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Rory McIlroy’s putter builder speaks on his winning TaylorMade Soto proto

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It’s no secret that Rory McIlroy’s biggest weakness has historically been with his putter. But ahead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he won by two shots, McIlroy made a putter switch and ended up with just 100 putts for the week — the lowest in his PGA Tour career. He also finished first in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, and put on a putting display for the ages on Sunday to shoot 64 (he birdied 5 of the final 6 holes).

Related: Rory’s Winning WITB from the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational 

What’s so special about this putter? To figure that out, I spoke with TaylorMade’s International Tour Director Chris Trott, who worked directly with McIlroy on building his new putter.

Trott explains that McIlroy showed up to Bay Hill “with a different kind of confidence” that week. His caddie, Harry Diamond, showed up to the TaylorMade Tour Truck on Monday night (McIlroy wasn’t on site Monday) with a previous putter of McIlroy’s — a Scotty Cameron that he won multiple majors with, according to Trott — and he wanted to have a new putter built that matched up with the specs of it. “He came with a plan and he wanted to be on spec,” says Trott. So the TaylorMade team sent Harry off to the hotel Monday night with a TaylorMade TP Soto with no face insert, one with an insert, some other variations, and they sent him back to the hotel with a few Spiders, as well, according to Trott.

But since Trott says that McIlroy liked the feel of his previous gamer, Trott thought it was best to send a request back to TaylorMade’s offices in Carlsbad for a TP Black Copper Soto with a midslant neck and a Suryln insert in preparation for McIlroy’s arrival the next day. “Nine out of 10 times we already have a head with the insert in it [inside the tour truck], but this putter is so new,” says Trott. “It’s not even out yet.”

Trott says McIlroy showed up to the Tour Truck the next morning, but he “wasn’t enamored” with the options, although he did fancy the solid face Soto. Here’s the photo notes that Trott took of the solid-faced Soto that McIlroy liked.

Good thing Trott sent that request back to the office, though! The first words out of McIlroy’s mouth when he saw the new TP Black Copper Soto slant neck proto with the Suryln insert, according to Trott, were “Hmm, that’s nice.” But he wanted to tweak the specs. He wanted the putter an eighth of an inch shorter and 3-to-4 swingweight points lighter. Eventually, Trott also added 0.25 degrees of loft to the face compared to McIlroy’s gamer, and made it 1-degree more upright.

The new putter Trott concocted also had a Golf Pride Tradition grip on it, and McIlroy had him change it to a TaylorMade Red Cap Pistol grip.

So, McIlroy took to the putting green with the solid face Soto and the Black Copper slant neck proto with the Surlyn insert. After a few drills, McIlroy decided he liked the feel and look of the Trott concoction, and while he really liked the Black Copper finish, he did have concerns about how it would hold up in the weather.

In the end, McIlroy decided on the TaylorMade TP Black Copper Soto proto. Here are the photo notes that Trott took from inside the trailer while holding McIlroy’s (eventual) winning putter.

The numbers in the photo above mean the specs of McIlroy’s putter are as follows:

  • Weight: 508.3 grams
  • Swing weight: D1
  • Lie angle: 71.25 degrees
  • Loft: 2.75 degrees
  • Length: 34.25 inches

Here are photos that we shot of the putter on Tuesday of the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play:

It’s safe to say McIlroy made the right decision for Bay Hill, and according to Trott, he’ll likely be sticking with the putter going forward. And if not, surely Trott and his team will be there with 7-10 more putter options for McIlroy to try out and hand-pick from. Must be nice to be Rory!

See what GolfWRX Members are saying about Rory’s putter in our forums.

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He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team and earned a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. todd page

    Mar 30, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    It’s basically a Scotty Monterey 1.5 just different color.

