5 star players who made big gear changes to end ’23 | Wall-to-Wall
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While the rest of the golf world was fixated on Tiger Woods’ return to the course and Jon Rahm-to-LIV rumblings, several pros in the Hero World Challenge field chose to treat the no-cut event as a proving ground for new equipment.
Some saw immediate gains with something different, while others struggled to find their footing. Here’s a look at 5 marquee names who made notable changes heading into the winter break.
1. Scottie Scheffler
A win at the Hero World Challenge silenced the critics who questioned when Scheffler would get his putter on track. Linking up with putting coach Phil Kenyon at the Ryder Cup played a major role in Scheffler’s resurgence on the greens. So, too, did a relatively unknown wand from Olson putters that received the nod after several rounds of head-to-head testing at Scheffler’s Dallas-area home course, Royal Oaks Country Club.
After perusing Olson’s creations, Scheffler’s team reached out to see if founder Logan Olson could build something for the 2022 Masters champion. The end result was a 343-gram Anser-style blade with a unique alignment aid featuring a multitude of small lines on the topline that helps frame the ball at address.
“It has a little thing on the top that helps me line the ball up more consistently in the middle of the face and then obviously the grip is different than what I’ve used in the past,” Scheffler said, “but that’s something that Phil [Kenyon] and I have worked on together.”
Scheffler ranked 6th in Strokes Gained: Putting for the tournament — and that included finishing dead last on the greens during the final round. Needless to say, it was a promising week for Scheffler with the one club that continually confounded him during the 2023 season.
TaylorMade’s Qi10 also made an appearance in Scheffler’s setup, but it was a 15-degree Qi10 fairway wood instead of the driver Tiger Woods, Sepp Straka and Justin Rose were spotted using in the Bahamas. (Scheffler was seen using a Qi10 LS driver during the first round, but he reinserted Stealth 2 Plus for the final 54 holes.)
2. Tony Finau
Ping’s Blueprint S iron has quietly become one of the most fascinating equipment storylines over the past four months. Sahith Theegala grabbed his first career victory in his first-ever start with Blueprint S in Napa. Joaquin Niemann switched and won last week in Australia. Matthew Fitzpatrick, a longtime S55 user, made the transition and notched a victory in Scotland.
Tony Finau didn’t continue the trend of switching and winning with Blueprint S, but he did contend at the Hero World Challenge with the new irons in the bag. Finau became the latest high-profile name to swap the original Blueprint for the unreleased Blueprint S. Pros have been switching to the cavity-back model at an incredible clip since they were released on Tour, and that momentum will most likely continue into 2024.
While Finau didn’t put Ping’s Tour-only G430 Max 10K driver in the bag last week, sources confirmed to GOLF.com that he recently tried it during a trip to Ping headquarters. The end result was ball speed numbers topping out at 204 mph. It’s another reminder that even though Finau doesn’t show off his prodigious speed on Tour, he still has plenty in the tank.
3. Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods had several new toys in the bag that were impossible to miss. Two weeks after Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood debuted TaylorMade’s Qi10 LS driver in Dubai, Woods became the latest staffer to vet the Qi10 LS driver in competition.
As we highlighted when the driver hit the USGA conforming driver list, the sliding weight track on Qi10 has been reimagined along with the overall shaping of the head. But there was more to Woods’ driver change than a simple head change. A Graphite Design Tour AD-VF shaft confirmed his return to a shaft manufacturer he used for large stretches in his career. Unlike the higher-launching orange Tour AD-DI, Woods opted for something with a lower launch profile this time around.
What’s interesting about Woods’ shaft change is it just so happens to be the same model Justin Thomas recently added to his “longer” Titleist TSR3 driver in Napa. Thomas initially hinted the longer driver (45.625 inches) could see only a few tournaments during the year, only to use it for every start since Fortinet, including the Ryder Cup.
“It’s an instant 2 or 3 [mph] club speed and it goes quite a bit further,” Thomas said. “It was just something I wanted to have.”
Tiger and Thomas are good friends who talk regularly, so it’s possible the two discussed the shaft in advance of Woods making a change at the Hero.
And then there’s the gear change few will likely pick up on — a return to lead tape on Woods’ famed Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS putter. Gearheads are used to seeing Woods add lead tape to the cavity at Open Championships. A 1-inch strip of lead tape, which weighs about 2 grams, has been added to the putter to increase overall head weight in an attempt to get the ball rolling to the hole, something he’s struggled to do on slower greens.
“Normally when I’ve come over here and virtually almost every single Open I’ve played in, I would put lead tape on my putters to try and get it a little bit heavier and get the ball rolling,” Woods said in 2019.
There’s also the shoe situation that took on a life of its own during the tournament. Last week was another reminder that anything Woods wears or changes in his bag is a big story. Long live the content king.
4. Will Zalatoris
As my GOLF colleagues, Dylan Dethier and Ryan Barath, noted last week, Will Zalatoris made his return to the course with a L.A.B. Mezz.1 Max long putter in his hands. Outside of the intense interest Rickie Fowler and Wyndham Clark generated earlier this year in Odyssey’s Versa Jailbird, the Mezz.1 Max was arguably the most discussed putter in the professional ranks.
L.A.B. Golf MEZZ.1
Wielding the head and shaft combination made popular by Adam Scott and Lucas Glover, Zalatoris spent additional time on the putting green trying to groove his stroke before being cleared to hit full shots. Curious about the design behind L.A.B.’s most popular putter, Zalatoris ordered a couple of armlock versions — similar to what he’d used in the past — but they ended up sending him some broomstick-style builds as well.
“I always liked it, I just never really knew how to use it,” he said. Switching to a broomstick-style wand generally takes time to get acclimated, as evidenced by Zalatoris’ poor week on the greens that ended with him losing nearly five strokes with the putter. We’ll have to wait and see if the putter gets another shot to redeem itself when Zalatoris tees it up in January.
5. Jason Day
Bridgestone has a new Tour ball in the works, and Jason Day played a role in its development. That’s all we know about the new prototype Day debuted at the Hero World Challenge.
“I have had the opportunity to work with the Bridgestone team on the design of the new ball over the last year,” Day said ahead of the tournament. “We’ve done a significant amount of testing and the final version is really dialed-in. I’m super-excited to put it in play and see how it reacts in tournament conditions.”
It’s been two years since the current Tour B lineup was introduced, so it’s fair to assume the Aussie’s covert ball should be making its way to retail shelves shortly.
As for fellow Bridgestone staffer Tiger Woods, he chose to remain in the 2022 Bridgestone Tour B X he’s been playing since last year.
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