One of the biggest equipment surprises of 2023 came right at the outset of the year, when Rory McIlroy was spotted at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic playing Titleist's Vokey wedges. After all, McIlroy is on staff with TaylorMade Golf.
Gearheads and golf fans were wondering why McIlroy was gaming the SM9 wedges instead of TaylorMade's Milled Grind offering. Were McIlroy and TaylorMade on the outs? Was something wrong?
Well, McIlroy explained why he's playing Vokey wedges -- at least right now -- ahead of the 2023 WM Phoenix Open.
"So this is my first year of my new deal with TaylorMade, and they gave me just a little bit of flexibility with some of the clubs that I can play," McIlroy said.
When golfers sign on to play an equipment company's club or clubs, the player (through their agent) negotiates which clubs of that manufacturer they have to play. Sometimes it's just the driver. Sometimes it's just a putter or wedges. Sometimes it's a 14-club deal, meaning every club has to be made by that OEM. There are a lot of different types of deals out there.
But why Vokey?
"I see Justin Thomas all the time at home and messing around with some of his wedges and some of the grinds he has. I got in touch and ordered a couple, and they've worked really nicely," McIlroy explained.
That's not a slam on TaylorMade, just a personal preference. He's obviously playing tremendously well in their driver and irons. There are a bunch of reasons he's No. 1 in the world, and well-fitting equipment is one of them.
McIlroy said that he often thinks back to the year he won back-to-back majors -- his last two won, to date -- and wonders if he should try to go backward to move forward. However, he now sees in himself a steadier player.
"I'm guilty of looking back to 2014 and thinking about how I played then, and are there certain things from that time in my career I'd want to put into my own career at the minute, but when I look at everything and I look at the statistical categories, I said at the start of this press conference, I don't feel like I've ever been as complete of a player as I am right now," he said.
"The highs were very high back then, but I had some lows, too. But I feel like my base level now is just a little bit higher and a little more consistent."