Wall-to-Wall Equipment: Jon Rahm’s absurd gear testing story is an all-timer
Welcome to Wall-to-Wall Equipment, the Monday morning gear wrap-up in which GOLF equipment editor Jonathan Wall takes you through the latest trends, rumors and breaking news.
Human cheat code
Far as we know, Jon Rahm isn’t a real-life cyborg wielding a golf club. It’s important to stress the “far as we know” part because Rahm continually pulls off shots on the course that makes you wonder if he’s actually human.
Most of those shots are executed before a televised (or in-person) audience, so we have the visual evidence that he’s a decent golfer. Of course, there are stories that play out behind closed doors as well that provide further proof that Rahm is really, really good at what he does.
Case in point, the recent Rogue ST Triple Diamond LS driver testing Rahm conducted with Callaway’s Tour team at the Ely Callaway Performance Center. Rahm had tested a prototype of the final driver several months prior, but the session marked his first chance to hit the soon-to-be-released retail version.
“Having worked with him for a bit now, we had the driver dialed,” said Jacob Davidson, Callaway’s PGA Tour manager. “But I’ll be honest and say I didn’t expect to get the show he put on. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.”
A TrackMan report spits out the differences in spin rate from one shot to the next during a session, along with other metrics that let you know what’s going on with the ball in flight. It’s not uncommon for pros to keep their spin rate tight and consistent on center hits, but the occasional miss will knock spin up 300 to 400 RPMs — maybe even more — without much effort.
Even for an exceptional ball-striker, spin rates will fluctuate during a practice session. Misses are inevitable.
But on this particular day, Rahm could not miss with the driver. That’s not an exaggeration.
“He was swinging it good that day, but it was center punch each time,” Davidson recalled. “He kept telling us, ‘Do you need another one? I can’t hit it better than that.’ Then it became a game for him to see how many in a row he could hit perfect.”
At one point during the session, Davidson stared at the TrackMan in disbelief as Rahm continued to hit one perfect drive after the next — all with nearly identical spin rates. By the time Rahm was done, he’d managed to hit 10 consecutive drivers where the difference in spin between the shots was 100 RPMs.
It’s a spin rate average that would make a robot envious.
“I’ve never seen someone hit it that consistently in the middle of the face,” Davidson said. “It’s something I’ll most likely never see again. To hit it that good and that consistent, even on a range, is basically impossible. It was fun to witness in person, that’s for sure.
“The session also highlighted how consistent and stable this Rogue ST driver is. We’d been hearing from guys about the stability they were seeing during testing. But what Jon did was on another level.”
As you’d expect, Rahm left the session with a Rogue ST Triple Diamond LS in his hands. He nearly won with it in the bag the first week out, which likely wouldn’t have been a shock to anyone who witnessed the testing session.
When you can hit it perfectly for that long, good things are going to happen.
Collin Morikawa wasted little time putting TaylorMade’s new Stealth Plus driver to good use in Maui. The two-time major winner produced his best SG: Off-the-tee performance (2nd) ever on the PGA Tour, while also picking up 3.565 shots from the tee box after making the change.
According to Ryan Ressa, TaylorMade’s player development manager, the switch from SIM to Stealth Plus wasn’t an arduous process. In fact, it took less than an hour to find him a driver that handily beat SIM.
“The fitting of this thing has been really, really easy,” said Ressa. “Collin has been no different. We matched up lofts and found a similar launch and spin right out of the gate. It honestly took us 20 or 30 minutes in November to find a driver he was happy to take home.”
After spending time testing back home in Las Vegas, Morikawa and Ressa reconvened on the range at Kapalua to verify the new driver was good to go. It was there that Ressa once again saw the ball speed increases that stood out during the initial session.
“These guys have such good drivers that it’s usually difficult to find even an extra mile per hour of ball speed,” Ressa said. “He’s used to seeing 171, 172 mph ball speed with the SIM. Granted, he didn’t bring the SIM with him for head-to-head, but he was consistently 175 to 176 with Stealth Plus on the [Foresight GCQuad].”
The speed stood out to Morikawa as well, who admitted an extra 3 to 4 mph ball speed could give him an advantage as the season goes on.
“Any time you can get a little more ball speed, get a little more distance, it’s going to be helpful,” said Morikawa. “To actually see that, not work any harder, like it’s — like I haven’t gotten that much stronger, I haven’t gotten that much bigger — but to get that just little extra out of it, it’s going to be beneficial sometimes on certain holes.”
Ressa also noted Morikawa’s misses were tighter with Stealth Plus. In particular, the left-to-right miss that would creep over 2,500 RPMs with his previous gamer consistently hung below that number during testing.
“The misses that tended to spin up a little more weren’t doing that,” Ressa said. “It seems to be about 100 RPMs lower, maybe even a little less. For a cutter to stay under 2,500 is really good. It proves the driver is good across the face. If Collin can hit the shots he wants without manipulating his swing, it’s a win.”
Back from vacation
Viktor Hovland enjoyed an interesting return to the course after all but shutting things down following the Hero World Challenge. As if the airlines losing your clubs wasn’t bad enough — they eventually arrived with a broken driver — Hovland’s hands started to develop blisters as he began practicing in Hawaii.
According to Ping Tour rep Kenton Oates, the time off wasn’t kind to Hovland’s hands.
