Tommy Fleetwood has gone from equipment free agent to TaylorMade staff player. Here's how – and why – he picked his new clubs.
Tommy Fleetwood does things his own way, from his sawn-off follow-through to his claw grip. It’s worked, too, seeing the popular Englishman go from “that guy with the long hair” to multiple tour winner, Major contender and Ryder Cup lynchpin.
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Fleetwood has approached his golf clubs and equipment in the same way. His rise into the world’s top 10 has been aided by a bag full of hand-picked clubs, from multiple brands including TaylorMade, Titleist, Ping, Callaway, Nike and Srixon. He’s always used a Titleist ball.
But everything changed in 2021. Tommy Fleetwood has joined the superstar stable at TaylorMade, alongside Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, Charley Hull and Sung Hyun Park.
Fleetwood spent hours over the 2020-2021 winter perfecting his bag with Adrian Rietveld, TaylorMade's senior manager of Global Tour Operations, who told us: "Equipment free agents learn a lot as they have access to everything and everyone. Each brand wants access to you, but I think over time players see the benefits of having a dedicated company looking after them. For someone like Tommy, who’s the ultimate nice guy, he found the middle ground of the commitment TaylorMade could offer, along with a contract that’s very much in his interests. We weren’t the only company looking to sign him – we had to win his team's trust."
Rietveld then gave us all the details of what the two have done, how they settled on which clubs, and how their decisions could help you choose the best gear for your game this year.
Why Tommy Fleetwood replaced the Titleist Pro V1 he'd used for his whole career with the TaylorMade TP5x
He was hitting the TP5 indoors in the UK just after New Year. But it wasn’t until January that he started testing the TP5 and TP5x; he had some issues with the weather in the UK, so it wasn’t until we got to Dubai that he got to dissect every difference between the TaylorMade balls and his previous Titleist Pro V1.
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TaylorMade balls are the best-kept secret on tour. I’ve been looking at players using TaylorMade golf balls for a long time and the performance is second to none. But what I noticed more than anything with Tommy was the performance in the long irons, 3-wood and driver.
For players like Tommy, it’s all about very specific, controllable, reliable distances. As an equipment free agent, he played a combination set of irons, and that’s because he looked to cover off very specific yardages. But I’ve always felt that, because he’s such a good ball striker, if Tommy could play a full set of the same irons it would make the game simpler, especially in high- pressure situations. The new ball helped us do that.
The launch angle went up a window. As we tested the ball and got to the 5-iron and 4-iron, there was a higher launch which was exactly what Tommy was trying to achieve by using a more cavity back long iron. He thought the iron would add a little speed and launch, but we achieved what he was looking for through the ball. All of a sudden he was hitting his long irons four or five yards further, and that’s when things got really serious.
He hit hundreds of shots in testing... and the ball didn’t fail. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Rory McIlroy (he put the new TP5x in play as soon as it was available), Sergio Garcia and other top players on the ball, and Tommy gave very similar feedback. That breeds confidence in the product.
Tommy tested the ball every 10 yards from the greenside and in bunkers all the way back to 130 yards. I was more of a spectator when it came to the short game! Tommy, his short game coach and caddie, chatted constantly about how the ball performed from every situation, every lie. There were no question marks, but the acid test was on the course. All of sudden there are crosswinds and different lies. So when the weather turned in Abu Dhabi on Thursday morning (Tommy’s first event with his new ball), the opening two days were the ultimate test.
We tested the ball for four days. When you have 14 clubs in your bag it’s a lot of work to fit a new ball, as each club might need tweaking to get the ball to perform in the way you want – and remember, Tommy’s previous ball was completely dialled into his equipment. We got to a point where he’d seen how the TP5x gave the higher launch with the long irons, he’d done some short game work and he’d seen more consistent carry distances with his 6- and 7-irons. We said that if we were making the decision based on the launch, spin and carry distance consistency of full swings, the TP5x felt like the best fit.
Before deciding which ball to play, Tommy went very deep trying to find a trade-off. It’s natural to think that if you’re gaining with the driver and the longs irons, where’s the trade-off? And he really tried to find it!
But there wasn’t one, which was brilliant for him. He messaged me throughout the three weeks in the Middle East to say how well the ball was performing.
There’s no gun to Tommy’s head saying he must play this ball. Our team puts so much into all our products and it’s the tour team’s job to get them performing for the best players. You won’t find a player who’ll agree to switch sponsor and be under pressure from day one to put all of their equipment in play. Our aim is always for the player to feel like they’re giving something up by not playing our products.
