The Zurich Classic of New Orleans is one of the most laid-back PGA Tour events of the season, but as I watched Jerry Kelly hit drivers on the range I could tell things were already getting serious. And it was only Monday.
Next to me on the range was Pat McCoy, who was fitting Kelly for a new TaylorMade driver. Kelly’s “gamer” driver was a 2016 TaylorMade M2, an 8.5-degree version that was only made available to PGA Tour players. For weeks, Kelly had been anticipating the release of the 2017 M2 driver. He wanted to see if it could help him add a few yards to his drives, and earlier in the day the first batch of 8.5-degree 2017 M2 drivers were made available for PGA Tour players to test. Along with the new driver head, Kelly also wanted to test one of the hottest new driver shafts on the PGA Tour. For that he reached out to McCoy, the Director of Tour Operations for Fujikura.
McCoy estimated he had fit Kelly for new golf equipment roughly 35 times in his 17 years with Fujikura. “It’s not hard to know when I’ve failed and when I’ve been successful,” he said. Standing next to McCoy, however, it felt as if the success of this particular fitting was out of his control. McCoy wasn’t fazed, though.
The fitting started with Kelly comparing his gamer to the new driver. The new driver was built to exactly match Kelly’s gamer on TaylorMade’s Tour Truck, a mobile golf club fitting facility that travels with the PGA Tour each week. Both driver heads were digitally measured and had lofts of exactly 8.5 degrees. Their lengths were precisely 45.75 inches and they had matching lie angles of 61 degrees. They also had the same D2 swing weight, a measurement of the balance point of a driver. Aside from the updated design of the club head, the only difference was the shafts. Kelly’s gamer had an Aldila NV 2KXV Blue 60TX. The new driver had Fujikura’s new Atmos Tour Spec Black 6X.
McCoy called Kelly, who turned 50 in November, “old school” in the way he tests his equipment. He began his test by hitting about 10 shots with each driver, switching back and forth every few shots. Even without a launch monitor, Kelly could tell that the new driver head and shaft were creating a lower-launching, lower-spinning trajectory than his gamer. He liked what what he saw, but he wanted to see the data on a launch monitor.
A $35,000 golf ball-tracking device called Trackman was brought to Kelly’s spot on the range. It uses Doppler radar to tell golfers exactly what their ball golf ball is doing from the time it leaves the clubface to the time it hits the ground. In doing so, it offers dozens of readings, but the one McCoy was focused on was “land angle,” or the angle at which the ball hits the ground. With Kelly’s gamer, his drives were hitting the ground at about 40 degrees, which is too steep by PGA Tour standards. With the new driver head and the Atmos Tour Spec Black shaft, Kelly’s land angle was reduced to 34 degrees, which was giving him more roll. It seemed liked a slam-dunk, but Kelly still wasn’t sold. He was concerned with his “ball speed,” the measure of how fast a golf ball leaves a driver head. It was 1-2 mph lower with the new driver head and the new driver shaft. That was costing him carry distance, but McCoy had a fix.
“What I try not to do is fit my swing into the club. “I fit the club into my swing.” — Jerry Kelly
Along with the Atmos Tour Spec Black, McCoy also had an Atmos Tour Spec Blue shaft prepared for Kelly to test. It was built to Kelly’s specifications should such a situation arise. The Atmos Tour Spec Blue is almost identical to the Atmos Tour Spec Black with one important difference: the mid and tip sections of the shaft are more flexible, which creates a mid-launching, mid-spinning trajectory. The theory was that the more flexible design of the Atmos Tour Spec Blue would create more “kick” to help Kelly improve his ball speed. That turned out to be true, but it was now a game of whack-a-mole. Like Kelly’s gamer shaft, the Atmos Tour Spec Blue increased Kelly’s land angle. Looking a little frustrated, Kelly started rotating between the three shafts — Atmos Tour Spec Black, Atmos Tour Spec Blue and his Aldila — as well as the old and new driver heads.
“This is where you just let them go,” McCoy told me.
TaylorMade drivers have 12 different hosel settings, which adjust the loft, lie and face angle of a driver in combination. Kelly was hitting all three shafts in just about every one of the combinations. In the midst of the rapid fire, McCoy turned the fitting over to Marshall Thompson, a fellow PGA Tour Shaft Rep for Fujikura. McCoy walked to the far end of the range to talk to Daniel Summerhays, who uses Fujikura shafts in his metal woods.
Every week, McCoy receives an email from PGA Tour Statistician Rich Hunt. It includes a spreadsheet with launch monitor data of all the players on the PGA Tour. The data is pulled from ShotLink and plots weekly launch monitor stats, as well as averages for the season. McCoy keeps a close eye on every PGA Tour player’s data, making him a walking encyclopedia of which golfers are driving it well on the PGA Tour and which golfers aren’t. Reviewing the data each week, McCoy noticed that Summerhays’ launch conditions were creeping toward the high side of optimal due to changes Summerhays was making in his swing. There were a few ways to approach the problem, but the easiest was for Summerhays to reduce the loft of his driver by 0.5 degrees, which lowered both his launch angle and his spin rate. After chatting with Summerhays about it, McCoy was confident that he would go that direction.
