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Kraft recap: Slipped through the net

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By Vince Robitaille

GolfWRX Contributor

As I started writing this, right around the 16th hole on Sunday, Jack Nicklaus’ old mindset of lying low, letting others beat themselves and hand him the championship came to my mind. That being said, when those words sprung forth in my brain, I.K. Kim was the beneficiary of the present given up by Karin Sjodin and Hee Kyung Seo, not the generous soul … but then, there was the 18th green.

Career-defining moments are just that, career-defining. Whenever a name is brought up in the conversation, there’s that sudden flash, that vivid image of the highlight, whether grandiose or not, of one’s work. Tiger’s merry-go-round chip in at the 16th in the 2005 Masters, Nicklaus’ putt on the subsequent hole 19 years before, and Watson’s wedge from the rough on the 17th at Pebble Beach that led to his first U.S. Open victory, are, but a few of those glorious moments. Distressingly, I.K. Kim’s missed 1-footer on the 18th green seems to be more appropriately placed in the as exclusive, yet immensely undesirable group of those whose missed opportunity forever hunted them and forged their legacy. While she negotiated the par-5 final hole in perfect fashion up until then, thus distancing herself from Jean Van de Velde’s Carnage in Carnoustie, she couldn’t avoid pulling a Doug Saunders. Obviously heartbroken and shaken from the event, Kim went on to succumb, in a 1-hole playoff, to the hands of Sun Young Yoo; the latter draining a 15-foot birdie en route to her second LPGA Tour win and first triumph in a major. Hopefully for I.K. Kim, who hit all 18 greens in regulation on Sunday, her sixth top 5-finish in a major will only spark a Roryesquerun that will see her bouncing back in July on the grounds of Blackwolf Run.

I don’t know what’s more surprising, that missed putt or the fact that 314 words into this recapitulation of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the name Yani Tseng had yet to be mentioned. In fact, while the World No.1 seemed poised to make it four-straight, this weekend, with opening rounds that had her comfortably sitting in first place at 8-under, a stroke ahead of Haeji Kang. That being said, one couldn’t help but to pick up on the exacerbation of her short-distance putting woes; Tseng, much like her past few weeks, missed several putts under 10 feet, on Thursday and Friday, on her way to 31 and 30 putts respectively, while recording 28 and 29 through the weekend. Putts per round, however, as we’ll show soon enough, can be misleading if taken independently. Her flatstick issues, this time around, yielded more consequences as her showcase of ball striking, while still stellar in comparison to the field, wasn’t up to the level that she accustomed us to, namely near-perfection. As an example, going back to her putts per round, this statistic, which would seem to indicate an improvement through the tournament, was offset by the fact that Tseng hit 16 greens in regulation during each of the first two rounds in opposition to solely 12 and 11 on Saturday and Sunday. It goes to show how dominating a figure Tseng is, when a sub-par performance still had her in the last threesome on the first major Sunday of the season with her sight -not her hands – set on the Dinah Shore Trophy. The lone golfer in front of her, at that point, was one longing to get back in the winner’s circle, a luxurious spot she hadn’t visited since her days in Stillwater, Okla.

After six winless years on the LPGA Tour and an uneventful start to the championship, the ever-smiling Karin Sjodin had two days that would have anyone grinning. On Friday, after a quick start with a birdie on the par-5 2nd hole, the Swede shaved four additional strokes around the turn at Nos. 7, 9, 10 and 11, before exchanging birdies and bogeys on the last two holes of the day to hand in a 5-under 67.  Moving day was more of the same for the former All-American who carded a 4-under 68 — the lone blemish coming by way of a bogey on the par-4 12th – highlighted by a bombing 287.5 yards driving average that enabled her splendid iron work to takeover and net her 17 greens in regulation. Then, for yet another one of our characters, there was Sunday.

