While the story currently doing the rounds (pardon the pun) on the airwaves is of Rory McIlroy’s split from long term caddy JP Fitzgerald, another of Rory’s partnerships, should also be of note to onlookers with a keen eye on business end of the golf world rankings.
A few years back there was a fair deal of hullabaloo surrounding Rory’s switch from Titleist to Nike after the Northern Irishman had won his first 2 majors, both by 8 shot margins, with his long term weapons of choice.
A dip in form, a few missed cuts and toothache-gate followed. But then, after time and some bedding in, so did a further two major championships, a pair of WGCs and a slew of other tour titles.
It seems then, that Rors plays at the peak of his powers when he has consistency in his life, both on the course and off it.
McIlroy of course is now a married man, so you’d like to think that moving forward, that’s the off course part sorted in terms of consistency. And having signed with TaylorMade, a multi-year agreement that will see him use both their clubs (throughout the bag) and balls moving into what should be the prime of his career, don’t be surprised if we see more consistent fireworks from Rors on the course too.
So how exactly did it “all go down” as far as signing with TaylorMade goes?
The scene was The Bear’s Club in Florida. It was April (a month or so before the deal was done), early on a Sunday morning, and 3 of TaylorMade’s top product boffins (Keith Sbarbaro (VP of Tour Operations), Brian Bazzel (Senior Director of Metalwoods Creation), and Eric Loper (Director of Golf Ball R&D) were on the grounds, ready and waiting to carry out equipment testing with McIlroy.
Talking of the initial stages after Nike had pulled out of the hard goods business, Keith Sbarbaro said:“I think every manufacturer sent Rory equipment pretty soon after the announcement that Nike was getting out of hard goods.
This was an unexpected opportunity. But as soon as that announcement was official, I made the call. I just wanted Rory and his team to know what we thought of him and how much we’d love to have him playing our stuff.
If you asked me a year ago, I would’ve never thought it was possible to have Rory McIlroy in TaylorMade equipment…he was going be in Nike clubs his whole career.
We had sent him some equipment—the first TaylorMade clubs he tested were our metalwoods. At that time, 14 of the 18 Nike players had already switched to our driver, and we definitely made him aware of where his Nike colleagues were going.
When I first saw Rory in person, he was on the range next to DJ… and Rory was joking with DJ saying that he had been “cheating” this whole time by playing an M driver. And in truth, Rory was picking up 15 extra yards of carry with his M2 and was excited to put it in play at the WGC-HSBC tournament in China.
After the tournament, he called it one of his best driving events ever. Then he played in Dubai a few weeks later and had another great driving week. In his mind, the TaylorMade woods passed the test and he knew he could play them long-term.” he added.
“As it relates to metalwoods and Rory, there are few golfers that seem to be a step above when it comes to driving the golf ball. DJ is one of them, no doubt about it. McIlroy as well—when you look at the numbers and his ability to overpower golf courses with his driver, his performance with the driver in his hands is insane. The fitting was extremely thorough and he left with three drivers that he could legitimately go start a major championship with.” ~ Brian Bazzel
If you have a keen eye on golf, you won’t have escaped the fact that lots of noise was made about TaylorMade’s new TP5 and TP5x golf balls around the turn of the year too. When it came to fitting the rest of Rory’s bag, this is exactly where the boffins at TaylorMade began, with the ball even going on to become the star of the show.
Senior Director of Metalwoods Creation, Brian Bazzel commented: “First and foremost, we wanted to address the golf ball. The golf ball is one of the most important pieces of equipment, if not the most important piece of equipment to get right before you start dialing in everything else. Golf ball was priority one.”
Sbarbaro added: “It ended up being an advantage that Rory had already played the Titleist ball and another brand’s driver because it gave him time to see the weaknesses in what he was using. I knew exactly what we were going to do and how the day was going to go. I knew that our golf ball was going to be the star of the day.”
Bazzel went on to say: “Honestly, our plan was to start with the golf ball… and I think we had him at golf ball. I don’t know how a player of that caliber could walk away from the performance that he witnessed with TP5x. If your career going forward is about winning major championships and putting yourself in history books, you want the best equipment. It was clear as day how incredibly well the TP5x was working for him. It was a defining moment.”
“I made the same mistake everyone makes. I defaulted to Titleist, assuming it was the best ball; it’s simply not.” ~ Rory McIlroy
Director of Golf Ball R&D, Eric Loper added: “We knew going into the test that he wasn’t happy with the Pro V1x—and he mentioned that during our test. His feedback on golf balls he’s played in the past was that his Nike ball was pretty good in the wind, but it lacked control around the greens… the Pro V1x was better around the green, but it would spin too much and get held up in the wind.
Every player has this challenge of using a ball that either has better iron performance at the expense of losing spin around the green or a ball with more spin around the green at the expense of iron performance—it’s that choice. The benefit of TP5x is that it provides the greenside control AND the iron performance that players are looking for. You don’t have to make any sacrifice.”
“In his words, he was “shocked” at how good this golf ball is. It was by far the star of the day.” ~ Keith Sbarbaro
If you’re a social media user, you probably won’t have escaped the pics of Rory’s new “Rors Proto” irons either…
“When we sent him the new Rors Proto irons, he called them the most beautiful irons he’s ever seen. They’re like jewelry. And he didn’t want to hit them because he knew if he hit them, he would want to play them and he didn’t want to be changing things up that close to The Masters” said Sbarbaro.
The iron fitting went one step further too, with Bazzel adding: “I think another place where we started to shine as a potential partner for Rory was when we started testing utility irons in preparation for The Open Championship.
We gave him an M2 driving iron and a UDI. As he hit both of those clubs, he was shooting looks back at us like, ‘are you kidding me?!’
It was like icing on the cake to give him multiple world-class driving irons in preparation to win another major championship.”
“Watching Rory is just an unbelievable display of ball striking.” ~ Keith Sbarbaro
“It was amazing to watch. When he missed, it wasn’t a huge miss. His slowest ball speed was about 177 MPH. He was like a machine.” ~ Eric Loper
“His capacity to be hitting drives at 180+ MPH ball speed without wavering was incredible. Showcasing differences between shafts, heads, weight, CG… it was like using a robot.” ~ Brian Bazzel
A month after Rory’s fitting at The Bear’s Club, news broke that he’d signed a multi-year, 14-club plus golf ball contract with TaylorMade.
The move further cemented TaylorMade’s position at the business end of the golf equipment industry, with Rory joining the likes of World Number One (at the time of writing) Dustin Johnson, former World Number One and 2015 PGA Champion Jason Day, Olympic Gold Medalist Justin Rose and this year’s Masters Champion Sergio Garcia, as well as a whole host of other elite players, in playing the brand’s clubs and balls.
Time will only tell how many other may follow suit but as it stands, 50% of the world’s Top 10 players have TaylorMade through the bag, with 2017 US Open Champion Brooks Koepka also using a TaylorMade Driver and 3 wood to bludgeon his way to victory at Erin Hills.
Not. Too. Shabby.