Prior to the start of the Shell Houston Open, Rory McIlroy was asked if he was making any equipment changes for the Masters. The Ulsterman's answer was not only surprising, but also pointed out how precise some players are in their preparation for the year's first major.
Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Although the two-time major winner noted that he wasn't changing his set makeup for Augusta National, he did put in a new Nike 59-degree wedge with "fresh" grooves to enhance spin. In addition, he was mulling over a more precise alteration to his Nike VR Pro Blade 4-iron with one specific shot in mind. "I might strengthen my 4-iron by a degree for the fourth hole because it's right in-between a 3- and 4-iron for me," said McIlroy. "I don't carry a 3-iron. I like the four-wedge setup [47, 52, 56, 59 degrees] that I have at the moment. The last couple days playing off that back tee [measuring 240 yards], I was just struggling to clear that front-right bunker."
Players who qualify for the Masters often have Georgia on their mind a full month before the tournament begins when it comes to settling on the 14 clubs they will have in the bag. One of the reasons is that tour vans are not allowed on the Augusta National grounds. The vans set up shop across the street, making it somewhat inconvenient for players to make last-minute changes. With that in mind some players will start making Masters-related requests as early as mid-February.
Which isn't to say others aren't making moves closer to tournament time. While many were playing in Houston, U.S. Open champ Justin Rose was at Augusta National testing TaylorMade's new SLDR Mini driver -- a club with a 260cc head that is designed for use as a driver or fairway wood. Rose tested a pair of the clubs, one with 11.8 degrees loft and the other at 13 degrees, and found he was gaining 10 yards over his current 3-wood off the tee. As for off the fairway, that was a lesser concern as Rose noted that, other than the second shot on the par-5 eighth hole, there really isn't a hole where 3-wood off the deck comes into play. Rose said he would likely employ the second driver in place of his 3-wood at the Masters.
Yet while McIlroy and Rose may be taking some rather unusual measures, others are more subtle. Some players might use adjustability in drivers to produce more of a draw bias, as a tee shot that moves right-to-left is highly desirable at Augusta National. If conditions are soggy, some might opt for more loft in an effort to increase carry distance.
Height and carry also explain why requests for 5-woods and hybrids are plentiful. Jonas Blixt and Rickie Fowler (Cobra Bio Cell+) and Ernie Els (Adams Tight Lies) each had a 5-wood in play in Houston in anticipation of using them at the Masters. Former British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen added a pair of Ping i25 hybrids (17 and 19 degrees), while three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson added an 18-degree Callaway X2 Hot hybrid in Houston. The high loft combines with added spin to produce a shot more receptive on firm greens, which is often the case at the Masters.
Some players also have issues with the tight grass at Augusta National, leading to some wedge work, most notably fresh grooves. In addition to McIlroy, Ping staffers Angel Cabrera, Billy Horschel and Oosthuizen, among others, received wedges with new grooves while Hunter Mahan added a 59-degree Ping Eye2 XG lob wedge for around the greens.
Sometimes the changes aren't even limited to those in the field. Callaway recently built Arnold Palmer a custom set of clubs that features green-and-white colored shafts with the years of Palmer's four Masters wins (1958, '60, '62 and '64) as well as the Arnold Palmer umbrella logo.
All of which points out that whether it is to help garner a green jacket or simply for a ceremonial swat, all the equipment used at the Masters has been considered carefully well in advance.
STEVE STRICKER // Business trip
A road trip to Southern California paved the way for an equipment change for Steve Stricker. Feeling the grooves on his Titleist AP2 710 irons were wearing out, Stricker, with some added encouragement from wife, Nicki, made the trek to Titleist's test facility in Oceanside, Calif., to work on a new set -- something that doesn't happen very often, as Stricker is not one to frequently swap equipment.
After utilizing a TrackMan launch monitor, Stricker settled on a new set of the company's AP2 714 (3-iron through PW) -- a model he used briefly at the end of 2013. According to Titleist, Stricker said the soles of the new irons went through the turf more easily and efficiently than his previous AP2 710 irons. In Houston Stricker had Project X 6.5 shafts in the irons but returned to the KBS C-taper he previously employed on Monday of Masters Week. Stricker wasn't the only family member to get something out of the trip. "My kids told me [we should go to] Legoland and Disney," Stricker said. "Then I said, 'Let's go to the basketball game while we're out there.' Everybody had a little bit of something."