McCoy’s start in the golf industry came as an instructor. At age 20, he became an Assistant PGA Professional at PGA West in La Quinta, California, making him the youngest teacher at the time to hold the position at the famed course. He said he was quickly frustrated teaching golf because his students rarely practiced in between their lessons. That made it almost impossible for him to improve their games. He found that in most cases he could help his students improve more quickly and more permanently by changing their equipment, which made it possible for them to have more fun playing golf. “Isn’t that what it’s all about?” he said. Ultimately, that’s what led him to the golf equipment world.
McCoy’s distinction as a PGA Professional is well known on the PGA Tour, and one of the reasons he’s so popular with Tour players. Another reason is his approach, which focuses on building long-term relationships with players that aren’t tied to their interest in Fujikura shafts. PGA Tour player William McGirt has used Fujikura shafts in his metal woods for years, and he said the main reason why is his trust in McCoy. “He’s not going to put something in my hands if it’s not going to work,” McGirt said. “It’s going to be perfect. And if it’s not perfect, it’s going to be damn near close.”
Unlike the major golf equipment manufacturers on the PGA Tour, shaft makers like Fujikura don’t pay golfers to use their products. For that reason, McCoy takes a different approach to get his products in the hands of the world’s best. He maintains relationships with all the major equipment manufacturers, making sure they’re stocked with the Fujikura shafts they need. And he’s always sure to keep them fully informed of the work he’s doing with the PGA Tour players they pay to use their clubs. Not doing so could not only compromise his relationship with an equipment manufacturer, but it could also create a scenario where a PGA Tour player is getting conflicting information about what’s best for him. According to McGirt, that can wreak havoc on a Tour player’s game.
On the PGA Tour, a big-name player’s usage of a golf club or shaft can result in millions of dollars in sales for a golf equipment manufacturer. It can be the difference between a company like TaylorMade putting a Fujikura shaft in its latest driver release or choosing the shaft of one of its competitors. While Fujikura has maintained a healthy amount of business with both major golf equipment manufacturers and after-market custom club fitters for more than a decade, some shaft companies are less stable. McGirt described a situation he said he’s observed frequently on the PGA Tour, where in an effort to get a new shaft in play, a shaft rep pushed a player into a product that wasn’t right for his game.
“You can work yourself into some bad habits trying to make [a shaft] work,” McGirt said. “Honestly, I could probably get [a shaft] that performed a little better than what I’m using now, but then I’d have to get used to it. Coming down under the gun, knowing what a [shaft] is going to do is the biggest then for me.”
Wade Liles, a PGA Tour Truck Technician for TaylorMade, echoed McGirts sentiments. “We want our players to play better, not just switch to get a new shaft in play.” In Liles’ 17 years on the PGA Tour, he said he’s seen an incredible shift in the clubs and shafts PGA Tour players use. Most of the shafts made 17 years ago would be “worthless” on the PGA Tour due to advances in technology, he said. “Shaft manufacturers aren’t going to come out with the same shaft year after year,” he said. “It’s going to be a new shaft and it’s going to be a better shaft.”
McCoy estimated that it takes at least 50 different driver shaft models to optimize the performance of the roughly 300 golfers who play on the PGA Tour each season. For that reason, PGA Tour equipment trucks are stocked with dozens of shafts from multiple shaft manufacturers. They all vary slightly in materials and constructions, as well as in weights, flex and kick point. Kevin Napier, a Senior Tour Technician for Callaway, said that in some cases getting a player to change to a new shaft has nothing to do with performance at all. It can come down to a shaft manufacturer’s willingness to make a shaft in a custom paint color.
“[PGA Tour Players] remember the people who are honest with them. And when they’re struggling, they usually come back to me to see if I can help.” — Pat McCoy
In an effort to meet the needs of PGA Tour players and amateur golfers across the globe, Fujikura had released an abundance of shaft models in recent years. There was consistent feedback from PGA Tour players, golf equipment manufacturers and custom-club fitters, however, that having so many models was complicating the fitting process. Fujikura stopped getting that feedback this year, and there has also been a significant uptick in the amount of Fujikura shafts used on the PGA Tour. At the Zurich Classic, for example, Fujikura led all shaft manufacturers with 41 driver shafts in play (25.6 percent), and McCoy attributes the growth directly to Atmos Tour Spec.
