By E. Michael Johnson
For players such as Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and a host of others, the Sentry Tournament of Champions served as a nice opportunity to put some new equipment in play. The wide fairways and generous greens of the Plantation Course at Kapalua, along with the limited-size field, offers a less-than-normal stress level when using new sticks, plus there’s always that beautiful ocean scenery if things don’t turn out as hoped. Fortunately for most, the early returns were incredibly positive with the new gear.
TaylorMade’s new M5 and M6 line of woods was formally introduced to the public this week, and also saw a great deal of early adoption at the Sentry TOC. Three of the company’s heavyweights—Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm—all put the new M5 driver in play (with Rahm also adding the M6 3-wood). The club, which uses a technology in which the faces are made to be beyond the USGA limit for springlike effect then brought back just into conformance, also boasts a weight track that runs both front to back and along the outer perimeter.
Johnson, who frequently puts weight out on the toe of his driver, actually had his in the neutral position (one front and one back), as did Rahm. McIlroy, however, had one weight back and one toward the heel to promote a slight draw bias, his preferred ball flight. McIlroy also used the company’s new prototype bronze-coloured Spider Tour putter.
Callaway also recently unveiled its latest in metalwoods and irons, and saw some of its tour staff have some early success, not the least of which was tournament winner Xander Schauffele, who had Callaway’s new Epic Flash Sub Zero driver (9 degrees) and Apex Pro 19 irons in play. Two other prominent names also put the Epic Flash Sub Zero into competition in Marc Leishman and, somewhat surprisingly, 2018 British Open champion Francesco Molinari who had a bag full of Callaway clubs including the Epic Flash 3-wood. Leishman also put the company’s new Apex Pro 19 irons in play. The Epic Flash driver utilized artificial intelligence in its design of a face structure that is rippled on the inside—a high-tech version of variable face thickness technology that provides faster ball speeds across more of the face.
Gary Woodland signed a new contract with Wilson and has been testing the company’s Cortex driver, the winner of the Driver vs. Driver 2 competition. At Kapalua, however, Woodland had Ping’s G400 (8.5 degrees) in play, using the club to rank third in strokes gained/off the tee en route to a runner-up finish. Woodland also had a set of Wilson Staff irons (4-PW) to go with a Wilson FG Tour V4 graphite-shafted 2-iron.
Paul Casey has been rumoured to be a possible signee with Honma (which recently inked Justin Rose). At the Sentry, Casey fuelled the discussion, as he put one of the company’s utility irons in play. Whether Casey ends up with the Japanese equipment-maker remains to be seen, but this was perhaps the strongest indication yet that it is at least under consideration.