Cobra Bio Cell+
PRICE: $220 (Lofts: adjustable)
A lightweight crown allows weight to be positioned lower and farther back for easier launch. Lexi Thompson used a Bio Cell+ 3-wood at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
So, where is the Ping Anser putter from the 1980s that D.A. Points took from his mother's garage and used to win last year's Shell Houston Open? According to Points, the once-banished flat stick has found a comfortable home in his bag. "I still am using the same putter, and I've been putting well with it ever since," said Points. "It hasn't maybe been quite as hot as it was at the Shell Houston Open last year, but I've been putting good. My mom hasn't asked for the putter back because she knows she is not going to see it again." Points came into Houston ranked 108th in strokes gained/putting, but that actually was an improvement over his previous two seasons when he ranked 127th and T-130, respectively. . . . Erik Compton had a new shaft and a different adjustable hosel setup on his Titleist 913D3 driver. The new shaft was a Graphite Design Tour AD Di 6X instead of the Tour AD BB 7X he previously used. On the hosel Compton employed the C-1 setting, which reduces loft and lie angle by .75 degrees, producing the most fade bias possible. . . . Keegan Bradley made a couple of changes to his woods, switching to a Mitsubishi Kuro Kage 60x shaft in his Srixon Z 545 driver and putting a new 3-wood -- a 15.5-degree Cleveland 588 -- in the bag.
Mastering the greens at Augusta National is always a key to contending for a green jacket. Over the years a dozen champions have donated their putters to the club, along with Bobby Jones' "Calamity Jane" and the putter Lloyd Mangrum used to shoot 64 in 1940 (then the record for low round in the Masters), forming one of the most unique collections of clubs anywhere.
Thankfully, those fortunate enough to have a Masters badge allowing clubhouse access can see these clubs for themselves in ANGC's Trophy and Grill Rooms. The putters are there along with other clubs donated by past champions. Additionally, there is a separate display of Jones' clubs for those interested in the hickory-shafted sticks swung by the club's co-founder.
I got an up-close look at the clubs late last September, when the club is closed, while working on an assignment for the Masters Journal. As the putters were leaned up against a wall waiting to be photographed, their differences were unmistakable. Angel Cabrera's Ping ¿ Craz-E B stood above the rest at 38.5 inches and towered over Jimmy Demaret's unnamed mallet, which topped out at 32.25 inches. Five were Ping models, four had hickory shafts and a couple of iconic models -- the Cash-In and Bulls Eye -- were represented.
Some of the putters have holed memorable putts in Masters history. Among them are Mark O'Meara's Ping Anser 2 that he used to birdie the last two holes -- including a 20-foot game-winner at the last -- to win in 1998. Or Art Wall's "Mild Stainless Steel Pendulum Coordinated" skinny blade, which helped him run off five birdies over the last six holes to jump over 12 players the final day and capture the 1959 Masters. And who can forget Tom Watson's roundhouse fist pump after making a 20-footer with his Ping A-Blade on the 71st hole in 1977 that put him in the lead and eventually won him the first of his two Masters titles.
For my assignment the clubs were removed from their display cases and photographed. I was allowed to weigh and measure the putters, inspecting them for any interesting or intriguing markings or attributes, of which there are many. Seve Bal- lesteros' Ping Anser has a smidge of lead tape on the heel; Horton Smith's blade has his nickname -- "Joplin Ghost" -- engraved on the back; and Craig Wood's grip was a forerunner of the pistol-shaped grips that later became popular for a time.
The most interesting putter, however, belonged to Dr. Cary Middlecoff, the 1955 Masters champ. The "Memphis Dentist," as he was known, used a small mallet that measured a lengthy 36.75 inches and had many personal touches, including electric tape on the top of the head with a small strip cut out to form an alignment aid. Befitting his nickname, Middlecoff also did a little drilling, putting weight plugs in the heel and toe of the sole while drilling out two holes in the center of the sole to provide perimeter weighting for help on mis-hits.
Although cognizant there was only so much time to complete the task and return the clubs so they could go back to their rightful place behind protective glass, there were moments I held the putters and tried to imagine what it must have felt like to use them. (No, I did not put a ball down and hit a few putts. There are times temptation must yield to common sense.)
Space doesn't permit an in-depth description of the clubs here, but if you're at the Masters with a badge that allows for clubhouse access, make time to view the display. If that's not possible, this year's Masters Journal has all the details (complete with up-close photos) of those 12 putters.
Taking a look at them might even inspire you to hole a few putts of your own.
