Equipment Report

    Dustin Johnson may miss PGA cut, but sees promise with new driver shaft

  • Dustin Johnson finished at 6 over after the second round of the PGA Championship. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)Dustin Johnson finished at 6 over after the second round of the PGA Championship. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Despite having a reputation as a tinkerer, Dustin Johnson said he doesn’t change equipment all that much, stating in his pre-PGA Championship press conference, “I really don't like to change clubs ever, but when one's not working ... I have to find something else.”

This is, in a couple of senses, true. The centerpieces of his golf bag have been cemented for years (P730 DJ Proto irons, for example) and when he does make a change he often rapidly reverses course.

Johnson is often spotted with multiple flatsticks on the putting green early in tournament weeks, but in recent years, he’s almost always stuck with his TaylorMade Spider Limited Itsy Bitsy once competition began. In fact, after putting a TaylorMade TP Bandon 1 Prototype in play two tournaments ago, he has returned to the Spider this week.

At the other end of the bag, Johnson has bounced between TaylorMade SIM2 and SIM heads this season but he has always showed up to the first tee with a Fujikura Speeder 661 Evolution 2.0 Tour X Flex shaft in his driver (with one exception, the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January).

In fact, the reigning FedExCup champion has played the Speeder 661 for the better part of five years — all the way back to the days of the TaylorMade M1.

So it was big news in the equipment world, and shafts in particular, when Johnson was spotted with an LA Golf Prototype in a SIM2 Max head ahead of the competition at Kiawah Island. If LA Golf sounds familiar, that is because it’s the company that makes the shafts for all 14 of Bryson DeChambeau’s clubs, including his putter.

Of course, given Johnson’s propensity for pre-tournament testing, it remained to be seen whether he’d put the combo in play at the PGA Championship.

But when Johnson stepped inside the ropes shortly after 2 p.m. for his first-round tee time Thursday, he uncorked a 295-yard drive with the aforementioned TaylorMade SIM2 Max head with an LA Golf Proto shaft. Johnson shot 76 in the first round but gained +0.8 strokes off the tee. The shaft was back in the bag for the second round but that will be the only action it sees this week.

Johnson will likely miss the cut after shooting 74 on Friday. He gained another +0.9 strokes off the tee in the second round but struggled with his iron play.

According to TaylorMade’s Keith Sbarbaro, Global Vice President, Tour Operations & Sports Marketing at TaylorMade, the shaft is “a stiffer tip version with a lower balance point to help promote more of a fade," which is DJ’s preferred ball flight.

Adding further intrigue to the story, similar to the prototyping process DeChambeau and LA Golf have engaged in for the development of his wood, iron, and putter shafts, Johnson and LA Golf have been collaborating on the shaft design.

Reed Dickens, LA Golf’s CEO had this to say about Johnson’s prototype: “We custom designed a low torque shaft for Dustin for lower trajectory and have been iterating with him for a few months. We’re excited that the No. 1 player in golf trusts LA Golf enough to put our product in play for the first time at a major championship.”

After appearing almost unbeatable last fall – he tore through the FedExCup Playoffs before winning the Masters – Johnson has struggled in the spring and may be searching for answers. He is 26th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee after ranking in the top five of that statistic from 2014-19. Johnson entered this week gaining 0.44 strokes off the tee per round, which would be his worst performance in that statistic since 2013.

He hasn’t had a top-10 on TOUR since The Genesis Invitational in February. He has just one top-25 in six starts since and withdrew from last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson with knee pain.

Whether Johnson makes a return to his beloved Speeder remains to be seen, but for now, one of the longest-tenured shafts in pro golf has been bumped from its position.