“Yeah, he ( Mike Taylor ) worked on all these irons. He worked on all my wedges. I talk to him probably every few weeks, giving updates on how I feel, things that I think could be better. He’ll bounce a few ideas off me, what I think, what direction we need to go down the road, how can we make them any better than what they are. And this is the same process I went through all those years when I was working with him at Nike. But now working with him at TaylorMade, it’s a lot more seamless.”
Thanks to the big win by Francesco Molinari at the Arnold Palmer Invitational recently, I think it’s important to evaluate a few things that are very interesting about his equipment, and the equipment used by other players on tour.
First off, even after a banner year, including a major victory at The Open Championship, Molinari made a full-scale equipment change to a full bag of Callaway clubs, including the Chrome Soft X Ball.
Certainly, this speaks to his confidence in the company’s equipment in general. Specifically, though, the most interesting part of this new full bag of Callaway gear are some interesting prototype blade irons, that when asked about were confirmed to Golf.com‘s Jonathan Wall “These [Apex MB] forged blades are made, I think, in Japan, so they’re slightly different from the standard muscle back.”
As you can see below they are similar but clearly are a different shape from the retail offering below.
I decided to point these prototype irons out on Twitter ( Twitter – Ryan Barath ) not realizing the amount of attention it would get. But none the less, it was intended to educate not to create confusion. The one thing that continues to be true with professional golf is that PGA Tour pros (especially ones with majors on their resumes) have access to essentially anything they want from their sponsors including “made for” prototypes. Let’s be real straight here, this kind of stuff has been going on for a long long time even back to persimmon woods, but thanks to social media and full-time equipment coverage, the consumer has the ability to see what’s really going on behind the curtain.
So what are some famous examples of “tour issue” clubs? Where do they come from? Who’s got them? What do they really offer? Let’s take a look back over the last couple decades and find the real gems.
Tiger Woods: multiple sets
Before amateur Tiger became professional Tiger, he was racking up wins with a combo set of Mizuno MP14 and 29 irons. After that, it was on to Titleist, then the BIG Swoosh. At Titleist, Tiger worked with the legendary builder Larry Bobka, and together they created sets just for him. (Full story on The Gear Dive Chats with Larry Bobka)
When Tiger moved to Nike Golf, he was introduced to Mike Taylor. There’s no need to really go too deep on MT’s impact on the game of golf, since so much has already been said, but a quick refresher: his roots run deep with shaping clubs to perfection, from Hogan, to Impact Golf Technologies (Tom Stites post-Hogan Company, which in essence became Nike Golf overnight), to now Artisan Golf. Together, they worked on a number if irons from the original forged blades to the MM Proto.
With Nike’s departure from the equipment space and now being a part of TaylorMade’s staff, Tiger has the ability to work with their entire R&D team, while also benefiting from Mike Taylor’s work at Artisan Golf in Ft Worth Texas, to create the original masters for what are now the P7TW irons.
There was always speculation about this relationship until recently when it was confirmed by PGA Tour.com’s Equipment Writer, Andrew Tursky, during an interview with Tiger
What makes Tiger’s irons unique is they are very square and have a high muscle, which leads to a higher COG. This is the most apparent with his new TaylorMade irons compared to the other P730 model. The other thing with Tiger is that he famously plays what we now consider weak lofted clubs with a 49 to 50-degree pitching wedge, compared to the modern standard of 45. As one of the best ball strikers the game has EVER seen, and someone that has notoriously been an extremely picky player from an equipment standpoint, it makes sense that Tiger wants to see the ball go through very precise windows and feel a very particular way.
Beyond the irons, there are also the many, many prototype fixed-hosel drivers that he played during his time with Nike golf including: Original Forged, Ignite, SQ Sumo, VR Proto, Vr Dymo Tour (also made famous Mr. Anthony Kim) and then finally the Covert. Only a few of these were ever made available at retail.
Mike Weir: Left-handed R7 forged protos
Canada’s favorite lefty. Before signing his agreement with Taylormade, Mike used to play Hogan irons — if you are familiar with the Hogan brand and some of its designs, there are a few classic telltale design traits, including a higher straight (very square) hosel transition to the top line, a good amount of offset, and an overall square look.
In the era of big money on tour, and with Weir’s status as one of the top-15 players in the world during the 2000s, he was able to work into his contract that he would only play irons if they 100 percent fit his eye. It was this little clause (confirmed and not confirmed) that throughout his best finishes (including his Masters win), Mike played a set of completely one-off TaylorMade prototypes.
Weir’s irons were always branded with the most modern line TaylorMade was producing, but the most famous of these were his original left-handed prototype R7 irons. A standard (and very different) retail version of these came out in limited numbers right-handed, but as far as “tour issue” gear goes, these are still considered one of the rarest sets ever produced.
Danny Lee: Luke Donald Personal Grind MP-32s
Although I did a full breakdown on these a few weeks ago (WRX article here), these irons deserve to be in this conversation, not because of their age and recent usage, but as an example of how some tour only gear is really just a small tweak to an already fantastic design. As a Mizuno fan and gear junkie, although they didn’t last a very long time in Danny’s bag, I’m seriously hoping they make a return sometime this year.
Francesco Molinari’s Callaway Apex MBs
I mentioned these off the top, but what I want to discuss is that, although these are clearly not the retail version of the Apex MB, we as consumers should understand that what we are playing is still 100-percent premium equipment. A set of irons like this is way more about looks than performance. Francesco is one of the premier iron players in the game, and like any player that has a crazy repeatable action (and by the way hits golf balls day in and day out FOR A LIVING), he wanted something that fit his eye with squarer lines compared to the standard Apex MB, and Callaway did its part as his sponsor to deliver an iron to his liking. Don’t forget it took a bag full of woods, hybrids, and wedges to help Francesco get another win under his belt.
