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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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.