Atmos Tour Spec is divided into three models (Black, Blue and Red). Each of them are available in a wide range of weights and flexes. The Atmos Tour Spec Black offers the lowest trajectory, the Atmos Tour Spec Red offers the highest trajectory, and the Atmos Tour Spec Blue fills the middle ground. All three are inspired by successful shaft designs that Fujikura has been perfecting for the better part of two decades, which McCoy said is the real reason for their success. Like other leading shaft makers, Fujikura is using the latest technologies and materials to create Atmos Tour Spec shafts, but “it’s not really about the materials,” he said. “It’s about learning what works and what doesn’t, and then why,” he said. “We’ve always made high-quality product, but it’s learning from it.”
McCoy said that unlike in years past, he’s able to explain the benefits of the Atmos shafts to PGA Tour players with ease. He doesn’t have to tell them about the new carbon fiber materials that the shafts use. He doesn’t have to explain the years of study that went into improving the way the shafts load and unload for different swings. Tour players immediately understand the black-blue-red story. Just as importantly, they trust that McCoy wouldn’t ask them to test a product that he didn’t think could help their game.
McCoy said he’s been approached by dozens of PGA Tour players who have never used a Fujikura shaft before, but now want to try one. In many cases, Atmos gave them better results. In other cases, McCoy would find that a PGA Tour player’s current shaft was perfect for them. He said he never hesitates to tell them so. “They remember the people who are honest with them,” McCoy said. “And when they’re struggling, they usually come back to me to see if I can help.”
There were 15 PGA Tour players hitting golf balls on the range at the Zurich Classic on Monday afternoon. Five of them were hitting drivers, and all five of them were swinging Fujikura shafts. One was Jerry Kelly, who was wrapping up his test of the Atmos Tour Spec Black and Atmos Tour Spec Blue for the day. Fujikura rep Marshall Thompson had showed him that he could get better results from the 2017 TaylorMade M2 driver head and the Atmos Tour Spec Blue shaft if he was willing to lower the loft to 7.5 degrees. Doing that, he got both the ball speed and the trajectory he wanted, but Kelly said would need to do some more testing at home. By this time, McCoy had returned to the fitting. “What I try not to do is fit my swing into the club,” Kelly told Thompson. “I fit the club into my swing.”
“Did you hear that,” McCoy said to me. “That’s the truth there.”
Members’ Choice: The top-5 drivers that golfers want to test in 2018
Golf’s “off-season” is upon us and the PGAM Show in Orlando is quickly approaching in January, which means it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming driver releases.
We’ve seen a few companies launch their “2018” lines already — such as Cobra with its new King F8 and F8+ — while speculation swirls around the companies who have yet to announce their newest products. For instance, we’ve spotted a new “TaylorMade M4″ driver, and a new “Rogue” driver from Callaway. If history repeats itself and Titleist remains on a two-year product cycle, then we’ll see a replacement for the 917 line sometime in 2018, as well.
The question we posed to our GolfWRX Members recently was, which new or unreleased driver has you most excited heading into 2018? Below are the results and a selection of comments about each driver.
Note: The comments below have been minimally edited for brevity and grammar.
Titleist (7.39 percent of votes)
BDoubleG: I know it’s well down the road, but the Titleist 919 is what I’m most looking forward to. I played the 910 until this year and loved it, but I realized that I wasn’t getting much in the way of distance gains with the 915/917, and I was just leaving too many yards on the table. I know it’s a cliche, but I was seeing considerable gains with my G400LS, then my M2 I have now.
I feel like Titleist has been hurting in the driver market share category (and probably elsewhere), as I think a lot of people think that the 913, 915 and 917 have been minor refreshes in a world where almost everyone else has been experimenting with structure (jailbreak, turbulators) or with COG (spaceports, SLDR, G-series extreme back CG). I think if Titleist is going to recapture some of their market share, they will need to start taking an interest in stepping outside of their comfort zone to catch up with everyone else. Maybe I’m hoping for too much, but a D2-style head with ample forgiveness and low-spin (maybe a back-front weight), with the same great sound of the 917, and hopefully getting rid of the “battery taped to the sole” look would be a huge hit in my book.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with…and I hope I’m not disappointed.
Mizuno GT-180 or otherwise (8.87 percent of votes)
mrmikeac: After thoroughly testing the Mizuno ST-180 and seeing the distance gains I was getting from my Epic, I can’t wait for the GT to get here. Cobra would be next in line for me, but Mizzy really did something special with that JPX-900 and it seems to look like they’re going the same route with these drivers. Excellent feel, forgiveness and simple but effective tech.
