[PHOTO: Jonathan Bachman]

Carl Yuan [above] was making some noise at last weekend’s Sanderson Farms Championship, seeking to gain his first PGA Tour title—and he was doing it with a set of irons not on the market, Callaway’s Apex Pro 24 model. Although Yuan came up a stroke short of the five-man playoff (despite an electrifying hole-out for eagle from the fairway on the par-4 17th), there was no denying that prototype season has arrived on the PGA Tour.

The portion of the tour’s schedule spanning the American autumn has habitually been used as a testing ground for players to break-in new equipment and a proving ground for companies wanting to make sure its clubs are ready to come to market. Titleist often refers to this as its “tour validation and seeding process”. In short, although the clubs are basically ready to go, they want to make sure that they’re as good in competition as at the player’s home course.

Photo: Andriy Onufriyenko

For golf fans and equipment aficionados, it’s also an opportunity to get a sneak peek at clubs that are likely to come to market in late 2023 or early 2024. Yuan’s use of the Apex Pro 24 wasn’t the only Callaway prototype in play at the Sanderson Farms. In fact, one could get a pretty good look at possibly the bulk of Callaway’s next iron line in Mississippi as Akshay Bhatia used the Callaway Apex TCB 24 irons and Brian Stuard the Apex CB 24.

One of Ping’s probable new iron introductions was also well represented as Cameron Champ, Andrew Landry and Alex Smalley all had Ping’s Blueprint S model in the bag, the same irons Sahith Theegala used in winning the Fortinet Championship.

“I’ve played my combo set of iBlades and Blueprints for seven years probably now, seven or eight years maybe even,” Theegala said in Napa. “But these irons felt incredible just off the get-go. They feel just like my other irons. If anything, a little better, so that’s why I decided to make the switch. And I usually don’t switch, but they feel really good and it’s nice to have some validation right off the bat.”

There’s that word again: validation. A sure sign that prototype season is well underway. Stay tuned.