Golf fans learned two things about Rory McIlroy’s future today: he will no longer endorse Titleist or FootJoy products as of Dec. 31, 2012, and another OEM is going to pay him an outrageous amount of money to play its equipment.
It has been widely speculated that McIlroy has already entered into a deal with Nike Golf to the tune of 10 years, $250 million. Nike is neither confirming nor denying the rumor, meaning McIlroy’s deal with Nike is either the worst-kept secret in golf history or one of the biggest rumor-mill hoaxes of all time. But here’s what golf fans do know — McIlroy will be forced to shelve at least a few pieces of Titleist equipment he used to win the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by a record margin of eight shots.
Whatever company signs Rory McIlroy will do its best to accommodate his equipment preferences, but equipment changes, especially for a player of McIlroy’s caliber, can be as much about sound, feel and confidence as they are performance. That’s why six-time major champion Nick Faldo said on Tuesday’s “Morning Drive” on the Golf Channel that McIlroy’s decision to change equipment was “dangerous.”
“I’ve changed clubs and changed equipment, and every manufacturer will say, ‘We can copy your clubs; we can tweak the golf ball so it fits you,’” Faldo said. “But there’s feel and sound as well, and there’s confidence. You can’t put a real value on that. It’s priceless.”
Based on the equipment McIlroy is playing now (Click here to see what was in his bag at the 2012 PGA Championship), we’ve made a list of the five biggest hurdles McIlroy will face as he migrates from Titleist equipment.
No. 5 – A new driver head/shaft combination
Like snowflakes, no two golf shafts are exactly the same. Even shafts of the same model from the same manufacturer with the same listed specifications can have minuscule differences than top ball strikers like McIlroy can notice.
McIlroy switched to a new shaft, a Mitsubishi Diamana Prototype 70X, to go along with Titleist’s latest 913 D3 driver that he used to win the 2012 PGA Championship. But the move from his old driver with his old shaft were subtle tweaks to the look, feel and ball flight he was used to with his Titleist driver setup.
Going to a different driver will mean McIlroy will be playing something that looks and feels different. It will also likely perform different, which could mean a different shaft. If that new shaft doesn’t feel the same while McIlroy is unloading it at 120 mph, it will be problematic.
No. 4 – Working the ball with new fairway woods
McIlroy’s last tournament victory came at the BMW Championship, where he used Titleist’s new 913Fd fairway woods (a 13.5-degree and 18-degree model) to fend off some of golf’s best players: Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Robert Garrigus, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh and Ryan Moore, who all finished in the top 10 at Crooked Stick that week.
While McIlroy migrated to the 913Fd fairway woods quickly after their launch on tour, he didn’t have much success with Titleist’s previous model, the 910Fd fairway woods. He opted to stay with an older model, Titleist’s 906F2, saying he felt more confident and comfortable hitting a fade or draw on command with the older ones.
Because of McIlroy’s prodigious length, he frequently opts to hit 3 wood or 5 wood off the tee for more control or better position. This makes them vital clubs for him, especially in major championships where hitting fairways is at a premium. Changing fairway woods means changing that confidence level, at least for a little while. And at McIlroy’s level, a lack of confidence over even a single tee shot can be the difference between winning and losing.
No. 3 – Changing wedges
After the driver, the first clubs that Tiger Woods put in his bag during his gradual transition from Titleist to Nike were a set of Nike forged muscleback irons. Rickie Fowler made a similar transition in 2012, changing over from a set of Titleist musclebacks to Cobras, which he used to win his first PGA Tour event.
Woods and Fowler had success switching models of muscleback irons because they are easiest clubs for OEMs to replicate for tour players. It would seem to make sense that OEMs could do the same thing with wedges for its new staff players, but that’s not the case.
Unlike irons, wedges are used in a variety of different playing positions and players use different parts of the sole to play different shots. This places a premium on the shaping, size and width of the sole of a tour player’s wedge. For this reason, Tiger held out for years before trading in his Vokey wedges and Fowler is still using his Vokeys while under contract with Cobra-Puma.
McIlroy has been playing Vokey wedges his entire professional career. While new wedges from a different manufacturer might look the same and even feel the same, perfecting things such bounce angle, sole width, camber and leading edge shape can take a long time.
No. 2 – Using an insert putter
Putters are one of the most often changed pieces of equipment on tour. McIlroy has been no exception – he was a long-time user of a Scotty Cameron Newport Fastback Select prototype before changing to a Scotty Cameron Studio Select Newport GSS prototype that he used to win the 2011 U.S. Open.
If McIlroy goes to Nike, he will be expected to play a Method putter, which employs grooves in the face that Nike engineers say get the ball rolling faster after contact. More roll is good, but it can be another thing that takes getting used to.
Woods, who has been using a Nike Method putter consistently since his return to competitive golf at the 2010 Masters, has never found the success on the greens with a grooved putter that he enjoyed while using a Scotty Cameron. Woods said his Method putter took some adjustment because it had a different feel off the face and “rolled farther.”
