LA QUINTA, Calif. — They stood, captivated at the back of the range. The young volunteers at PGA West tasked with getting each player and caddie the right bag of golf balls before each practice session. They were lingering an extra minute, watching Jhonattan Vegas rip driver clear to the teaching tee on the opposite end of the range.
“Vegas is destroying golf balls right now,” one said in awe as he sorted balls into a bin, one eye up on every swing.
It was a lengthy session on the range prior to the CareerBuilder Challenge as Vegas, formerly a Nike equipment player, tested various head and shaft combinations of the new Callaway Epic driver. Its preceding reputation is catching on fast.
Phil Mickelson, a long-time Callaway staffer, had the new driver in his bag to begin the week, his first time swinging a golf club since returning from multiple sports hernia surgeries. The ball speed was so fast for him that he swapped it out after the first round at La Quinta until his swing mechanics sharpen up.
“I’ve been altering the driver to accommodate my inefficiency in my swing,” he said after his second round. “And now that my swing is getting better with the driver, I’ve got to change the driver makeup and setup.”
Mickelson was one of 20 players in Palm Springs who had the Epic driver in play, including the latest sub-60 shooter, Adam Hadwin. More could follow in what is building as a transition year in equipment. With so many players thrown into limbo by Nike’s sudden exit from the business last August, it’s the Wild West when it comes to equipment loyalty.
Arguably the best pure driver of the golf ball, Rory McIlroy settled on the Callaway Epic Sub Zero driver to start his 2017. Tiger Woods began 2017 this week with a Bridgestone ball in play and a TaylorMade driver and fairway woods in the bag. Hudson Swafford won last week with five manufacturers in his bag. Tommy Fleetwood won with his old Nike sticks, saying, “I’m not going to change just for the sake of it.” While there will always be exclusive deals for the top players in the world, the current hodgepodge has created an increased interest in the marriage of players with equipment.
“It’s been a really weird offseason,” Paul Casey said last week, noting he has settled on TaylorMade woods and a Titleist ball after the Nike news came out. “I still have my Nike irons in the bag and I was second in greens-in-regulation last year. The whole process is still quite raw since Nike made the announcement. There are so many variables. You may see more changes as the season pans out.”
Change, as they say, is inevitable, but forced on so many golfers that their pursuit of new perfection has a trickle-down effect on others. The year isn’t even a month old, but the equipment revolution is in full force.