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Wall-to-Wall Equipment: Schauffele’s new Callaway gear, McIlroy alters TaylorMade setup

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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.

Big start for Xander, Callaway Epic Flash and Apex Pro

Xander Schauffele couldn’t have scripted a better start to the new year. The same could be said for Callaway, who undoubtedly enjoyed Schauffele’s course-tying final-round 62, which capped off a five-shot come-from-behind victory in Maui.

Schauffele notched the win with 12 Callaway clubs in the bag, including the company’s new Epic Flash Sub Zero driver (9 degrees), which debuted on Friday. The Sub Zero version is the lower spinning option in the lineup and was used by four players in the Tournament of Champions field.

FIRST LOOK: How @CallawayGolf used artificial intelligence to create the new face technology on the Epic Flash drivers and fairway woods. https://t.co/OlS6j8vveK pic.twitter.com/ATkbkQYF0n

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 4, 2019

During the tournament, Schauffele recorded a 405-yard drive, during the third round, with the new club, which is outfitted with the same Graphite Design Tour AD BB 7X shaft from his previous Rogue Sub Zero driver.

Schauffele was also credited with having Callaway’s Apex Pro 19 (4-PW), even though they remain the prototype version he started using last season at the Northern Trust. The first player to use the irons in competition, Schauffele’s set is made raw carbon steel and doesn’t feature the retail badging; however, it has the same muscle pad design in the cavity as the retail version.

Xander Schauffele was actually the first @CallawayGolf staffer to use a prototype version of Apex Pro last season at Northern Trust. pic.twitter.com/MC789tTaiM

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 7, 2019

What sold Schauffele on the irons was a reduction in bounce that improved turf interaction at impact. He also found a ball flight in his preferred window and the ability to shape shots with regularity. The win in Hawaii marks his second title (HSBC Champions being the first) with the irons.

DJ, Rory, Rahm add TaylorMade M5

Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm wasted little time adding TaylorMade’s M5 driver at Kapalua. Just days after the driver was released on Tour for the first time, all three players saw noticeable improvements in certain areas that facilitated the switch.

For McIlroy, who also inserted a 15-degree M6 fairway wood, it came down to finding more fairways by going up in loft (from 8.5 to 9 degrees) — an adjustment that yielded a new shot in the arsenal.

“The driver was spinning a little less and launching a little higher so we could go to a little more loft, which is making it more forgiving for him,” said Keith Sbarbaro, TaylorMade’s VP of Tour Operations. “He’s actually able to hit a hold cut shot that he didn’t really have with last year’s driver.

While Dustin Johnson isn’t exactly lacking in the ball speed department, he found additional speed with M5 (10.5 degrees) that had dropped off in recent years.

“The biggest selling point for DJ was ball speed,” Sbarbaro said. “Believe it or not, he felt like he was a little down last year. But now he’s back to 185-186 [miles per hour]. We haven’t really seen those numbers in a couple of years.”

Rahm, on the other hand, had a pinch-me moment with M5 (10.5 degrees) in the bag during a practice round — his second go-around with the driver — where he shot 59. He saw roughly 6 to 7 yards of additional carry with the driver.

Titleist makes moves

Kevin Tway, Troy Merritt and Charles Howell III are Titleist staffers for 2019. All three were sporting Titleist staff bags and gear during the tournament week. Howell hasn’t altered his bag setup since his win at the RSM Classic. Tway and Merritt broke in new clubs for the first time, including the TS3 driver (9.5 degrees).

The rest of Tway’s Titleist setup consists of a TS3 3-wood (15 degrees) and two Titleist Vokey Design SM7 wedges (54.08 and 60.10 degrees). Merritt chose to add an 818H2 hybrid (19 degrees), 718 MB (3- and 5-iron), 718 AP2 (6-PW), Titleist Vokey Design SM7 wedges (50, 54 and 58 degrees) and Pro V1 prototype ball.