  2. Brando

    Mar 22, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    The putter has a flow neck different from the plumbers neck he has used in the past so it is a different style putter. Also you can take any off the rack quality milled anser style putter And adjust loft and lie cut it down lengthin it add weight ect to get it just how you want it like the pros do. Is not rocket science just make sure the guy adjusting loft and lie knows what he’s doing getting harder to find knowledgeable clubfitters these days and not a kid at Golf Galaxy whoes only been changing grips for a few weeks. Sweet putter hope Rory keeps it’s flowing he may be the best in the World when he’s playing like last week.

  3. Branden

    Mar 21, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    So Rory basically designed his own version of a Nike Method Core but in the Method Matter color?
    Looks identical, except with “Taylor Made” stamped on it.

  4. Tom

    Mar 21, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Basically a Scottsdale Anser head?

  5. Daniel

    Mar 21, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    The real question is whether the new putter or the lesson from Faxon resulted in the great putting performance.

  6. Sean Foster-Nolan

    Mar 21, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    A very nice putter, but ultimately it is the putting stroke more than it is the putter itself. He admitted he was putting less mechanically, and more with “feeling”. I think that had more to do with how well he putted than the new putter.

  7. joseph dreitler

    Mar 21, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks much for this article. Really enjoyed this story to see how exacting this Tour pro is about his equipment and what is involved and the various steps for the manufacturer and their Tour reps making him what he wants. And how incredibly customized for a specific pro it is by the manufacturer, in this case TaylorMade. The average amateur is not going to be able to buy such highly customized equipment like that from any mass producer, not that it would make a lot of difference. But given that you cannot buy that highly customized equipment – or have TaylorMade customize it just for you like Rory does, why in the world does it matter if I play the exact ball Rory is hitting with his clubs that I cannot buy? Tour Pros at that level are playing a totally different game and the fact that I can buy the ball they are playing is immaterial to me. The football used by Division 1 colleges is not as large as the NFL ball.

  8. Jim

    Mar 21, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Lovely putter (can you say “Ping”?), but speaking only for myself, I don’t like face inserts. Give me a plain old solid hunk of forged/milled metal – no inserts or fancy medallions.

    • +1

      Mar 21, 2018 at 4:39 pm

      I can putt better than you and most on this forum and using a cheap zinc die-cast putter from Walmart….. wanna bet?!!

      • Barack Obama

        Apr 2, 2018 at 8:47 am

        What a useless post… kinda like my presidency.

  9. Andre J Park

    Mar 21, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Newbie here, 508gms total weight of putter? Why are all store putters so light? 340gms is the norm. All the heavier putters,piretti,scotty,custom,are too expensive. Any putters that are heavier but, affordable out there?

    • Tim Armington

      Mar 21, 2018 at 5:43 pm

      Rory is actually using a light putter compared to whats out there. Those were overall weights given on Rors putter. The 375 Piretti weights that u speak of are head weights only.

    • KM

      Apr 12, 2018 at 1:35 am

      350 for the head,120 for the shaft, 50 for the grip.

  10. Adam

    Mar 21, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    This is literally just the Taylormade Classic 79 Tm-180 which you can snag on ebay for 50 bucks….
    The only difference is the weights like a scotty.

  11. ogo

    Mar 21, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Custom fit custom machined prototype tour only putters have that special mojo that off-the-shelf mass produced putters just don’t have. A Scotty store bought putter is nowhere close to a custom fit custom machined Scotty. Live with that gearheads … 😛

  12. Jordan

    Mar 21, 2018 at 7:32 am

    Wow D1. We’re all out here playing E0 and heavier putters. Also interesting that Rory went from near face balanced mallet to a full arc blade… although it still didn’t look like on some of his putts that he takes a really strong arc. Whatever works I guess.

    • DB

      Mar 21, 2018 at 8:37 am

      Yes, that’s a good point. Most retail putters these days are pushing into the E range. Many of the 35″ ones are E4 or more. Total weights are often 540+.

      Yet on tour you see Rory with D1. Total weight only 508. I’ve heard Tiger’s putter is something like D6/7. Same for Fowler.