Any company that signs McIlroy would be doing him a huge favor by giving him a grace period on putter use, as the putter will likely be the most difficult club in the bag for him to switch out.
No. 1 – Switching from the Titleist Pro V1X
The golf ball is the only piece of equipment (other than shoes or gloves) that a player uses on every shot on the course. That makes the golf ball the most important part of an equipment switch for tour players, since it has to work with every one of their clubs.
Titleist leads on tour in golf ball usage. While its competitors have become very good at making golf balls, McIlroy can be assured that his next ball will not perform exactly like his old one. There are construction and material differences, all related to patents, which make it impossible.
McIlroy’s next ball will likely spin a little more or a little less, and perform differently in the wind than his Pro V1X. Even if the ball performs better, better is not always foolproof, because better means different.
Some players are better suited to changing equipment than others. It is possible that McIlroy has already tested all of his future company’s new gear, and has worked with the company to create a set of equipment and a golf ball that is to his liking. If this is the case, the opportunity to make more money and the potential for more exposure are no-brainers for McIlroy. But the level of play that golf fans saw from McIlroy at the 2012 PGA Championship made it clear that it will be hard for Rory to find equipment that will make him a noticeably better golfer. He will, however, become noticeable richer and noticeable more famous.
It will be interesting to see how much of a grace period McIlroy is given when it comes to changing over to his new equipment. Will he be treated like Tiger Woods was before the scandal, whose contract stated that he could play any other manufacturer’s equipment if he thought it was better, or will big money from a company like Nike mean an immediate 14-club deal including a change to one of their golf balls?
Golf fans should remember that golfers of Rory’s caliber would have success with just about any set of equipment that was given to them. But at the highest level, it’s the small things that make a difference, and that’s exactly what McIlroy’s new equipment deal will do — change some small things.
5 examples of how Lexi Thompson has been treated harsher than any of her peers
Following Lexi Thompson’s Solheim Cup post-round presser on Friday evening, the 28-year-old has been the topic of much discussion.
Golf pundits and fans alike have been weighing in with their takes after this exchange with a reporter surrounding an untimely shank on Friday afternoon went viral:
Confounding answer from Lexi and subsequent reaction from the US side. It was one of the pivotal moments of the entire day and somehow that's off limits? pic.twitter.com/9std3LFlmN
— Tron Carter (@TronCarterNLU) September 23, 2023
After the incident, LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said that Lexi has “been picked on and drug through negative comments. She is tired of it”
So has the criticism of Lexi Thompson been justified, or is this yet another example of her being unfairly treated?
Well, here are five times, in my opinion, that Lexi has been scrutinized far differently over the years than her peers.
2022 KPMG PGA Championship
At the 2022 KPMG PGA Championship, Lexi Thompson held a two-stroke lead with three holes to play. She couldn’t close the deal and lost the tournament.
Afterwards, she was fined $2k (as were the rest of the group) for slow play.
Lexi declined to speak to the media and got hammered on social media for doing so…
Lexi Thompson has declined to speak with the media here at Congressional.
Not a great look?
— Zephyr Melton (@zephyrmelton) June 26, 2022
Almost every golfer at some point has skipped a media session following disappointment on the course, and nobody has really batted an eyelid.
Tiger skipped back-to-back post-round media briefings at the 2019 WGC Mexico after being frustrated with his putting. Remember the backlash over that? Nah, me neither.
Every (or nearly every) big-name golfer under the sun has played golf with Donald Trump. Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy etc. Nobody really cared.
For whatever reason, when Lexi Thompson did, it was a story, and she took herself off social media soon after the photo was posted.
View this post on Instagram
2021 U.S. Women’s Open
In the final round of the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, Lexi Thompson had a 6-foot eagle on her opening hole. She missed and made birdie to lead by five.
She then lost the tournament.
Following the round, Brandel Chamblee said on ‘Live From’:
“She’s got 6 feet away. Now professional golfers don’t miss the center of the face by a pinhead. Look where she hits this putt on the very 1st hole. Look where this putt comes off the face. She would have missed the center of the putter there by a half an inch. I have never — I have never — seen a professional golfer miss the center of the putter by a wider margin than that. That was at the 1st hole. “
Honest? Absolutely. Correct? Brandel usually is. Has any other LPGA golfer been handed the full-on Chamblee treatment? Not to my knowledge.
2023 Solheim Cup
Lexi Thompson spoke the words, “I don’t need to comment on that” when a reporter asked her about a failed shot, and the golf community collectively lost their minds.
Lost on many people is the fact that she literally answered the question instantly after.
Jessica Korda described the reporting of the awkward exchange with the media member as yet another example of the golf media shredding Lexi, but in reality, it was really just golf media covering the furore created by golf fans reacting to the viral clip.
