News & Opinion

Pros tweak club setups for firm Carnoustie

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, Carnoustie Golf Links might be the most complicated puzzle that the 156 players for this week’s British Open will encounter in their careers. Nothing is obvious, and yet it’s all right in front of golfers as they stand on each tee.

Good fortune will prove to be crucial, but the right setup in the bag also will be imperative.

For the past three weeks, many of the competitors in three national championships on the European Tour – the French, Irish and Scottish opens – have been adjusting their setups to deal with the extremely hard and fast conditions of a nearly drought-stricken Carnoustie.

“It's going to be an interesting test to see which clubs we're going to be using off the tees, and a lot of it is dependent on which way the wind blows,” Tiger Woods said Tuesday. “So, the whole idea of these practice rounds is just to get a good feel for what I'm going to do, and then adjust accordingly based on wind.”

Many of the manufacturers have been working to build and fine-tune clubs that their players want to use to solve the Carnoustie conundrum.

It starts off the tee. Many competitors have concluded that a driver will not be the right play this week. Though the club won’t be left out of the bag, it might not see much action, depending on the wind.

So, driving irons or longer irons will replace 3-woods, 5-woods and hybrids this week.

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TaylorMade’s GAPR Lo driving iron

ALEX MICELI
TaylorMade’s GAPR Lo driving iron

“It’s kind of awkward off the tee, and you almost have to have each hole game-planned before you start and stay committed to it,” American Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, said after playing Carnoustie for the first time Tuesday. He intends to replace his hybrid with a driving 3-iron.

“What’s so tricky about it is the bunkering and how firm the conditions are. You can hit 5-irons close to 300 yards,” he said, adding that a player who hits hit long irons well “will have a huge advantage.”

Titleist and Callaway offer driving irons ranging from 13 degrees to 16 degrees in loft that are being subbed in.

One of the interesting changes with the longer irons is how graphite shafts are replacing roughly half of the traditional steel shafts among the longer irons in play this week.

According to Mattias Jelver, a Titleist tour technician, the graphite shaft is lighter and allows the player to generate more clubhead speed, makes the lower shot easier to hit and is more versatile compared with a steel shaft.

TaylorMade intends to introduce the GAPR driving iron later this year, but the new model will be available here this week. The GAPR comes in three models, with the Lo and Mid potentially in use this week.

The new GAPR features adjustable lofts and weights and is available in 2-, 3- and 4-irons.

According to TaylorMade technicians, Dustin Johnson was working on adding a GAPR Mid this week.

Zach Johnson, who won the 2015 Claret Jug at St. Andrews, conceded that he’s still “got a lot of figuring out to do right now” regarding his club makeup. “I’ve been in the hybrid mode, so do I put a driving iron in or a 3- and 4-iron in? But I’m not going to overthink it.”

Ping doesn’t offer a driving iron, per se, and is launching new irons this week. Ping’s 3-iron features a longer shaft and, when bent slightly to 17 degrees, performs like a 2-iron.

The other major change to accommodate the firmer turf conditions this week will be to reduce the bounce of wedges.

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Ping’s Glide Forged 60-degree wedge

ALEX MICELI
Ping’s Glide Forged 60-degree wedge

A typical wedge for a touring pro features 7-9 degrees of bounce. This week, the bounce likely will be closer to 6 degrees but could be as little as 1 degree.

Aaron Dill, the wedge technician who staffs Titleist’s equipment truck on a weekly basis on the PGA Tour, brought 75 wedge heads to Carnoustie for the anticipated rush of players looking to reduce bounce.

“You can go in a couple of different directions,” Dill said. “You can go with width to help with bunker play or narrow to eliminate bounce everywhere. It’s kind of player-dependent. If a guy is going to base some of his short game on generating lift or height, we are going to go narrow. If a guy is going to keep it down and play the ground game, have some forgiveness in the bunkers, then we increase the width and find a bounce angle that works well for those things.”

Neither Zach Johnson nor Spieth expects to change his wedges.

Johnson thinks that his current wedges are sufficient for most situations this week, but around the green he sees a different test than others. Though he tried two different grinds with less bounce, he is committed to his current setup.

“I think when you miss a green here, more times than not going high [in trajectory] is just not going to happen,” Johnson said. “You’re looking at a putter, hybrid, maybe an 8- or 7-iron, bump-and-run.”

Spieth plays low-bounce wedges with only 2-4 degrees of bounce, a strategy that he groomed from his boyhood on firm and fast conditions in Texas.

“When you hit these chips and pitches, if you strike it well, it goes short and spinney,” Spieth said. “If you don’t strike it well, it goes high and far. You really have to commit to that aggression in the ground. Very little bounce on a wedge, for me, has been useful around the greens on the shots I’ve tried to play.”     

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli