Wall-to-Wall Equipment: CHIII wins before he’s unveiled as Titleist staffer, equipment rumors and more

November 19, 2018

New equipment contracts don’t go into effect until January 1st, but it’s safe to say Charles Howell III’s landing spot has been decided. The sight of Howell sporting a Titleist hat, staff bag and 13 of the brand’s clubs and golf ball, all but told fans where he’s headed when the calendar turns to 2019 — even though Titleist wouldn’t officially confirm the signing.

Howell’s move is an interesting one in an industry where most equipment deals typically run from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. Instead of waiting until the end of the year, Howell parted ways with PXG at the conclusion of the 2017-18 Tour season and arrived at the CIMB Classic with a completely overhauled bag featuring Titleist’s TS3 driver, two TS2 fairway woods, mixed 718 iron set, Vokey wedges and a Pro V1 prototype golf ball that was broken in for the first time at Sea Island. The only non-Titleist club currently in the bag is a TaylorMade Spider Tour Red mallet.

Howell is the second player to depart from PXG’s original Tour staff that was inked in 2016. In a similar move, Chris Kirk ended his equipment relationship with PXG the end of last year and recently announced on social media he was linking up with Mizuno for this season.

One of the biggest gearheads on Tour, Howell’s move comes at a time when more players are testing the free agent waters and using mixed equipment setups that suit their strengths. Having played the Pro V1 for years, Howell apparently found the best fit in a full staff deal with Titleist that helped him to break an 11-year winless drought on Sunday.

For one of the most consistent players on Tour, the victory didn’t feel like much of an upset. If anything, the biggest surprise during the final round was the fact that no one managed to ask Howell about his new hat or clubs during the post-round press conference.

Willett’s Odyssey prototype

Danny Willett put a new Odyssey “Stroke Lab” putter in the bag at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. One week later, the flat stick propelled the Englishman to his first win since the 2016 Masters.

Odyssey confirmed the putter features “a new prototype Odyssey shaft to help improve the consistency of the putting stroke, and a revolutionary new weighting system.” Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson are currently using the prototype shaft on Tour.

Based on photos, Willett’s heel-shafted mallet — a different shape for someone who’s been a blade user most of his career — has a two-tone (black and silver) appearance with adjustable weights positioned in the heel and toe. The insert appears to be the same Odyssey White Hot Microhinge most recently found on the brand’s EXO line.

Willett’s insert blends the two technologies to create a White Hot sound profile with the roll properties of Microhinge. The insert is ever-so-slightly firmer than the original White Hot, but that’s due to the recent shift in today’s golf balls going softer.

The putter also has three white lines on the crown for alignment purposes, and a measure of offset, as evidenced by the slight bend in the shaft.

Champ goes back to Fujikura shaft

An extra 10 yards of carry prompted Cameron Champ to swap his Fujikura Pro Tour Spec 63X driver shaft for an Accra TZP Prototype the week after his win at the Sanderson Farms Championship. The shaft proved to be a temporary change for Champ, who reverted back to Pro Tour Spec at Sea Island after Fujikura Tour rep Pat McCoy showed him data from his week in Las Vegas — the week he made the change — compared to his win at Sanderson.

According to McCoy, the data revealed the Accra shaft was not launching higher like they wanted and actually adding spin in the process. Following head-to-head testing, Champ noted Pro Tour Spec was more stable with a tighter dispersion. In addition to testing Pro Tour Spec, McCoy built Champ one of Fujikura’s new Ventus 60X shafts to test during the brief winter break.

Rory changes driver shafts, tweaks weight settings

Struggling with a right miss for most of the year, Rory McIlroy worked with TaylorMade Tour rep Adrian Rietveld, prior to the final round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, to rectify the problem. McIlroy settled on Mitsubishi’s Tensei CK Pro White model, but the shaft just happened to be one part of the wholesale changes made to his driver build.

McIlroy also repositioned the two adjustable weights in the sole, moving them from a low launch/spin setting to a high draw that’s been his go-to shot shape for years.

Honma equipment rumors

Justin Rose’s recent link with Honma Golf led many to wonder how big of a presence the Japanese-based equipment manufacturer could have on Tour this season. According to industry sources with knowledge of Honma’s dealings, the staff could be as big as four, with at least two more additions on the PGA Tour and a marquee fiftysomething on PGA Tour Champions.

JT testing new Titleist Pro V1x

Nine players are currently playing Titleist’s new Pro V1 (4) and Pro V1x (5) prototypes on Tour, which were introduced in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. It’s possible Justin Thomas could be on the list of ball converts in the coming months — potentially at the Hero World Challenge — following an extensive testing session with Titleist Tour rep J.J. Van Wezenbeeck and golf ball R&D rep Fordie Pitts at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Florida.

Thomas posted a photo on his Instagram account from the seven-hour session that highlights just how much time goes into changing equipment — in particular, the golf ball.

During an interview last year, Thomas went out of his way to highlight the relationship he has with Titleist’s Tour reps and the role they’ve played in his success on Tour.

“They’re really good at their job and I have a great dialogue from talking to them every week when I’m out on Tour,” he said. “We’re friends outside of golf. Having that kind of comfort level makes it easy to trust their insight and opinions when I’m testing, so if they tell me a certain ball is generating too much spin for my game, I’ll go with what they are telling. That’s how much I value their opinions and insight.”

Ping wins driver count

Ping’s G400 driver was arguably one of the most popular drivers on Tour during the 2017-18 Tour season. The trend continued at the RSM Classic with Ping winning the driver count. Of the 40 drivers in play, a whopping 39 were from the company’s G400 family (20 LST, 13 Max and 6 Standard); only Andrew Landry’s G30 kept G400 from going a perfect 40-for-40.

The most interesting equipment nugget from Ping’s driver count win was that nearly half of the G400 users in the field (17) were non-contract players. Masters winner Patrick Reed is the biggest name using G400 without a contract at the moment.

Titleist breaks ball count record

Back in July, Titleist broke the 80 percent usage mark at the John Deere Classic (81 percent) for the first time in a 156-player field, according to Darrell Survey records dating back to 1996. Titleist bested the number at the RSM Classic with 83 percent, which equated to 129 of the 156 players in the field. The nearest competitor boasted 12 players.