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Why Rory McIlroy Signed With TaylorMade
Rory McIlroy's equipment future was thrown into a state of flux at the end of last season when Nike Golf exited the hard-goods industry, ceasing production of the clubs and golf balls the four-time major winner played since 2013 when he signed a multi-year deal with the Swoosh.
Without a formal equipment deal in place, McIlroy suddenly had the freedom to build his own bag setup during the offseason. It was an opportunity McIlroy embraced at first when he announced at The Barclays that he would likely forego an equipment deal for at least the first year to give himself as many options as possible.
While McIlroy appeared intent on going the "free agent" route, he left the door slightly ajar to the possibility of a signing a new deal before the year was up.
"If I come across something that I really like and I'm really comfortable with, obviously I'll look to sign a longer-term deal," McIlroy said at the time.
Roughly eight months later, McIlroy believes he's found the perfect long-term equipment match in TaylorMade Golf.
"I've been around golf long enough and seen everything," McIlroy said this week during a one-on-one interview with PGATOUR.COM, "but I've never been this excited about equipment as right now, which I think is big to say."
As part of the new agreement, the 28-year-old will use 14 TaylorMade clubs, the golf ball and carry the company's staff bag.
With McIlroy now in the fold, TaylorMade boasts the top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking and five of the top 10. It's the kind of notable signing that was always going to generate significant buzz, especially with McIlroy making the announcement going into THE PLAYERS Championship, the PGA TOUR’s signature event.
However, what makes the signing even more intriguing is the reason McIlroy decided to sign with TaylorMade in the first place. Although the company is known primarily for its driver technology, the "equipment game-changer" that sealed the deal for McIlroy was actually TaylorMade's TP5x golf ball.
PrevNextMcIlroy closed out last season by winning the TOUR Championship and season-long FedExCup title with Nike's RZN Tour Platinum golf ball in the bag. But during the offseason, McIlroy began testing new club and ball combinations and made the decision to reinsert Titleist's Pro V1x, along with a mix of Callaway and Titleist clubs, when he opened his 2017 schedule in South Africa in a European Tour event.
"I went Titleist golf ball because that's what I knew and what I was familiar with," McIlroy said. "I went with that and just tried to fit the equipment to that golf ball and what sort of worked with it."
Given his successful history with Pro V1x — McIlroy won two major championships (2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship) with the ball — the choice made sense. He finished runner-up in South Africa with the new setup, and then tied for seventh in the high altitude at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. As he made his return to sea level, though, McIlroy started to feel like something was off.
"I started to notice when I came back to sea level at Bay Hill, especially in the wind, I didn't feel like I knew how far or where the ball was going,” McIlroy said.
He pointed to a couple of instances during the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and the Masters where he struggled to hit shots into the wind. That led him to return to the drawing board with his equipment setup.
"It was windy, blustery and I just struggled at Augusta," McIlroy said. "I remember on the 14th, I pitched an 8-iron 138 [yards] into the wind, and then 15, I hit it way down there off the tee and pitched an 8-iron 192 [yards]. There's nearly a 60-yard gap between a downwind and an into-the-wind shot. At that point I realized I needed to look at my other options to see what else was out there for me."
In the days following the Masters, McIlroy placed a call to Keith Sbarbaro, TaylorMade's Vice President of Tour Operations, to see if he wanted to make the trip to McIlroy’s home club in Jupiter to conduct club and ball testing.
"I always had it in my head that the more spin I could get with a golf ball, the better," McIlroy said. "But obviously that was working against me. I didn't have anything in my head at that time, just sort of wanting to find the best equipment. So we got on the TrackMan and I started hitting this TP5x golf ball and I was like, 'Oh my goodness.'
"It's always windy down here and I could just see from the flight that the ball was going through the wind and doing exactly what I wanted it to do. At that point I sort of felt like I probably should have given that ball more thought when I started testing new stuff at the beginning of the year."
According to McIlroy, his club of choice during practice sessions is a 6-iron. Eventually, he went to work performing his own independent testing, using a Callaway 6-iron and TaylorMade 6-iron with different golf balls to see if he could recreate the flight and numbers.
"I started with a Callaway 6-iron and Titleist ball and it went around 184 yards, and then I hit the same 6-iron with a Callaway ball and it went 3 yards further," McIlroy said. "I was like, 'That works for me.' Then I hit the TaylorMade 6-iron with the TaylorMade ball and it went 7 yards further than that. So I was getting 10 yards extra over the initial 6-iron combination. The TrackMan numbers I was seeing not only with the irons but the woods as well I had never gotten before, so at that point I felt like the decision to join their staff made sense."Rory puts his stamp on the popular Spider Tour putter. (Jonathan Wall/PGATOUR.COM)
With TP5x acting as the catalyst, McIlroy went to work filling out the rest of his bag, adding TaylorMade's 2017 M2 driver and M2 Tour fairway woods — the fairway woods went in play at the Masters — to the top of his bag. At the moment, McIlroy said he's carrying his driver anywhere from 315-320 yards.
"I just really like the traditional shape of the head and how easy it is to square the ball up at address," McIlroy explained. "The black face and white crown really help me with alignment, which I particularly like. It's easy to turn over or hit a controlled fade with relative ease. I actually picked up another 1-2 mph of ball speed with M1, but the shape of M2 was what really got me."
The most eye-catching addition to McIlroy's bag is the new iron setup that features a custom set of P700 Series "Rors Proto" irons (5-9) that he worked closely with the company's R&D team to develop. The traditional muscleback has a shorter blade length, reduced offset and a thinner topline that McIlroy prefers.
