04 Mar 2013
At the end of last year Rory McIlroy won the European Tour season ending championship in Dubai by making five finishing birdies to beat Justin Rose by a shot.
They were the last holes he would play with his long-serving Titleist clubs and ball.
Instead, he signed an endorsement contract with Nike that, presumably, necessitated be play with their ball and clubs.
Tales of golf pros changing clubs for money are legion and many have seen temporary, or worse, form loss as they grew accustomed to the inevitably different feels of new clubs.
Johnny Miller switched from Macgregor irons to Wilson after his brilliant play through 1973 and 1974.
‘Wilson made good clubs at the time but not great ones. Try as they might they just couldn’t replicate the playing characteristics of my MacGregors, which I had spent years tweaking with lead tape, different shafts and so forth’ said Miller.
‘The difference wasn’t apparent at first. From a level perfect lie on the range, I hit my new Wilsons about as well as my MacGregors. But from sidehill lies, rough and other real-life situations they didn’t perform very well at all. The clubheads didn’t penetrate the grass the same way. The shafts behaved differently when I had to choke down on the grip. My game switched down two notches immediately and I came to regret switching manufacturers.’
The late Payne Stewart switched from Wilson to Spalding in the early nineteen nineties and fell in one season from the upper reaches of the American Tour to the fringe of the top 125.
When David Graham played the perfect, every fairway and every green, final round to win the 1981 US Open the inveterate club tinkerer was told by Tom Weiskopf: ‘don’t ever change clubs again.’ Of course he did because most golfers are always looking for something better – or for more money.
McIlroy so far this season has a missed cut in Europe, an opening round loss in last weeks Matchplay championship and now a withdrawal after 27 holes in the Honda Classic to his credit.
He cited pain from a wisdom tooth as his reason but pros struggling to break 42 for nine holes have found many and varied excuses for heading prematurely to the car park.
McIlroy is clearly a tremendous player and one of only a handful who combine great golf with an attractiveness that demands you watch them play.
Who really knows what is going on? He went through a similar slump in the middle of last season but came back to dominate the last half of the year and win the PGA Championship. For the first time in almost fifteen years there was a player seen as the one who could dominate the post-Tiger Woods world.
He has a flashy swing that is awesome when it’s all working he always wins or threatens to win and not many find that level with any regularity.
One thing is certain though. At some point this season McIlroy has hit a shot and said to himself: ‘I never would have hit that shot with my old clubs.’
Manufacturers will claim they can now match equipment perfectly to player and things have moved on from Miller’s day.
Maybe – but as Miller points out, it is the intangible things that no manufacturers can replicate. Or perhaps even understand. It takes rare talent to be so finely tuned to feel and McIlroy is a rare talent.