The merry Swede took a running start, on the faithful day, by sinking an eagle putt on the par-5 2nd, a hole on which she totaled 5-under through the Championship. Although not even Tom “Durrr” Dwan could have read the slightest of worries on Sjodin’s face after dropping back the aforementioned two shots before the turn, one could feel the wind shifting, both literally and figuratively. As a matter of fact, gusting winds proved themselves to be, as predicted, a major player on Sunday as World No.1 Yani Tseng suffered, much like other high ball hitters amongst the last pairings, through the first two thirds of her final round, while earlier threesomes, revered wind-players and players with low ballflights shone. Whereas our pre-tournament favorites to put an end to the “Tseng Streak”, Stacey Lewis and Angela Stanford, were of those making a late surge — both of them finishing on the first two pages of the leaderboard with cumulative scores of 7-under and 5-under – it was 2011 Rolex Rookie of the Year, Hee Kyung Seo, that managed to ride the prevailing breeze. The South Korean nestled herself in first place, by way of 5 birdies over her first 12 holes, before crumbling rapidly to an aggregate result of 7-under through four consecutive bogeys, starting on 15th.  Just like this, the one golfer who seemed to be on the receiving end of a nicely wrapped Nicklaus-type present, relinquished it, leaving the prize unattended on the kitchen table and us, bewildered onlookers, ever puzzled.

And so, we’ve come full circle. Four were, at one point, in a tie for first place at 9-under, I.K. Kim, then, distancing herself from the pack and looking like the obvious champion, was ultimately left there shell-shocked, a mere foot away from victory. Having gone unnoticed throughout the final day and posting a 3-under 69 to establish the benchmark score of 9-under a few groups before Kim, Sun Young Yoo quite amazingly sneaked in and came out on top. To be quite honest, had I not seen it with my own eyes and had I simply read a recap of April 1st events, I would have dismissed it as a good April Fool’s prank. After all, one laughed hysterically as she got out of Poppy’s Pond, one smiled throughout the day no matter what was thrown her way, and one simply couldn’t believe that she had been caught.

Click here for more discussion in the “LPGA/Ladies golf talk” forum.

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Tour Photo Galleries

10 interesting photos from the 2020 Players Championship

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2020 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

The field this week featured the best golfers in the world, including Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, and more.

Rory McIlroy enters the tournament as the defending champion, looking hoist the crystal again.

Check out all our galleries below, along with highlights from TPC Sawgrass.

General Galleries

Special Galleries

Bettinardi’s St. Patrick’s Day covers  

Brand-new Srixon 745 in Keegan’s bag

Roger Sloan’s custom Cameron

Mizuno JPX 919 Hot Metal irons spotted in Nick Watney’s bag 

Joel Dahmen with a battle-worn hybrid

Fresh eggs for Patrick Reed…

Justin Rose continues to tweak his equipment

Carlos Ortiz looks to be picking up some supplies to mark the end of his driveway…

Jordan Spieth with a Vokey WedgeWorks Proto 60T in the bag

Kiradech Aphibarnrat with lead tape and stamping on cavity-back irons. Solid! 

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Tour News

GolfWRX Spotted: Justin Rose with mixed bag at Arnold Palmer Invitational

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It’s not very often we get breaking equipment news this time of year on the PGA Tour schedule, but this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of the highest-profile players on tour, Justin Rose, was spotted testing multiple brands of clubs throughout his entire bag.

It started last week at the Honda Classic when Rose put a TaylorMade SIM driver with Mitsubishi Kuro Kage in play. As of today’s first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rose has a mixed set including TaylorMade, Cobra, and Titleist clubs, along with an Axis1 putter.

Here are the details of Rose’s equipment:

Driver: TaylorMade SIM (10.5 degrees @ 8.5)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Kuro Kage XTS 70 TX

3-wood: TaylorMade SIM Max (15 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Kuro Kage XTS 80 TX

5-wood: Cobra SpeedZone Tour (16.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 80 X

Irons: TaylorMade P730 (4-PW)
Shafts: Project X 6.5

Wedges: TaylorMade MG2 (52, 56 degrees), Titleist Vokey Design Prototype K Grind (60 degrees)
Shafts: Project X 6.5 (52, 56), Proto Hi-Rev 135X (60)

Putter: Axis1 Rose
Grip: Flat Cat Svelte

Ball: TaylorMade TP5 ‘19 (No. 1)

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Equipment

Inside look: Callaway Jaws MD5 wedges on tour…6 months after launch

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Callaway Jaws MD5 wedges hit professional golf tours months ago. We reported on the launch extensively (see our videos later in the article) with deep coverage on the PGA Tour and at retail. As with any new offering, and especially for the gearheads on GolfWRX, it’s the tour chatter that drives us. What the pros do, play, and think is always a driving force.

