Kurt Kitayama made one of his biggest weapons even better | Wall-to-Wall Equipment
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At 5 feet, 7 inches, Kurt Kitayama doesn’t look the part of a PGA Tour bomber. Then again, looks can be deceiving. Rory McIlroy, who stands at 5 feet, 9 inches, leads the Tour in driving distance this season with one of the most efficient — and aggressive — swings around. Kitayama, who ranked 20th last season in ball speed (180 mph), falls into a similar bucket when it comes to his ability to squeeze impressive speed out of his frame.
Kitayama’s speed highlights the importance he places on the driver during a tournament week. When it’s working, he’s a threat to contend when he tees it up. The 30-year-old made the jump to TaylorMade’s Stealth 2 at the beginning of the year and saw an uptick in ballspeed — he’s up 2 mph (182.8) compared to last season — but the belief was there was still room to improve his strike consistency with the driver.
A more consistent strike can lead to improved ball speed numbers, which is exactly what Kitayama was hoping to achieve when he met TaylorMade Tour rep Adrian Rietveld on the Bay Hill range. According to TaylorMade’s report, Rietveld had a few suggestions to improve consistency, including going to a shorter shaft and trying out a different lie angle in a 10.25-degree Stealth 2 Plus head.
“I thought the driver shaft he was playing was too strong and too long so we had him test a few different shaft options and wanted to go with the one he liked based off of his feel,” Rietveld said. “That’s something I can’t see or measure.”
Feel is purely subjective, but Rietveld needed to start somewhere to get a feel for Kitayama’s preferences. He started with a Stealth 2 Plus head (one-degree loft sleeve) at the standard upright setting to create a 57-degree lie angle, which turned out to be one degree flatter than his previous gamer.
With a lie angle selected, Kitayama noticed an immediate improvement in consistent contact — but the spin rate was about 200-300 RPMs higher than what he wanted. After taking a closer look at his current weight setup, Rietveld made two alterations to the weight configuration to dial-in spin.
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TaylorMade Stealth 2, Stealth 2 HD and Stealth 2 Plus Drivers
“When we initially moved the weight the lie angle was good, we just needed the spin to come down a little bit,” Reitveld said. “We moved it back to the front, swapping [out the] 15-gram weight in the front to an 18-gram weight, and then a 19-gram weight in the back for a 15-gram weight and it took off 200-300 RPMs of spin, exactly what we needed.”
From there, Rietveld made two shaft tweaks, replacing Kitayama’s 45.25-inch Graphite Design Tour AD UB 7TX shaft with a slightly shorter 44.75-inch Graphite Design Tour AD DI 7X that checked all the boxes during initial testing on the range and course. (Kitayama also wound up replacing his Stealth 2 3-wood with a Graphite Design AD DI 8X shaft that was three-quarters-of-an-inch shorter than the previous build.)
“He liked one straight away, but you have to hit something else so he can differentiate feel,” said Rietveld. “When a player has good launch conditions and you can see the ball flight is tight and dispersion is tight and you ask how does it feel and you get a positive response that means he’s aware of where he is striking it on the face. That’s what a launch monitor can’t measure and the eyes can’t see. This part of it is more on him and when he tested that shaft against another he said although they performed similar, the other one felt better and that’s when you know that is the way to go.”
The proof was in the results. Not only did Kitayama go home with the red cardigan, but he also ranked tops in the field in driving accuracy for the week.
“The way it ended up happening that we do the fitting and then he beats the strongest field in the world is amazing,” Rietveld said. “We believed in our product to be able to give him the best chance to win and we believed in his skills to make it happen as he had been playing such good golf coming in. The fact that we went into such detailed lengths to get him the driver he was most comfortable with and he ended up winning the same week at such a hard course like Bay Hill against that field is amazing.”
Hello, old friend
During the Hero World Challenge, Schauffele swapped his familiar Odyssey O-Works Red 7CH mallet for an X Proto in an identical head shape. The goal behind the change was simple: Get Schauffele into something with a firmer feel, without making adjustments to the head weight or shaping.
The X Proto has checked every box since it first saw live action — with one exception. At the time of its creation, Odyssey only had a silver version for Schauffele to try out. It wasn’t long after the 29-year-old started using the putter that he made a request to have a red Odyssey Toulon Design Las Vegas version built that was delivered this week.