      • Jordan

        Mar 21, 2018 at 9:32 am

        The new Ping Vault 2.0 Dale Anser in 35 inches is E7 lol with a 350g head. The grip is only like 50g of foam though. Based on Rory’s swing weight for 34.25 inches and that grip probably weighs around 70grams… i’m guessing that the headweight is around 340g.

  13. Foo

    Mar 21, 2018 at 12:51 am

    Now this is a WRX article! None of that Eldrick this and that BS talk! This site should all be about this kind of tech and club stuff! Awesome!

  14. bb

    Mar 21, 2018 at 12:37 am

    what a head case…i’m sure he said the same thing about the semi-mallet he used when he won the tour championship…that worked out really well long term

  15. Lonzie McCants

    Mar 20, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    Yep!!!! He won with this putter. But, if you can’t put, Rory’s putter will not help you win a tournament.

  16. robert

    Mar 20, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    There ya go, gearheads…. only a custom fit/built putter is any good.
    All yer off-the-shelf Scotty’s, Betty’s, Pingy’s are misfits for your unique putting stroke. Yer WITB is filled with craap putters …. :-p

  17. TMAC

    Mar 20, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    If he liked his Scotty so much that he basically wanted a copy of it made, why not just putt with the Scotty?
    TM making him use one of their putters? 14 club deal?

    • Scott

      Mar 21, 2018 at 12:27 pm

      Yes, he’s being forced by TM and taking the $ to do it.

  18. john peterson

    Mar 20, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Rory won by three shots…do you guys actually watch golf or even read about it?

  19. Tom

    Mar 20, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    a good looking great performing putter that isn’t a scotty

  20. Kevin Arnold

    Mar 20, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    It’s the Dunlop Loco putter circa 2003…..C’mon Taylor Made, how many times can you rebrand a Walmart putter, and in the end, it’s still a Walmart putter.

  21. Christopher

    Mar 20, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    It’s a lovely looking putter, but the red insert has a bit of a budget look to it. Even though some top designers have used red inserts, it looks a bit cheap. Not that it matters one bit if the putts drop like they did for Rory.

    • Foo

      Mar 21, 2018 at 12:52 am

      It ain’t PXG! lmao

    • Someone

      Mar 21, 2018 at 1:38 pm

      I agree. I think because it’s surlyn it kind of cheapens the look. I putt with a seemore and it’s got an insert as well, and it gets worn from lots of play, so you can’t see the marks on it. Overtime, as much as he plays, I wonder if he’ll have to replace the insert at regular intervals…considering it’s a plastic and not a metal.

      • Bob Parson Jr.

        Mar 22, 2018 at 4:17 pm

        Yeah, like Scotty’s GSS double sided taped inserts? Right!

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Whats in the Bag

C.T. Pan’s winning WITB: 2019 RBC Heritage

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Driver: Titleist TS2 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Atmos 6 Blue X

3-wood: Titleist TS3 (16.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK 70 TX

Irons: TaylorMade M3 (2/3), Titleist 718 T-MB (4), Titleist 718 AP2 (5-9 iron)
Shafts: Project X HZRDUS Red 85 (M3), Project X 6.0 (others)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 (46-10F, 52-08F, 62-08M), Titleist Vokey 2017 Prototype (58-10K)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 (Purple)

Putter: Scotty Cameron Prototype

Ball: 2019 Titleist Pro V1x

Grips: Golf Pride MCC

Another look at Pan’s wedges, c/o Vokey wedge rep, Aaron Dill on Instagram

 

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Whats in the Bag

Brooke Henderson’s winning WITB: 2019 Lotte Championship

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Driver: Ping G400 (9 degrees set at 8)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD-VR 5X, 48″

3-wood: Ping G400 Stretch (13 degrees set at 12.4)
Shaft: Ping Alta CB X, 45″

Fairway wood: Ping G400 (17.5 degrees at 18)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD TP6X

