WITB: Rory McIlroy

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How does a brand like TaylorMade go about dialling Rory McIlroy into their latest range of SIM woods? We find out what's in the bag of the four-time Major champion.

It can be a long process, and usually starts way before the season even kicks off. But the man with the knowledge, know-how and insight at TaylorMade is Senior Tour Manager, Adrian Rietveld. We sat down with him to get a grasp of how Rory made the switch from M5 to SIM for 2020 and discuss the process that goes in to forming the make-up of the Ryder Cup star's bag.

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WITB Rory McIlroy

RIETVELD ON RORY'S SIM MAX RESCUE

The look on Tiger’s, DJ’s, Jon Rahm’s and Jason Day’s faces when Rory pulled the SIM Max rescue from his bag was incredible. They were wondering why they didn’t have one. DJ was like, I think you’ve forgotten mine.

It was at our marketing shoot in Florida back in November 2019, when our elite athletes get to see the new product for the first time. We prepare a full bag of new models at each players spec, and by pure chance we had a couple of the new SIM Max hybrids, so we made one up and popped it into Rory’s bag.

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It’s true Rory had never experimented with a hybrid before.

You have to understand Rory is a unique player, he’s a very high hitter of the golf ball, and his natural shot shape sees shots fall a little left. Hybrids are designed to help golfers hit exactly that shot shape (high and turn it over,) so for Rory shots would go high left with too much spin. At tour level, players just wouldn’t entertain a variation in consistency.

9 times out of 10 none of the equipment in that initial marketing shoot will ever be put into play by a player.

But it's our first opportunity to get the players to experience a new technology, to show them something where they can see the potential that our new ideas could work for them. There’s a whole process of dialling in the new equipment on the range and golf course for each of them after this, that's way before players will put the clubs in play under tournament conditions.     

WITB Rory McIlroy

Rory is the best 5-wood player in the world, he can cover off 30–50 yards of gap by controlling launch and spin.  

A 5-wood is a unique piece of equipment for guys that are this powerful, we’re talking the top 5 -10% for ball speed and distance in the world. The yardage gap between the 3 wood (which is often strong and long) and 3 iron is very often big. Rory is brilliant at covering that gap by manipulating launch and spin. That’s what any hybrid is up against when it comes to getting a spot in Rory’s bag. I watched Rory hit his first three shots with the SIM Max Rescue, it was such a Rory flight, the ball flew through the window he likes to see and shots rose up beautifully.

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For a standard shot the SIM Max Rescue is 10 yards shorter than Rory McIlroy's TaylorMade SIM 5-wood.

Which means he won’t play the Rescue every week out on tour. He’ll look at how many shots of either Rescue or 5-wood length he needs and decide which will work best at each event. The cool thing about the Rescue is what it can do out of iffy lies or in the first cut. Rory will look at the rough at each course and see how the ball comes out using the Rescue compared to a 5-wood or long iron.

WITB Rory McIlroy

Rory didn’t stop hitting the SIM Max Rescue for two days whilst we were at the marketing shoot.      

It was my job to get him to the right place on the golf course at the right time throughout the two days. And you have realise each player has a convoy of buggies, with their clothing and shoe sponsors plus a film crew tagging along behind.

Rory insisted on stopping at numerous locations on the golf course to zap yardages before hitting shots into and down wind, and cutting shots into cross winds etc, just to see how the Rescue performed. His interest was piqued during those couple of days.

At the end of the two days we’re supposed to collect up the gear, because clubs haven’t been launched at this point and the embargo is a couple of months away, but there was no way Rory was leaving the rescue behind.

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Tour players like the SIM Max Rescue because it’s a precision club.     

The SIM Max Rescue combines all the best bits of hybrid performance, with a really consistent carry distance, that’s why it’s been a big hit on tour. It’s not super-hot off the face, it isn’t extremely high launching or low spinning which would make it uncontrollable in the best players hands.

If anything it spins a little more, which means mishits are likely to come up short, rather than fly 20 yards further than they should, making it a safer option out on tour. Part of that performance comes down to TwistFace tech, which because you don’t have to miss by much to activate on a hybrid helps get your expected carry distance number on toe and heel strikes. Trust me unpredictability is not entertained at this level.

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RIETVELD ON RORY'S SIM DRIVER

The SIM driver is different to orthodox drivers, it’s led us to rethink how we fit tour players.

Just giving the same spec driver to the guys as they’ve used before (and dialling in from there), didn’t really work with SIM. In our eyes SIM is the ultimate driver because it allows us to give players more loft without hurting them in terms of backspin. Rory was spinning it really low, so we kept adding loft, but that closes the club face, which you really can’t do with Rory as he will hit shots left.

After Rory’s first event of the year, we could see his miss was a little further left than he wanted, so we went at the issue a different way.

We gave Rory McIlroy a more lofted driver and dialled down the loft (which opens the face), it’s meant Rory has ended up with a 10.5° SIM driver, dialled down to 8.25°. He’s now playing 0.5° more loft than he’s played before, which gives him a perfect combination of a bit more forgiveness, without hurting him in terms of spin.

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We had Rory on TrackMan in Mexico driving the ball 359 yards through the air. 

Loft is the number one contributor to spin, so by adding loft whilst not affecting spin we’re helping Rory hit shots further. Rory has gone from 178 mph ball speed to 181 mph moving from his previous M5 to SIM.

Remember most speed testing is done at about 105 mph (Rory is at 120mph), so any faster than that, you see bigger gains. It’s like the rich get richer, so Rory is gaining more than most. Of course speed isn’t everything, but if it was the other way round and SIM was 3mph slower, SIM would have no chance of replacing Rory’s M5.

