The Equipment Insider

'Truck Stop': Champions Tour players make equipment decisions just as you and I do

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson has won twice this year on the Champions Tour, where no one currently averages more than 300 yards per drive.

In the 2nd edition of Morning Read's 'Truck Stop,' we talk Champions Tour with Callaway's tour representative. The senior circuit consists mostly of 'free agents' when it comes to gear, and they make weekly choices similar to those of recreational players

This is the second edition of Morning Reads "Truck Stop," where we check in with a PGA Tour equipment truck for gear news from the ground that week on Tour. (Part 1 is here.) This week, the PGA Tour is in Bermuda and the gear truck is back on the mainland, so we focused this report on news from the Champions Tour.

There are 81 players in the field for this week’s Champions Tour event, the TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Fla. Fewer than 25 percent of those players are sponsored by an equipment company.

That dynamic – in contrast to the PGA Tour, where nearly everybody is contractually bound to their equipment – creates a weekly competition among brands to win the equipment battle on performance alone.

“You’re looking at that and saying, There’s 65, in essence, free agents, that have the opportunity to play whatever they want,” said Jacob Davidson, Callaway’s PGA Tour representative. Davidson and Callaway take pride in their numbers on the Champions and LPGA tours.

Johnny Thompson, Callaway's Champions Tour representative, estimates that, on average, 50 percent of the Champions Tour plays Odyssey putters and 40 percent uses Callaway drivers. Those numbers closely mirror the numbers on the LPGA Tour, which features a similar “free agency” dynamic.

And players' selections can, in some ways, inform the average amateur about which equipment might best suit him or her. Swing speeds on the Champions Tour tend to range between 95-105 mph, similar to that of a 5-to-10-handicapper. Nobody on the Champions Tour averages 300 yards in driving distance (though John Daly threatens that threshold, at 298.7 yards). The occasional Phil Mickelson foray aside, Champions Tour players haven't adopted the bomb-and-gauge obsession that's in vogue on the PGA Tour. On balance, their equipment priorities likely resemble something close to yours.

“They’re playing a lot more product that’s closer to just off-the-shelf that consumers can buy,” Davidson said. “I think on the PGA Tour, you start getting into extra-stiff shafts and all of that, but some of our most successful product out here is product that your consumers can go buy at their local green-grass store or big-box retailer.

“Obviously, the irons are a little bit different on the Champions Tour. You see guys playing irons that have got a little bit more offset, maybe something that launches a little bit higher, a little bit stronger lofts. And the driver, as well. It’s very similar.”

Odyssey Putters.jpg
Odyssey putters stand at the ready in the Callaway tour truck.

So, in that context, which items are popular?

The SubZero driver tends to appear on many tee boxes on the Champions Tour. On the greens, Odyssey putters feature an alignment aid that provides peace of mind, particularly for those with ample experience.

“I think [players] can see the difference in the roll,” Davidson said. “They can see the improvement in how quickly the ball gets up and starts rolling immediately. Maybe somebody that hasn’t played long enough or hasn’t maybe had the history with one specific brand for a long time, to kind of have that to balance against, I don’t know would affect it. It just seems like these guys would say immediately, That ball is rolling so much better.”

Amateur question of the week: Is my driver loft costing me distance?

Was this a question borne of my own on-course frustration? Perhaps. Some have access to machines that measure spin rates and launch angles in a controlled environment. Others just wonder why those drives aren’t carrying what we think they should.

Could your loft be the problem? And if so, how can you know your proper loft?

“I think we see that week in, week out, when guys change their golf swings or they switch equipment that’s not operating in that optimal zone, and we’re able to tune them back in, they’re typically able to find somewhere between 7 and 10 yards, sometimes just if they’re over-spinning their driver or not launching it at the proper height,” Davidson said. “For the average consumer, I think that you’re looking for somewhere between that 11-13 launch [angle] and spin numbers somewhere between 2200 and 2500, depending on how they deliver the club.”

Well, I suppose a trip to a simulator is in my near future.

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