However…

Personally, I have always been fascinated by the aftermath of a launch. What are the reactions and tweaks that are made once the shine has worn off?  It’s not uncommon for players to need to warm up to a new product before it ultimately finds its way into the bag permanently.

When Jaws hit the scene, it integrated quite quickly, and that is saying a lot. The MD4 was a very successful wedge line on tour and at retail. It was a huge initial launch and one Callaway was happy with as a solid portion of its staff put Jaws in play straight away.

In my conversations with tour staff and techs, spin and lower ball flight has been a recurring theme. In the case of the Tour, being able to flight a wedge down and not have it float, while maintaining maximum spin, is a weapon. Imagine being at Honda last week and knowing you can hit a knee-high fastball with a 58-degree wedge and trust the ball will stay down, not skip, and will stop dead in its tracks. On tour, its the speed of the stop that is valuable, not ripping it backward—that is typically only fun for TV. Golf these days is more like darts and less like billiards.

As to be expected, the grinds on all Callaway wedges are tour favorites. It’s pretty simple to fall in love with something that comes ought of the mind of Roger Cleveland, who has been the driving force in putting Callaway consistently at the No. 2 most-played wedge on Tour.

But how has the MD5  really done thus far?

Let’s be clear, most guys don’t make switches late-summer or fall (when MD5 was launched on tour). The season is too far down the river and the coming winter gives them quiet time to really test. Also, when you work through the California swing, a good portion of the higher-ranked staff only poke their heads out once or twice. This doesn’t mean the guys on the truck aren’t building new products, but a good portion of it is for winter testing, emergency backups, etc.

But now we hit the Florida swing. The Masters is a month away. The world’s best start to show up consistently, the playing surfaces change from the West Coast to the East Coast, and all of these guys are in full attack mode. Any real testing or guesswork is pretty much done, and it’s time to get going. This is the time when you can actually see if a product has staying power.

The question is since Jaws hit the scene, what have the pros learned, what adjustments have been made to dial them in, and ultimately, is this wedge line a success? I wanted to tackle this question from two different perspectives: from the reps on tour and two young staff players that have them in play.

In this case, there is the guy on the Callaway tour trailer who is in charge of wedges, Simon Wood, and young tour staffers Akshay Bhatia and Min Woo Lee.

Three unique perspectives—and also perspectives that give us an honest look at the performance and popularity of a “new” wedge on Tour.

I talk with Simon Wood quite a bit. He’s a good as they get in this category, having worked for years in Europe and on the U.S. tour. His knowledge is extensive and even more importantly, he is ridiculously honest. If the product is solid and he believes in it, he will tell you. If he goes quiet, there’s that too.

I caught up with him on a day off and this was the update he gave:

Wunder: It seems MD5 came out of the gates quickly and never really slowed down, are you surprised at the response?

Wood: Not at all. Truth is, these players are very particular about what makes it in or out of the bag. A new club has to do something better than the old one and do all the things they liked about the old one. The Jaws really spins. This is a unique groove system, and I’ve noticed the players like it for two main reasons 1) They can keep the trajectory down on the high lofts 2) they can be a bit more aggressive because of the amount of spin these wedges offer. Out on tour that’s a big deal.

Wunder: What percentage of staff (25+players on U.S. Tours) are in the MD5 across the board?

Wood: I’d say close to 50 percent, which is a good number considering how many good options are out there.

Wunder: Now that we are in the Florida swing, are you having to do anything special to adjust to the new grass and conditions?

