Rory McIlroy’s shocking gear surprise in Dubai | Wall-to-Wall Equipment
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.
After a two-month hiatus, Rory McIlroy returned to the course in Dubai with some new clubs in the bag. One of them was somewhat predictable — a 15-degree TaylorMade Stealth 2 3-wood that put on a show during our recent round of testing.
The other addition, however, was a surprise — in the form of two Titleist Vokey wedges.
The Vokey SM9 54-10S gap wedge and WedgeWorks 58.06K lob wedge earned high marks from McIlroy after his Dubai Desert Classic win: “I think the way I managed my game [this] week, I think the short game display that I put on this week was as good as I can remember,” he said.
McIlroy remains one of the most important names on TaylorMade’s Tour staff, but similar to Scottie Scheffler, who plays Vokey wedges and a Scotty Cameron putter, it would appear McIlroy is shaking up his setup with the addition of a familiar brand.
McIlroy didn’t comment on the reasoning behind the wedge inclusion, but it’s important to point out he has a lengthy history with Titleist that dates back to when he turned pro in 2007. During the four-year period, McIlroy went on to win his first two majors with Titleist equipment before signing a mega-deal with Nike in 2013.
Before last week, McIlroy last had Vokey wedges in his bag in early 2017 — when he was an equipment free agent — shortly before he signed a multi-year deal with TaylorMade ahead of the Players Championship.
While it’s easy to question the timing of the wedge change, the large majority of elite golfers are generally given the freedom to put a couple of competitor products in the bag without breaking contract. (For those who don’t follow the gear beat closely, McIlroy actually used a Scotty Cameron putter during the Olympics, so he has a history of returning to Titleist gear for brief stretches.)
It’s unclear where McIlroy goes with his equipment setup from this point forward, but if it culminates with more victories in 2023, no one will be complaining, equipment manufacturers included.
It’s impossible to predict how a single gear change is going to affect a tournament week. In Max Homa’s case, he can deem the switch to Titleist’s 2023 Pro V1 a massive success. In the run-up to his win at the Farmers Insurance Open, Homa made a trip to the Titleist Performance Institute to test the new ball with his current setup.
With coach Mark Blackburn and J.J. Van Wezenbeeck, Titleist’s director of player promotions, observing the session, Homa saw performance benefits with the driver and around the green that led him to believe it was worth using the ball in competition at Torrey Pines.
“With ’23 Pro V1, we saw Max’s ball speed jump a little bit off the driver with lower spin. It was flying great. He was even more consistent with his irons and the short-game performance was as good as ever. It was a no-brainer.”
With the driver, Homa saw spin go from 2,700-2,800 RPMs to 2,400-2,500 RPMs with an extra 1-2 mph of additional ball speed. (More on another change he made to the driver towards the end of this week’s column.)
Homa ended the week with a combined plus-10.620 in Strokes Gained on the field over three rounds on the South Course (where stats were tracked). Not bad for the first week out with a new golf ball.
The putter Justin Thomas used to win last year’s PGA Championship made a return to the bag midway through the Farmers Insurance Open. Thomas has struggled to find a consistent putter in recent months and recently returned to a Scotty Cameron Newport 2 Prototype from his “middle-school” days in Hawaii.
When the putter failed to provide a spark, the two-time major winner replaced it with the same T-5 Proto mallet from his victory at Southern Hills midway through the Farmers. The mallet produced nearly strokes gained: putting numbers as the blade, which likely clouds the situation going forward as Thomas heads into an important two-month stretch before the Masters.
Aside from the T-5 Proto mallet, it’s always possible Thomas could return to his old X 5.5 Flow Neck mallet — or something new altogether. Until he finds something that works on a consistent basis, all bets are off.
Up until last week, Xander Schauffele had been using the same Callaway Epic Speed Triple Diamond 3-wood since 2021 for one reason in particular: Carry yardages were reliable. Schauffele rarely had to worry about catching one too good, which is actually a problem pros struggle with when it comes to the fairway woods.
Simply put, spin is Schauffele’s friend.
Hoping to get into the new Paradym line, Callaway built Schauffele a Triple Diamond head (Mitsubishi Kai’li Blue 80TX shaft) to see if it checked the all-important consistency box. While the non-adjustable 3-wood has 16.5 HL (High Launch) stamped on the head, it’s actually bent to a more standard 15.3 degrees to get in Schauffele’s preferred launch window.
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His spin rates and carry yardages were exactly where he wanted to see them during testing, leading to a change ahead of the first round. One shot in particular where Schauffele didn’t see a noticeable dip in spin was on a draw shot shape where spin had a tendency to go into an uncomfortable range, resulting in a loss of control and too much distance.
