Callaway's Vice President of Research and Development, Dr Alan Hocknell, knows a thing or two about golf clubs, so we asked him what's in the bag for 2020.
We get to see what equipment is in the bags of the games leading tour pros all the time. But, like us, have you ever wondered what the leading club designers, golf ball engineers and golf brand CEO’s have in theirs?
Well we thought it would be interesting to find out. So as part of a new series we sat down with Callaway’s Dr Alan Hocknell to find out more about his game and the clubs he's carrying in 2020.
Which Callaway driver have you got in the bag?
I had prototypes of both the standard and Mavrik Max models in my bag for several months before they were released. I’ve now plumped for a 9° Mavrik (standard head) in the final finished colours, along with a standard 60g stiff flex shaft.
I’m not really somebody who ‘loads’ the shaft very much, so I’m not sensitive to different models. It means I don’t have a hot favourite shaft, like some golfers. A mid-flex, mid-torque 60g shaft usually fits me pretty well.
How about your fairways and hybrids?
This is the area of my bag that’s least fixed. I have a Rogue (15°) 3 wood because I like the head shape, the face shape, and the turf interaction. The ball speed and flight are pretty good too, I’ve had success hitting it off the deck which means it’s stuck in my bag. It’s perfectly serviceable, I just haven’t spent the time to get properly fitted for a newer model.
I only carry one fairway wood as I also have a new super hybrid (not available in the UK) as well. It’s the 20° model, which is tweaked down to 19° and I pretty much use it as a 5-wood. It has a shorter shaft length (than a 5-wood), and I feel I make better contact.
I use it for par 3’s over 200 yards and for second shots on par 5s. I launch it high with relatively low spin, it gives me good carry distance and decent stopping power when shots hit the green. I use the stock Mitsubishi Tensei Orange S flex shaft, I wasn’t fitted for it, I just took it straight to the golf course.
How about your iron setup?
I have the Apex Pro 19 from 5 – PW, plus an X-Forged utility which is my 3.5 – 4 iron. I’ve had them for a while, and I’ve been stuck on the same iron shafts for years. It’s the Project Xi (6.0 flex), they’re a little lighter than the standard Project X. I’ll admit I fell in love with them because of the stepless brushed steel look.
Luckily I’ve hit them well from the off, I’ve never really experimented with anything else. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to my irons, which means I also have a lot of Golf Pride Multi-Compound grips.
And which wedges, putter and ball are you using?
I have the Jaws MD5 in 52°, 56° and 60° lofts with a raw finish. I use the middle of the road S Grind in the 52° and 56°, but a wide sole and low bounce 60°. I feel the lower bounce 60° gets the leading edge nearer the ground, which allows me to open the face a little and gives me the opportunity to get creative.
I have a decent near the green game, but Phil Mickelson has tried teaching me a few extra shots from time to time. Low bounce doesn’t suit everyone’s game, but I’m relatively precise and don’t take a whole lot of turf. It also means I don’t need to switch wedges when playing on links turf.
I have a prototype putter at the moment, it’s an unreleased EXO model, around here (Callaway and Odyssey) it’s dubbed the Triple Wide. It looks like a regular blade, with toe and heel weighting but the body is extended from face to back (think of it as a bit like the Odyssey Triple Track Double Wide, but wider).
The putter interests me as it combines high MOI with a forward centre of gravity, usually wider heads drag the CG back. I find it helps me on longer putts when I have a larger stroke, as my tendency is not to get the blade back square with rearward CG putters. A shallow CG helps, there’s a couple of alignment features I like too, as well as the Stroke Lab shaft.
Not that I’m a tour player or anything but I prefer the Chrome Soft X. I like the crisper feel, and being a reasonable iron player I tend to impact shots closer to the centre of my irons, so I don’t need some of the spin reduction (for extra distance) and extra forgiveness of the standard Chrome Soft. The slightly lower launch angle for chip and pitch shots suits my eye too, I like the window the ball travels through for shorter shots.
More about Dr Alan Hocknell
How did you start playing golf?
I was about 8 years old when I first played golf, it was a way of spending time with my dad and uncle who played. I would go and hack around, and then my gran bought me a half set of Northwestern junior clubs, they were the Chi Chi Rodriguez Champ model.
By the time I was a teenager we moved nearer to a golf club, so I could get there myself. Eventually I became junior captain for a year.
What’s your current handicap?
When I joined Callaway in 1998 I was off 15, I have been as low as 3, but currently I’m off 4. Weirdly though I've never broken par, I don’t take it low, I’m much more of a grinder.