TaylorMade Spider prototype spotted

TaylorMade’s Spider Tour Red putter was given an incredibly short leash the first time around by Rory McIlroy, who used the putter during the 2017 U.S. Open for two rounds before eventually missing the cut.

The latest prototype version may have some staying power.

McIlroy debuted a prototype Spider at the Sentry Tournament of Champions that reportedly helped clean up some alignment issues on the greens.

Rory McIlroy gives TaylorMade’s Spider prototype putter the green light. pic.twitter.com/RFNhGqWeX0

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 4, 2019

“One of the things at the end of the year I was struggling with a little bit was just alignment,” McIlroy said. “And with the Spider I just feel like I aim it a little bit better, so that’s the reason for [the change]. I messed around with it, it’s not as if it went in the bag yesterday.”

The four-time major winner ranked 11th in the field in strokes gained: putting with the new flat stick, which features an additional set of weights in the sole to go along with two weight ports in the heel and toe (back portion of the head).

“I got a couple of heavier weights for it this week because the greens are pretty slow, especially into the grain, so I needed to swing a little bit more and it’s felt good.”

Rose gets his own irons

Just hours after he was introduced as the newest member of Honma Golf’s Tour staff, Justin Rose provided the first look at a set of irons bearing his name on the head. He also offered peeks at the driver and wedges that will likely be a part of his bag setup, which requires him to play 10 Honma clubs.

You asked to see them… This is the new #HonmaGolf #RoseProto irons! #TeamHonma #Team🌹 pic.twitter.com/NMartNgCvv

— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) January 1, 2019

Rose played a set of “Rose Proto” blades during his time at TaylorMade, but the custom-made version was eventually turned into P730. It’ll be interesting to see if Honma goes forward with releasing a Rose-inspired iron — or line of clubs — at retail.

Molinari’s Callaway gear

The sight of Francesco Molinari with 14 Callaway clubs led many to wonder if the reigning Open champion was considering an equipment change. According to Molinari, no deal has been reached — at least not at the moment.

The story behind the @CallawayGolf clubs and stand bag Francesco Molinari is using in Hawaii. https://t.co/YmKOkBhs5k pic.twitter.com/D2qqKxrAdF

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 4, 2019

“I’m just testing and don’t have a deal so far,” Molinari told GOLF.com. “But we’ll see what happens.”

The only non-Callaway equipment Molinari had in the bag during the Sentry Tournament of Champions was Titleist’s Pro V1x golf ball.

Casey’s Honma gear

Paul Casey was photographed with a Honma driving iron in the bag, but that appears to be the extent of the gear from the Japanese equipment manufacturer. Casey was seen on the course with Mizuno’s MP-5 irons, further clouding the equipment status for one of the most coveted free agents on the market.

This is interesting: Paul Casey was photographed with Honma irons at Kapalua. 👀 https://t.co/vA6K0SDwZr pic.twitter.com/SRGoEKCjWD

— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) January 2, 2019

Like Molinari, there are signs Casey could be on the move during the equipment signing period. Then again, maybe he just liked the iron and decided to throw it in the bag.

Quick-Hitters: The same week he signed a 10-club deal with Wilson Golf, Gary Woodland came within one shot of winning his fourth Tour title. … Justin Thomas switched from Titleist’s Pro V1x prototype to the Pro V1 version. … Abraham Ancer lifted the lid on Miura’s unreleased CB-301 irons. … March Leishman inserted Callaway’s Epic Flash Sub Zero driver and Apex Pro 19 irons. … Titleist’s Pro V1x prototype (5) was the most-played individual model in the field.

Wall-to-Wall Equipment: Schauffele's new Callaway gear, McIlroy alters TaylorMade setup was originally posted at https://www.golf.com/gear/2019/01/07/wall-to-wall-xander-callaway-rory-taylormade/ by Jonathan Wall

Gear

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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Gear

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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Gear

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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