“Once we have the shape, it doesn’t take long to make another one,” said Callaway Tour rep Joe Toulon. “It’s the CAD and CAM work that goes into the first fully machined head — not to mention getting the weight right — that’s the long process. It only took us two weeks to get [the red] one made after all the initial leg work.”
Toulon confirmed the red paint is made in-house and matches up with what’s currently found on the O-Works Red. In addition to adding red to the head, Schauffele also wanted to see a dark finish on the face that mimicked the black White Hot insert on his old wand — so Odyssey added black paint to a large section of the face.
The only part that didn’t receive black paint was a small section at the top where it transitions from the crown to the face.
“Transitioning from the topline and figuring out where we wanted the red paint to stop was tricky,” Toulon said. “If you stop it at the edge of the topline, it can get chipped or look that way easier. So we took it over slightly to make sure it didn’t look choppy.”
Schauffele received the putter on Tuesday at Bay Hill and was immediately taken by the look.
“When he got the putter, he looked down at it and said, ‘Hello, old friend,’” Toulon said. “It’s what he’s seen a lot of putts go in with over the years. It’s a comfort thing for him.”
For the second straight season, Viktor Hovland’s 3-wood earned a standalone headline during a Tour event. Last year, Hovland lost his clubs in Hawaii and wound up gaining caddie Shay Knight’s TaylorMade SIM Ti 3-wood along the way. On Sunday at Bay Hill, Hovland and Knight had to solve another 3-wood dilemma after the Norwegian piped his 15-degree TaylorMade Stealth Plus 311 yards during the third round.
“It came out really hot and went miles,” Knight told Golfweek’s Adam Schupak. “I looked at the sole and was like what the hell? I brought it to his attention right away.”
What Hovland and Knight quickly noticed was how the Speed Pocket had caved in from repeated blows near the bottom of the face, making the club non-conforming. Sitting in second place heading into the final round, Knight contacted a TaylorMade rep who helped point him in the right direction of a fresh head that happened to be located at a local PGA Tour Superstore.
Knight secured the head on Saturday evening and had the club ready to go by the time Hovland strolled onto the range ahead of his Sunday tee time.
The marquee events on the PGA Tour schedule remain the perfect spot to showcase new gear — and headcovers. In Swag Golf’s case, they trotted out two headcovers last week. One was a nod to The King, while the other paid homage to another legend: John Daly.
The above headcover is a subtle nod to Daly with the cigarette dangling from the king’s mouth, and a diet beverage in one hand. It might be the coolest headcover we’ve come across during the early part of the season.
Even without Tiger Woods in the field, he’s still a focal point. As the PGA Tour’s current leader in driving distance (328.7 yards), Rory McIlroy isn’t accustomed to watching his playing partners smoke it by him off the tee. But it still happens on occasion.
And during the opening round of the Genesis Invitational, McIlroy found himself on five separate occasions staring at Tiger Woods’ back for the second shot.
Distance remains just one part of the formula for success on Tour, but having Woods stroll past him to longer tee balls turned out to be the impetus for an impromptu range session after the round. Increasing the loft on his TaylorMade Stealth Plus driver to gain distance — and increase spin — didn’t work, so McIlroy opted for another option: a new Stealth 2 Plus.
“I’m so particular about face angle when it comes to drivers that when I went up a click in loft, obviously I can see a little more face, it looks a little further left to me,” McIlroy said. “And I didn’t hit one drive out of the middle of the face the first day at Riv. So I needed to go and try something else.”
During testing, McIlroy saw an improvement in consistent spin numbers that led him to change drivers after just one round. While the swap didn’t produce a victory, it did allow McIlroy to find another gear off the tee. During the second round, Mcllroy routinely hit it past Woods, uncorking a 388-yard missile at one point that wound up being roughly 50 yards longer than his longest drive in Round 1.
“I was sick of Tiger outdriving me,” McIlroy said. “Partly to do with that.”
In addition to wanting to outdrive Tiger, McIlroy saw another, albeit more subtle, benefit to Stealth 2 Plus that didn’t become apparent until he looked down at the club.
“I feel like this Stealth 2 head for me … is more neutral or what I perceive to be a more neutral face angle,” he said. “I think if other people saw it they would probably see that it sits slightly open, but to my eye it sits square. To me it was all about face angle.”
Quick-hitters: Sam Burns switched into a 420cc Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond “S” 9+ degree head. … The top nine finishers had at least one Titleist Vokey wedge in the bag, including eventual winner Kurt Kitayama (Vokey SM9 WedgeWork 60.06K degrees).
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