STEVEN BOWDITCH // Familiar touch
Valero Texas Open champ Steven Bowditch had a new putter in the bag Thursday (an Odyssey Metal-X Milled #1) and a different one on Friday (a Rife Antigua model that has been his primary putter the last three years). The in-tournament switch, said Bowditch, was nothing new. "I do it probably every week."
Although Bowditch likes to change putters, he keeps gravitating to the Rife Antigua. Rife PGA Tour rep Kyle Ulrikson said he has made Bowditch more than a dozen putters since originally building the preferred Antigua (which has 2 degrees loft) three years ago. Bowditch confirmed as much Sunday after clinching the Valero title. "I change a lot of things each week with my putter, and it still didn't feel very comfortable," said Bowditch. "But after I played well on Thursday, I thought, 'Hang on a minute, I might be able to get in contention this week' the way I was hitting the ball. So I wanted to go back to a putter that I was completely comfortable with. At least that one I knew what its tendencies were and was comfortable with." Turns out it was a solid plan.
Cleveland 588 MB
Steven Bowditch used these irons, which are forged from 1025 carbon steel and feature the company's "Tour Zip" grooves and laser milled technology, to maximize spin.
Five players used 7.5-degree drivers (the lowest loft of the week) at the Valero Texas Open, and two of them inhabited the leader board for most of the tournament. Valero champ Steven Bowditch used a Cleveland Classic XL model, while Andrew Loupe (T-4) played a Titleist 909D2. Kevin Foley (T-42), Bud Cauley and D.H. Lee also used low-lofted drivers with the latter two missing the cut. . . . Troy Matteson employed a two-driver philosophy at TPC San Antonio -- sort of. Matteson used a pair of TaylorMade Mini SLDR drivers -- a club with a 260cc head. Matteson, however, used one (with 10.5 degrees loft) for teeing off and the other (a 12-degree version) primarily off the grass. . . . Scott Verplank had a familiar club in his hands on the greens in Texas as he returned to a Ping Anser putter. Verplank once went more than 22 years without changing from the Anser, wrapping gauze tape around the worn grip rather than regrip the club. . . . As he geared up for the Masters, Phil Mickelson had some new wedges in the bag, employing Callaway's Mack Daddy 2. Lefty played the 52-, 56- and 64-degree versions of the wedge, while continuing to use the Ping Eye2 XG 60-degree wedge that he favors for sand shots. Mickelson also changed back to his Callaway X Forged irons after starting the season with the company's Apex Pro model.
Yet after talking to players and instructors, I'm pretty convinced the device makers and the rapidly growing community around TrackMan are on to something that is changing what we understand about the golf swing.
Related: TrackMan is helping tour pros dial in perfection
Here's the funny part: In the right hands, TrackMan simplifies the game. That's right, a technology full of numbers -- 26 if you really want to know -- can, for an instructor versed in nuisances of the portable launch monitor, lead to the simplest of adjustments.
In much the way the video camera revolutionized golf instruction, I've become convinced TrackMan is already dramatically changing the elite game and will only continue to do so. Most of all, the idea of what constitutes a sound golf swing is about to change entirely. After working with TrackMan a bit and talking to instructors who swear by the device, it becomes apparent the technology will return the focus to what matters: what the club face is doing at the moment club meets ball.
Check out the story and check back here over the next few days because I'm going to follow up with a few posts about how to get on a TrackMan at a decent cost, Sean Foley's most important "numbers" and a look at the amazing TrackMan web community.
By Alex Myers
Tiger Woods is happy to be back in the friendly confines of Torrey Pines this week, but no one seems more excited to be in San Diego than Morgan Hoffmann. In recent years, the city has become associated with the movie "Anchorman" as much as its fantastic year-round weather. Hoffman is apparently a fan of both.
The customized wedges each have a saying from the comedy classic, with "You stay classy, San Diego," of course, being the sign-off phrase of Ron Burgandy, the bumbling newscaster played by Will Ferrell. Personally, we would have gotten, "Milk was a bad choice," in there, but this is pretty awesome if you're a fan (who isn't?) of the movie.
Actually, Hoffman has a history of tailoring his wedges to his movie tastes. His bag last year featured "Stage 5 Clinger" and "Lock It Up," nods to another popular comedy, "Wedding Crashers." But creating something you like and endearing yourself to the home crowd? Now, that's brilliant. The fans this week in San Diego -- or is it "San Diaaaahgo?" -- may just have a new favorite.
Jack Nicklaus has played enough different brands of golf balls, tested them enough and talked about them enough to determine he could build his own ball. And he's decided to do just that.