Do you use a rangefinder or other distance measuring tech?
I am the guy that wants to know a yardage for sure, I have a Nikon laser rangefinder which I use regularly. I didn’t really grow up wanting yardages but since I’ve played more in the USA, it’s pretty much the norm out here to know your distance before playing.
I used shot tracking for a while. It was us (Callaway) who developed the technology which has now become Arccos. I was really excited at the outset about the prospect of getting PGA Tour style data and analytics. For me though once I played a few rounds, and got a good picture of my game, my level of interest dwindled.
The system illustrated how the vast majority of the game is played within 100 – 120 yards of the green, which includes bunkers and on the greens. I thought back then, not being able to position the flag was a limitation.
Do you collect anything golf related?
I’ve got a few bits and bobs but I’m not really a collector like a few at Callaway are. Chip Brewer (Callaway CEO) has a greatest hits bag in his office, which has all the biggest product success stories, throughout his career within it, which is pretty neat. And Jason Finley (Global Director Brand Management for Golf Ball) keeps one of every Callaway Truvis golf ball pattern that’s ever been made too.
In my office I have an ERC driver from 2001, which is serial number 1. It’s so pre-production it doesn’t even have ERC on the bottom. The original working title was ‘Holy Grail’, but we thought we’d never get away with selling a driver with that name, so we changed it to the founders initials, ERC. I also have signed FT-3 headcovers from Phil Mickelson, they’re from the 2006 Masters when he won with a two driver strategy, he gave me both straight after.
I’ve also got an ERC 2 driver poster that Callaway produced, it’s the clubs silhouette on a white background with the words ‘BANNED - Everywhere except’ stamped across it. I love how it lists pretty much everywhere in the world except for the USA, as effectively that was the only country the driver was banned within.
At the time it felt really cool, we were rebels, tweaking the noses of the establishment with technology that hadn’t been seen before, and I was heavily involved in its creation.
Can you remember the last golf club you shelled out for?
That’s a very long time ago, if you don’t count buying competitor clubs today. I remember Loughborough University (where I studied) having a sponsorship deal with Maxfli and playing their driver and a set of Australian blades, which were great.
I also remember a set of Wilson Aggressor cavity back irons in my teens, and a Ping Eye 1 iron that I couldn’t hit for toffee. Back in the day, a friend came to the USA and brought me back a TaylorMade Burner, which was a real big deal back then.
Ever had a hole-in-one? And the last time you had an eagle?
Never had a hole-in-one, but this is going to sound like a real brag, but my last eagle was on the 11th at Oakmont. It’s a big downhill par 5, it must have been hard and running as I hit driver, five wood to 12 feet. I sank the curly wurly putt, it felt like the best hole ever.
How about the best golf course you’ve played?
I’m partial to lots of links courses. St Andrews is always a thrill, I’d rank the Old Course way up there, just because of the history. I’ve never broken 80 round there yet, I’ve always managed to spill the beans near the end when I’ve had it going.
Pine Valley is fantastic too. It takes the highs and lows of a round of golf and turns the dial up to 11. When it asks you to hit certain shots, and you’re able to in that moment it’s a big thrill. And when you hit a shot the course is asking you not to the frustration is amplified, and the penalty on that course is off the chart. Pacific Dunes at Bandon is just a great golfing environment too – total golf.
You’ve worked on masses of projects at Callaway, what’s your favourite?
Getting to work on a project as significant as ERC was a huge responsibility early in my career. The success of the product showed people at Callaway what I could do, it set me up on a decent trajectory career wise too.
In terms of fulfilment the GBB Epic was great too. We hadn’t quite nailed the driver category since Chip Brewer had arrived, so to come up with a technology to leap frog the market leader was immense. It put a smile on Chip’s face, but also gave my teams confidence a massive boost too, it meant we weren’t always playing for second in the driver market, which was significant.
Ok, final question do you have anything with sentimental value in your bag?
I’m not really sure I should tell you this, but I’m a member of the R&A, so I always carry an R&A ball marker. I don’t use it all the time, but I’m fiercely proud of being a member, so there’s always a little piece of it with me on the golf course.
Members don’t usually crow about it, but I was lucky enough to be proposed following a chance meeting at the Torrey Pines US Open. There’s only 2500 members worldwide, and only 250 are allowed to be in the USA. I was in a waiting pool for ages, the whole process took about eight years.
The day I got the letter no one was at home, but a couple of friends at Callaway knew I was going through the process, I text “it came” to one of them and he knew exactly what I was talking about.