So sad seeing golf media , yet again, shred Lexi. It’s easy writing about other people’s mistakes. It’s
Golf, bad shots happen- give the girl a break. She grows the game more than anyone on tour… And she’s a great player!!
— Jessica Korda (@Thejessicakorda) September 23, 2023
Lexi then won her next two matches, collecting 3 points from 4 for the U.S. team. But nobody seems to care about that.
‘yOu ShoUlD PrAcTIce puTTinG’
There’s very few golfers that have been plagued with such inane posts on their Instagram page as Lexi Thompson has.
I’ve tracked golfer’s social media accounts over the past few years (job requirement, sort of?). I can categorically say that Lexi gets some of the angriest and most aggressive responses to her posts of any golfer. Male or female. (She also gets some very nice ones too).
Despite countless posts of Thompson relentlessly practising her putting, the number of comments from dummies accusing her of neglecting that area of her game is both bizarre and alarming. Notice how the comments have been disabled on the post below? Probably not a coincidence.
View this post on Instagram
Go on any other golfer’s social account, and it will be hard to find the same dynamic.
Throw in the scandalous rules decision at the 2017 ANA Inspiration that cost her a second major title and spawned the “Lexi rule,” and it’s hard not to think Lexi has had a bit of a raw deal at times.
The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.
- Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
- Don’t just “do”…observe. There are two elements of learning something new. The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
- Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
- Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
- Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.
My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.
So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
Vincenzi: Fortinet Championship First Round Leader picks
The PGA Tour begins its fall season with a trip to Wine Country as the world of golf patiently awaits the 2023 Ryder Cup which is just a few weeks away. Silverado is a course where plenty of players with varying skill sets can compete, but strong West Coast history tends to be a major factor.
In the past four editions of the Fortinet Championship, there have been six first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the six, three have started their rounds in the morning wave, and three started in the afternoon. The leading scores have all been between 63 and 65.
As of now, the winds look to be very docile, with speeds of 4-7 MPH throughout the day. I don’t see either the AM or PM wave as having a major advantage.
2023 Fortinet Championship First-Round Leader Picks
Zac Blair +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.22 p.m PT
A big theme for me this week is targeting players who have had success at both Silverado and the West Coast in general. Blair finished 22nd here last year, and also finished 4th back in 2019. That year, he shot 66 in rounds two and three, showing his ability to go low on this track.
In 2022, Blair gained 3.8 strokes putting and in 2019, he gained 8.6. The 33-year-old seemingly has these greens figured out.
C.T. Pan +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 8.23 a.m PT
At the end of the 2023 season, C.T. Pan showed flashes of what made him a good player prior to his injury struggles early in the year. He finished 4th at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and 3rd at the RBC Canadian Open in June. He also finished 6th at Silverado back in 2021, gaining 4.5 strokes on approach and 6.6 strokes putting.
A few weeks off may have given Pan a chance to reset and focus on the upcoming fall swing, where I believe he’ll play some good golf.
Joel Dahmen +110000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 7:28 a.m PT
After becoming a well-known name in golf due to his affable presence in Netflix’ “Full Swing” documentary, Dahmen had what can only be considered a disappointment of a 2023 season. I believe he’s a better player than he showed last year and is a good candidate for a bounce back fall and 2024.
Dahmen finished in a tie for 10th at the Barracuda Championship in late July, and the course is similar in agronomy and location to what he’ll see this week in Napa. He has some strong history on the West Coast including top-ten finishes at Riviera (5th, 2020), Pebble Beach (6th, 2022), Sherwood (8th, 2020), TPC Summerlin (9th, 2019) and Torrey Pines (9th, 2019).
James Hahn +125000 (Caesars)
First-Round Tee Time: 1:55 p.m PT
James Hahn absolutely loves golf on the West Coast. He’s won at Riviera and has also shown some course form with a 9th place finish at Silverado back in 2020. That week, Hahn gained 4.7 strokes putting, demonstrating his comfort level on these POA putting surfaces.
He finished T6 at the Barracuda back in July, and there’s no doubt that a return to California will be welcome for the 41-year-old.
Peter Malnati +125000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 12.27 p.m PT
Peter Malnati excels at putting on the West Coast. He ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on POA and has shown in the past he’s capable of going extremely low on any given round due to his ability to catch a hot putter.
His course history isn’t spectacular, but he’s played well enough at Silverado. In his past seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-35 four times.
Harry Higgs +150000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.55 p.m PT
In what is seemingly becoming a theme in this week’s First-Round Leader column, Harry Higgs is a player that really fell out of form in 2023, but a reset and a trip to a course he’s had success at in the past may spark a resurgence.
Higgs finished 2nd at Silverado in 2020 and wasn’t in particularly great form then either. Success hasn’t come in abundance for the 31-year-old, but three of his top-10 finishes on Tour have come in this area of the country.
Higgs shot an impressive 62 here in round two in 2020, which would certainly be enough to capture the first-round lead this year.
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