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(Photo: Wikipedia.com)

Tuesday’s news that Rory McIlroy will ditch his Titleist/FootJoy golf gear at the end of the year had at least one pundit worrying that swapping equipment could hinder the game of the world No. 1.

“I call it dangerous,” Nick Faldo said on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” program. “I’ve changed clubs and changed equipment, and every manufacturer will say, ‘We can copy your clubs, we can tweak the golf ball so it fits you.’ But there’s feel and sound as well, and there’s confidence. You can’t put a real value on that. It’s priceless.”

McIlroy and Acushnet Co. made it official on Tuesday that the two-time champ would not renew his contract with the Massachusetts equipment company when their deal expires on Dec. 31, 2012. The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland has used only Titleist clubs since turning professional in 2007 and lapped the field in August’s PGA Championship with the new prototype Titleist 913 driver in his bag.

Indeed, Acushnet sent club fitters to McIlroy’s home across the Atlantic to convince him to switch to the 913, which he used with great success.

“I have been testing the new 913 and I was hitting the ball longer [than his two-year-old 91D2 driver],” McIlroy said at the Irish Open. “I’m getting less spin, which is great in the wind, and it carries 15 yards further in calm conditions….I feel like I am hitting the ball a lot better with this new driver and I feel that’s going to make a huge difference.”

The club helped McIlroy lead the PGA championship field in driving distance, with an average of 311.5 yards. He subsequently swapped out his Titleist 906 clubs, which he had used for most of his professional career, for prototype Titleist 913 fairway metal woods and hybrids and went on to win back-to-back FedEx Cup events, the Deutsche Bank and the BMW Championships.

Such results are what Faldo, no doubt, had in mind when he warned McIlroy about what an equipment adjustment could do to his game.

“Sell the bag,” the winner of six majors advised, but don’t mess with your sticks.

“You have to be very, very careful. You easily could go off and do this and it messes you up because it just doesn’t quite feel the same. When you’re striping it, it’s fine. But as soon as doubt comes in,” Faldo said, the “dot dot dot” implied. “Stick with the clubs that you know best, that you believe the best.

“It’s really important. It’s the feel and confidence of knowing that your equipment will perform how you want it to perform on Sunday afternoon. You can’t mess with that at such a young age.”

Unless, of course, you’re Tiger Woods, who switched from Titleist irons to Nike irons early on. As the Associated Press’ Doug Ferguson noted on Twitter, Woods made a number of transitions with no ill effect.

“Worth noting about Tiger’s change from Titleist to Nike,” @dougferguson405 tweeted. “He changed ball, driver, irons, two wedges, 3 wood and putter in total of 10 years.”

Another noted major titleholder, Phil Mickelson, left Titleist for Callaway in 2004 and went on to win four tourneys in 2005, including the PGA Championship.

It may not be out of the question to wonder how many changes McIlroy can undergo without it affecting his on-course performance. Since he won the 2011 U.S. Open, Rory Mac has new agents, joined the PGA Tour, and is now set to enlist with a new equipment maker — most likely, Woods’ club-maker of choice, Nike.

With a rumored 10-year, $250 million deal looming for Woods’ heir apparent, Nike may have made the young Ulsterman an offer he could not refuse.

 

Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer

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