A bad workman blames their tools. Equally, a bad golfer tends to blame their clubs. Professional golfers are no different.
Whether it is adding weight or loft to a putter for the slower greens of St. Andrews, adding a draw-bias to a driver for Augusta (known to suit a right-to-left ball flight), increasing the bounce on wedges for soft PGA Championship course, switching out long irons for hybrids, or vice versa, players are looking for any edge that will help them join the exclusive club of major-winners.
This week the world's best head to Merion for the 2013 US Open. The course and the competition present a specific challenge with small, hard, fast greens and thick, tall rough all around. Players this year will be assessing their gear to see if they can produce the shots and scores that Merion will demand.
At the 1991 US Open Nick Faldo decided, unusually, to drop his 8-iron. The then-reigning Open Champion believed it was easier to play around a missing 8-iron than lose a 1 or 2 iron in his set for the tight fairways, and long approaches at Hazeltine. He finished in a tie for 16th.
This year, TaylorMade's Jason Day is taking a similar approach. He recently added a TaylorMade RocketBladez Tour 1-iron to his bag (actually a 2-iron bent to a 1-iron loft, with an extra inch of length). A tactic for the both the US and British Open, Day hopes to use it to find more fairways with less height and more workability.
“I was out there today and hit a couple of — it was downwind and it was a 10 to 20 mph wind out there — and there was a couple that went 300 [yards] easy with the bounce and roll as well,” Day said. "if we have a 1-iron here and it works well in the wind, we go overseas to the British this year with full confidence. I think that says it all."
I agree Jason, 300 yard iron shots do indeed speak for themselves.
In a similar fashion, PING's Louis Oosthuizen is considering altering his set. Ooshuizen used to have and use a PING S56 2-iron and is said to be testing it again and considering putting it in play this week at Merion.
Louis is not the only PING player in the Tour Van considering a change. Both Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson have been trying out a Ping G25 7-wood in preparation for Merion's small, fast greens. Mahan has dropped his 6-iron for the 7-wood, favouring the stability and forgiveness of the fairway wood out of the thick US Open rough.
These are some current examples of players looking to contend at a major thanks to an equipment change, but history suggests it may be a good idea.
Just last year, Ernie Els traveled to Royal Lytham and St Annes on the tenth anniversary of his last major victory, and added not one, not two, but three Callaway X Utility Prototype driving irons to his set.
The new trio offered more penetrating flights and tighter dispersion on mis-hits than a hybrid. When he first saw them in his bag, Ernie jokingly asked Roger Cleveland, Callaway's Chief Designer, "where's the rest of the set." He, of course, went on to win The Open that week by one stroke finding more greens in regulation than any other player in the field.
Another recent 'majorly' successful equipment change, came in 2006 at Augusta National. Phil Mickelson's decision to put two Callaway Fusion FT-3 drivers in his bag was laughed at at the beginning of the week. Why would a player add an additional driver at the cost of a wedge?
The answer to Phil was easy: one faded and one drew. With effectively the same swing, Phil was able to shape the ball two ways, a crucial skill at The Masters. Few were laughing Sunday evening, as Phil beat out Tiger, Vijah and Freddie among others to win his third major in three years.
Fast forward seven years to April of this year, and Phil was up to his old tricks at Augusta. This time, instead of two drivers, Phil had no driver at all. Opting instead to put the Callaway Phrankenwood into play with the idea of having more control, workability than a driver without giving up much distance (or a wedge!).
Despite finding 40 of 56 fairways throughout the week (8 more than eventual champion, Adam Scott), Phil's experiment didn't pay off on the leaderboard as he finished in a tie for 54th.
Phil will tee it up at this week's US Open with the same zero-driver-approach, having averaged over 310 yards last week in Memphis with the Phrankenwood.
(Note: Whilst the Callaway Phrankenwood is not available to the public, Callaway did design the X-Hot 3Deep for the public)
So, as we near the 2013 US Open, expect some 'major' changes and tweaks to be happening behind the closed doors of the manufacturer's Tour vans. Whilst players probably won't be adding an anchored putter to their sets, expect to see a few more long irons, new putters and perhaps wedges with more bounce for the bunkers and deep rough of Merion CC.