“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.
Byeong Hun An WITB 2020
- Equipment accurate as of the Farmers Insurance Open
Driver: Titleist TS3 (8.5 degrees, B2 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Accra TZ5 M5 Proto 65 X
3-wood: Titleist TS2 (13.5 degrees @14.25, D4 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Accra TZ6 M5 Proto 65 X
Utility iron: Titleist U500 (2)
Shaft: Project X EvenFlow Black
Irons: Titleist 716 T-MB (3-5), Titleist 620 MB (6-9)
Shafts: Project X PXi 7.0 (3-5), Project X 6.5 (6-9)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (48-10F, 52-08F, 56-08M), Vokey Design WedgeWorks (60-T)
Shafts: Project X 6.5 (48, 52, 56), True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 (60)
Putter: Scotty Cameron GSS Prototype
Shaft: LAGP Ozik 135P
Grip: Scotty Cameron Pistolini
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Bettinardi and Big League Chew launch special headcovers, ball marker, and limited-edition DASS BB8-Wide putter
Bettinardi and Big League Chew have teamed up to launch a full product line of special headcovers, club sets, a ball marker, a tee-shirt, and a limited 1/5 custom Big League Chew putter.
The special 1/5 DASS BB8-Wide Big League Chew putter weighs 355 grams, features a purple flame finish and contains Fancy Face milling. The custom flat-stick from Bettinardi and Big League Chew can be purchased in The Hive for $2,200.
- Model: BB8 Wide
- Weight: 355 grams
- Material: DASS
- Finish: Purple Flame
- Face milling: Fancy Face
The co-branded headcovers and golf products celebrate the passion for the game of golf as well as paying tribute to the only gum to ever be featured at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.
Check out the full product line below:
- Big League Chew x Betti Headcover – $100.00
- Big League Chew x Betti Mallet Headcover – $100.00
- Big League Chew x Betti Club Cover Set – $300.00
- Big League Chew x Betti Players Towel – $55.00
- Big League Chew x Betti Ball Marker – $55.00
- Big League Chew x Betti Pocket Tee – $35.00
- Big League Chew x Betti Hat – $35.00
- Big League Chew x Betti Yeti – $75.00
The Bettinardi X Big League Chew collaboration items will be available to purchase in The Hive at Bettinardi.com from 10 CDT on Thursday April 2 2020.
Phase 1 vs. P7TW: An inside look at Tiger Woods’ TaylorMade irons
At this point, the story of the development of Tiger Woods’ TaylorMade irons has been told and told again. There have been numerous articles, YouTube videos, and even a TV documentary on how they were made—and even a Tour Championship and a Sunday Masters telecast to validate both models.
But I wanted to know the differences and similarities of the two TaylorMade iron models Woods has played since signing with the company in January of 2017: the Phase 1, and the final masterpiece the, P7TW.
Fortunately, in this job, you become friends with a good number of R&D people, so I went to my buddies and TaylorMade Lead Engineers Paul Demkowski and Matt Bovee to fill in some blanks.
This is what they had to say.
Matt Bovee Sr. Manager Product Creation
JW: The Phase 1 iron was based on what previous iron of TW? What inspired it?
MB: The PH1 iron was based off of the set he was playing just prior, the TGR set. Inspiration for the P7TW is really founded in all the years of TW’s career. From the numerous victories, countless hours grinding, and all his majors… the P7TW is really a culmination of what he specifically wants in an iron design after years and years of being the best ball striker in the game.
JW: What was the testing process like going from his TGR into the Phase 1?
MB: The PH1 set was a collaboration between TaylorMade and Mike Taylor with a new cosmetic design we created. We didn’t want to change any significant performance attributes because the immediate goal was to get TW into a TM iron. We partnered with Mike Taylor to help with the creation of PH1 as well as the learning process required for the development of P7TW. For us, it was a learning experience as TW went through his testing protocol for a new set. Making sure everything was dialed in and felt right.
JW: What are the similarities of the two irons, PH1 and P7TW?
MB: There are a lot of similarities between the PH1 and P7TW from a performance perspective. It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again, TW is very, very specific in what he wants. Launch, spin, carry, look, feel…he has every attribute for each iron defined in his head. Nothing more, nothing less. They use the same lofts, lie, scorelines, essentially the same CG, etc.
JW: What kept PH1 from being the “Tiger Iron”?
MB: The PH1 irons were built from an existing forging profile. By using an existing forging he was familiar with it allowed us to minimize variables as we learned and dissected what works best for him. Even after the PH1 iron performance matched what he was looking for, TW requested the MG sole technology for his irons so he could replace them more frequently with much less testing from set to set. We needed to take this into account with a new TM forging design.
