TaylorMade's Senior Director of Product Creation - Irons, Tomo Bystedt, discusses the inspiration, design process, and detailed machining that went into creating Rory McIlroy's "Rors Proto" irons.
CREATING NEW MUSCLE BACK IRONS
As soon we put the old 2014 MBs out there, we began to think about what the next irons could be. With MBs being on a longer life cycle, we knew that we had time to get in-depth feedback from Tour players to learn what could be improved upon before going right into the design. We didn't set ourselves a timetable on creating a new MB.
Clearly, the '14 version was working for a lot of players—DJ used them to win last year's U.S. Open and rise to World No. 1—and we didn't want to disrupt something that was really working well.
Over the years that I've been on Tour, I've had a lot of conversations about what exactly our players like about their irons and what they would change. Obviously, at that time we weren't talking to Rory, but the rest of our athletes were able to give us a ton of great feedback. So from 2014-2016, we built up a robust catalog of what Tour players would like to see in our next MB.
One of the key things we were looking at was a slightly shorter blade length. However, when you make the blade a little shorter, other things being to change. You have to look at how it affects the blade size, head shape, CG location, etc.
Once we got into the prototyping phase of a shorter blade, that's around the time we began to talk to Rory.
A DESIGN TO FIT RORY MCILROY
Rory happened to be one of the guys who said he preferred a shorter blade, so we immediately knew that we were already working on something that was going to be right in his wheelhouse. This essentially fast-tracked the creation process so we could get him some prototypes to test while we were also working toward signing him.
The first head we made was a 6-iron that we sent to him for some additional feedback. Once he confirmed that he liked the direction we were headed, we filled out the whole set.
Working with Rory, we ended up changing a lot of little elements of the design without deviating from the formula we already had in place with the '14 MB. It wasn’t going to be a total departure, but there were dozens of subtle things that we adjusted.
Before he hit our prototype MBs, he was playing a prototype set from another company. One of the things he didn't like about that set was the amount of offset they had. And I don't even think it was really something he paid close attention to before seeing our irons. But once he had the prototypes we sent him, he was in love with the shape, offset, and overall design.
OUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY
Our approach to the design of a players iron is about attention for detail, especially as it relates to the address view, creating a fluid transition from hosel to face. The progression of offset, blade length, and other parameters through the set from club to club is also critical in a players iron. With the Rors Protos, we decided to keep the offset a little more consistent throughout the set than the current MB. Even in the long irons, the offset is low. There are certain players out there—like DJ, Rose, Rory, and Jason—that don't want much offset at all.
If you ask a lot of good players what they think is the most critical club from an aesthetic standpoint, they will say it's the 8-iron. That's the pivot point where the heads begin to change shape from the straighter topline clubs to the more curved topline clubs. Because of that, 8-irons are tougher to design well... you can always pick out a good set when the 8-iron looks good.
SHAPING THE RORS PROTO IRONS
We definitely had a great iron to start with the original MB. But I knew that of all the clubs in that set, we could improve upon the shaping of the 8-iron. Although I still think the ’14 model was one of the best MB 8-irons in the industry, it felt a little too rounded to me. There was an opportunity to make it better.
We ended up reshaping the entire top of the blade through the toe. In going with a shorter blade length, we were able to give it a better overall look. We did a bunch of little things to make sure it was a smooth transition from the 7-iron and into the 9-iron.
MACHINING THE RORS PROTOS
When we do one-off iron sets like this, it can be a very involved process. We need a large block of steel for each head because we cut each head from a solid piece of steel. We used 304 Stainless, which is a softer material that we would normally use to make putters, so it has a similar hardness to a forged iron.
Each steel block was individually milled. After milling, each iron was hand-finished by Kia Ma in our Tour Department. We gave him direction on what type of surface finishes we wanted and he polished each head one by one.
THE INFLUENCE OF DESIGN
For me, one of the biggest things on a muscle back is that the back has to look amazing. You're not really trying to showcase any technology like perimeter weighting or CG location when you're designing an MB. The back is kind of a blank canvas. In an MB, the back of the iron is somewhat reserved for the expression of the artist.
“What do we stand for as an irons company?”
This is something I think about when working on the design. For these irons, I knew I wanted something unique. We didn't want it to resemble other irons from the past, which can be difficult to do with something as minimalistic as an MB. We wanted to combine the artistic element and the simplicity of the iron while also featuring technological touch, which is seen in the milled groove in the center of the iron.
We wanted the design counterbalance as sort of a yin and yang between the technical, machined aspect of the milling and the super simple surfaces next to it.
So once I finally saw the finished iron, I knew our team nailed it.
FITTING RORS PROTOS AND DRIVING IRONS
Since Rory had already seen the irons and done a bit of testing on his own, we only sent a small team to properly fit him. And from Keith Sbarbaro's conversations with Rory, we knew that there weren't going to be any significant tweaks needed to the irons—they were already a slam-dunk. We knew our time would be better spent working on dialing in the other clubs in his bag.
As expected, he got great numbers during testing. He was able to play all the different shot shapes he needed and most importantly, he loved how it looked at address. That is so important for guys at this level. If it doesn't look right at address—whether it's the toe shaping, offset, or topline—it's not going to work for the player.
During the fitting, he got dialed into a couple of P750 long irons, which he has kept in the bag leading up to the U.S. Open. He also experimented some of our driving irons. He hit both the UDI and an M2 2-iron. He was amazed at how far he was able to hit them and it basically came down to just trying to choose between the two.
He played the UDI at Sawgrass to hit on holes like 9, 12, and 18. At Sawgrass, you don't really need to worry about flighting it low, but he just wanted something to hit the fairway on the tighter driving holes. But for THE OPEN Championship, he will want a club that he can hit low to keep it out of the wind. How that is achieved can vary from player to player. For example, Sergio preferred the M2 during testing because it spins a little less than the UDI.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A GREAT MB
To me, it's all about being in the bags of the best players in the world... and some of the best players in the world play still play muscle backs.
To warrant being in their bags—whether that's Tour players, collegiate athletes, or any top level of golf—you're going to have to beat some really good products. There tends to be a lot of common elements between them, so to stand out, you need to be the best at shaping the club and be the best at manufacturing that vision. For us, this had to be that club. This had to be the best muscle back out there.
With this kind of iron, it doesn't really matter how many we sell or what our market share ends up being. What matters here is the validation with the best players in the world playing and performing with our product. As the weeks and months go on, we will get more feedback from Rory and the rest of our players on what kind of things we could implement in a potential production model.
We've already proven ourselves in the game-improvement space, but now it's nice to have the P700 Series irons out there and the Rors Protos for golfers who really aspire to be the best of the best—whether that's winning their club championship or winning majors on Tour.
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