"That's something I've been consistent with and played the whole way throughout my career,” McIlroy said. “I love the finish on them. If anything, I told Keith based on what I was paying before, the topline was just a little thick for my liking, so they thinned it out for me. The iron setup is still a little bit new to me, but what I've seen from testing it's going to be really good. "
In addition to the blades, McIlroy will have two course-dependent P750 long irons (3- and 4-iron) that he confirmed will likely go in play this week. The slightly larger cavity-back model gives McIlroy a more forgiving option off the tee on tight courses like the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
"With this TP5x, it obviously doesn't spin quite as much as what I had been playing, and I needed something that just launched a little bit higher," said McIlroy, who has finished inside the top 12 in his last four PLAYERS starts after missing the cut in his first three appearances. "I'm carrying the 4-iron 235 yards in the air and the 3-iron 250 yards in the air. It's unreal. And they're launching at 14 or 15 degrees. It's really, really cool. I'm just so excited to put them in play this week because I was going through all the holes where these irons could be a great option off the tee."
McIlroy will go with three Milled Grind wedges (46-09SB, 54-11SB and 60-09LB) that are machine milled to his personal specs with his first and last name on the back of two of the heads (54- and 60-degree), and his initials on the other (46-degree).
As far as the putter is concerned, TaylorMade has built McIlroy a TP Collection Mullen mallet and Spider Tour Red putter with a custom black sight line that could potentially go in the coming weeks. For the moment, McIlroy expects to keep his Odyssey prototype mallet with the Microhinge insert in the bag.
"I'm just excited to put all of the equipment in play and see what everything does," McIlroy said. "Everything I've tested here and on the golf course has been great. I'm looking forward to seeing how everything performs in a competitive setting. It might take some time to get the right setup, but I'm definitely sure this is the right path forward for me."The TaylorMade ball helped convince Rory to sign with the equipment company. (Jonathan Wall/PGATOUR.COM)
Rapid fire with Rory
Rory McIlroy answers a few key questions from PGATOUR.COM's Equipment Insider, Jonathan Wall -- including why he uses the number "22" on his new TaylorMade golf ball.
PGATOUR.COM: Have you decided on a driver loft yet?
RORY McILROY: “I feel like I haven't played enough on the course over the last few weeks to really know for sure, but it's going to be either an 8.5- or 9.5-degree head this week. The 8.5 is right around 8.25 degrees of actual loft, and the other one is 9.5 degrees that plays at 9.75. It's going to be between those two heads.
“I'm going to take them with me to TPC Sawgrass and go out and play shots with both before making my decision. I've also got another M2 head as well that's 8 degrees that could be an option for [The Open Championship] that's awesome and launches at 9 degrees and is just a bullet. Depending on the course conditions, I've got three great options for any setup.”
PGATOUR.COM: Where are you with the fairway woods at the moment?
McILROY: “I played the M2 Tour fairway woods at Augusta and really liked how they turned the ball over. I've been working with a standard M2 3-wood that has a look and feel that suits me. I'm expecting that one will go in the bag this week, but I'll probably do a little bit more work on the course to confirm that's the case.”
PGATOUR.COM: What was your initial impression when you saw the prototype irons for the first time?
McILROY: “I still remember I was on the range at The Bear's Club with [Dustin Johnson] and he saw the irons in my bag and immediately made a call to someone at TaylorMade to make sure he got a set. They just look good. I love the compact head and the topline just really suits my eye. I also feel like even if I hit these irons a bit off-center, they still go, which is really nice to have with a blade.”
PGATOUR.COM: I was told you have a 1-iron as well?
McILROY: “It could be one of my favorite clubs. Mind you, it's not a traditional 1-iron. It's a driving iron with probably 16 degrees of loft that I can carry about 290 yards. It just goes forever and could be a great option on tight courses or in the wind. I have a feeling it will get a lot of use.”
PGATOUR.COM: Did you talk to any TaylorMade staffers in particular before signing to get their take on the company?
McILROY: “I did talk to a few guys. It was a couple of days before heading back to Ireland and I saw [Dustin Johnson] on the range out here. We were hitting balls together and I was asking him what he thought about everything and he said, 'Dude, the stuff is really good.' He's got a great relationship with Keith [Sbarbaro] and said he trusts whatever he says about his equipment.
“Sergio [Garcia] was at my wedding, we played a practice round together as well at Augusta, and I asked him about the P750s and about the TP5 ball, so I've been talking to him about the equipment. Also, Jon Rahm when I was in Austin for the [WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play].
“I've spoken to a lot of the guys. I think that's the thing: You look at the TaylorMade staff at the minute and everyone is playing so well. Everyone loves the equipment and the new ball. It's an exciting time.”
PGATOUR.COM: What's your impression of the Spider Tour putter?
McILROY: “I've been playing around with it. I want to try some different inserts because that putter has such a different feel from what I'm currently using. But I got them to make up a red Spider Tour for me that has a long line on the top.
“That's one of the reasons I went to the mallet — I sort of figured it helped me align better and helped with my aim. It's awesome with the Spider because you set this thing up and you know exactly where you're aiming, and it sits so square with that flow neck. I've got one in the bag that I'm trying out, but I want to try and see if I can find one that feels a little more familiar to me.”
PGATOUR.COM: Any particular reason why you went with the number 22 on your golf ball?
McILROY: “It's the date I got married, which is a really important date to me. I wanted to remember it on my golf ball. I also did some research and found out the number 22 means powerful and high-risk, high-reward, which I felt suited me since that's the way I play on the golf course.”