Toy Box Mailbag: How pros prep for Merion

The Callaway X Hot fairway wood (left) and X Hot Pro (middle) are shorter from sole to crown than the X Hot Pro 3Deep.

The Callaway X Hot fairway wood (left) and X Hot Pro (middle) are shorter from sole to crown than the X Hot Pro 3Deep.

If you have a question about the latest golf clubs and equipment or are wondering what gear PGA Tour players are using, send a Tweet to Golfweek senior writer David Dusek at @DavidDusek. Some recent inquiries:

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Q: What equipment modifications are likely for Merion? More driving irons? What about wedges? – Tim Ragones

I have heard more people prognosticating about how pros are going to handle this year's U.S. Open venue than any other course I can recall. Stretched to the tips, Merion Golf Club won't crack 7,000 yards, but the narrow fairways will be lined with rough that is so high and thick that the maintenance crews will need machetes instead of mowers to keep it in check. Weather permitting, we can also expect the small greens to be ultra-firm and fast.

So, with those conditions in mind, many pros requested new wedges a few weeks ago. While some players like to break out fresh wedges Monday morning at a major, most prefer to break in wedges with a few practice sessions instead so they know exactly what to expect from the new grooves.

According to Golfweek's Jim Achenbach, TaylorMade built Jason Day a club that he plans to bring to Merion and Muirfield (site of the British Open) by taking a RocketBladez 2-iron – with a 125-gram UST Mamiya Recoil prototype shaft – and bending it to 16.5 degrees of loft, transforming it into a 1-iron.

Other players might opt to go with a driving iron at Merion, and some might opt to pull out their longest iron and put a more-forgiving, higher-flying iron in its place. That has been a season-long trend on the PGA Tour. For example, Angel Cabrera, who plays Ping S56 irons, has been using a Ping i20 3-iron for most of the 2013 season. Zach Johnson frequently carries a Titleist 712 AP1 3-iron along with his 712 AP2 irons. I'll be curious to see if Tiger Woods elects to stick with his new Nike VR_S Covert 5-wood or remove it in favor of the VR_S Forged 3-iron he used during much of the 2012 season.

I talked with Webb Simpson, the defending U.S. Open champion, to see if he planned to add a Titleist 712U utility iron to his bag. Though unlikely to use one, he said he'd consider the option.

"I think there's definitely going to be five or six holes where it's going to be a 3-iron or a 2-iron off the tee," Simpson said. "So it's an advantage for the guys who have played it to know what to expect. I mean, there are a couple of holes where you could go 4-iron, 7-iron. My goal on holes like that is to look at it and find the widest part of the fairway, then hit it to there."

• • •

Q: What is the difference between Callaway's 3 Deep and the regular 13.5 3 woods – Eazy_37

Eazy,

First, the Callaway X Hot fairway woods are not available in a 13.5-degree model like the new X Hot Pro 3Deep fairway woods. The lowest-lofted X Hot is 15 degrees and the highest is 25 degrees.

To answer what I think you really mean with your question, I'll explain what makes the clubs perform differently.

Released in January, the X Hot fairways are constructed by welding a forged, stainless steel cup face onto a cast stainless steel body. According to Callaway's senior vice president of research and development, Dr. Alan Hocknell, the X Hot's face is designed to deliver a lot of ball speed in the middle, but because the face gets thinner around the edges, it also helps golfers maintain ball speed when they mis-hit slightly, which means the club is more forgiving.

Callaway unveiled the X Hot Pro fairway woods at the same time with faster-swinging, more-accomplished players in mind. They are available in a stronger loft range (13.5 to 19 degrees) and are made in the same way as the X Hot fairways, but create less spin.

The X Hot Pro 3Deep fairways woods were brought to the PGA Tour at the 2013 Shell Houston Open in March and are only available in two lofts, 13 or 14.5 degrees. Like the X Hot fairway woods, they feature a stainless steel cup face and a stainless steel body, but the X Hot Pro 3Deep fairways woods have a deeper face, meaning they're taller from the leading edge to the crown. In fact, the X Hot Pro 3Deep's face is 10 percent higher than the X Hot Pros, which moves the club's center of gravity (CG) up, too.

Pros and accomplished players who don't have trouble hitting shots high with lower-lofted fairway woods tend to like deep-faced clubs because they usually produce a lower, more penetrating ball flight. Clubs designed with a shallower face tend to make it easier for golfers to hit higher shots because the CG is lower, which makes them better suited for slower-swinging players looking to maximize distance.

The only way to discover which one ideally matches your swing – and needs – is to try all three.

• • •

Q: Heading to Scotland next month. What's the best lightweight stand golf bag out there? Callaway? Sun Mountain? – Jay Reed

Jay,

Pros never carry their own bag, so they don't need to worry about a bag's ergonomics or the functionality of its pockets – or its ease of use when moving it from the car to the course.

You, on the other hand, should think about such things and make a prioritized list of features you want. Then find a bag that has as many of those features at a price you can afford.

For me, the biggest priorities are to have easily adjustable shoulder straps and a bag that is comfortable. I like to have several different openings at the top of the bag where I can drop in clubs, but I don't need different slots for each club. The more pockets the better, and I love the big, zipperless pocket on the back of my bag for extra golf balls; it pops open and snaps shut. I also love that someone designed the water-bottle holder on my bag at an angle so that the container stays upright. It's also within reach when I'm carrying the bag so I can quench my thirst without dislocating my shoulder.

The new Zero-G Stand Bag from Sun Mountain has a clever buckling system that not only includes a pair of shoulder straps, but also an integrated belt strap that shifts much of the bag's weight off your shoulders and to your hips, making it a lot easier to carry over 18 holes. It also has eight pockets, including a waterproof valuables pocket.

If keeping your gear dry in Scotland is especially important to you, check out Ogio's Aquatech Stand Bag. It's made from a waterproof fabric, and all of the bag's pockets are thermo welded to keep water out. It also comes with a waterproof, snap-on hood.

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