Hybrid: Ping G400 (22 degrees at 22.75)
Shaft: Fujikura Pro 73 R, 41.5″

Irons: Ping i210 (5-UW) (lie: 2.25 degrees flat, UW 1/2″ shorter than standard)
Shafts: Nippon Modus3 105-S

Wedges: Ping Glide Forged (52 degrees at 53), (60 degrees) (lie: 2.25 degrees flat, 3/4″ shorter than standard)
Shafts: Nippon Modus 115 Wedge

Putter: Ping Sigma 2 Valor (33″, 23-degree lie, 2-degree loft)
Grip: Rosemark MFS Wide Top

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

 

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Talking New Level Golf with founder Eric Burch

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“If you want to make a small fortune, start with a big fortune”

It’s a phrase I’ve heard many times before, not just with the golf industry but in other industries that are, let’s call them — leisure or sports-focused. It’s an uphill climb to enter any market, but golf might be on another level. There are the big players that are worth BILLIONS, and spend millions of dollars in research and development, along with equal amounts marketing, to make sure that every golfer is aware of their new club technologies. They also have well-oiled systems of distribution.

But in this new world of brand-agnostic fitting centers, boutique brands, social media, and the ability to reach your target demographic like never before there are a LOT of new companies creating high performance, high quality, well-engineered products. But when it comes to forged irons for golfers of all abilities, industry veteran Eric Burch’s New Level Golf stands on its own.

If you don’t know Eric Burch, and you’ve gone through a custom fitting recently, then you are at least partially aware of some of the breakthroughs he’s helped create in the golf industry, including the Club Conex system. His newest endeavor New Level Golf was only started in 2017, but in that short time, it has made some very big strides including distribution in over 150 brand agnostic club fitting facilities and now some professional golfers signed to the roster (including PGA Tour winner Ken Duke).

So how do you go from designing club fitting components to designing forged irons and starting a company that has products on the Golf Digest Hot List? I got the chance to talk to Eric about New Level Golf, his background and how after his years in the golf industry he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

RB: Based on your history in the golf industry you seem to be a real problem solver with a “Be your own boss” mentality, is that how you would describe your self?

EB: I’ve been in business for myself since my early 20s. Other than a few short stints for other golf companies, I have primarily been my own boss involved with golf. I would consider myself a problem solver. Not necessarily by design, but mainly due to starting companies that have always been undercapitalized which forces your hand to learn a variety of tasks to help the business move forward.
Although I’ve received notoriety as a club fitter/retailer, Club Conex, and now New Level. I’ve been fortunate to have won the professional Clubmaker’s Top Shop Award (2004), Golf Digest Top 100 Club Fitters (2016),  & have products I’ve designed be on the Golf Digest Hot List (2019).

RB: What was the first product & club head you ever designed, and how does the workflow go now with New Level?

EB: The first golf products were, of course, the Club Conex prototypes and those were generated from hand-rendered sketches. I still believe, given what I did with Club Conex and the universal system I designed, I hardly get the credit I deserve. I bought a milling machine without really knowing how to use it and over the course of 6-7 months taught myself how to use it and started creating prototypes. Those prototypes eventually became the Uni-Fit system.

The first clubs I ever designed were putters dating back to the mid 2000s, but in terms of New Level, I know what I am trying to accomplish in design as well as fitting into player categories that comes from my years working at my own shop and fitting golfers from professionals to higher handicaps. Since product is made overseas, the engineers I work with at our factory have done a very good job of helping bring my concepts and designs to fruition. I really enjoy doing the designs and creating something that will one day be in someone’s golf bag.  The only current issue with the success we’re seeing now is if the company continues to push forward we will at some point be forced to bring on an industrial design engineer to further help with product development, but that would be in 2021 as most of our products for next year are in development, or have already been developed.

RB: On that note, how long from having an initial concept to that first set of irons or at least a prototype head in hand?

