Like most years, 2018 was hardly a slow one when it came to equipment news. Several stories of note relating to bats, balls and, of course, the hot-button topic of distance, grabbed our attention during the past 12 months. As such we give you our top equipment stories of 2018.
The distance debate remained a topic of much discussion in 2018. Distance on the PGA Tour was up a significant 4 yards from the previous year, enough to cause the USGA to launch in May the Distance Insights Project—a joint initiative with the R&A to examine distance through a multi-pronged approach that included engaging the game’s various stakeholders, third-party review of distance data and primary research. After taking part in an online survey and often a follow-up phone survey, some participants raised concerns that the governing bodies had already made up its minds, something officials at the USGA and R&A insist is not the case. Regardless,, when the results are published, the debate is certain to rage on again, especially because any decision to act—or not act—is likely to affect all golfers given USGA CEO Mike Davis’ view, stated at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, that “one set of rules is very important to the game long term.”
Tiger’s Putter Switch(es)
When Tiger Woods does pretty much anything, it’s a story. But when the GOAT changes equipment, it’s a seismic event among those who care about equipment changes. Although Woods change to TaylorMade’s TW Phase 1 irons this year was noteworthy, it was his move to the company’s TP Ardmore 3 mallet putter during the summer that sent people into a tizzy. The combination of Woods benching his Scotty Cameron by Titleist blade that he used to win 13 majors, combined with the sight of Tiger using a mallet with “fangs” at the Quicken Loans National, was almost too much for some. Woods didn’t stop there, changing to TaylorMade’s TP Black Cooper Juno blade for a one-event trial at the Dell Technologies Championship before going back to the Cameron, which he used during his victory at the Tour Championship. A return to a familiar spot in the winner’s circle with a familiar putter made all seem right in Tiger-land.
Free Agents Winning Majors
Winning a major championship often brings a substantial bonus from the player’s equipment sponsor. That wasn’t the case in 2018 because, implausibly, none of three men who won the four majors had an equipment contract. Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari—all former Nike staffers—took home the hardware but not an extra check. Their wins highlight golf’s changing endorsement landscape, one in which there are fewer companies and dollars available to players, but also one in which golfers are realizing that the purses on the PGA Tour (along with other endorsement opportunities outside equipment) are large enough that playing equipment they feel most comfortable can result in earnings that more than offsets the profits from a specific deal. The times, they are a changin’.
Lost Clubs at the Wrong Time
Making it through any tour’s qualifying school is difficult enough. But try doing it when you need to make up some serious ground going into the final round and you realize your golf clubs have been stolen. That’s what happened to Cody Blick at the Web.com Tour’s Q School. Despite taking to Instagram and offering $5,000 no questions asked for the clubs’ return, no one came up with the sticks, forcing the 25-year-old from California native to use a cobbled together set of clubs his Titleist reps put together, including meeting in a gas station to hand off some wedges and borrowing the driver from the superintendent at Whirlwind G.C. where the event was being held. So you give up, right? Not quite. Blick shot 63, good enough to guarantee him eight starts on the Web.com Tour next year, presumably with his own clubs.
Bryson DeChambeau and the One-Length Phenomena
Bryson Dechambeau firmly established himself as a legitimate player on the PGA Tour with four wins in the 2018 calendar year, including a pair of victories in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. But did DeChambeau’s success validate the use of One-Length irons? Certainly, they work just fine for DeChambeau. However, according to equipment-tracking firm Golf Datatech, Cobra Golf’s sales have not seen an uptick in the last year. So while DeChambeau might be killing it—jumping from 99th in January to fifth on the World Ranking—getting everyday golfers to accept something significantly out of the norm in the area of golf equipment remains a tough sell.
Justin Rose to Honma
Perhaps the worst-kept secret the last few months is that Justin Rose is leaving TaylorMade after 20 years to sign with Japanese equipment company Honma at the start of 2019. Rose basically confirmed as much when asked about it after his win at the Turkish Airlines Open, saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The move is curious, given Rose’s ascent to World No. 1 earlier this year (he’s currently No. 2). However Honma’s ramped-up efforts in the U.S. are being led by TaylorMade’s former CEO, Mark King, who was at the company for much of Rose’s run. Even so, switching companies, while not as dangerous as it was two decades ago (since companies can now more easily duplicate specs), often takes some time to adjust (see: Rory McIlroy with Nike and TaylorMade). How long it will take Rose remains to be seen—and will be closely watched.
Molinari’s Bettinardi putter
Francesco Molinari quietly signed a nondescript endorsement deal with Bettinardi Golf earlier this year, which turned out to be a boon for both sides. That’s because the 36-year-old produced an improbable season that included winning the BMW Championship, Quicken Loans National and his first major, the Open Championship at Carnoustie. He capped off his run with an undefeated record in the Ryder Cup. A constant in all those was a custom Bettinardi DASS BBZero putter with a skull and crossbones stamp in the rear cavity in an Italian flag-themed paintfill. Molinari first put the putter in play at the Players Championship. The putter is 32.25 inches in length with a loft of 2.5 degrees and a like angle of 70. The grip is Lamkin’s Deep Etch. After feedback from his putting coach, Phil Kenyon, he switched to a heavier swingweight than what he had been using as well as a single sight dot alignment aid. To get to the proper swingweight, Bettinardi had to mill the head to precisely 372 grams. Such exactness paid off in a big way for the Italian star.
Pernilla Lindberg’s ultimate split iron set
Although split sets of irons are nothing unusual on the professional tours, one in which a player has the even clubs in one model and the odd clubs in another is virtually unheard of. That is exactly the set makeup Pernilla Lindberg employed at the LPGA’s ShopRite Classic this summer. Lindberg, who won the ANA Inspiration earlier in 2018, used a set comprised of Ping’s i200 irons for her 4-, 6-, 8-irons and pitching wedge while using the company’s new i210 irons (a yet-to-be-released model at the time) in her 5-, 7- and 9-irons. The reason for the split set, according to Ping, was the delivery of her full set of i210’s was delayed. That said, things worked out pretty well for Lindberg. On her fourth hole of the day she holed out an i201 7-iron shot for an eagle—the first shot she ever hit in competition with that club.
Brandel Chamblee’s bag at the Senior British Open
When it comes to creating interest among golf fans, few have done it off the course as much as the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee. And when Chamblee qualified for the Senior British Open at St. Andrews that interest translated onto the course as well, including what he was playing. Chamblee’s bag was an eclectic mix and reflected a golfer that hasn’t teed it up in competition in a while. Chamblee used some venerable equipment, including a Cleveland Hi-Bore XL Tour driver, a Callaway Diablo Octane Tour 3-wood, and TaylorMade’s ATV wedges—all more than five years old.
Tommy Fleetwood’s Old Nike irons
Nike exited the equipment business in August 2016, but Tommy Fleetwood stubbornly refused to change irons. In 2018, that worked just fine for the 27-year-old Englishman, followed up a career year with some impressive feats, including a 63 at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock. Eight of the 14 sticks in Fleetwood’s bag are from Nike, including a full set of Nike VR Forged blade irons (save for a Callaway pitching wedge). “These clubs are still working,” Fleetwood told Golf Digest. “I have no desire to change while they’re still working. I’m used to them and have used some version of these clubs for years and years. Eventually I will put something else in. … The grooves are gone, well gone. But I’m still hitting greens with them.” Unfortunately for Fleetwood, a change might come soon out of necessity. “I’m down to one backup set,” he said.