It only took Norman Xiong two years of college golf to realize he was ready for the next step. The 19-year-old University of Oregon product set a school record with six wins during his sophomore season on his way to earning the Jack Nicklaus Award as the Division I National Player of the Year.
"I just felt like it was time," Xiong said. "Last season gave me a lot of belief that I was ready to turn pro. I'm excited for the challenge and the chance to see how my game stacks up against the best players in the world."
Prior to making his professional debut this week at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, Xiong went one-on-one with PGATOUR.COM's Jonathan Wall to discuss his decision to sign with Callaway Golf, why he doesn't carry a 3-wood and the importance of launch monitor numbers during testing.
On why he chose to sign with Callaway:
NORMAN XIONG: I've been playing Callaway equipment ever since Nike exited the equipment business. Leading up to turning pro, there were two options: To sign with Callaway or go without an equipment deal. That kind of depended on the clothing brand I went with. Choosing Travis Mathew was basically a package deal with Callaway, which was easy to decide on because I really like their apparel and was already using Callaway equipment.
On the transition from Nike to Callaway equipment:
XIONG: It was really easy. I'm not saying that Nike wasn't as good of a club company, but I definitely felt that Callaway had really good stuff. As a player, that's really easy to transition to when you're working with equipment that compliments your game.
On working his way into Callaway's Chrome Soft golf ball:
XIONG: I know some guys work through different shots to determine if a ball is right for them, but for me, it's all about my comfort level. It's difficult to describe, but I can look down at a ball and determine if it fits my eye or not. More than anything, it just takes time before I feel comfortable with a golf ball — whether it's coming out in the window I like on different shots or performing how I want it to on certain pitch shots. There's no one thing that determines if a ball is right for me. It just comes down to trust and knowing it's going to do what I want in a pressure situation.
On tinkering with equipment in college:
XIONG: During my freshman year, I was more of a tinkerer and wanted to try everything. I think it's natural because you have all of this new equipment at your disposal, you'd be crazy not to at least look at everything. But that changed my sophomore year when I started settling into my game. I didn't really change anything from that point forward, and I think that's why I played so well.
On switching from Callaway's Epic driver to Rogue Sub Zero:
XIONG: I love the Rogue Sub Zero. I was using the regular Epic before and was performing really well with it, but I knew sometimes when I mis-hit it, it would go offline a little too much. I felt like I had to guide it down there. But with Rogue Sub Zero, I feel like I can swing normally and not have to worry about those misses. It has a bigger sweet spot and feels so much more forgiving where I actually feel like I can swing harder. This has been the best driver I've ever hit. It's not even close.
On the importance of launch monitor numbers during testing:
XIONG: It's super important to know your numbers, just because you have to be so precise out there. When you're in college, it's difficult to dial-in your numbers because you're traveling to tournaments and have class work, so you never really have that free time to grind and get those numbers exactly where you want them. I've been mostly working on my short game and putting because it's so important.
But when it comes to a launch monitor, I look at it as the best tool, even for a feel player, because it gives you direct feedback. It's nothing mechanical or manipulative. It's the true results. I'm definitely going to start spending more time on TrackMan now that I've turned pro. I honestly don't even know all of my numbers at this point. I still feel like my body is changing every day — because I'm only 19 — so I feel like right now I just want to learn where my numbers are at to get a good baseline and go from there.
On why he hasn't switched driver shafts in four years:
XIONG: I've been using the same Graphite Design Tour AD BB-8 driver shaft since I was 15 or so. I think why I've stuck with that shaft is because I still had a lot of speed with the driver when I was younger, but I wasn't as sturdy as I am now and didn't have that solid hit behind it. It was pure speed. I still have that same speed, but I'm able to control it a lot more because I've filled my body out more. For some reason, that shaft still works with both body types. I've never felt the need to switch.
On why he doesn't carry a fairway wood:
XIONG: I don't know why, but I've never been able to find a 3-wood that was worth putting in the bag. So I have an [X Forged UT] 2-iron — it's a strong-lofted driving iron — that goes like a 3-wood. These days, 3-woods are so hot that if I was going to hit one, I might as well just hit a driver. I'm probably more accurate with a driver than I ever would be with 3-wood in my hands.
From the 2-iron, I go straight into an [X Forged '18] 3-iron and then 4-iron. That driving iron has been so useful for me because it's the perfect ball flight with the accuracy I'm looking for in something near the top of my bag. Even on long par 5's, the club gives me a chance to reach the green. And even if I don't, I'm still in the fairway with a good look at birdie if I land my wedge shot in there tight.
On when he decided to use a bag setup without a fairway wood:
XIONG: After my freshman year of college, I came to the realization that I rarely used a 3-wood in competition. At that point, it just felt like I was wasting a spot in the bag when I should have a club in there that I could just rip down the fairway and would get a lot more play.
On if he'll ever add a 3-wood to the bag:
XIONG: It'll depend on how I look at the courses. In college, going without a 3-wood was working really well for me. But I recognize the courses we played in college and the ones on TOUR offer different conditions. If I feel like I need a 3-wood on TOUR, I'll certainly start testing and find one that works for me. But for now, I'm going to stick with what works.
On why he plays a split iron set:
XIONG: I've always been a blade player because I like to vary the flight and work it both ways. Then I tried the Callaway Apex Pro '16 and things changed. I play Apex in the 6 through 9 irons because they feel like a blade with the forgiveness of a cavity-back iron. Feel is really important in the mid and short irons, but it never hurts to have a little bit of forgiveness as well.
My long irons are the X Forged '18 which are really forgiving and consistent. There's not as much curve in them, but that's good because as the clubs get longer, I'm looking for something that finds the fairway and doesn't bend nearly as much. It's more about distance and hitting the right number.
On his Callaway Mack Daddy 4 wedges:
XIONG: I was using Titleist Vokey wedges before I switched to Mack Daddy 4. I was able to match up those wedges to the grind I had on my previous set, so the transition was seamless. Depending on the course conditions, I'll vary the bounce on my wedges to make sure it fits the turf. When I went to Oregon, the wet conditions made it impossible to use a low bounce lob wedge, so I almost always played high bounce in my lob wedge and sand wedge.
Coming out on TOUR, I think I'm going to need to spend some time with my wedges to see if there's a setup that best suits my game. Obviously, we're not going to be playing in soft conditions each week, so I could see myself taking off some bounce for firmer conditions. Bottom line, I'm still learning and trying to figure it all out at the moment.
On what he likes most about Odyssey's O-Works V-Ling Fang CH putter:
XIONG: I was actually a blade putter guy until I shifted to a mallet because it helped me make more short putts. But the blade is my preference on long putts. With the V-Line Fang CH, I feel like it's the best of both worlds. Also, the Microhinge insert feels really good and allows me to put a good roll on it. The Versa design helps with alignment, but I normally just use the small line on the top to line up my putts.