Golf World has learned that Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 professional major championships, is introducing a line of golf balls starting in November with the objective of helping golfers select a ball that best matches their skill level. Three balls will be available: Nicklaus Black, Nicklaus Blue and Nicklaus White, corresponding to the tee markers from which golfers regularly play. The Nicklaus Black is designed for the single-digit handicap golfer who might typically play from the back tees. The Nicklaus Blue is for players who use middle teeing areas, while the Nicklaus White is for higher handicap players, either men or women, who play from forward tees.
In the past, Nicklaus has lent his name to signature brands of golf balls, but the new Nicklaus line is proprietary, manufactured to his specifications after three years of testing. Nicklaus said Bridgestone is manufacturing the balls and counseled on its design.
A percentage of sales will be donated to the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, which Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, established in 2004 to support pediatric programs nationwide.
"We all know that the game of golf can be challenging enough, so we are trying to simplify the decision-making process of selecting the right golf ball and at the same time provide consumers the highest-quality golf balls and at a price that encourages charitable support," Nicklaus, 73, and winner of 73 PGA Tour titles, said in a statement. "By buying these balls, players will get the added benefit of supporting these wonderful charities that help children in need as well as the families that dearly love them."
The balls, which go into production within the next few weeks, will be sold online at www.nicklaus.com and through golf shops at more than 200 courses in the Nicklaus Design portfolio. The Nicklaus Black will have a suggested retail price around $50 per dozen in pro shops, while the Nicklaus Blue and Nicklaus White models will be priced in the mid-$40s. Online shoppers can purchase the balls for $32 and $26, respectively, with the option of adding a donation earmarked for the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation.
"For more than three years, we have contemplated entering the golf ball business, so over that time, I have been researching and testing golf balls," said Nicklaus, who has been a proponent for growing the game through the First Tee, Tee It Forward and other initiatives. "There are a lot of very good balls on the market, but I was not able to find a ball that fully met my expectations and hopes -- not just for me or other professionals, but more importantly, for the everyday golfer. So I simply decided not to enter the business until I found that ball. Well, I found that ball. Actually, I found three.
"These golf balls are designed for every level of play, from the everyday or recreational golfer -- be it men, women, children, or seniors -- to the tour professional. No matter the age or ability, there is a golf ball to fit your game. Our strategy is based on a simple principle: skill level is an extremely important factor when selecting the right golf ball. From the tees you play, we know your swing speed; this is paramount when choosing a golf ball. But no matter the percentage of players who know their swing speed, 100 percent of them know the tees they play."
The introduction of a Nicklaus-designed ball is the latest venture with Nicklaus Companies co-chairman Howard Milstein, New York Private Bank & Trust Chairman and CEO, with whom Nicklaus partnered in 2007. "The beauty of these balls," Milstein said, "is they solve the golfers' dilemma of which ball to play -- all you need to know is the tee you play from -- and no matter what your skill level, you know we've designed the highest quality golf ball best suited to your game."
For more than three decades Nicklaus has been outspoken about calling for golf's governing bodies to rein in the distance that modern golf balls travel. The extra distance makes golf more expensive through additional land, water usage and maintenance costs. He remains consistent on the subject.
"The game of golf is a lot bigger than any individual or any individual piece of it," Nicklaus said. "My position hasn't changed in relation to the golf ball. What's important is what's best for the game of golf.
"This is another way for me to contribute to the game of golf in a positive way and to help grow the game," the Golden Bear added. "It's about helping the average golfer enjoy the game more. The average golfer has to make up his mind whether he wants to hit it as far as he can or get the results that he wants around the greens. He really can't have both with today's balls. What we are offering them is a chance to play the best ball they can get that will give them the most distance, the most playability, and the most control for their swing speed."
By Alex Myers
As you can see by the picture tweeted by Chad Coleman (@HashtagChad), Head of Social Media for Callaway Golf and Odyssey Golf, List's new sticks will all feature nicknames instead of digits. We just hope he and his caddie will have the key written down somewhere on his golf bag in case they forget which name corresponds with which loft.
We've seen many players customize wedges in recent years (List calls his 60-degree wedge "Chet," a name he describes as his "alter ego."), but List appears to be the first tour pro to stamp names on all of his irons while getting rid of the numbers on the clubs altogether. We'll have to wait and see when List puts these in play (He's in the Reno-Tahoe Open field this week, but doesn't have the clubs in his bag) and if any fellow players will follow suit.
"Fireball"? "Lean on it"? "Rack Em"? "'Merica"? Good stuff. But how could he not go with "Be The Right One!" for any of them?