There’s a bigger gap between the SIM and SIM Max drivers, so one often jumps out at players. 

A lot of tour players used to stick to product families so Jon Rahm for instance went M2, M4, M6, but today it’s much more of a blank canvas. SIM spins a couple hundred RPM less than M5 and SIM Max spins 200 – 300 RPM more than the M6. It means we can fit players preferences better.

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RIETVELD ON RORY’S SIM FAIRWAY WOOD

Tiger Woods, DJ and Rory played and won with our titanium M5 fairway, but the M6 was a massive hit on tour last year.    

And part of the reason M6 was so popular was because it was the first time in a while we'd made a big fairway. Often our fairways have been 150cc – 160cc, but M6 was 185cc and the new SIM titanium is 180cc too. Getting guys to switch out of a 3-wood isn’t easy, but the promise of improved turf interaction thanks to the V-Steel sole is a relatively easy win.    

The SIM titanium is a fairway wood on steroids, it’s the holy grail.

Bearing in mind how good the M6 fairway was, the new SIM titanium is faster, higher flying, yet spins less which adds distance, plus it’s got playability. I’ve worked with Rory, Rahm and Sergio Garcia on them this year, and Rory and Garcia are the only players I’ve ever heard say this fairway wood goes too far!

It means just like the SIM driver we’re in a position of being able to loft up (1deg) without affecting spin or distance, which is a great place to be.    

SIM Max is great for guys that don’t want to hit a 3-wood 300 yards.

From our testing we’ve seen how the SIM Max fairway spins a little more, which is great for players who aren’t just chasing distance. From my experience though if a player gives you time we can really dial the SIM in to perform how a player wants.

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RIETVELD ON RORY McILROY'S IRONS

Rory moved over to using our P730 irons not long after The Masters last year.

He literally needed a new set of irons, as he’d been playing his RORS Proto's since signing with TaylorMade. We asked whether he wanted the RORS Proto (which are custom machined at over $15,000 a set) again or the P730 and he really wasn’t too fussed. We dialled them in one club at a time. He's now got a combo set, with P760 3 and 4 irons and P730's from 5 - PW.

WITB Rory McIlroy

Rory isn’t big into new stuff, he’ll push his equipment to the limit.  

He usually gets through a couple of sets a year, but his 8-iron gets a real beating, as he practices a lot with it. We’re always checking his lofts and lies at events.

You have to remember these guys are more so than ever, deeply involved with development of new products, especially when it comes to irons.

At Riviera this year Rory hit and gave feedback on three new six irons which could be in the pipeline as possible blade and/or P750 replacements. Custom machining irons and grinding wedges is a real art, but it’s really difficult to replicate exact shapes in subsequent models. To ensure consistency finding something you don’t need to touch is the best way to ensure consistency.

Any P-Series iron which might come out going forward has had input from Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm.

Tiger has own iron, but his model has been game changing for Martin Kaymer and Lucas Herbert. These guys know what they’re talking about, they’re designing for themselves, but their feedback and ability to know what works is phenomenal. We see a real value in bringing them in and working with them.

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I don’t see Rory changing his iron shafts any time soon.

That would be a big mistake, right? He’s played Project X for a very long time, and they’re the shafts that have got him to world number 1. Rory uses a flex weaker (6.5) in his wedges as he rarely hits them flat out, and 7.0's in his irons. It wouldn’t surprise me if True Temper get his feedback on any new models though, why wouldn’t they? He’s like their flagship guy for Project X.  

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RIETVELD ON RORY’S WEDGES AND PUTTER

Moving from a 47° speciality wedge to using the P730 PW was a big switch.

Most of the guys that played Nike irons previously carried a speciality PW which didn’t match their irons. For the first time Rory has now switched to the P730 PW. It means every week he takes 52°, 54°, 56° and 60° wedges. He then decides depending on the course set up, and what he does at the top of his bag, whether he carries three or four wedges.

WITB Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy goes through wedges more than most.

For somebody who hits it 350 yards, it's obvious Rory is going to use his wedges more, just think of all the bunker shots which increase wear and tear. Rory is now playing the MG 2 wedges after playing Hi-Toe last year. He uses a standard bounce, except for the 60° which is lower, there’s no custom milling or machining for him.

Rory is now settled on his Spider X putter, last year he had one of the best putting seasons of his career.

Last year he went from a D4 swingweight to D8, which he really liked, he won tournaments following that switch. Over the winter he's tried going ¾” longer and a bigger, lighter grip. Now though he's back to the best performing set up from last year. He’s done his exploring and is now comfortable and confident in what he likes.

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RIETVELD ON RORY’S TAYLORMADE TP5 GOLF BALL SWITCH

It’s amazing what Rory’s pyramid of influence has done for his peers.    

The reason most players initially went with the TP5x ball was because they looked at the decision primarily from a driver standpoint. Players wanted the lowest spinning ball, which is great, but it also spins less with the mid and short irons, so if you’re not a high spin player the ball is going to fly. Rory switched last year and other players have now done the same.  

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WITB Rory McIlroy

It’s taken players time to realise the TP5 was designed to do pretty much the same thing as TP5x in the long game.

Players originally thought they wouldn’t play the higher spinning ball as it would hurt them in the long game. But in reality players like Jon Rahm are seeing just 3 yards difference between the pair with the driver. So by opting for the TP5 they get the benefit of extra spin and performance in the short game. Rory switched a year ago and the TP5 works amazing for him, there’s zero need to mess with his golf ball in 2020.

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