Wood: No its the opposite actually. I think with the grooves being as good as they are and the number of options we have grind wise, we on the truck are doing less tweaking and grinding to wedges. That’s a sign one the R&D team did a great job with this design and two that our players trust our product enough to let their creativity take over.

Wunder: Any surprise grinds that are popping up more often?

Wood: It’s not a surprise because we knew it was good, but the low bounce W has been a hit thus far. Lots of guys testing and gaming that one.

I then went on to chat with Callaway staffers Min Woo Lee (winning WITB, podcast link below) and Akshay Bhatia on their experience with Jaws. This perspective was interesting because Akshay is young, he’s fighting for a place to play this summer, and he’s still learning the nuances of playing as a professional. Min just recently won in Australia and has enough time under his belt now to understand a real asset over something he’s still trying to make work.

Point is: pressure is high on both of these kids, and the last thing either wants to struggle with is their wedges.

Wunder: You were an early adopter of the MD5 last fall, have you noticed any significant improvement over your previous gamers?

Bhatia: Trust is the biggest one. I love the shape of these wedges and just knowing that Roger and Phil have an influence on the wedges you are playing gives me so much confidence. From a performance standpoint, I like the variety in grinds the MD5 offers. Anywhere I play I have an option, whether it be X in soft conditions or C for the firmer turf.

Wunder: With the aggressive grooves of the MD5, what shots have you gained that you didn’t have before?

Bhatia: Definitely the off-speed/three-quarter shots with some spin. These wedges really keep the ball down and it’s a bonus when I know I can take something off of a shot and the ball will stay down and hold its line into the wind.

Wunder: And your current set up is?

Bhatia: Currently, I’m in the Jaws MD5 50S, 54S bent to 55, and the 60C or X depending on the conditions (KBS $Taper 130X shafts in black with Iomic grips) with some heel and toe relief in the X. I also like to mess around wit the PM Grind 60 if I’m looking for a different look.

Young Callaway staffer Min Woo Lee, who recently triumphed at the European Tour’s Vic Open, has this to say

Wunder: What ball flight differences do you see in Jaws over the past wedge set?

MWL: Overall the same. I like to pick my trajectory. So if I didn’t like it,  I wouldn’t have put it in my bag…need to have every shot at my disposal.

Wunder: Do you do any extra grinding to your S?

MWL: Just in the 60, there is a little leading edge relief ground in. Prevents it from digging and gives me a bit more ability to be aggressive into it.

Wunder: Are there any other grinds you tried?

MWL: I tried the low bounce W and really liked, but the S grind has been my go-to for a long time, I know how to play with that one.

Wunder: As far as full shot turf interaction, why do you prefer the S?

MWL: The S is always what I’ve been into looks-wise, nothing else really caught my eye like that grind did. I do pretty good chipping around with it around the greens and we have some history so why mess with a good thing.

Overall, I think the MD5 wedge line has been a success on tour. Let’s be honest, wedges arent drivers, but identifying a popular line over another is quite interesting. These guys can get a TV remote ground into something useable, so when there is a shift across the staff to a new model, it validates that the ideas in it are sound and the wedge performs like it says it will. For larger tour staffs like Callaway has, operating a 50 percent clip for full line use is a really solid number.

Let’s be clear here, Callaway hasn’t made a bad wedge…like ever. From X Forged to the MD line and now into Jaws, Roger and the team know what they are doing. In my experience with these wedges, I will say that the grooves are ridiculously aggressive, and as Bhatia mentioned, there is a grind to satisfy any conditions.

Do most OEMs make solid wedges? The answer is of course they do; they all do. But the advantage that Callaway has over the rest in this category is Roger Cleveland. Having the man who inspired some of the most iconic wedge shapes ever coupled with a superb R&D team yields a combination that will deliver quality and performance time after time.

Here are some pics from the forums of MD5 out on tour now.

Akshay BhatiaFrancesco Molinari
Brendan GraceIsaiah SalindaJ.J. SpaunAlex Noren
Chun An YunHenrik Stenson Matt Wallace 

Si Woo Kim

Check out the videos below to see me and one of our forum members put Jaws MD5 to the test!

 

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