The risks/rewards of changing equipment

By Ryan LavnerNovember 2, 2012, 5:25 pm

His purported contract with Nike may be unprecedented, but Rory McIlroy is far from the first player to chase endorsement dollars and change equipment – and he certainly won’t be the last. (The Associated Press reported earlier this week, for instance, that five-time Tour winner Nick Watney is also bolting Titleist for Nike. What, no uproar?)

But with the anticipated news Tuesday that McIlroy and Acushnet Co. will not extend their relationship beyond 2012, a familiar question arose: Is the Northern Irishman – already the No. 1 player in the world and a two-time major winner at age 23 – taking an unnecessary risk in his career?

Nick Faldo apparently thinks so. On Tuesday, he described Rory’s decision as “dangerous,” and opined that he should “stick with the clubs that you know best, that you believe the best.”

It is to be expected that McIlroy will endure some kind of growing pains with his new sticks, but will that period be perceived as a slump? Will his confidence waver? Will he enjoy as much success in 2013 as he did this past season?

Thanks to Golf Channel’s research department, we now have a bit of perspective. Other factors must be accounted for, of course – age, injuries, an unraveling of a player’s personal life, etc. – but here are some notable players who changed equipment and how they fared the year after the switch:

• Lee Janzen endured a bevy of equipment changes in the mid-1990s. He used Founders Club when he won the ’93 U.S. Open, but switched to Ben Hogan irons in ’94, with mixed results: one win, two top 10s and seven missed cuts in 26 events. A year later, he switched again, to Nicklaus irons, and recorded one of his best seasons: three wins and 14 top 25s in 28 events, earning $1.37 million. And then, after hiring a new agent in ’96, his move to TaylorMade clubs produced average results: seven top 10s in 27 events, but only $540K in earnings.

• The late Payne Stewart won the 1989 PGA Championship and ’91 U.S. Open by using Wilson forged irons. In ’94, however, he switched to Top Flite’s cavity-back irons, with little success: two top 10s in 23 starts, with only $145K in earnings.

• A Wilson staffer when he won his three U.S. Open titles, Hale Irwin began using Cobra clubs in ’94. It didn’t halt his winning ways, as he posted a win and six other top 10s in 22 starts ($814K in earnings).

• Corey Pavin used Cleveland clubs when he won the ’95 U.S. Open, but his switch to PRGR clubs two years later proved costly: In ’97, he posted only one top 10 and missed the cut in half his 22 starts, en route to amassing only $99K in earnings that season.

• Nick Price used Spalding clubs entering the 1992 season, and he was no less productive once he switched to Ram that year: two wins, 13 top 10s and 19 top 25s in 26 starts, earning a whopping $1.13 million. His switch to Atrigon clubs, in ’95, was less fruitful, however: five top 10s in 18 events ($611K).

• A MacGregor staffer when he won back-to-back U.S. Opens, in 1988 and ’89, Curtis Strange swapped out those sticks for Maruman clubs after that Open victory. In his first full season with his new set, he had six top 10s in 20 starts, but his season earnings of $277K was nearly $500,000 less than the year prior.

• The 1990 season was one of Wayne Levi’s most successful on Tour, with four victories. His switch to Yonex in ’91, however, didn’t go according to plan: only three top 10s, with 11 missed cuts in 25 starts.

• Graeme McDowell is one of the most recent examples of a player cashing on a successful season. Alas, he failed to back up his breakthrough 2010 campaign – during which he won the U.S. Open and clinched the winning point for the European Ryder Cup team with Callaway – when a year later, he had only three top 10s and six missed cuts in 16 Tour starts with Cleveland clubs. His on-course earnings also took a hit, from $1.58 million in 2010 to $1.08M in ’11.

• David Duval is one of the most extreme examples, though his precipitous decline was caused more by injury than equipment. A Titleist staffer when he won 12 times on Tour, he became embroiled in an ugly legal dispute with the company and switched to Nike clubs in 2001. True, he won the British Open that season, but two years later, he had made just four cuts – no top 25s – in 20 events, earning $85K.

• A player of Phil Mickelson’s immense talent could seemingly enjoy success with any set of clubs, and his career has supported that: Yonex clubs from 1992-2000 (16 Tour wins), Titleist from 2001-04 (six wins, including first major) and Callaway from 2004-present (17 wins, including three majors).

Tiger Woods has been successful across the board, too, though the equipment changes throughout his pro career have been gradual: Titleist driver, irons, putter and ball until 2000, then a switch to Nike ball in 2000; to the Nike driver and irons in ’02; and to the Nike putter in ’10.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.