*The milled grind sole was designed specifically for this benefit. It has allowed TM to duplicate the sole of irons and wedges which in turn eliminates a number of steps during testing and/or mid season replacement.
JW: The name Phase 1 suggests a new version was to come, was that always a bridge iron into the current?
MB: Yes, we knew designing a TaylorMade iron for him from the ground up would take some time and we needed a “bridge” of sorts while the new design was in development.
JW: When TW began testing irons in the beginning, (knowing the challenge which is well documented) what was the original process like? Who was involved?
- Participants: Tiger, Tomo Bystedt, Brian Bazzel, Keith Sbarbaro, Paul Demkowski, Mike Taylor, and Matt Bovee.
- The development process was a longer road than we anticipated. Much back and forth between TM and Mike Taylor to start. We needed to unpack years of learning as to what works best for the Big Cat and what he likes. From that point, it was a lot of back and forth testing of individual sticks. Starting with the 6i and not moving on from that until we got it perfect. It actually took 7 different CNCs prototypes before we nailed the 6i. From there we added in the 3i and the 9i to serves as bookends for design. After these three SKUs got TW’s blessing we filled out the rest of the set.
JW: How many PH1 sets were made?
MB: As far as we know just the 1 set. Mike Taylor would be the only person who would know differently
JW: What are the differences between P1 and P7TW?
MB: The largest differences are:
- Built from different forgings
- Addition of MG sole—when Tiger needs replacements due to wear, the Milled Grind soles are exactly the geometry that he needs and so any opportunity for slight variations has been removed. That’s why the P7TW is ultimately Tiger’s gamer irons.
- Milled channel along the back bar of the iron. Cosmetic was designed to fit with the PSeries.
- Cosmetic design is different, the back bar geometry is slightly different the milled channel was used in 730 to reposition mass, TWs is a much smaller version of that
JW: Does TW only have input (R&D) on his irons or all the TM irons (forgings of course)
MB: TW’s R&D input on irons has been limited to his P7TWs up to this point…which was extensive. All the way down to a modified font for the sole number making it easier from him to read and therefore more confident he had the right stick. He has provided some input in other categories however, wedges most specifically.
JW: In your opinion is the P7TW the best muscleback TM has ever developed?
MB: “Best” is such a relative term that lies in the eyes of the beholder… It is certainly the most prestigious with the most design iterations and R&D development.
JW: If you could project into the future, what improvements if any could be made to a TW iron?
MB: Because that iron is specific to him and what he wants, there really isn’t any way we could make it better unless his swing or style of play changes. The P7TW is dialed in for TW’s game as it exists today.
Paul Demkowski, Sr. Product Engineer was the person that worked the closest with Mike Taylor in the development of both models and this is what he had to say
JW: Are you still in close contact with Mike Taylor at Artisan? and if so is it more just to verify info or is it also for future R&D?
PD: Yes, I’m still in close contact with Mike T. He continues to build the irons for TW. He verifies all the specs as they are built and records the data.
JW: In regards to the CG placements between P1 and P7TW what is the difference?
PD: CG locations are very close. Couldn’t deviate too much as he would feel the difference and would see it in his ball flight.
JW: Random question but had to ask, did you ever attempt to make TW a specific driving iron?
PD: No, never made a specific TW driving iron. Only thing I did once make a slower P790 UDI for him. He said the standard one went too far. LOL.
It’s also noteworthy that TW’s specs don’t change much but as you can see current set up, the only real shift in his irons is lie angle which will go up one depending on his swing at the time.
Tiger Woods’ Current Iron Specs
All with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100. Irons tipped 1/4 inch, w/wooden dowels and SST Pure (Scott Garrison on Tour) at exactly 130 grams.
All lengths without grips. (Loft. Lie. Length. Swing Weight)
- 3-iron: 22.5, 59.5, 38 13/16, D4
- 4-iron: 25.5, 60, 38 5/16, D4
- 5-iron: 29, 60.5, 37 13/16, D4
- 6-iron: 32.5, 61, 37 5/16, D4
- 7-iron: 36, 61.5, 36 7/8, D4
- 8-iron: 40.5, 62, 36 5/16, D4
- 9-iron: 45, 62.5, 35 11/16, D4
- PW: 49, 63, 35 11/16, D4
Another cool aspect of Tiger’s irons (rarely spoken of) are his shafts. The shafts are True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 with no labels, and they are sorted to exact weights (130 grams) and sent to Scott Garrison (@ScottEGgolf) to SST Pure, then over to David “DR” Richey at Artisan Golf to be built. Lots of cooks in the kitchen, but it’s Tiger, so no doubt totally worth it for all involved!
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