The 5 biggest gear storylines from the Tournament of Champions
Welcome to Wall-to-Wall Equipment, the Monday morning gear wrap-up in which GOLF equipment editor Jonathan Wall takes you through the latest trends, rumors and breaking news.
Big things ahead
Callaway officially launched it Paradym drivers last week on Tour at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. And thanks to an incredible final round from Jon Rahm, they took home top honors in the driver race to open the year. Rahm, who enjoyed a career season off the tee with Rogue ST in the bag, wasted little time getting acclimated to the new Paradym driver and fairway woods.
Rahm, along with Xander Schauffele, saw an astounding four mph ball speed increase during testing that equated to an additional 10-plus yards off the tee. More distance is always going to be a welcome sight, but what really sold Rahm on Paradym Triple Diamond were the overall aesthetics and tighter downrange dispersion he saw during testing.
“It’s a process to get everything approved, but really liking it so far,” he said. “It’s the difference between using it at home and using it in competition, obviously, but I like it. I like the look of it, having a matte-black driver I’m a very big fan of mat colors, I always try to have a matte-black car and it’s something that I love. Plus being able to see the carbon fiber throughout it, as a Formula 1 fan it’s something that I really enjoy, it looks really slick. It looks good.
“What I like so far that I’ve experienced with it, with the numbers at least on Trackman is the consistency. My spin rate seems to be a little bit more consistent with the misses. Obviously the better the miss can be, obviously the better it’s going to be for me. So that’s what I’m looking forward to. So far I’ve enjoyed it.”
The improvements were on full display at Kapalua, where Rahm ranked second in driving distance (307.4 yards) and sixth in SG: Off-the-tee (plus-2.503) with Paradym in the bag. Never one to touch the specs on his 10.5-degree driver, Rahm stuck with Aldila’s Tour Green 75TX shaft but chose to shake things up with the Paradym Triple Diamond fairway woods (16 and 18 degrees), employing Aldila’s Tour Green ATX 85 (16) and Graphite Design Tour AD DI 8X (18) shafts.
Along with Rahm, Schauffele — who also saw a four mph ball speed increase during testing — Sam Burns, Adam Svensson and non-staffer J.J. Spaun all added Paradym drivers to the bag the first week they were made available to players.
An early win for new gear doesn’t always translate to season-long success, but with Rahm leading the way for Paradym, there’s a good chance the first win isn’t a fluke.
The first event of 2023 offered gearheads a peek at who’s switching club allegiances. Some of the changes, like Kevin Kisner and Trey Mullianx moving to Wilson, were expected. For Wilson, it was a matter of addition by subtraction, as they added Kisner and Mullinax to replace former major winner Gary Woodland.
Thanks to a win at the Barbasol Championship, Mullinax made his Wilson debut in Maui. Kisner plans to make things official this week on Oahu at the Sony Open.
“I am excited to be partnering with Wilson Golf,” Kisner said. “Wilson is a brand I’ve always respected; rooted in heritage but always looking for new ways to evolve. I’m quite particular about my equipment, and the clubs that I’ll be putting into play after extensive testing are second to none.”
As for Woodland, he signed a multi-year deal with Cobra that will see him play the company’s woods and irons — he’s already playing an Aerojet driver and 3-wood — this season.
“I have built a great connection with the Cobra Puma golf team,” said Woodland. “I couldn’t be happier to put their equipment into my bag. Their technology and innovation are outstanding and I’m particularly excited to put the new 2023 unreleased driver in play. It’s as long and fast as anything I’ve hit and looks great at address.”
And then there’s the deal few saw coming: Patrick Cantlay quietly announced he’d parted ways with apparel sponsor Hugo Boss during his pre-tournament press conference. What didn’t become clear until later was that the apparel deal was just the beginning of a major shakeup for Cantlay’s sponsors.
