“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.
Toulon Santa Monica: The inside scoop
As many have already seen this week in the forums, we spotted a brand new model from Toulon: the Santa Monica.
There were a lot of finer details going on with this putter that got peoples ears up including
- The one-piece design – no variable weight sole plate
- A classic head shape with Toulon refinements
- The finish & overall aesthetics
Thanks to a ton of positive feedback, we had to find out more. So, we went right to the top and called up Sean Toulon to find out about this new model and what else might be coming in the near future.
Here’s what we know:
The Santa Monica, that was captured is part of a larger project that will be going all out when it comes to customization and “showing the world what we can do when it comes to design and manufacturing,” according to Toulon. This line of putters will not be available on the grand scale and instead will focus on individual pieces and prioritize the customer experience.
This new line from Toulon will also include new putters not yet seen, although we have one name so far: La Grange (shout out to Texas!), and it will also include different materials not currently found in the Toulon/Odyssey line. The focus will be 100 percent on boutique, different and just for you, said Toulon. The new line will center around exercising total creativity, and also have the potential for one-off and limited-number pieces.
We don’t have a timeline for when these will become available to the public, but when we do, we will be sure to let you know.
Forum Thread of the Day: “Viktor Hovland signing with Ping”
Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from Dave D and it surrounds Viktor Hovland’s future as a Ping staffer. There has been plenty of chatter on our forums after Dave D shared this post from @golfnation_’s Instagram account.
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.
- cvhookem3: “Seems like he was hinting at that with his equipment changes at the US Open. Good for him. He should be a lot of fun to watch.”
- bladehunter: “Figured. He had near a full ping bag anyway. Love this kid. I really predict great things. Loads of raw tools.”
- ImagineThat: “I think we’ll be seeing a lot of Viktor Hovland in the future…enough where his name will no longer appear strange. He seems to really be an upbeat guy with a nice personality, and he has a nice friendly smile to go with it.”
Golf Digest’s E. Michael Johnson reported Hovland is now a Ping man, writing he “signed a multi-year deal with Ping to play a minimum of 11 clubs, including driver and putter, along with a Ping staff bag and logo on the hat.”
— PING GOLF (@PingTour) June 19, 2019
TaylorMade signs Matthew Wolff to a multi-year deal; Wolff WITB
TaylorMade Golf has officially announced the signing of Matthew Wolff on a multi-year agreement that will see the 20-year-old play the company’s metal woods, irons, wedges, putter and ultimately, TaylorMade’s flagship golf ball, the TP5x.
Wolff had previously unveiled that he would be making his professional debut at this week’s Travelers Championship, and just as top prospect Collin Morikawa did earlier at this month’s Canadian Open, Wolff will do so as a TaylorMade staffer.
The NCAA All-American and 2019 NCAA Division I individual champion made his debut on the PGA Tour at the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year where he finished T50 after opening his week with a round of five-under par.
Matthew Wolff WITB
Driver: TaylorMade M6 (8 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design TP 7TX
Fairway Wood: TaylorMade M6 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Smoke 6.5 TX
Utility Iron: TaylorMade P760 (2)
Shaft: Nippon Modus 130x
Irons: TaylorMade P750 Tour Proto (3-PW)
Shafts: Nippon Modus 130x
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind Raw (52, 56, 62 degrees)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold X100
Putter: TaylorMade Spider X Copper
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