“I’ll hit a cut more often than not with this club,” Schauffele said, “But if I do want to play something right-to-left, it’s nice to know I can do it and not have to worry about it going beyond my expected carry yardage.”
The custom Callaway Apex MB mid and long iron in Maverick McNealy’s bag looked newer than the rest of the set for good reason. Instead of simply breaking in a full set all at once, McNealy opted to work with Callaway on the design and slowly add one or two irons are a time until he felt comfortable with each club. Last Wednesday marked the first time he’d used the full set in competition.
“I tried to switch the full set all at once before and didn’t like that because I lost the feel,” McNealy said. “Instead, I started with [pitching wedge] and [gap wedge] until those two felt right. I could tweak lofts and lies individually and learn what each club does. When those felt good, I went to the 9-iron, then the 8-iron, and on up the set. If I spend the right amount of time, I can get the swing weight where it needs to be, lies and lofts — really just make them feel completely comfortable before I move on and change another variable.”
By McNealy’s estimation, It took almost five months to break in eight clubs and get the set where he needed it to be.
“I firmly believe the tool trains the player,” McNealy said. “That’s an old Mike Taylor-ism from the Nike days. If I change too much, I don’t really have an idea if the ball is flying differently because of the equipment, the golf swing or if it’s not set up correctly. If I do it one by one, it’s easier find the odd duck — if there is one.”
One of the only players on Tour who was still playing Nike VR Pro blades, McNealy and Callaway set out to find him a replacement that bumped his old irons from the bag. After trying several different options, Callaway built McNealy a completely custom set — all the way down to getting the scoring line parallel to the bottom of the sole, and the sweet spot perfectly centered for each iron in the set.
“The clubs have been great so far,” he said. “Iron-to-iron they’ve been incredibly consistent.”
A home game for many of the equipment manufacturers in Carlsbad, TaylorMade chose to make some special headcovers for the Farmers Insurance Open. To celebrate the week in sunny Southern California — I can attest it was sunny but on the cooler side — the covers featured a sunset with palm trees and a surfboard atop a classic VW van.
Collin Morikawa received the covers on Wednesday and immediately put one on his TaylorMade putter.
“I’m all for anything with California vibes,” Morikawa said. “The covers look great. I’m definitely going to use this one a lot.”
Long time coming
Feels is everything to professional golfers, especially with the putter. In recent years, Schauffele has relied upon Odyssey’s ever-popular White Hot insert to get the job done. But work was being done behind the scenes to get him a firmer in a completely custom Odyssey “X Proto” mallet. (Schauffele officially put the putter in play at the Hero World Challenge.)
“We’ve been working on this one for quite a while,” said Odyssey engineer Eric Stubben. “He mentioned at some point in the middle of last year that he’d maybe want to try a putter than felt a little firmer for a milled feel. We kept it in our back pocket until he asked for it again. He was obviously playing really well leading up to the Open, so he didn’t get it until a few months ago before the end of 2022.”
To achieve a firmer feel, Odyssey designers added a rendition of Toulon’s diamond face milling to increase the firmness at impact. However, replacing White Hot with a solid-construction design required some adjustments the overall construction to keep the head weight where Schauffele needed it to be.
“When you take that White Hot insert out and replace it with metal, we had to try and find a way to take some weight out,” Stubben said. “Our designers took out some of the mass from the middle of the putter and then put the aluminum sole plate on there to get it back to where he needs it to be.”
According to Stubben, Schauffele’s preferred head weight is roughly 350 grams, which is exactly where the prototype landed during the build process.
Rising in popularity
Mitsubishi’s Tensei 1K Black shaft is a retail option with Titleist’s TSR driver line. But don’t tell that to Max Homa and Cameron Young. While it’s generally assumed pros play ultra-exclusive shafts, two of the top names on tour quietly made the transition into low launch/spin 1K Black ahead of the Farmers Insurance Open.
In addition to seeing a tighter spin delta, Homa watched his launch lower slightly as well with 1K for added distance. For Cameron Young, it was more about the improved stability he saw with 1K, particularly on mishits.
“It helped [Cam] control some mishits and keep spin down even more on those for him,” said Van Wezenbeeck. “1K Black is a nice part.”
Quick-hitters: Rory McIlroy added a 15-degree TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus 3-wood to the bag (neutral weight setting). … Beau Hossler signed a full staff deal with Titleist, ending his time as an equipment free agent. … Justin Rose tested multiple drivers at Torrey Pines before settling on a Callaway Paradym. … Thomas Pieters inserted a new widebody Bettinardi BB-28 putter.
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