After a decade with Titleist, Cantlay downgraded his full-bag deal to a ball, shoe and glove agreement in an attempt to add some equipment freedom
“I’m looking for a couple different partners,” Cantlay told GOLF’s Drop Zone podcast. “It’s the beginning of the year, so hopefully I’ll figure that out relatively soon and put that behind me and play some golf.”
Even with the ability to mix and match brands, Cantlay refrained from making wholesale changes right out of the gate. He opened up the tournament with Titleist’s TSR3 driver but quickly went back to his trusty TS3 during the latter stages of the week. Cantlay admitted he doesn’t love to test, but he’s looking to see what’s out there that could benefit his game.
“For me, I want to play the best equipment out there,” he said. “If I think it’s going to be able to help my golf, I’d like to be able to play it. That maybe involves a little more testing than I’d like. But I’m not going to change my game to fit the equipment. With the current situation, I’m in right now, it gives me that freedom. It’s an interesting process to see if I can find any better clubs or equipment.”
If you’re going to seek out equipment advice, going straight to GOAT (Greatest of All Time) is always a good idea. Hoping to add a slight fade bias to his irons, Matthew Fitzpatrick was told he might want to counterweight the grips to accomplish the goal. The idea sounded good on paper, but he wanted someone to vet the process.
Enter Jack Nicklaus, who spent much of his career playing irons with additional weight situated in the butt end of the grips to achieve a specific feel.
“I actually spoke to Mr. Nicklaus about it because someone told me he did it,” Fitzpatrick said. “I asked him and, yeah, we sort of had a quick chat about it on why he did it and stuff.”
Few players, outside of Sergio Garcia, still add extra weight to the butt end of the grips. But as Fitzpatrick noted, the extra weight helped keep Nicklaus’ hands from getting overactive at impact. So far, it’s helping the Englishman add a stock fade to his ever-growing iron arsenal.
“[Nicklaus] just said that he did it because it just stopped his hands over rotating it,” Fitzpatrick said. “It obviously kept them, in my terms I guess it would be felt more held off. So I think that’s obviously what suited him.”
The setup seems to suit the reigning U.S. Open champion as well.
Throwing it back
Jordan Spieth wasn’t the only player in the Tournament of Champions field with a Scotty Cameron putter from his teenage years. Justin Thomas used several different putters last season but kept it mostly to the mallet variety — until the Tournament of Champions. Work with putting guru John Graham revealed some issues with Thomas’ mechanics, which eventually led him to wonder if the Scotty Cameron Phantom T5 Prototype mallet he’d been using was the best putter going forward.
For the moment, the answer is no. Along with his usual gamer, Thomas told GOLF.com’s Dylan Dethier he also totes around an old Cameron Newport 2 that dates back to middle school. The putter might see the practice green, but it rarely gets considered for action.
“I travel with this putter a bunch,” he said. “I’ve brought it to tournaments with no intention of really using it, but it’s good for practice.”
Following the changes to his mechanics, Thomas, who used a blade putter to win the 2015 CIMB Classic, started rolling putts with the old Newport 2 — and something clicked.
“I like putting with it,” he said. “So why fight it?”
Thomas ranked 16th in the field in SG: Putting with the wand, which was middle-of-the-road during the limited-field event.
Equipment sweeps are starting to become the norm for Titleist. For the 29th time since the start of 2019, the equipment manufacturer topped every major club (and ball) category at Kapalua — a feat that’s only ever been accomplished by Titleist on the PGA Tour.
To put the numbers into perspective, of the 39 players in the field, a total of 28 played a Pro V1 or Pro V1x ball, and 17 of the top 20 finishers used a Titleist. (Will Zalatoris, Viktor Hovland and Sungjae Im each put the latest model in play for the first time.)
On the club side, TSR was the most-played driver model in the field with 12. Zooming out, 11 of the top 15 finishers played a Titleist driver during the tournament.
Considering the competition Titleist faces each week on Tour, sweeping the gear board is still mighty impressive.
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