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Mobile Bay LPGA Classic Preview: Let’s Roll

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By Vince Robitaille

GolfWRX Staff Writer

After a brief stint on the jewel of the Pacific, the LPGA heads back to the core of continent this week, more precisely, to Mobile, Ala. The event has now changed patronyms thrice in three years – the sponsor situation finally settling and a name for the event being selected, hopefully for the long haul this time around, the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic – its location, nevertheless, remains true and steady. While the RR Donnelley Founders Cup was established in an effort to honor the women’s trailblazers, the LPGA Tour, through their yearly stop in the Ole South, lets us appreciate the legacy of one of the upmost illustrious families in golf… well, once more in the year, this time not involving any green fabric nor gold threads. Set on The Crossings course at Magnolia Grove, arguably not the least eleventh of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic will assume the role of battlegrounds for the 143-golfer strong field, come Thursday morning, many of whom have experienced repeated success at the venue.

Maria Hjorth is unquestionably a member of the aforementioned group. The veteran Swede will be looking to defend her title, but, most importantly, to heat up the fire under her lukewarm game of the past months, much like she did in 2011. After disposing of her adversaries in rather tight fashion – late birdies on Nos. 15 and 17 enabling her to edge out her closest pursuer by two strokes – Hjorth went on a impressive run that included eight top-15 finishes and five top-10s; her best subsequent result consisting of a solo third in the HSBC Brasil Cup. Unfortunately for our subject, one of her rare off weeks came in late September with her 1-3 performance on the grounds of Killeen Castle in the 2011 Solheim Cup.

Speaking of last fall’s European victory, while Hjorth’s contribution was left wanting, no one’s impact on the events came anywhere near the seismic force of her fellow countrywoman’s, Sophie Gustafson, who will also be part of this week’s field. While the 38-year-old Gustafson has experienced a downshift in results over the past 7 months, following her 4-0 performance in Country Meath, the course’s setup might prove favorable to her and yet another Scandinavian star that often shined on the Robert Trent Jones Trail, current World No.3 Suzann Pettersen. In fact, The Crossings, with its large receptive greens and exploitable lines that will lend aggressive yet reliant strikers of the ball a helping hand, one could easily see either of our two candidates come out on top in Alabama; the preponderance of the flagstick being significantly diminished and the primary concern becoming sharp iron play.

Leaving without mentioning Song-Hee Kim, after having brought to the table the subject of golfers who’ve made Mobile their proverbial home away from home, would be a probant proof of sheer incompetence on Yours Truly’s part. The 2006 Duramed Futures Tour champion’s bright days now appear foggy – 16 months removed from her stellar 2010 campaign which included 13 top-10’s – but, even in less than optimal form, the Korean simply can’t fare faultily at Magnolia Grove, her 2011 AVNET Classic performance is a prime example of this. Whilst many would find themselves hard-pressed to put their hard-earned money on a player that has shown quite lackluster shape in recent memory, repeated success in precise settings – especially in our beloved game where courses and conditions are, not only, highly peculiar, but demand a specific array of skills depending on said peculiarities – has us wondering if another deep run is in the stars for the now World No. 48.

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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