EB: This is heavily dependant on the complexity of the design. The 4995 HB took almost 9 months to get it where we wanted, whereas the 902 took just about four months. Typically we can get a first article sample of a playable sample in less than 60 days.

RB: When you consider the logistics and tooling involved, that’s quite an impressive turnaround time. From a design perspective, what do you think is the most misunderstood part of creating an iron head and the manufacturing process that you face?

EB: This is a hot topic with me since most people just don’t understand the depth of the manufacturing process. A lot of people think of the term open model (a factory’s in house design produced to create a starting point for some companies), they think we are just stamping our name on a head that is already been refined and finished by someone else which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Like with many aspects of club designs some of the tooling we use are openly available, but for example the raw forged blank head is on average 407 grams on a 6 iron that needs to be designed into a profile that weighs just 262 grams. So as you can imagine a club head overweight by more that 35 percent, it’s far from being a finished product. We call all the shots when it comes to every pertinent parameter and specifications of our design. The only thing incorporated into using this process and something we can’t change is the offset of the club. All other facets of the design are facilitated by my directive and incorporated into the final design.

I chose this method of manufacturing for New Level because it allows a far more flexible range of experimentation before a final design is consummated and brought to market. As a new company starting out it would have been near impossible to use a process similar to other OEMs that create a final tool for each and every design solely based on scale. We had several designs that were not used because they didn’t make the cut when it comes to performance and if we had gone the other route we would have had hundreds of thousands of dollars in tooling alone from products that never saw the light of day.

This process is called the “near net” process, and I find it to be much more in tune with today’s industry. I will take it one step further by saying regardless how good one may be at hand grinding and polishing, a human will never be as consistent and effective as a CNC machine. This entire process allows us to keep our costs reasonable and offer a…uniquely designed, full one-piece forged club for a fair price. There are a lot of other companies using this process you’d just never suspect it.

RB: As a club builder and fitter myself, I have encountered my fair share of misconceptions from golfers, what do YOU feel is the number one thing golfer misunderstand from a design perspective of their clubs?

EB: I can only speak from my experiences, but most golfers are scared of the word “forged” as it has been far too long associated with blades and hard to hit designs. I believe the average weekend warrior still views forged as a design methodology as opposed to a manufacturing process. That is a major objective for New Level to prove that forged clubs can be forgiving, can produce great ball speed, & can be used by your average mid handicap player. Our 1126, for example, is longer from heel to toe, has a shallow profile, and deep undercut – lots of forgiveness for any level of player. From a fitting perspective, I’d say that over 80 percent of players are using shafts that are too heavy, and too stiff for them.

RB:  We’ve talked a lot about the product, and now I need to know – How many retail outlets currently carry your irons and wedges. And lastly, what advantage do you believe New Level irons and wedges have over the competition?

EB: New Level products can be found at roughly 150 locations worldwide and growing almost weekly. If I had my way, we’d never sell another club off the website since I truly believe getting fit by a professional is the best way to get the right set, but saying that as the brand is growing and during the infancy stages, I am trying to get as much product in the field of play as possible to spread brand awareness. We get positive feedback on a daily basis. We have an extensive questionnaire on our site to help those that are not close to one of our retailers, and we also have a lot of people that see our clubs, like what they see and order to their known specs.

As far as our advantages go, I believe it’s pretty simple — being small allows us to pay more attention to each and every client and ensure they are getting the attention that they deserve. The mentality is always to be big enough to make money, yet no matter how we grow, act small and care about every single customer. Currently, we have the care part down very well. My belief is with any business I’ve ever been involved with is that if you do the right thing and stay focused eventually the money will take care of itself. It’s funny because I experience many of the same challenges with New Level as I did with Club Conex early on. Although I am mixed in with a ton of larger players in the golf industry, with New Level I am starting to see our awareness with golfers grow. I hope that this growth continues and we still maintain a great rapport with our customer base.

If you are interested in New Level products check out their website, or call and check with your local club fitter for availability.

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