Feb. 18.
THE DEEP DIVE: Turns out Callaway’s Epic line of metalwoods from 2017, which included the company’s most successful driver of the last two decades thanks to its paradigm-shifting internal crown-to-sole stiffening bars known as “Jailbreak,” had one shortcoming. As effective as the technology was in concentrating more flexure in the face for faster ball speeds, it was, alas, only designed by a human brain. What you really needed, it seems, was an artificial one.
So to get the whole structure optimized in the new Epic lineup, including a collection of distinct individual face thickness patterns across a family of three new drivers and two fairway woods, the company dug deeply into its growing storehouse of artificial intelligence-aided design capability. The results were “designs so counterintuitive but so effective,” said Evan Gibbs, Callaway’s senior director of research and development for woods.
The new look to the unseen internal Jailbreak structures that sit within the head near the face on the drivers and fairway woods takes two unconventional, asymmetric forms. In the driver, where it’s labeled “Jailbreak A.I. Speed Frame,” it takes on the outline of a square with slightly angled vertical sides, horizontal pieces along the inside of the crown and sole, and curved supports in all four corners. Imagine a picture frame designed with flourishes of Willy Wonka and Howard Roark but even more functional.
“We’re still trying to limit the amount of flexure we see in the body at impact,” Gibbs said. “If we minimize the amount of deflection in the crown, it allows us to design a face that has more flexure, more deflection at impact.”
Just as it did when the original GBB Epic was introduced four years ago, that means more distance, but by using artificial intelligence and machine learning the structure’s unique form took the original paradigm shift and shifted it again. Rather than a separate piece that’s welded into the body, the “speed frame” feature is formed during the casting process out of the same titanium as the body.
“One of the benefits of using AI is it comes up with solutions that aren’t always intuitive,” Gibbs said. “It’s just not as obvious that there’s some twisting and horizontal movement there, but that’s what the computer saw and tried to fix.”
Moreover that fix wasn’t self-contained in the “speed frame” structure. Just as the last two Callaway driver families (Epic Flash and Mavrik) employed asymmetically contoured face thickness patterns, the A.I. system engineered faces that worked uniquely because of the new jailbreak structure.
“Optimizing the speed frame and the off-center face thicknesses at the same time allowed us to see greater off-center face flexure than we’ve seen in the past,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think any engineer would come up with these thickness patterns on their own no matter how many simulations they make.” Gibbs said the problem is that engineers typically solve problems “locally.”
“If I want to make some section flex more here, I make it thinner here,” he said. “It’s very hard to think that if I want the toe to flex more, maybe the high toe needs to be thicker and it needs to be thinner on the heel. That’s the cool thing about coming up with these counterintuitive designs that aren’t necessarily symmetric but they’re very effective.
“Buying a big fancy computer, that’s the easy part.”
Gibbs said the effectiveness of the frame, which “added some stiffness not only in the vertical direction but the horizontal direction and torsionally as well,” meant the face design could be even more aggressive than past Callaway models. The pattern is uniquely tailored to the golfer most likely to use each of the three models in the line.
All three driver heads use a new high-strength titanium alloy in the face and feature increased use of carbon composite sections on the crown and sole. The three models are what Gibbs called “golfer-centric” designs.
The Epic Speed is a smaller footprint aerodynamically aggressive head with a forward center of gravity similar to last year’s Mavrik but with more forgiveness, “a unique combination of speed but also very consistent spin rates.”
The Epic Max is the most forgiving of the three models, with a deep center of gravity for a high moment of inertia (stability on off-center hits). It’s designed for higher launch and features a sliding weight in a rear perimeter channel that allows for the most draw bias of the three drivers.
Gibbs called the Epic Max LS “a totally new idea” compared to past better player models, like the company’s “Sub Zero” heads that tended to overemphasize low spin. Its sliding weight track can accommodate more of a fade bias position than Epic Max, but it retains what Gibbs called “high MOI for better players for more control” vs. ultra-low spin.
GOING DEEP ON FAIRWAY WOODS:
The strength of Callaway’s A.I. technology is its adaptability, Gibbs said, which is reflected in the two new fairway woods, Epic Speed and Epic Max. The jailbreak design is completely different from both past jailbreak configurations and the driver’s “speed frame.” Although again focused on stiffening the body to concentrate more flexing in the face, the difference starts with the fact that the fairway woods utilize a wraparound cupface made of forged C300 maraging steel vs. the face inserts in the driver. The result is angled bars that are both farther apart than the original jailbreak and more oval in cross-section, what the company calls “jailbreak A.I. velocity blades.”
“With a face cup in the fairway woods, you want that flange area in the crown and sole to participate more,” Gibbs said. “A.I. comes up with an optimal solution that’s not necessarily the categorical solution. Making the jailbreak rods farther apart allowed the face cup to flex more particularly in the crown and sole hinge area. The outcome is the same as drivers but the solution is very different.”
Both use weight-saving carbon composite crowns in different ways. The smaller footprint Epic Speed redistributes the saved weight low and forward for reduced spin and a flatter ballflight. The larger, higher launching and more draw-biased Epic Max incorporates front and rear weight ports that accommodate 14- and 2-gram weights to tweak trajectory. Both are designed to produce lower spin than last year’s Mavrik and Mavrik Max, respectively.
The new Epic lineup is slated for stores Feb. 18. In the Epic drivers ($530), the Max and Speed are available in 9, 10.5 and 12 degrees, while the Max LS is offered in 9 and 10.5 degrees, all with Callaway’s eight-way adjustable hosel. Both the Epic Speed and Epic Max fairway woods ($300) feature fixed hosels and together the 12 heads accommodate a loft range of 13.5 to 25 degrees—Epic Speed: 13.5, 15, 16.5, 18, 21 degrees; Epic Max: 13.5, 15, 18, 20 (Heavenwood), 21, 23, 25 degrees.