This is the fourth edition of Morning Read's "Truck Stop," where we check in with a PGA Tour equipment truck for gear news from the ground that week on Tour. (Here are Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3.) This week, a report from Augusta National.
There is nothing normal about this Masters. Not the date on the calendar. Not the storylines coming in. Not the weather. Not the course conditions.
And so it is fitting, perhaps, that Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley spent some of his pre-Masters press conference pre-emptively defending the relevance of a course that has long remained infallible. Ridley spoke on an issue that he perceives as quickly becoming existential in the sport: rapid distance gains.
“I think we are at a crossroads as it relates to this issue,” Ridley said in his Wednesday press conference. “... I do think that we're coming closer to a call to action. And all I can say is that, as it relates to our golf course, we have options, and we will take the necessary action to make sure we stay relevant.”
Equipment is inextricably at the core of this issue.
Callaway tour representative Jacob Davidson says that while distance steadily has ticked up in the past 20 years, scoring averages have not dropping significantly (71.10 last year compared with 71.45 in 2000, according to PGA Tour statistics). And while players are hitting it farther off the tee, approach shots have become less accurate, perhaps in part to those same low-spin balls that help boost distance.
Still, Davidson says a combination of fitness, technology and increased access to analytics give today’s players an unprecedented edge.
“All of those things are starting to factor into what we’re seeing now with the distance in the game,” Davidson said. “As far as what we can do to control that, it’s going to be tough to control athleticism. And I think that’s where we’re at right now.”
Bryson DeChambeau is, of course, the fulcrum of the distance dynamic – the biggest, brashest, most audacious player trying to revolutionize the sport. He is golf’s most forceful figure, but he is by no means alone.
Take Dylan Frittelli, who finished the 2019-20 season tied for 146th on Tour in driving distance. A switch to a 47.5-inch driver plus drastic fitness changes have given Frittelli immediate, drastic returns. He is now driving the ball 20 yards farther on average and has skyrocketed up to 26th in driving distance on Tour. This week, Phil Mickelson will plug in a longer driver shaft. On Wednesday, Vijay Singh brought a new 47.5-inch driver onto the course and added 15-17 yards. He was playing a Callaway Epic Flash Subzero D 8.5 with a strong cog.
This is only the beginning. Davidson says many players are hesitant to demo a new driver shaft at Augusta National, the final major before a de facto offseason.
“But I would say the majority of players, if they’re not playing it, they’re for sure testing it at home,” he said.
Which is to say, the floodgates might open sooner than later.
Between the rain and the November conditions, word out of Augusta is that the course may play a little softer than normal.
“The course is not in as pristine shape as you would expect,” Davidson said. “… It’s going to be very difficult around the greens, I think you’re going to see a lot of guys potentially using some hybrids or 3-woods for putting around the greens versus chipping. We’ve seen quite a few guys add a little more bounce to their wedges.”
Could this be the week for Xander Schauffele? He certainly seems due. He’s finished in the top 10 in four of his last five major championship appearances, including T-2 at the 2019 Masters. He’s played sparingly in recent months, but he behind the scenes he’s been gearing up for this week.
The Callaway team has been tweaking his setup, including some changes with his irons. This week he’ll also use a 3-wood with a shaft that’s 10 grams lighter than usual, and he has made some tweaks with his wedges.
It’s all carried out with a single goal in mind.
“We fully believe that Xander is going to be the No. 1 player in the world at some point,” Davidson said. “And we’ve been spending exhaustive amount of effort fine-tuning his golf bag, analyzing his stats, meeting with him and his father and his team.
“… I think that we all feel really confident that we’ve given him a setup this week that’s going to allow him to be successful and give him the best opportunity to win.”
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