2002: Fairway woods usage spikes at Bethpage
By James Achenbach
From an equipment standpoint, the most fascinating aspect of the U.S. Open probably was the large number of golfers who included higher-lofted fairway woods in their bags.
Callaway was far ahead of its competitors in the category and led what might be called a fairway wood revolution. Callaway’s Steelhead 4-Plus, with 15 degrees loft, has replaced the traditional 3-wood in the bags of many players.
Of 156 players in the field, 53 carried 5-woods, 15 had 7-woods and five used 9-woods.
Compare those 2002 numbers with the counts from the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.: 33 5-woods, seven 7-woods, one 9-wood.
Among those who carried 9-woods this year at Bethpage Black were Vijay Singh and Paul Azinger. “As these courses get longer and longer, you’re going to see more players use different fairway woods,” Azinger said.
Some players, needing help from additional fairway woods or utility clubs, experimented wildly with the makeup of their bags. Peter Lonard removed his pitching wedge. Chris DiMarco left his 9-iron in the trunk of his car. Shingo Katayama carried no iron longer than a 5-iron.
Overall, the U.S. Open was an Acushnet Co. party. Titleist swept the official equipment counts in balls, irons, wedges and putters, and FootJoy easily was the No. 1 shoe.
Although Tiger Woods won another major championship with Titleist forged irons, rumors continued to circulate that Woods is close to switching to Nike forged irons. Woods, one of Nike’s marquee professional athletes, replaced his Titleist golf ball with a Nike ball in 2000 and exchanged his Titleist driver for a Nike driver earlier this year.
“He’s ready to go,” said one Nike source. “The irons have been tweaked a hundred times, and he likes them. It’s probably just a matter of Tiger losing a major or two with his current irons.”
From the time he turned pro in fall 1996, Woods has played Titleist equipment. His contract with Nike allows him to play whatever clubs he chooses.
On the practice range before the start of the U.S. Open, the powerful Woods broke a steel shaft while hitting a shot with his Titleist 3-wood. The shaft, a Dynamic Gold X-200, snapped at the top of the ferrule. A new shaft was installed immediately, although Woods became disturbed in the first round by a piece of epoxy rattling inside the hollow clubhead. For the second round, he used his backup Titleist 3-wood.
TaylorMade won the driver count handidly, as it has done in five of the last six majors, and 13 of 53 TaylorMade drivers in the field were new 500 series drivers.
The demise of metal spikes once again was apparent at the U.S. Open, where only 53 of 156 golfers wore metal cleats. At the 2001 U.S. Open, 59 players had metal spikes. Softspikes Black Widow composite cleats were used by 86 golfers at Bethpage Black.