September 02, 2020
By GolfWRX, PGATOUR.COM
- Bryson DeChambeau hits a tee shot at the 2020 BMW Championship. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
This was a season unlike any other on the PGA TOUR. We’ve made it to the final week, however. It all comes down to this week at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, where the FedExCup champion will be crowned Monday.
Before this campaign comes to a close, let’s take a look at the biggest equipment storylines from the 2019-20 season.
There were a number of stories that kept all the gearheads on their toes and fully engaged, even through the period without TOUR action. That's the beauty of this game. All the action doesn't always take place on the course, and in many cases, it’s the mere tools of the trade that give us our fix.
With the TOUR Championship this week, here are our top equipment stories from the PGA TOUR this season:
1. TaylorMade SIM was (and remains) all the rage
January is "launch season" in the equipment industry. Manufacturers show the masses what they have in store for metalwoods, and from a 35,000-foot view, this was one of, if not the, strongest offerings the market has ever seen.
Every year, there are one or two big sticks that typically shine above the rest. In 2017, it was Ping’s G400. The next year brought the Cobra F9 and the return of Cobra Golf. In 2019, it was a slugfest between TaylorMade's M5 and Ping's G410. There was one undeniable "best," "longest," "most popular," and master of any other superlatives in 2020, however: the TaylorMade SIM.
SIM came with some trepidation early on. The technology and odd shape looked a little awkward. It has been the SIM show ever since TaylorMade staffers started putting it in their bag at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, however.
Performance-wise, it checked off every single box. Stable. Fast. Forgiving. And good-looking. Extreme TOUR validation and the wins helped, as well. Beyond Tiger, DJ, Rory, Rahm all putting it in play immediately, it was the free agents and staffers of competing brands having it in play that really nailed it home. Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Reed, Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Billy Horschel, Justin Rose, Ryan Palmer, and Sergio Garcia are the big free agents who have had SIM in the bag. All but one still has it in play even today. That's nuts.
SIM has won half of the 14 events played since the season resumed, and three of the top five in the FedExCup standings all have it in play.
Why has it been so successful? Performance for one, but kudos to TaylorMade for strong marketing, TOUR messaging with the help of #tourtrucktuesday and Chris Trott and also an iconic staff that all put it in play straight away.
2. Vokey Wedges dominate ... again
It's hard to say whether or not Titleist saw this coming when they hired respected clubmaker Bob Vokey back in 1997. At that time, Cleveland and Ping more or less owned the wedge counts on TOUR, and the gap between them and the rest of the pack was quite large.
The progression to dominance is actually quite interesting.
In 1998, Vokey accounted for 16% of wedges used on TOUR, ranking third overall.
It was second on TOUR from 1999-2003, with slightly more than a quarter (27%) of players using them.
Since then, Vokey wedges have enjoyed 17 consecutive years as the No. 1 wedge on TOUR. Vokey surpassed a significant milestone in 2020. It was the first season that more than half the TOUR played its wedges.
There are a lot of factors that have contributed to Vokey’s success. Look, feel and performance are all the necessities of a great club, but trust and simplicity could be the biggest factors. The players on all major tours not only trust the club, but more so, they trust Vokey and the man he passes the torch to, Aaron Dill.
The “listen first, talk second” approach these guys take when getting a player dialed is essential. Taking that info and building it into a simple-yet-high-performing wedge design without reinventing the wheel is a recipe for success.
If you track the progress of any player who turns to free agency, Vokey wedges are in the bag almost immediately. Remember that SIM list of free agents? All of those players have at least one if not all Vokey wedges in play.
This week, at the TOUR Championship, there are more than 35 Vokey wedges in play, which represents just over 30% of all wedges in play. They are No. 1 by a rather large margin this week.
3. Bryson DeChambeau's crazy setup
No one took greater advantage of the shutdown than Bryson DeChambeau. His massive muscle gains and 15 mph increase in ball speed was, and continue to be, a hot topic on TOUR.
However, like anything, if one variable changes, many things need to shift to accommodate. Bryson's equipment is no exception. If you look at his specs below, you will see not only a setup with extremely low lofts, but also a set that is befitting a player known for his unique approach. He has two 3-woods (one for long-range and one for accuracy), a 5.5-degree driver, and iron lofts that would make Thor nervous.
According to Cobra’s TOUR manager, Ben Schomin, there is a very serious strategy in play here, and it's not all about hitting it past everyone.
“I would say the biggest change is making lofts stronger across the board and getting those lofts to coincide with spin and carry distances,” Schomin said. “Bryson, like all TOUR players, has a set of goals with his bag.”
DeChambeau has numbers he needs to hit with each club, the window from which he wants to see the ball leave the clubface, controllable spin and descent angles and the proper feel.
“It’s the combination of them all that makes the right fit for them,” Schomin said. “In this case with Bryson, it’s all about dialing in spin with each club. When he feels like his spin is dialed, the distances will be dialed.”
Take a close look at his current setup:
Driver: Cobra SpeedZone 7.5°@5.5 w/ LA Golf VD1 Proto 75x tip 1” (45.5”, D3)
3-wood (for distance): Cobra SpeedZone Tour firstname.lastname@example.org w/ LA Golf VD3 Proto 85x tip 2” (43, D5)
3-wood (for normal shots): Cobra SpeedZone Tour 14.5@14 w/ LA Golf VD3 Proto 85x tip 1” (41.5, D5)
Irons: Cobra King One Length Utility (4, 5), Cobra King Forged Tour One Length w/ LA Golf Texas Rebar Proto
Pitching wedge: 42°
Wedges: Artisan Custom (47 degrees, 52 degrees and 58 degrees) w/ LA Golf Texas Rebar Proto
Grips: JumboMax Bryson Custom (51 gram)
Putter: Sik Prototype w/ LA Golf Proto Putter Shaft
Ball: Bridgestone Tour B X
4. Free agency shakeups
It wasn't that long ago that TOUR staffs were packed with multiple players. It was the norm for a manufacturer to have a staff of 20-30 players on the PGA TOUR. As you will see in the coming years, that will become an idea of the past, and if the trend continues, players will have more freedom to play what they want.
TaylorMade still has its iconic staff of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Matthew Wolff, and 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa. More players are going the free-agent route, however
This year, Manufacturers started to see the value of TOUR validation that they didn’t pay for and players embraced the freedom to play what they choose.
A few manufacturers and players parted ways right before the season stopped. Most notably were Justin Rose (Honma), Billy Horschel (PXG), and Sergio Garcia (Callaway), with the latter coming late in 2019.
It needs to be said that situations like this happen for multiple reasons, and it’s no commentary on the performance of the clubs or the ethics of the player. It just happens. Not all clubs work for all players and vice versa. Yes, sometimes they start with the best intentions and investment and don't work out. Remember Corey Pavin and PRGR? Nick Price and Atrigon? Payne Stewart and Top Flite? Lee Janzen and Hogan? David Toms and TaylorMade?
Free agency is likely going to become more common. Players and club companies are learning some valuable lessons.
Players trust their skills and that freedom will make them more money in the long run, and companies are seeing the influence that not paying a player and them still playing their driver can have just as much value as a paid advertisement, especially if that free agent is winning (Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, etc.).