PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Professional golfers and elite amateurs do not show up at a tournament with only 14 clubs. They almost always have a backup driver and a backup putter, and many also pack a few other clubs that can be mixed and matched to create the perfect, course-specific set.
At 7,075 yards, Pebble Beach Golf Links is not a long course by modern standards. However, the cool, damp climate is perfect for growing grass, and it has allowed the United States Golf Association to line the fairways and surround the greens with deep, thick rough.
That rough typically would compel elite golfers to consider adding a high-lofted fairway wood to their bag and remove a long iron. Fairway woods, such as a 5-wood or a 7-wood, have wider soles than long irons and lower centers of gravity. They can work through tall grass and get the ball up more easily. Plus, because they have a longer shaft than a long iron, a fairway wood will hit the ball a little farther than an iron with the same loft.
But this week at Pebble Beach, the firm fairways and a weather forecast that calls for virtually no rain has players rethinking their options. Driving irons, normally put into play on windy courses to keep the ball low and allow it to run after it lands, have been more popular than expected.
On Wednesday, J.J. Van Wezenbeeck, the director of club promotion for Titleist, said Jimmy Walker is planning to carry a Titleist TS3 driver, add a Titleist U-500 2-iron fitted with a Fujikura ATMOS Black 9X graphite shaft and keep playing his U-500 3-iron that is fitted with a True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue AMT X100 steel shaft. No fairway woods, no hybrids.
Van Wezenbeeck said Walker, who also tinkered with a U-500 1-iron this week, is pulling his 3-wood out of play and going with the 2-iron because it fills a distance gap at 265 yards that the Texan needs.
While he practiced on the range Wednesday, Dustin Johnson had a pair of 3-irons in his bag this week (photo at top). One was a TaylorMade P730 DJ Proto muscleback blade and the other was a hollow-bodied P790 that had been de-lofted to play like a 2-iron. The TaylorMade M5 5-wood that was in his bag Tuesday was gone Wednesday.
Similarly, Henrik Stenson had two Callaway Legacy Black 3-irons in his bag Wednesday, one with black paint fill and another with red paint fill. Callaway PGA Tour rep Johnny Thompson said the red-accented club is a half-inch longer with a loft that is 4 degrees stronger than the other, effectively making it a 2-iron.
Christian Pena, a PGA Tour rep for Ping, said Bubba Watson practiced with 16 clubs this week, including a driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, 7-wood, 2-iron and 3-iron. Pena suspects the 5-wood and 7-wood will be removed before Watson tees off at 7:20 a.m. with Haotong Li and J.B. Holmes.
It’s clear that for many golfers at Pebble Beach this week, staying out of the rough with a driving iron is more important than escaping it with a fairway wood.