“We had brought him a new driver and wedges out of happenstance,” said Oates. “By Monday morning, he had a driver and some wedges to his spec, but his hands, because the [Golf Pride New Decade] MultiCompound grips have that cord in them, were hurting his hands. He was getting some blisters where he’d normally have a callus.”
Thankfully, Hovland plays a different grip in his driver — Golf Pride Tour Velvet. After conferring with Oates, Hovland had a full set of Tour Velvet grips put on his clubs.
“He’s actually going overseas after Hawaii, so we left him a set of his MultiCompound grips,” Oates said. “I expect him to go back at some point when his hands heal up and feel better.”
And the broken Ping driver? Oates confirmed it wasn’t a big deal in the end.
“Viktor was playing a driver at 45.75 inches and the ‘James Hahn’ driver was 45.25 inches,” said Oates. “So the old gamer being longer took the brunt of that force and broke, which saved the shorter gamer driver. We already had the backup with the Fujikura specs, so we were good. If there was one club that could be broken, it was that driver.”
Thanks to Cameron Smith, Vokey’s SM9 logged a win in its first week out on Tour. A total of 14 players tapped the new wedge at Kapalua, including Smith, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Max Homa.
Spieth, who’s notoriously slow to change equipment, was so comfortable with the wedges, he left his SM8’s at home when he departed for Maui.
The wedge was the most played model with a total of 35 pitching, gap, sand and lob wedges in play, and it should also be noted that Spieth, Thomas, Homa and Smith all added a Vokey SM9 pitching wedge to their arsenal.
With the Sony Open marking the first full-field Tour event of 2022, expect that number to grow.
New landing spots
Patrick Reed and Abraham Ancer sported new headware with a different logo on the front for the first event of the new year. Ancer was officially unveiled as a Callaway staffer after agreeing to terms on a multi-year deal that includes driver (Callaway Rogue ST), putter (Odyssey Tri-Hot 5K) and hat.
“I’m excited to officially join Callaway, and after playing their equipment over the past several years, I feel really confident about making the switch,” Ancer said. “The performance from their drivers is always impressive, their putters are outstanding, and I’ve developed a strong relationship with their Tour Team.”
Former Masters champion Patrick Reed also made a surprise switch, agreeing to terms on a driver and hat deal with PXG that went into effect in Hawaii.
“PXG is such a natural fit for me,” Reed said on the company’s site. “I love the message they send, and the brand they have built, and that takes a great team.”
Reed displayed the PXG logo on the front of his hat. The Grindworks logo remained on the side of the hat, all but confirming he still has an iron deal in place.
The sample size remains small for the moment, but the sight of two high-profile names signing piecemeal deals for specific clubs in the bag is a potential trend worth tracking as the year goes on.
While some players signed new equipment deals, others said goodbye to their former equipment employer. Adam Scott was the obvious surprise as he cut equipment ties with the Titleist on the hard-good side and downsized to a ball, shoe and glove deal. It’s very likely Scott will still continue to play Titleist gear in some capacity going forward. (Don’t forget they built him a set of one-off irons.)
Jimmy Walker switched to a ball, shoe and glove deal with Titleist as well. Wyndham Clark and Pat Perez were also removed from PXG’s website — along with Lydia Ko from the LPGA staff — a sign that both parties are going their separate ways on the gear side.
TaylorMade and Callaway weren’t the only manufacturers debuting new drivers at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Bryson DeChambeau was also seen using a new Cobra prototype that recently surfaced on the USGA’s list of conforming driver heads.
Going strictly off the images on the USGA’s website, the driver DeChambeau is wielding is called “LTDx LS.” The “LS” likely stands for low spin, which would make sense for a guy who continually lives around 190-200 mph in the ball speed department and needs to corral spin.
The head features two ports near the face with different numbers lasered on the weights to alter shot shape, depending on where the heavier weight is located. If, say, two 10-gram weights could be added, that would make it easier to help lower spin as well.
“That was 200 mph [ball speed] without even trying,” DeChambeau said during recent testing with the driver. “I even mis-hit it a little low on the face.”
Kevin Na switched golf balls for the first time in nearly two decades at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Na tested Callaway’s Chrome Soft X during the offseason and noticed an uptick in greenside spin with the new ball, especially on shots from 20 to 30 yards, that sealed the deal.
“I really like the way it spun around the green from that distance,” Na said. “I know when I’m short-sided, I’m going to be able to spin it and get it up-and-down.”
In addition to possessing more greenside spin, there’s a lesser-discussed benefit that Na could see from going to an all-Callaway setup.
“Just working with Tim [Reed] — anytime you have the level of detail we’re getting to optimizing all of the clubs in the bag when you have a different ball in there, it makes the fitting process a little bit difficult,” said Jacob Davidson, Callaway’s PGA Tour manager. “I think that’s why you’re seeing more guys gravitate to a one-stop-shop. The amount of optimization you’re looking for now is getting so tight that you need all resources on deck to hit those metrics. I think that’s one of those things Kevin started to realize.”
Quick-hitters: Callaway was the most-played driver at Kapalua with 11 in play. The list of users included Xander Schauffele, Phil Mickelson, Abraham Ancer, Talor Gooch and Kevin Kisner. … Daniel Berger signed a ball agreement with Titleist. … Xander Schauffele’s club-testing process is stunningly efficient.
Want to overhaul your bag for 2022? Find a fitting location near you at GOLF’s affiliate company True Spec Golf. For more on the latest gear news and information, check out our latest Fully Equipped podcast below.