The foursomes format at the Ryder Cup comes with a built-in learning curve for players paired with a partner who doesn't use the same ball. For Rickie Fowler, that meant getting acclimated to Dustin Johnson's TaylorMade TP5x ball early in the week at Le Golf National to ensure he had a good idea of how it performed in a competitive environment. Fowler figured the TP5x crash course would last a week, but the more he learned about the ball and saw how it performed in a game situation, the more he started to consider the idea of testing it further during the offseason. With his ball contract with Titleist coming up, Fowler reached out to TaylorMade toward the end of last year to express an interest in exploring TP5 and TP5x.
Following months of testing, Fowler made the decision to leave Titleist for TaylorMade, agreeing to terms on a multi-year ball deal that will see the four-time PGA Tour winner play the brand's TP5x model beginning this week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. In addition to the ball, Fowler will also wear TaylorMade’s Tour Preferred glove. “It’s been fun to see what the ball can do," Fowler said. "Extra yardage on irons, more spin around the green. One less club for me into many holes is a pretty big advantage, too. What more do you want?"
For someone who's played Titleist his entire amateur and professional career, the move wasn't one the 30-year-old Fowler took lightly. He put numerous balls under the microscope during the process before ultimately deciding on TP5x, testing each option on the range and the course. "When you're working to convert a player from a competitor, you really have one chance," said Eric Loper, TaylorMade's director of golf ball R&D, who worked closely with Fowler during the process. "There's a series of tests you have to go through, and if you don't pass a certain test, you aren't moving forward."
For Loper, the testing process began at Floridian National Golf Club where Fowler put TP5 and TP5x through their paces. Early on during testing, Fowler began to notice some improvements with his irons, particularly when it came to the "heavy flight" the ball produced through the wind. Iron performance was at the top of the priority list during Fowler's search for a new ball. More specifically, he wanted a ball that could cut through the wind and wouldn't balloon before hitting the apex, creating unnecessary drag. "After his first pass with our product, he really understood there was an opportunity to make some changes and enhance his iron play," Loper said. "[Rickie] is quite technical. He really wants to know how the golf ball works and how the layers work together in the ball construction. Why we're using certain material properties in each of those layers. Dimple profiles, dimple edge angles, the paint we're currently using. He wants to know it all."
With the first hurdle cleared, Loper sent Fowler home with TP5 and TP5x to test on his own and waited to hear back on the results. Fowler tested the ball at home on TrackMan to verify the numbers matched up with what he was seeing during testing with TaylorMade and took the ball out on the course during weekly money games with other tour players to confirm it performed in pressure situations. When Fowler started seeing noticeable gains on the course with TP5x, particularly with his irons, TaylorMade started to realize they had a legitimate chance to land him."[Rickie] was mentioning that TP5x was giving him some gains he simply couldn't ignore," Loper said. "He was getting a couple more yards off the tee, it was cutting through the wind, and he gained a half-club length with the irons. When combined it was shortening the hole by a club for him. Those gains drove him to TP5x."
The roughly 7-8 yards Fowler picked up required him to re-gap his set during the testing process to get his yardages dialed in. The other area of Fowler's game where he noticed considerable improvement was with the short game; specifically, shots from around 15 to 20 yards off the green that typically require a deft touch and ample spin to get the ball close to the hole. While working on the shot, Fowler not only saw the ball checking up at impact but also bouncing more vertically to hold the green, making it easier for him to target the pin and worry less about the possibility of additional rollout. In the end, the combination of improved iron performance and greenside spin was enough to convince Fowler to switch. With Fowler now in the fold, TaylorMade boasts a stable of six players inside the top 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking playing either TP5 or TP5x. "From our perspective, Rickie signing a golf ball-only deal is a big win for us," Loper said. "That being said, the last thing a tour player wants is to make the switch and then have to go back [to their old ball] a year later. It's the same thing I've had with every tour player that's come onto our staff over the last 20 years I've been here. They all want to know what our plan is moving forward and that the technology we're supplying them with is going to do what they need it to do each time without fail." For Fowler, the hope is the last few months of extensive testing with TaylorMade's TP5x are a preview of what's to come this season on the course.