How TaylorMade fitted Tommy Fleetwood's new SIM2 driver
I’ve worked with Tommy for years, and he’s played TaylorMade drivers a lot. He’s had a lot of success with them, too. As he left our photoshoot last November he took a SIM2 with him. I’d spent some time getting initial data with him, which I could take away and see the differences between our two new models and his previous Titleist TSi3. I sent him a couple of options over Christmas, along with a few different shaft options, while he was in his off-season. He was really excited about the switch; it was like a fresh start for him.
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Go too long and Tommy loses ball speed. He plays a very specific face angle and very low loft on his driver. The key to Tommy driving well is getting the face angle absolutely spot-on, and then trying to give him as much loft as he can get away with (before it becomes too spinny). We’ve identified 7.75° to 8° as the mark where he drives the ball best. His shaft is 44.75in, which is quite short.
Within a couple of days we had dialled in a SIM2 and SIM2 Max, and he could play either. Once we’d worked out the face angle, there were a couple of shaft options to explore, just so Tommy could see he wasn’t giving anything up in terms of ball speed. He used the SIM2 Max in Abu Dhabi and brought the experience from there to Dubai, where we worked together again. Abu Dhabi is the acid test of driving – lots of crosswinds, dog-legs, long carries and plenty of water – so you find out quickly what a product is doing under tournament conditions. In Dubai, he switched to the SIM2 and looked really comfortable. His attitude was very much that he’d turned a corner and found something really good.
On tour we can set either driver up with no restrictions. The sole weight in the SIM2 Max is a little different to SIM2. After Abu Dhabi Tommy said, “If I’m to play the Max it needs to be set up in a way so I don’t feel like I’m likely to miss in a certain direction”. That’s when the SIM2 became the driver he felt he controlled a little better, especially when he teed shots up a little more or gripped down the shaft.
The golf course is the office, but blink and the day is over. Those early-season test sessions, call it warm weather training, they’re really intense. It’s 6am starts and we don’t finish until sunset. Tommy will have his coach, caddie, short game coach and putting coach there and we all have our jobs to do. He spends hours on the putting green, often with Phil Kenyon. He never finishes any day without walking off the course, whether it’s having played six, nine or 12 holes. Of the 20 days I spent in the Middle East (not just with Tommy, but TaylorMade’s other tour staff too), I had one afternoon off.
Fitting Tommy Fleetwood's new TaylorMade SIM2 fairway woods
Ending up in the SIM2 Titanium was actually a mistake. Tommy thought he’d be playing the SIM2 Max fairways – they were the only two clubs he left the marketing shoot with in November, which made it to the Middle East with him. But while playing a few holes one afternoon, he’d accidentally left the SIM2 Titanium in the bag, so he used them, and loved them. We explored a couple of different lofts, but that’s all we really did on the fairways.
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I wanted to start with as clean a set of matched golf clubs as possible. I wanted to match the SIM2 5-wood to the 3-wood. By starting with very orthodox lie angles, shafts, heads and lofts, we could much more easily move in either direction.
Good players manipulate a 5-wood to cover off yardage gaps. Tommy carries a 3-wood 270 yards, and if he needs to hit it further he can, which is phenomenal. But because his longest iron is a 4-iron, there’s a huge gap to cover off between the two.
We wanted a club to cover 240-260 and help Tommy particularly hit the shorter end of those numbers. So we set out to find a club that goes 250, with good launch and spin, and then see how easy covering off the distance gap becomes. The smaller-headed SIM2 Titanium was perfect, as with its speed consistency (it’s not aimed at flat-out distance like the SIM2 Max), it lends itself to shot-making.
We optimised the loft, shaft, lie and launch for a 250-yard shot and then let Tommy take over for the shorter and longer yardages.
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He hits a 7-wood with the dispersion of a pitching wedge. The 5-wood is a key club for Tommy – look at the top players and when they win, the stat that jumps out is par 5 scoring. I think Tommy’s par 5 scoring will only get better. Depending on the course, he has a SIM2 Max 7-wood option. He normally carries four wedges, but when required he can drop a wedge and carry driver, 3-wood, 5- and 7- like he did in Dubai (with three wedges). It’s all about scoring and how he sees the course playing. For the Open we’ll work on a 2-iron option (he’s played a GAPR before) for him.
