Breaking down the equipment switches on Tour

By Jason SobelJanuary 4, 2013, 1:22 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Their eyes meet through the crowd. There’s a wink. A nod. A knowing acknowledgment of mutual interest. They slowly start moving toward each other. Dalliance becomes flirtation; flirtation becomes attraction. Soon they are standing face to face and the first words are spoken.

“So … would you be interested in playing with our equipment?”

If player recruitment by golf manufacturing companies sounds like a scene from Casablanca, that’s because the process of wooing an object of one’s desire doesn’t necessarily imply romantic undertones.

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Tuesday was considered National Signing Day in professional golf, with many big-name players spurning old flames in favor of new partners for the impending season. While more announcements are expected to be made over the next few weeks, some competitors at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions have already forged relationships leaving them with new logos on their hats and new clubs in their bags.

And yes, the underlying subplot of the process sounds sneakily familiar.

“They check and see if you’re interested, first of all,” said Nick Watney, who made the switch from Titleist to Nike. “It’s just sort of like you feel each other out. What they’re all about, what you’re looking for in a club company. Then decide if it lines up and you want to do it going forward.”

“I wasn’t even really thinking that it was the end of a contract year and I was going to have some options coming out,” explained Kyle Stanley, who similarly made the move to Nike. “You hear they’re interested, so you test out the stuff and see if it’s something you get better with. That’s really about it.”

Double entendres aside, there is a laundry list of things players look for before switching companies, which includes meeting both monetary and technical needs. Ask any pro though, and he’ll contend that comfort level prevails over everything else.

“I’m not going to whore myself out to a bunch of different companies for the most money – that’s not what I’m looking for,” said J.J. Henry, who recently signed with TaylorMade after his relationship with Callaway expired in the middle of last season. “I did some legwork. Last year was like a trial period to me. I’ve been out here long enough, so I know it comes down to the fact that you want to play the equipment you play the best with.”

“My experience this year was just a little bit different because they now own the company I was with before,” Ryan Moore said of going to a TaylorMade hat and woods deal after leaving Adams. “Part way through last season, I started playing some of their clubs and really liked them. Played them really well at the end of the year. It was kind of a no-brainer for me. Keep doing exactly what I was doing? Sure, just tell me where I can sign up.”

Much like other hazy flirtations from across a crowded room, every player is aware of the horror stories out there. Tales of woe from players who sought the almighty dollar or changed for the sake of changing – only to find less success on the other side.

“I’ve definitely heard stories about so-and-so switched and he’s never been the same. Guys who chased the money,” Watney said. “I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t in the back of my mind, but after testing the equipment and playing with it at home, I haven’t had one shot that was a mystery or big surprise. I feel pretty comfortable with the stuff.”

While different players may sign with different companies for different reasons, the end goal remains the same across the board. If the move equates to better performance, then it’s the right one.

“Let’s say you sign a pretty big deal, but you don’t like the equipment that much,” Stanley hypothesized. “If somebody offered you half of that with equipment you do like, well, you’re going to more than make up for that on golf course. Bottom line, I wouldn’t have switched if I didn’t feel like I could get better.”

From dalliance to flirtation to attraction, the annual quest of players matching up with manufacturers is a delicate dance, with each side hoping that its final decision is less unfortunate fling and more match made in heaven.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.