Rory McIlroy has found a groove in his second year as a Nike staffer. After enduring a rocky start to the 2013 season, the two-time major winner capped off the year with an impressive win at the the Emirates Australian Open.
The late-season success this year with two runner-up finishes, eight top-10s and a win last month at the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship. Based on his current form, it's easy to see why McIlroy's considered a favorite heading into the U.S. Open.
With the year's second major championship looming, McIlroy took some time to chat with PGATOUR.COM about a number of equipment topics, from potential changes he'll be making for Pinehurst; his new 59-degree Nike VR X3X Toe Sweep wedge; how much he relies on launch monitor numbers during testing; and the amount of time he spends tinkering with new clubs.
Are you going to make any changes to your bag setup after playing a practice round at Pinehurst?
I'll be putting a [Nike VR Pro Blade] 3-iron back in the bag. For most of this year, I've started with a 4-iron and had four wedges, but at Pinehurst I'm going to put the 3-iron back in and go with a three-wedge system. There's going to be a few holes where I'm going to need 3-iron off the tee, and there's going to be a par-3 where I'm likely going to be hitting the iron a couple of days.
What wedge are you going to drop, and what was the reasoning behind going with another long-iron over your usual four wedge setup?
There's not really a lot of wedges at Pinehurst, especially into the greens. You're going to be hitting at least mid- to long-irons into a lot of those par 4's, so the need for the extra wedge wasn't really there.
As for the wedge I'll be taking out, I typically go pitching wedge, 52, 56, 59 [degrees], but for the U.S. Open, I'll be going pitching wedge, 54 and 59 [degrees]. So the 52 and 56 are out, and the 54 is in for the week.
You added Nike's VR X3X Toe Sweep wedge (59 degrees) to the bag the week you won the BMW PGA Championship. What was it about that wedge that appealed to you, and what was the testing process like?
When I was introduced to the Toe Sweep wedge, it obviously looks a little different than what you're used to in a wedge. I was just messing around with the wedge at home the week before [the BMW PGA Championship] and just wanted to see what it was like. I started hitting some shots out of the rough with it and found that the ball was so much easier to control out of the rough with that wedge than anything else that I had tried.
That was why I decided to put it in play at Wentworth where I knew if you miss the green, you're going to likely be in rough. My short game on the last day obviously helped me win, so I think it's been a great addition to the bag.
Are you going to keep the 59-degree Toe Sweep wedge in the bag at Pinehurst?
I'm not sure sure I'll put it in play at Pinehurst because there's no rough around the greens. There's a lot of runoffs and tight shots where you might not need a wedge like that. I'll probably just go back to my 59-degree [Nike VR Forged] wedge I was using before.
It's not a wedge I'm going to put in play every week. That doesn't mean to say I won't use the [Toe Sweep] wedge a lot during this season whenever I come to courses where there's thick rough around the greens, like the PGA Championship or a few of the FedExCup events. It's just another great option to have. There are so many different grind and bounce options, so to have that extra option out of the rough really helps.
You mentioned at the end of last year that the Nike VRS Covert 2.0 Tour driver and RZN Black ball was the best driver and ball combination you'd ever had in your career. What is it about that driver/ball combination that works for you?
It was just one of those moments where everything clicked for me with the driver and ball. I started testing both last September and put them in play going into my Asia swing of last year and I just felt really comfortable with it. I liked the ball not just off the driver but around the greens and for every shot I needed to play.
As for the driver, it was by far the best driver I had ever hit. I felt so comfortable with it and could do anything I wanted off the tee. The spin rate was up, and that was something I really needed. Ball speed was also up a lot, too. You get on the tee with a driver that's comfortable in your hands and you can hit it as hard as you want.
My whole game has been based on how I drive the ball. If I drive it well, that's when I have success. Having a driver and ball that allows you to do that again has really helped. And I've seen that in my scores and the little bit of success I've had this year.
I know the driver/ball combination is important, but where does the shaft fit into the equation?
It's really important. It has a lot to do with how the ball reacts coming off the face, launch angle, spin rate, the way the ball is curving in the air — it has a lot to do with it. Some guys like to feel a little bit more of the shaft than others. When I first came to Nike, I felt like I wanted the shaft to feel really boardy and feel nothing at all. But I actually went to a Mitsubishi Kuro Kage shaft that I can feel a little bit more. The kick point on it was what I needed with the driver head and that allowed me to get my spin numbers up a bit.
You go through the process of trying different shafts with different heads until you find one that you really like. Luckily for me, the process was a lot shorter than it was with the previous Covert.
From a testing standpoint, how much do you rely on launch monitor numbers to tell you if a club is worth putting in the bag?
I think you have to find a good balance between the numbers and how the club feels and looks when you test it. I work on TrackMan and think it's a great tool, but you also have to react to the ball flight and how it's feeling coming off the club.
The numbers can be awesome, but if it just doesn't feel right to you, it's not worth putting in the bag. My new driver is a great example. The numbers were good and the spin was probably a bit on the higher side, but I don't mind that — especially on the course where you want to put the ball in play. It felt really good and I felt like I could hit it high and hit it low and work the ball in both directions. The numbers verified what I was feeling, but what I really liked about it was the first few moments where I hit a couple of shots with it that told me this was the driver.
You've added a new wedge in the last few weeks, but for the most part the bulk of your equipment changes have happened at the end of the year or the start of the season. How much tinkering and testing do you do during the course of the season?
I'm really happy what the clubs I have in my bag right now, but I'm always testing and tinkering with new clubs to find ways to get better and try and improve. We were out there testing a couple new things today and seeing if it's going to be better and help me improve, if it's going to make a difference. There's always things we're looking at to try and improve. From what I've seen and tested, I will say there's going to be some really cool things coming out [from Nike] in the next 6 to 12 months.
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