Fitting Tommy Fleetwood's new TaylorMade TF irons
Tommy tested Titleist, Callaway and Srixon irons. It was a conscious decision for Tommy to come out of his Nikes. He’s a world top 10 player and you need service of product, especially when things go wrong and you damage a club and so on. He decided to test each manufacturer’s options. Each brand presented what they thought would be a good fit for him. When we got our slot with him, the new Tiger Woods blade (P7TW) were in development and felt like the logical choice. It was all about timing.
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I asked TaylorMade HQ really nicely if we could get Tommy a set; in fact I had to beg for a set, even though he was very high on our list of players we wanted to work with. In the end I said it’s now or never. The support I got internally was exceptional.
I’d done my homework, I had Tommy’s specs. But someone was watching down on us when we started hitting the irons. The testing was very much like the ball testing. Day one ran into day two, which ran into day three, and nothing failed. All of a sudden the next tournament came around and he turned up with the TF Proto irons in his bag, I’ll never forget that. The TF Proto (Tommy Fleetwood) was our way of making them unique to him, and offering a higher level of service to a player we have a lot of respect for. Tiger really enjoys Tommy’s company, and Tommy has the utmost respect for his idol. Essentially, his TF Proto irons are exactly the same as Tiger’s, but with a different name.
His caddie (Ian Finnis) is exceptional with equipment. He’s such an enthusiast and benefit to Tommy. There was one day we were testing irons and he’s standing there covering his eyes so he could focus on hearing the strike and turf interaction, to see if there was any difference. Then he’d put his fingers in his ears so he could only see the ball flight. He was like: “I seriously can’t tell the difference”. Playing a full set of irons will help Tommy going forward; for a couple of years he’s only had four matching irons (TaylorMade 6, 7, 8 and 9, with Srixon long irons).
Take away strike and turf interaction and carry numbers are extremely important. To get really consistent carry you need consistent launch and spin so his ball flight doesn’t move much at all. If anything, his stock shot is fractionally right to left (he can move it both ways), with healthy spin. That means no hint of a hot ball flight; it’s actually a rising flight in the correct launch window, until the shot reaches its peak. In the shorter irons Tommy launches shots a window higher, but the peak height stays the same so the land angle is excellent. Watch him play in any conditions and he’s always pin high, he has great distance control.
Finding new wedges for Tommy Fleetwood
You’re putting doubts in a player’s mind if you change wedge and ball at the same time. You’ve got to pick your battles (Tommy hasn’t yet moved over to play TaylorMade wedges) and when we saw what the ball was doing for him, that meant everything to me. If you start introducing another variable, a player isn’t sure if any difference is coming from the ball or the wedge. You can’t sell a player on a new ball when you’re changing wedges and ball at the same time. I made the call to take it one step at a time.
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His stats shows he can improve from 120-135 yards. He used a 48° wedge that was a specialist head and a shaft matched to his wedges, not his irons. And I thought that’s a club he hits a lot of full swing shots with, so it felt like a pitching wedge matched to his irons would make more sense. It’s been a really good switch for him, and he feels more equipped and a more complete player from those distances.
Finding the ideal wedges will be a long process with Tommy. His coach has a lot of good insight into what is right for Tommy Fleetwood. We’ll get him and his team out to our HQ in Carlsbad where we’ve got our full wedge team. I think we’ll need to make wedges that are very specific to Tommy, and that takes time. He is a very high spinner of the ball, and my gut feel is that he will go more towards a traditional-shaped wedge rather than the Hi-Toe. Put Hi-Toe in the hands of an average spinner and spin can go through the roof. Tommy doesn’t need that. A traditional shape with focus on the sole shaping to complement Tommy’s delivery is likely to be the answer.
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A new putter for Tommy Fleetwood?
Tommy has used the same putter for as long as I can remember. He’s a great putter who spends hours on the green going through very specific drills with his coach, Phil Kenyon. How he likes to see the neck and topline of the putter, and where his eyes focus, are very specific. He has a TaylorMade Truss blade and a Spider FCG mallet and when he’s ready to explore a different shape or technology, we’ll be there with him. He loves giving feedback, so we’ve got a really good idea of what he’s looking for. When the time is right, it will be a lot of fun.
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Tommy Fleetwood WITB
Driver: TaylorMade SIM2 (Mitsubishi Diamana DF 70TX shaft), 10.5 degrees
3-wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Rocket (Mitsubishi Diamana DF 70TX shaft), 13.5 degrees
5-wood: TaylorMade SIM2 (Mitsubishi Diamana DF 80TX shaft), 18.5 degrees
Irons: TaylorMade P7TF (3-PW); Project X 6.5 shafts)
Ball: TaylorMade TP5X (2021)