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Equipment Report

    Nike players embrace equipment freedom at opening event

  • A look inside Seung-Yul Noh's bag at the Safeway Open. (Jonathan Wall/PGA TOUR)A look inside Seung-Yul Noh's bag at the Safeway Open. (Jonathan Wall/PGA TOUR)

NAPA, Calif. — Patrick Rodgers was hoping to take a breather and enjoy some downtime during his brief offseason following the Deutsche Bank Championship. Instead, he went back home to Jupiter, Florida and got to work grinding on a completely new equipment setup for the season.

"It was kind of overwhelming, to be honest," Rodgers said. "It's not something I envisioned having to do a couple of months ago when the offseason rolled around, but so far I feel like I've found some stuff that works really well."

Rodgers was all set to play a full bag of Nike clubs during the 2016-17 PGA TOUR season prior to the company's announcement in August that it would cease creating clubs, balls and bags in the future.

The news suddenly made every Nike staffer an equipment free agent, freeing them up to play whatever clubs they wanted. With the announcement coming the week of the Travelers Championship, a majority of players opted to stick with their Nike clubs for the duration of the 2015-16 season.

Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau swapped putters during the FedExCup Playoffs, but that was the extent of the equipment movement.

This week is a completely different story. Rodgers arrived in Napa with 14 new clubs, including Callaway woods and irons, TaylorMade wedges and a Toulon Design putter.

Getting down to 14 clubs wasn't easy for Rodgers, who started with roughly eight sets of irons, 10 drivers and more wedges, putters and balls than he could count at the outset of the testing process.

"It was a lot to begin with," Rodgers said. "It's hard to decipher between eight sets of irons and 10 different drivers, especially when they are all fit for you. It's the start of the process and we'll eventually see what works really well."

Rodgers plans to use his new club setup this week but left his equipment future open-ended for the moment.

"I think the chance to play what I want could be good," Rodgers said. "I'll get to see how everything performs under pressure and go from there. I'm not committed to anything at the moment which means if something doesn't work I can go back and find a club that does."

Rodgers wasn't the only Nike staffer to overhaul his entire bag during the offseason. Russell Henley, Seung-Yul Noh and Nick Watney had staff bags this week that featured mostly non-Nike brands.

Henley, who switched to Nike equipment during his junior year at the University of Georgia, went with Titleist woods, irons, Vokey wedges and a Scotty Cameron putter.

"I played Titleist growing up so it was something I was familiar with," Henley said. "I felt like I was starting to get my Nike clubs dialed in so it was a tough decision to make, but you just have to move on at some point. I'm looking forward to getting going with the clubs and see what happens."

Of course, not every player decided to make immediate changes the first week out. Paul Casey made it all the way to the TOUR Championship and came close to winning the season-long FedExCup, which shortened his testing window during the offseason.

A Nike staffer for the last 12 years, Casey kept the same Nike setup this week but confirmed he was in the early stages of testing new equipment.

"For certain parts of the bag, I think it will be a speedy process," Casey said. "Last week I was testing woods. If I look at the areas of the game where there are opportunities, that would be one area.

"The irons could be a long process because you’re changing a whole bunch of clubs. Changing the putter or the driver could be a relatively quick process if you eliminate the variables, like I'm not changing the shaft or the golf ball, but I might change the driver head in the near future. We’ll see."

Nike plans to have the equipment truck on TOUR through the end of the calendar year, meaning players will have support for their club needs for the next few months. But without an equipment contract binding them to carry a set number of Nike clubs, players are already mixing and matching to come up with the perfect set that gives them the best chance to win.

During The Barclays, Rory McIlroy mentioned he was considering the idea of going a year or two without an equipment deal and "playing what I want and being comfortable." It's unlikely you'll see other Nike players follow suit and leave equipment money on the table if a lucrative deal comes along, but for now, most are embracing their newfound equipment freedom.

"The freedom is kind of nice," said Rodgers. "If there's a certain club that works better for a particular course, I can change without having to worry about it. Or if I'm swinging a certain way, I can go with a setup that best fits my game at the time. That's never a bad thing."