All eyes on Justin Rose at PGA West

When Justin Rose pushes a tee into the California desert at PGA West in La Quinta Thursday and hits his first competitive shot of 2019, he not only will do it as the world’s top-ranked player, he will hit the ball with a new club and start a season that will be monitored like the stock market.

The reason so many people closely will follow Rose’s every result is he and Honma Golf announced Jan. 1 that the Englishman signed a 10-club endorsement deal with the Hong Kong-based company. Since then, Rose has been busy on social media showing off his new woods, irons and wedges.

Tinkering with the gear that helped Rose attain the No. 1 ranking and win the 2018 FedEx Cup has risks, as three of his European Ryder Cup teammates can attest.

  • After Graeme McDowell won the 2010 U.S. Open and was a star on that year’s European Ryder Cup team, he left Callaway and signed a deal with Cleveland/Srixon. The following year he missed the cut in three of the four majors.
  • Rory McIlroy won his second career major at age 23, the PGA Championship, and then the Deutsche Bank and BMW championships in 2012. He parted ways with Titleist after that season and signed a massive deal with Nike, but the following season he was winless.
  • Sergio Garcia won the 2017 Masters using TaylorMade gear, then signed a deal with Callaway and missed the cut at all four majors in 2018.

All those companies make outstanding clubs and balls, but it shows that even elite players need time to adjust to new equipment.

Unlike those players, however, Rose is not changing his golf ball and plans to keep using the TaylorMade TP5x. By keeping that part of his gear consistent, he knows that differences in performance can be attributed to the new clubs, which might make it easier during the fitting process and transitional period.

Another reason Rose will be watched closely in 2019: While his iron play is still below the level he achieved a few seasons ago, he is coming off his best putting year. As shown in the chart below, Rose still was solid with his irons, but by finishing 21st on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting, he was able to compensate for his dip in strokes gained approach the green and finish with his best strokes gained total average ever.

The question is whether Rose will regress in 2019 to his historical average or be able to maintain the elite level of putting he showed. If history is a guide, Rose likely will be less effective on the greens because since 2004 he has been ranked over 100th in strokes gained putting nine times. Even in 2013, the year he won the U.S. Open at Merion, Rose finished ranked No. 133 in strokes gained putting.

If Rose is going to be the anchor for your fantasy golf lineups, you have to be convinced his equipment change will go smoothly and his putting is going to remain solid. If those happen, he’s a threat to win every event he plays.

If they don’t happen, then like the stock market, Rose could be in for a volatile ride in 2019. Gwk

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