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FIRST LOOK: 2019 Srixon Z-STAR golf balls

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Available in both white and yellow, the sixth-generation Z-STAR golf balls feature a brand new FastLayer core aimed at producing more speed and distance while maintaining the customary Tour feel. Soft in the middle and becoming increasingly firm toward the outside, the new core also improves launch conditions for better, more demanding players.

Another key feature of the new Z-STAR and Z-STAR XV balls ($40/dozen) include an updated version of Spin Skin technology that incorporates a urethane Slide-Ring compound outer coating to create more spin on wedge and short iron shots for added control in the scoring zone. A 338-speed dimple pattern for enhanced aerodynamics and in-flight stability is also applied to both models.

The packaging for the Srixon Z-STAR XV golf balls.

As always, the standard Z-STAR features a slightly lower compression than the XV and 3-piece construction while the Z-STAR XV is built with a 4-piece design with a smaller inner core and larger outer core. The new Z-STAR is a little firmer than the past model for more ball speed and distance while the new Z-STAR XV is a little softer for improved feel.

Both the new Z-STAR and Z-STAR XV will be available at retail on Feb. 1.

The packaging for the Srixon Z-STAR golf balls.

FIRST LOOK: 2019 Srixon Z-STAR golf balls was originally posted at https://www.golf.com/gear/2019/01/14/2019-srixon-z-star-golf-balls/ by Michael Chwasky

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Contract flexibility played a big role in Justin Rose's decision to sign with Honma

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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Justin Rose isn’t the first player to reach No. 1 in the world and change equipment brands. But he may be the first to cite contract flexibility as one of the key reasons he chose to leave TaylorMade after 20 years for a relative unknown in Honma.

Unlike Rose’s previous deal with TaylorMade, which required him to play a full bag of the brand’s clubs plus the ball, Honma offered up a 10-club deal, not including the ball, that allowed the 38-year-old the opportunity to tinker with four clubs in his bag and continue to play his current TaylorMade golf ball.

“There was a little of flexibility in the deal, from my point of view,” Rose said on Monday during a media event at Riviera Country Club. “[Honma] is not one-stop shop, which is something I wasn’t after. There are a couple other clubs I’m curious about. There’s a putter technology that I love. Golf balls are an important part of the jigsaw puzzle and I now have some flexibility on that side of it.”

Prior to Rose’s deal with Honma, Rory McIlroy was the last player to change equipment as the top-ranked player in the world when he inked a mega-deal with Nike that included equipment and apparel. Using 14 new clubs and a different golf ball for the first time, McIlroy struggled to find consistency on the course during the 2013 season.

Rose will hope to avoid a similar slow start as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start of 2019 at the Desert Classic. One thing Rose has going in his favor is the fact that he won’t have to worry about breaking in 14 different clubs.

New year, new gear: @HONMAGOLFUSA makes a major splash by inking Justin Rose to a multi-year, 10-club equipment deal. https://t.co/6Kr4GPDzAq pic.twitter.com/sXMLw766vX

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 1, 2019

Rose confirmed his mixed set of Honma clubs have been thoroughly vetted and are ready for their first competitive rounds. Rose played a key role in the design of Honma’s “Rose Proto” — he’ll likely use the mid and short irons — which features a sharper toe that’s more to his liking. According to a Honma representative, Rose and Honma started the iron design process last July before a finished version was shown to him during the week of the Tour Championship.

“With a blade, it’s all about how it speaks to you when you look down at it. It’s like a relationship,” Rose said. “We’ve talked about groove length, shaping. I prefer Japanese styling with the clubs. The American styling is more rounded on the back end and toe. I like the pointed, pinched-up toe. I was able to tell [Honma] what I liked and what they sent back looked unbelievable.”

In addition to the irons, Rose plans to use Honma’s wedges and is currently contemplating the idea of replacing his 5-wood with a utility 2-iron that he noted “goes just as far as my 5-wood with more control.”

The only club that remains up in the air at the moment is the driver — a club Rose admitted was a question mark when the two sides started a dialogue six months ago.

“The driver was an unknown,” Rose said. “But I knew with [Mark King] coming on board — I put a lot of trust in him — and the fact it’s a super premium brand, I had a good feeling about it. They were still smart enough to give me some leeway that gives me time to get comfortable. No one is forcing me to play anything. It’s a work in progress.”

Forgot to post last night but here’s a look one of Honma’s new ad spots. 👀 pic.twitter.com/LbhxPBViS0

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 15, 2019

Picking up speed with the driver hasn’t been an issue for Rose during testing. During a recent session in California, he saw an additional three to four miles per hour ball speed on the launch monitor with the TW747 model. He’s also taken the time to learn as much as he can about the design, adjusting the face angle and weights to find a suitable setup.

