Masters 2013: Bubba won’t part with his Ping S59s

Bubba Watson has depended on Ping S59 irons to hit his curve shots.

Bubba Watson has depended on Ping S59 irons to hit his curve shots.

The sight of a 25-yard hook would make a lot of golfers cringe, but for Bubba Watson, shot shaper extraordinaire on the PGA Tour, that’s nothing.

Watson, 34, has been one of the Tour’s longest hitters off the tee since his rookie season of 2006, but it’s his ability to curve shots, to hit them high or low, to bend the ball in ways that physics shouldn’t allow, that really sets him apart from his peers.

Since 2004, when he parted ways with his Ping i3+ irons, Watson has depended on Ping S59 irons to hit those shots. According to Matt Rollins, Ping’s senior PGA Tour manager, the cast S59 irons are the most unforgiving, blade-like clubs the company has produced. They have a thin topline, little offset and were designed to allow better players to maneuver the ball around the course. Watson always has used True Temper X100 shafts in his set.

There is a good reason why you won’t see S59 irons on the wall of your local pro shop. Though they still are available by special order, the S59s had a two-year life cycle and were succeeded in Ping’s line by the S58 in 2006, then by the S57 and now the S56.

Ping makes a custom, left-handed set for Watson every time he needs new clubs because the original S59 irons’ grooves do not conform to the current groove regulations. Watson’s clubs are cast with smooth faces, and the grooves then are milled in by Ping at its Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters.

In October 2009, before the release of the Ping S56 irons, Rollins said he came close to getting Watson to switch to something new. He and Watson played several rounds of golf together and tested the soon-to-be-released clubs.

“Aaron Baddeley played with us one time at Estancia Golf Club (in Scottsdale),” Rollins said.

“He said to Bubba, ‘Why wouldn’t you put those clubs into play? They’re easier to hit.’ Then we got to a par 3 and Bubba pulled out an S56 and he hooked it about 20, maybe 25 yards and he says, ‘See? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. It doesn’t move.’ I said, ‘That’s about 25 yards of hook,’ and Baddeley was like, ‘Look where you’re aiming!’ Bubba took out his S59 and said, ‘Watch this,’ and he hooked one about 40 yards, to about 2 feet away from the hole and said, ‘See, that’s what I want to do.’ ”

The next season, Watson won the 2010 Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in a playoff. After losing the PGA Championship in a playoff to Martin Kaymer at Whistling Straits, Watson won the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

While Watson always has played Ping’s newest woods, wedges and putters, along with updated versions of Titleist’s Pro V1x ball, Rollins knew that with each victory, getting the player to switch to newer irons would get tougher. Watson’s win at the 2012 Masters – his first major championship – must have made Rollins think the S59s would never leave Watson’s bag.

Rollins knows that the window of opportunity to get Watson to even consider new irons is small. Watson uses only one set per season and replaces it with a fresh set of irons each fall when his season is done.

However, Rollins remains hopeful that Watson will like an iron that Ping is developing now for better players.

“The new blade that we’re working on – we made all of the prototypes left-handed,” Rollins said. “We want to be sure that Bubba likes this club.”

Who knows? Maybe it will let Watson hit a 50-yard hook.

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