Rory McIlroy will tee it up on Sunday as he and partner Dustin Johnson take on Rickie Fowler and Matt Wolff at Florida’s legendary Seminole Golf Club in the TaylorMade Driving Relief, a Covid-19 fundraiser. Golf fans everywhere are surely in for a treat as this will be the first step in golf’s return after a nearly two-month hiatus.
McIlroy, the current No. 1 player in the world, was off to hot start in the 2019-20 season, not finishing worse than T5 in seven starts. We caught up with him ahead of the Covid-19 crisis to take a deeper dive at the equipment in his bag.
You had a lot of options in 2017 after Nike stopped producing golf equipment. How did you land on working with TaylorMade?
Nike Golf made great products and I enjoyed lots of success with the range at the time. In all honesty, equipment and ball changes are always a challenge, but as golfers we are all capable of adapting and focusing on new realities. I first tried TaylorMade’s old M2 back in 2016 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and very quickly loved the feel. So my early experience of a TaylorMade driver was a positive one.
I went on to test many other products on the market, opting to try the Callaway Epic driver with the Pro V1 ball for a number of tournaments early in 2017. But I struggled at that time with consistency and ball control, especially in the wind, which culminated in a Masters performance that year I felt could have been better. After a lot of further testing, the combination of the M2 and TP5 ball was a real game-changer. The ball held in the wind better than any ball I previously tried and I could control the spin around the green. So, to this day, the TP5 is the constant variable in my setup and I adopt the same fitting process to find the best irons and woods for me.
You credited the TP5 as being one of the key factors in inking a deal with TaylorMade.
In my mind, the TP5 ball really speaks for itself. I don’t believe there is a comparison on the market today. It is phenomenal in the wind, distance numbers are good and there’s superb feel around the green. Standing over a ball of this quality really adds an important level of confidence to my game. Rickie [Fowler’s] switch to the TP5 last year was also quite a statement and further endorsement of a great product.
That said, you switched balls last season.
Last year’s change from the TP5x to the TP5 was me searching, generally, for a little more spin. I worked with the guys at TaylorMade and discovered the TP5 gave a slightly higher average spin rate throughout the bag, especially the additional control I could get on lower spinning shots.
You’re one of the best drivers on tour — given that, when you change drivers, to SIM for example, what is the process and what are you looking for? How long does the process take?
I’m always looking for ways to improve my game – it’s just in my nature. TaylorMade also tend to push the boundaries with their technology and I’m ready to be part of that process. Of course, I won’t change for the sake of it, but if the technology is better and my numbers are good—launch angle and spin rate, for example—I’m all for helpful innovation. My 2019 numbers were impressive—I was first in strokes gained off the tee. That, to me, is a great starting point.
When we were trying out the new the SIM Max, I worked closely with the TaylorMade club technicians, Keith Sbarbaro and Adrian Rietveld. Using detailed Trackman data and numerous fittings over the months of December and January, I was happy to make the switch. So far this season, I’m delighted with my distance and control and, importantly, really confident with the feel of my driver.
It’s been said you’ve never used a hybrid until the SIM. Is that actually the case?
Yes, that’s right. I have said in a number interviews that, where hybrid or rescue clubs are concerned, I’ve been something of a traditionalist. Typically, I would have preferred to carry a 2-iron because I always found it easier to flight and shape compared to a hybrid. I would sometimes even substitute a 2-iron for a 5-wood, depending on the course setup. More recently, though, I have revised that approach since trying out my TaylorMade SIM Rescue. I can hit it high, keep it low and—the really amazing thing–it gives me the distance of a 3-iron when it feels like I’m hitting a 7-iron. I will definitely have the SIM rescue in my bag when I feel a course sets up for it or when conditions dictate. Why not embrace change if it proves to be beneficial?
You’ve discussed how last year’s Spider design, especially with the white stripe down the middle, changed your putting habits. Do you envision that putter in your bag for a while, or do you continue to experiment?
The Spider X is staying in my bag!
It’s been a huge help and a reason for my consistent putting over the past two seasons. Last year was my best putting season on the PGA Tour and the Spider X played an enormous role in that. The white stripe and unique shape certainly make it easy to line up with the ball but the engineering behind it is what makes the the putter so special. The Spider has a larger, more forgiving sweet spot created by high MOI (moment of inertia), offering greater forgiveness even with a slightly off-centre strike. That was something I hadn’t experienced in the past and has since given me additional confidence over my putts.
You’re using a mix of irons — (790, 750, 730 protos). Given distance isn’t the consideration, obviously, what are you trying to do with your set?
To be honest, I’m simply trying to get the optimal performance from each club in my bag, even if that’s mixing things up a bit. I don’t feel the need to be tied, as was perhaps the case in the past, to having a full set of the same clubs. TaylorMade have amazing clubs in each category and, having tested so many, I have identified the best options for me – I’m just fortunate the range gives me so many options. A combination of data and how a club feels when I’m out on the course will form my decision. Once I can shape and flight each club to my liking, I’m happy to put it in the bag.
What’s your perspective on the distance debate in the game? Canadian PGA Tour pro Nick Taylor talked about how, when you played the RBC Canadian Open at Hamilton last year, you were on a different level from most in the field, that your combination of distance and accuracy made you practically untouchable there. Do you think your aggressiveness with the driver is a key to your success at a course like Hamilton?
I think everyone knows that there’s a statistical correlation between distance off the tee and winning golf tournaments. But it’s also important to remember that, with a win, other facets of the game need to be very tidy, too. Driving is, of course, the bedrock of my game and together with stronger than ever strokes gained off the tee, I’m able to take advantage of certain courses on tour. With my driving in such good shape last year, coupled with Hamilton really setting up for me, I was able to use my advantage over the field.
Tune-in to the TaylorMade Driving Relief Sunday May 17 at 2pm ET on Golf Channel.