“It was the first time I’ve really ever tinkered with a club, in terms of face position and moving the heavy weights to the front,” Rose said. “I began to dial in the driver. Obviously, there was so much functionality at TaylorMade that I got really good with it. But the speed is what made my eyes light up with the new driver.”

Even with the significant increase in speed, Rose said the driver will be a game-time decision that comes down to how comfortable he feels with it on the course.

“If all goes well in the next couple of days with my final preparations, then I’m teeing it up with the driver,” Rose said. “But it’s just about a level of comfort, and I know I’ll get there.”

Thanks to the flexibility of his new club deal, there’s no pressure to get it right the very first week.

Contract flexibility played a big role in Justin Rose's decision to sign with Honma was originally posted at https://www.golf.com/gear/2019/01/15/justin-rose-honma-contract-club-flexibility/ by Jonathan Wall

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Paul Casey confirms he's testing Honma irons, remains a free agent

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Paul Casey took to social media on Tuesday to clarify his current equipment situation after he was photographed using a Honma driving iron during the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Casey posted a photo of what appears to be a “Rose Proto” iron without the stamping on Instagram and confirmed he’s still testing the set at the moment.

“Contrary to reports I started the season with almost the exact same setup that I used during the latter half of last year[,] including the Ryder Cup,” Casey said.

Casey used a mixed iron setup last season, consisting of Mizuno MP-25 (3-iron) and MP-5 (4-PW) models, to win the Valspar Championship. The MP-5 blades were still in the bag to start the year at Kapalua and the Sony Open, with the only change coming in the form of Honma’s TW-U Forged utility 3-iron.

Since Nike’s departure from the hard-goods industry in 2016, Casey’s only equipment deal has been a metalwoods-only agreement with TaylorMade in 2017. Given his meticulous nature when it comes to equipment, it should come as no surprise he’s taking his time testing Honma’s irons.

For the moment, Casey’s free agency status doesn’t appear to be changing during the January signing period. Outside of Honma adding World No. 1 Justin Rose to its staff and Gary Woodland signing with Wilson, the first few weeks have been been fairly subdued. But with many notables teeing it up for the first time in the coming weeks, it’s very possible we could see additional movement before the month comes to a close.

Paul Casey confirms he's testing Honma irons, remains a free agent was originally posted at https://www.golf.com/gear/2019/01/15/paul-casey-honma-irons-testing/ by Jonathan Wall

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Wall-to-Wall Equipment: Justin Thomas bags new Scotty Cameron, Hideki’s Callaway driver

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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.

Justin Thomas swaps putters

Justin Thomas swapped putters at the Sony Open, but the new wand flew under the radar. The lack of news surrounding Thomas’ Scotty Cameron prototype is partly due to the similarities it shares with his previous X5 Flow Neck mallet.

In other words, the change didn’t even register — unless you zoomed in. Upon closer inspection, there are a few noticeable differences, starting with the black face and topline that differ from the classic silver finish on Thomas’ previous putter. The black topline acts as an alignment aid next to the silver wings making up the head design.

Justin Thomas began using a new Scotty Cameron prototype mallet in Hawaii.

Thomas also appears to have gone away from the small slant neck to a more subtle shaft bend. He was one of four players who used a new Scotty Cameron prototype putter during the tournament.

Thomas was the impetus behind Cameron’s retail Futura 5.5M, which bears a striking resemblance to his current putter. He ranked 43rd in strokes gained: putting in his first start with the new flat stick.

New driver for Hideki

Hideki Matsuyama’s run with a Ping G400 driver came to a halt at the Sony Open. Matsuyama returned to a Callaway driver, this time the recently unveiled Callaway Epic Flash.

New @CallawayGolf Epic Flash driver this week for Hideki Matsuyama. Used Callaway in this past, so this isn’t all that surprising. pic.twitter.com/btzh36ImKh

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 12, 2019

The driver has Matsuyama’s usual Graphite Design Tour-AD DI 8TX shaft, and the sliding weight positioned in a neutral shot shape setting.

Changes on the horizon?

A couple of players in the field were sporting new apparel and/or staff bags — a sign that new deals have been worked out. Abraham Ancer was sporting a new Miura hat; Jamie Lovemark had a mixed bag of clubs paired with a Callaway staff bag; and Hudson Swafford’s Callaway staff bag was no longer present after signing a new deal last season.

No compensation for Rory

Scott Langley was unveiled as the newest PXG staffer during the Sony Open. Based on the 12 clubs and PXG hat Rory Sabbatini was sporting in Hawaii, the assumption was that he made the jump as well.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Couple gear notes from today:

– Going to assume based on @CallawayGolf bag that Jamie Lovemark found a new equipment home.