Sure, not everyone can go out and fully customize the head shape of an Apex MB, but if you are looking to go that extra mile and get exactly what you are looking for there are options out there including Yoro Craft from Mizuno and National Custom Works irons by Don White. Are they pricey? Yep! BUT if you want something all yours, the option is there.
So what does this mean for the average golfer?
It’s extremely important to get custom fit for your irons and approach the process of getting a new set with an open mind. The reason these tour issue clubs exist in the first place is because OEMs want to make sure that their players under contract are using something that fits them to a tee, along with hoping to have these in the winning bag come Sunday afternoon. It’s way better to have your “guy” playing a prototype that he loves and plays well with, then having him feel like he is compromising and running the risk of not playing his best. We all know confidence in equipment means the same to a tour pro as (if not more than) it does to a 15 handicap.
In their own way, what these OEMs are doing is creating a “branded” brand-agnostic bags so that each player has exactly what they need. These designs are still coming from in-house company designers (in 99 percent of cases ), but as we already know, the difference is these clubs are either extremely small batch or one-off prototypes. Same can be said for metal woods, since we have seen examples of fixed hosel Callaway Epic Flash fairway woods, too. The other thing to consider is, thanks to these prototypes, designs are constantly being tweaked, and the next generation of retail clubs might take these preferences built right in — the Luke Donald grind is the perfect example.
GolfWRX was founded with the idea to share these unique clubs and help people see “behind the curtain” when it comes to equipment from every OEM. Whether it be a $4,000 Scotty Cameron 009 that might work just as well as a $150 putter with identical specs, it’s not really about that for “us.” It’s about having something different and unique. Within every group of hobbyists, there are those that seek out the different and rare. From sneakers, to cars, to golf clubs, I’d be completely dishonest if I said the “cool” factor wasn’t part of the what makes these things so interesting in the first place.
When talking to GolfWRX founder Easyyy recently about the history of the site and some of the crazy gear we have seen over the years, we both agreed that there is “something” about playing either tour issue gear, or a club built just for you. The driver you know the exact specs of, the irons with different bounce or grooves, the wedges with grinds you just can’t buy off the shelf — whether they really are better or not, as golfers we want EVERY single last advantage we can get out of our gear, and getting the chance to play these clubs and feeling like there is a positive impact might just be as good as intrinsically superior equipment.
At the end of the day, for us mortals who are buying our own equipment, it’s vital to get the most out any new clubs by keeping an open mind on everything from brand to shaft flex, and in some cases, seeking out a tour issue component. Regardless of brand, choose the 14 clubs that fit you best and the ones you like the look of. Like I said before, confidence in your gear is something you can’t put a price on.
Forum Thread of the Day: “Best driver for a short-hitting senior?”
Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from platgolf who is on the hunt for a driver suited to a senior player in the 240 yards off the tee category. Currently playing a Fusion 12-degree driver, platgolf is looking to change things up, and our members give their suggestions on the big-stick that could work best.
Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.
- stmike: “I’m in the same “senior” hitting situation, and tried a couple of different new drivers last year. The one that gave me the most success is the Callaway Epic 10.5. But we all have different swings, and what works for others may not be for you.”
- Markrip: “Sounds like your experience with the F8 weren’t good. You should try the F7. I have one, and the ball goes a long way. It also has an extra weight port the F8 doesn’t, and it really helps keep the ball from going right. I don’t use it in that setting because it makes the ball go way left for me. It also has draw settings with the loft adjustments if you needed that.”
- CarolinaGolfer2: “Titleist TS1 10.5 with the Fubuki 45g shaft beats them all for me, and I’ve played or demoed them all. Titleist got it right with the weighting in this one. Usually, I can’t stand ultra-lite drivers. But this doesn’t feel too light, and I picked up 3 to 5 mph swing speed with it.”
- golftejas: “You might demo a Ping G400 Max at 10.5* if you get a chance … this is a higher-spin head, so you might find it provides enough spin to provide good stability/accuracy/height for your shots. I’ve found this head to be extremely forgiving with good shot heights for me. And if you loft-it-up 1* to play at 11.5*, the face will be a little more closed to help with any right-miss tendencies.”
Sebastian Munoz winning WITB: 2019 Sanderson Farms Championship
Driver: Ping G400 LST (8.5 @9 degrees)
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Yellow 6.5
3-wood: Callaway Epic Flash (15 degrees)
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Yellow
Irons: Ping i200 (3), Ping i210 (4-PW)
Shafts: Graphite Design Tour AD-DI Hybrid 85X (3), True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 (4-PW)
Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 Stealth (50), Titleist Vokey Design SM7 sand (56, 60 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
Putter: Ping Sigma 2 Valor
Ball: Titleist Pro V1
Grips: Golf Pride Z Grip Cord
Danny Willet’s winning WITB: 2019 BMW PGA Championship
Driver: Callaway Rogue (9 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana DF 60X
3-wood: Callaway Rogue (15 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana W 70X
Irons: Callaway Apex UT (18), Callaway X Forged (21), Callaway X Forged (5-9 iron)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold SuperLite X100
Wedges: Callaway Mack Daddy Forged (46 degrees), Callaway Mack Daddy 4 (50, 56, 60 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Superlite X100
Putter: Odyssey Stroke Lab Tuttle
Ball: Callaway Chrome Soft X
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