How a shorter driver helped Kurt Kitayama win at Bay Hill
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Written by GolfWRX @GolfWRX
Players often need time to get comfortable with new equipment, especially in the high-stress moments inherent to Sunday afternoons. Not Kurt Kitayama, at least when switching drivers. He put a new driver in the bag just days before earning his first PGA TOUR title Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
“When it comes to driver, if it’s something I feel comfortable with, I’m just going to throw it right in the bag,” Kitayama told GolfWRX.com on Tuesday at THE PLAYERS Championship.
Kitayama started 2023 by switching into a TaylorMade Stealth 2 standard head, but a Monday testing session at Bay Hill led to a major overhaul. Adrian Rietveld, TaylorMade’s Senior Tour Manager, had Kitayama test out TaylorMade’s Stealth 2 Plus (instead of the standard Stealth 2) with a slight lie angle change. Kitayama also tested out shorter drivers and shafts that were slightly less stiff. They also changed the weights in the new driver head to lower spin.
“We built a driver that was about a half-inch shorter in two different shaft options and it was already performing better than his gamer,” Rietveld said in a TaylorMade press release. “At first, the Stealth 2 Plus head was spinning a little high, but I had two weights in my pocket that I knew I could use if it was spinning too much.”
Rietveld added three grams to the front weight port and decreased the back weight by four grams. Kitayama’s new driver now had an 18-gram weight in front and 15-gram weight in the back. Moving the center of gravity forward in the driver head reduces the amount of spin produced on tee shots.
Less spin and a shorter driver helped Kitayama have increased control over his tee shots. He arrived at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge ranked 29th in Driving Distance (308.8 yards), but 195th in Driving Accuracy (51.8%).
Kurt Kitayama explains adjustment to driver before win at Arnold Palmer
“I was hitting my irons really well, and I was trying to figure out why the driver felt so different,” Kitayama told GolfWRX. “Why couldn’t I get the same feeling and control with my irons, from my driver? So that’s why we cut it down half an inch. … I feel like I’ve gained a lot more control.”
Ultimately, Kitayama switched into a TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus with 10.5 degrees of loft. The club has a Graphite Design Tour AD-IZ 7X shaft that measures 44.75 inches with a 57-degree lie angle (which is 1-degree upright on the hosel sleeve). Kitayama did hit two tee shots out-of-bounds at Bay Hill, but he also hit 39 of 56 fairways to tie for first in that statistic last week. He also tied for first in greens in regulation (51 of 72).
Rietveld also fit Kitayama into a new Stealth 2 HL 16.5-degree 3-wood with a shorter shaft and lie angle that matched up with the driver. TaylorMade says Kitayama actually picked up 1-2 mph in ball speed despite the shorter shaft, and saw his dispersion tighten.
Kitayama’s major changes worked, and the 30-year-old is now a PGA TOUR winner.