– Abraham Ancer is wearing a @MiuraGolfInc hat. It was Nike last year.

– Rory Sabbatini is using 12 @pxg clubs, wearing the hat without compensation. pic.twitter.com/XbgebOyxhj

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 10, 2019

Sabbatini is currently playing the clubs and wearing the hat without compensation — a popular choice by many of the equipment free agents who enjoyed immense success on Tour last season. Sabbatini will be hoping for a similar outcome.

Scott bags two putters

Adam Scott didn’t bag two putters at the same time as he did briefly last season. The Aussie did, however, find a way to give two different putters a look during the first two rounds.

Scott, who missed the cut, still managed to make headlines by using a high-MOI Scotty Cameron prototype mallet on Thursday before switching to a Seemore Private Reserve Platinum M5x for the second round.

The sight of Scott switching putters mid-tournament isn’t all that shocking. What likely raised some eyebrows was the fact he went outside the Scotty Cameron lineup to find another option.

Scott has used Odyssey in the past, but this is the first time he’s ever been photographed with a Seemore in competition.

Brooks’ new irons

The Mizuno JPX 900 Tour irons Brooks Koepka employed to win three major championships in the last two years could be exiting the bag. Koepka is reportedly set to use Mizuno’s JPX 919 Tour irons at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The irons, which still have his initials stamped on the toe, were spotted in his bag along with new TaylorMade M5 metalwoods.

English’s Blueprint

One of the trends to watch this year on the PGA Tour is the gradual acceptance of Ping’s Tour-only Blueprint irons. The better-player offering has a smaller profile than the popular iBlade and is already being used by Bubba Watson, Tony Finau, Louis Oosthuizen and other members of Ping’s Tour staff.

Had a chance to get a peek at @PingTour’s Blueprint Forged irons. One thing stuck out to me… 👀 https://t.co/97vD4h6L6f pic.twitter.com/juRnOtJAh8

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) December 21, 2018

That number is likely to grow as other iBlade users begin to test Blueprint. The latest convert is Harris English, who preferred the smaller profile to that of iBlade, and noticed a slightly lower ball flight with increased workability.

Spider prototypes

Prototype season continued on in Hawaii with a larger rollout of TaylorMade’s yet-to-be-released Spider putters. Based on photos from TaylorMade Tour rep Chris Trott, Rory McIlroy’s mallet from last week is part of a much larger putter release that’s coming down the pipeline.

Callaway Apex takeover

It didn’t take Callaway’s Apex and Apex Pro 19 irons very long to become the company’s most-played model on Tour. Less than a week after they were introduced for the first time — and Xander Schauffele logged a win with the initial prototype set — Apex Pro found its way into Marc Leishman and Sam Burns’ bags.

Shots of Apex Pro, because I know you’re going to be asking for them. 😬 pic.twitter.com/IfmUWGqHIr

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 4, 2019

Speed, dispersion key for Tway

Kevin Tway found the perfect driver fit in Titleist’s TS3 during the offseason. The new Titleist staffer tested it against his gamer before heading to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and noticed an uptick in not only speed but dispersion as well.

“Kevin was amazed how much speed the driver had on Trackman, but we talked to him about speed only being part of the equation,” said Titleist Tour rep, J.J. VanWezenbeeck. “We then went on course and setup Trackman on 6 to 8 different tee boxes and had him hit his old driver, and then two different TS’s. While the TS was longest every time, the key for him — and us — was that it was also the straightest – which at 185 MPH of ball speed is key.”

Quick-Hitters: Plenty of players in the field received their first peek at Scotty Cameron’s new prototype putters. … Tommy Fleetwood was photographed with a set of TaylorMade “P-7TW” blades bearing Tiger Woods’ initials. … Callaway saw 21 players use the new Epic Flash and Epic Flash Sub Zero drivers in the first full-field event of 2019. … Titleist won the driver count for the first time since 2001. What the win could mean from a Tour perspective. … Jamie Lovemark is under contract with Titleist for the golf ball after playing it without an agreement for the last two years. … Andrew Putnam finally replaced his ancient Cleveland Launcher DST 3-wood with a 13.5-degree Srixon F85. … Jason Dufner opted for a Directed Force mallet. … Stewart Cink signed an 11-club deal with Ping.

Wall-to-Wall Equipment: Justin Thomas bags new Scotty Cameron, Hideki's Callaway driver was originally posted at https://www.golf.com/gear/2019/01/14/wall-to-wall-justin-thomas-hideki-matsuyama/ by Jonathan Wall

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