We discover what new Open Champion Rory McIlroy has in his bag. Rory is now in his second year as a Nike athlete, but already he’s got some new gear in the bag. He put the new Covert 2.0 Tour driver and RZN Black ball in play at the end of last year – and won straight away with them in Australia, and has now won The Open 2014.
Working on his equipment is an ongoing process, but it is one that is a lot less random than some people might think. He doesn’t go to The Oven, Nike Golf’s R&D facility in Texas, hit 50 different drivers and see which one works best. Instead, the engineers look at his statistics and ask about his preferences. Once they get this info, he will test a driver just like the one you can buy in the shops. We will play around with the FlexLoft technology and the shafts, he’ll say how they felt and then we will discuss any alterations that would help maximise the performance.
Once the guys have made these final tweaks, Rory will hit the clubs again. If he likes them and the numbers stack up, they’ll go in the bag. If not, then we’ll repeat the process until we find something that works.
Rory says: “This year I’m looking forward to not having to answer any questions about changing gear! It’s done! I’m a Nike player. Get over it!” So here’s what we put in his bag for 2014 – and why we chose it.
1 COVERT 2.0 TOUR Driver
It’s boosted Rory’s ball speed
He first hit this driver in the middle of last year and it felt good straight away. Not only is he able to generate more spin, which allows him to shape the ball right to left a little bit easier, he is also able to generate more ball speed. This is mainly down to the Fly-Brace technology stiffening the walls of the cavity back. This increased stability in the back of the club has enabled him to transfer more energy to the front of the club, which adds another couple of mph to his ball speed. It is now in the low 180mph, which he is pretty happy with. Another benefit of this driver is the face size. Last year, he was using a 430cc model. This one is 460cc which gives him much better contact on off-centre hits – and, trust me, when you are swinging a driver at 120mph, you are not going to hit the centre every time.
2 VR_S Covert 3-Wood
He loves the versatility
What he loves about this fairway wood is its versatility. When he hits this club off a tee, it doesn’t spin too much. This gives him a penetrating ball flight and allows him to maximise distance when he uses it to drive with. Off the fairway it is a different story. When he hits it off the turf, he can launch the ball high and land it softly. One of the main reasons he feels really comfortable with this club is the shaft. He had a Fujikura Rombax Pro 95 shaft in his 5-wood last year and felt like that club had a lot tighter dispersion and a much more consistent ball flight than the 3-wood he was using at the start of 2013. So we tried the Rombax shaft in this and it’s worked. It feels much better to him.
3 VR_S Covert 5-Wood
He can hit it high on par 5s
The main reason he loves this club is he feels like he can manipulate the ball both ways with it. This is essentially the club he uses for second shots into par 5s. He can hit it really high and carry it around 250 in the air with a stock swing. As most people know, Rory’s stock shot is a tight draw, but this club is so flexible that he also feels comfortable hitting a fade with it. The only time he’ll take this club out of the bag will be during an event with firm fairways and wind, like The Open or the Scottish Open. During those weeks, he will put a 2-iron in the bag, as he’ll want to get the ball shooting along the fairway as quickly as possible. His driving 2-iron is still part of the VR Pro line, but it has a pocket cavity and a little more face speed than a standard blade 2-iron.
4 VR PRO BLADE Irons
They go the distance he wants
These irons are a blade profile Nike has been producing for a few years and Rory liked how they looked and performed from the off. The only change he asked us to make was a cosmetic one. He doesn’t like shiny chrome, so he asked us to make him the same clubs with a satin chrome finish. The main thing to note in these is the shaft. He uses a Royal Precision Project X 7.0 in his irons, which is a very stiff shaft in the handle. This feature is important to him, because it means his irons feel stable at impact, no matter how hard he swings them – and he swings them really hard. Aside from this, all I can say is the VR Pro Blades go the distances Rory wants them to and achieve the trajectories he wants them to. The greens at Tour events are so hard, if you can hit the ball extremely high it’s a huge benefit, as it allows you to land the ball softly and hold it on the correct portion of the green.
5 VR PRO Wedges
Think about your shafts
I’ll start by talking about the slightly different shafts Rory has in his wedges. Instead of using the Royal Precision Project X 7.0 shaft, he uses the slightly less stiff Royal Precision Project X 6.5 shafts. The reason for this is feel. The wedges are his scoring clubs, so he wants them to feel slightly softer and more manoeuvrable in his hands. We’ve also worked really hard on the soles of his wedges. He now has what is known as a dual sole. It’s quite hard to explain, but this essentially means we have shaved some material off the bottom of the sole, so he can maximise the control and spin he gets on the ball when he squares the wedges up and hits them off a tight lie in the fairway. And we’ve added some bounce to the back of the sole, so that he can displace as much grass or sand as possible when he opens the wedges up and tries to hit a flop shot or bunker shot. This allows him to get more of the ball on the face of the club when he’s playing from heavy rough or a bunker, which improves the strike and lowers the likelihood of getting a flier.
6 METHOD 006 putter
He loves it… now he’s used to it
Rory struggled with Nike’s Method technology at the beginning, largely because the ball seemed to come off the face a lot quicker. It would have been easy to give up, but we kept working in the studio and tinkering with the head weights and now he’s really happy. Through working in the studio, we were able to show him the ball doesn’t actually come off the face any faster. People just perceive it to come off quicker, because the polymetal groove technology reduces the skid off the face, which gets the ball rolling quicker. And through tinkering with the head weights, he was able to keep testing until he got the feel he wanted from the Method 006.
7 RZN BLACK Ball
It’s new in the bag for 2014
Rory is very, very comfortable with this new ball. It has a slightly firmer cover than the RZN Platinum, but he hits the ball high enough with his irons that he doesn’t need extra spin to help him stop it. The main difference between this ball and the ball he was using last year is “Speedlock” technology, which promotes better energy transfer between the inner layers. It ensures as much of the impact speed is retained as possible and this has given him a couple of extra mph ball speed, so he’s hitting longer drives and about half-a-club longer irons.
Rory’s words of wisdom
It is one thing feeling like clubs are right for you, it is another thing entirely knowing that clubs are right for you. When the guys at Nike custom fit me, they show me the statistics that prove the new clubs will improve my game. This is a huge confidence boost and for this reason, I’d recommend custom fitting to everyone. For an amateur golfer, it makes the game a little bit easier, so more enjoyable. You go out there and shoot better scores and you feel good about golf. That’s got to be the best thing!
Know what you want
I’m very clear about what I am looking for in terms of performance and this helps Nike’s engineers work towards a specific goal. When buying, the less clear you are about what you want, the more difficult it will be to find the right clubs.
Add feel to your wedges
Not many people think about the shafts in their wedges. But, as Rick said earlier, a lot of pros have a slightly less stiff shaft in our wedges. This really helps our feel, which really boosts our performance with these crucial scoring clubs.