Callaway Rogue, Rogue Sub Zero or otherwise (17.73 percent of votes)
cvhookem63: It seems like we’re not getting a lot of “NEW” this time — just some same lines “improved” on a little. I’m interested to try the Rogue line and M3/M4 line to see if they improved on their previous models. The Cobra F8+ is intriguing to me, as well. I’d like to compare those three to see how they stack up.
tj7644: Callaway Rogue. It’s gotta make me hit straighter drives right? It sure can’t be my swing…
Equipto: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero, and that’s about it. Most of my testing will be with shafts I presume.
bangabain: Excited to give the Rogue a shot, although with the hope that there’s a little more fade bias despite the lack of sliding weight.
TaylorMade M3, M4 or otherwise (27.09 percent of votes)
DeCuchi: TaylorMade M3 of course, and the F8+. I’m more interested in the fairways this year though. TaylorMade M4 fairways and Rogue fairways are top of my list.
elwhippy: TaylorMade M3 and M4. Not owned a TM driver for several seasons and want something with a bit more power than the Ping G Series…
cradd10: M3. Still rocking an OG M1. Super solid driver. Curious to see if the updated version can beat it.
Cobra F8/F8+ (33.66 percent of votes)
WAxORxDCxSC: I sure want to like the F8 based on looks (I understand I’m possibly in the minority on that one at GolfWRX).
TWshoot67: For me, it’s three drivers: the Cobra F8, F8+ and TM M4.
The General: Cobra F8 is going to dominate everything, just wait, on the F8
Ace2000: Definitely F8/F8+. Love my Bio Cell+ and can’t help but wonder if these perform as good as they look.
True Linkswear goes back to its spikeless roots
True Linkswear is getting back to its roots, while expanding the singular golf shoe brand’s reach at the same time.
The Tacoma, Washington, company’s Director/Partner, Justin Turner, told us that with the release of the two new models, the company is course-correcting from a move toward the mainstream, spiked golf shoes, and a loss of identity.
In addition to durability issues, Turner said the core True Linkswear customer didn’t appreciate the shift — or the deluge of models that followed.
So, in a sense, the two-model lineup both throws a bone to True devotees and casts a wider net.
Turner and company asked: “If we wanted to restart the brand….what would we value?” A commitment to the brand’s core outsider identity, style as articulated in early models, and an emphasis on quality led Turner on multiple trips to China to survey suppliers in early 2017. Eventually, the company settled on a manufacturing partner with a background in outdoor gear and hiking shoes.
“We’ve spent the last few years scouring the globe for the best material sourcing, reputable factories, advanced construction techniques, and time-tested fundamentals to build our best shoes yet. No cheap synthetics, no corners cut.”
Eventually, True settled on two designs: The Original, which, not surprisingly, has much in common with the zero-drop 2009 industry disrupting model, and the Outsider: a more athletic-style shoe positioned to attract a broader audience.
True Linkswear Original: $149
The company emphasizes the similarity in feel between the Original and early True Linkswear models, suggesting that players will feel and connect to the course “in a whole new way.”
- Gray, White, Black
- Waterproof full grain leather
2-year waterproof guarantee
- thin sole with classic True zero-drop heel
- 12.1 oz
- Sockfit liner for comfort
- Natural width box toe
True Linkswear Outsider: $169
With the Outsider, True Linkswear asked: “What if a golf shoe could be more? Look natural in more environments?”
- Grey/navy, black, white colorways
- EVA midsole for lightweight cushioning
- Full grain waterproof leather
- 13.1 oz (thicker midsole than the Original)
The company envisions both shoes being worn on course and off.
True Linkswear introduced the more durable and better-performing Cross Life Tread with both models. Turner says the tread is so good, you can wear the shoes hiking.
Both models are available now through the company website only. True Linkswear plans to enter retail shops slowly and selectively.
Sean O’Hair and Steve Stricker’s Winning WITBs from the 2017 QBE Shootout
The team of Steve Stricker and Sean O’Hair closed the QBE Shootout with an 8-under 64 for a two-shot win over Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. O’Hair made a timely eagle on the par-5 17th hole at Tiburon Golf Club to lock up the first place prize of $820,000 ($410,000 each).
Here’s a look at their bags.
Driver: Titleist 917D2 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White Prototype 60TX
3 Wood: Titleist 917F2 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana S+ Limited Edition 70TX
5 Wood: Titleist 915F (18 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana S+ Limited Edition 80TX
Irons: Titleist 716 T-MB (4-iron), Titleist 718 AP2 (5-PW)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 prototype (50, 54 and 58 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
Putter: Scotty Cameron Concept 2 NB
Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1
Related: Sean O’Hair WITB
Driver: Titleist 913D3 (8.5 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 8.2X
3 Wood: Titleist 915F (13.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Rayon Tensei CK Pro White 80TX Prototype
Hybrid: Titleist 816H1 (17.0 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 9.2X
Irons: Titleist 718 CB (3-9)
Shafts: KBS Tour Prototype
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM6 (46, 54 and 60 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 w/ Sensicore
Putter: Scotty Cameron T5W
Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Related: Steve Stricker WITB 2017
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