Scotty-Cameron-Drawing

Check this out

Scotty-Cameron-Drawing

At this time of year, when editors say that it’s time to write a retrospective column about the year that is coming to a close, it’s tempting to go back and rehash a few big events because no one wants to be late for the company holiday party and miss time at the open bar. But this year I’m taking a slightly different tact and offering up a few nuggets that are still in my notebook which never got in stories. Collectively, they tell the story of my year in golf.

• • •

John K. Solheim can walk comfortably on the factory floor where Ping clubs are assembled and custom-built in Phoenix, Ariz. As the grandson of the company’s founder, Karsten Solheim, the brand is in his blood. Having just been named the company’s new president at age 42, if John K. was nervous when we talked for a few hours in January, he didn’t show it.

John K. Solheim and I walking inside the Ping factory in Phoenix, Ariz.

Solheim studied mechanical engineering in school and worked at his grandfather’s side for while. He understands the principles that go into making new golf clubs, and he understands the business of golf, too. But while John is not the showman that Karsten was, and he is quiet by nature, he does not come off as being pretentious. Instead, when you are around him he seems like a guy you might play 18 holes with on Saturday mornings who loves talking about his daughter’s cross country meets, who does some CrossFit and who spends the little off time he’s got with his family.

I can’t imagine that a torch has ever been passed more smoothly.

• • •

Scotty Cameron can’t walk down the wide aisles at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. If he did, he would attract crowds of Cameron Crazies demanding autographs, selfies and “just one minute” of the putter maker’s time.

To accommodate people, Cameron sets aside blocks of time every year at Titleist’s booth to talk with people, sign things and take pictures. The lines get long fast and never seem to shorten, but when Cameron needed a 10-minute break, he winked at me, tipped his head toward a backdoor in the booth and we discreetly escaped the crowd.

We wound up talking about American muscle cars, his retail gallery in Encinitas, Calif., and the growing trend of pros switching to mallet putters for about 20 minutes.

Scotty Cameron drawing putters on a table at the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show. (David Dusek/Golfweek)

As we talked, Cameron pulled out the silver Sharpie he had been using to sign head covers and notecards and began sketching a Studio Newport putter on top of a black table. He explained to me that he took that shape, extended the back and rounded it to make the Newport Mallet 1. Then he applied the same principle again, pulled the back even further away from the face and basically created the Futura 5W.

I bet he could have sold that table for a few hundred dollars to someone waiting in that line.

• • •

I have been attending the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, affectionately known as Nerd Camp, for five years. Executives from every sport you can imagine are there, as are number crunchers and students who want to break into the sports industry. They gather to share ideas, see cutting-edge presentations and schmooze. In 2016 I was on a panel that discussed the future of sports journalism, but in March, for the first time, I had a chance to moderate a panel focusing on golf analytics.

(Left) Blake Wooster, Jeff Price, Sal Sayd, Jason Gore and me at the 2017 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Blake Wooster from The 15th Club, Jeff Price from the PGA of America, Arccos’ Sal Syed, PGA Tour player Jason Gore and I talked about how pros use stats, how analytics were used by the United States and European Ryder Cup teams and how recreational players are starting to benefit from shot-tracking.  It was a fascinating and motivating hour, and I left Boston convinced that we have a lot more to learn about our ancient game.

• • •

PXG has been making high-performance, high-priced golf equipment for a few years, but 2017 was the year major manufacturers started offering ultra-premium gear, too. Having a chance to observe the first customer go through a fitting with Titleist wedge maker J.P. Harrington, then pay $2,000 for the three-hour session and three custom-made wedges, was eye-opening.

J. P. Harrington wedges. (David Dusek/Golfweek)

Using high-speed cameras, TrackMan and demo wedges made in 1-degree increments, Harrington studied every aspect of his client’s short game. He measured things like shaft lean at address versus shaft lean at impact and the angle of attack on chip shots, and inspected divots as if he thought Jimmy Hoffa might be hiding in the soil.

Golfers who buy ultra-premium gear pay for the exotic materials and the craftsmanship that it takes to make the clubs, but during my day with Harrington, I learned how important the whole fitting and purchasing experience is to these folks. Presentation is huge, the word “no” is never uttered and performance has to be second-to-none. Accomplish those things and there are some people out there who will try, and perhaps buy, almost anything without flinching at a high price tag.

• • •

After Nike announced that it would no longer make golf equipment, it was interesting to see what former Nike players did from an endorsement standpoint. Tiger Woods signed a ball deal with Bridgestone in December 2016, then signed a club deal with TaylorMade that was announced in January. Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open at Erin Hills while using TaylorMade woods and Mizuno irons, even though he did not have an endorsement deal with either brand to use their gear.

Michelle Wie and Patrick Rodgers signed with Callaway, but it was Rory McIlroy’s announcement that really got my attention. Having played with Callaway gear early in the year, he showed up at the Players Championship in May fresh off signing a new deal with TaylorMade, then proceed to not-so-subtly trash the Titleist Pro V1x ball he played at the 2017 Masters.

Rory McIlroy’s TaylorMade equipment (David Dusek/Golfweek)

At his press conference, McIlroy said that he “chickened out” and went back to what was familiar when he was testing non-Nike gear at the of 2016. Moments later he said, “I wasn’t really happy with the golf ball I was playing, and I needed to do something. I felt like I struggled in the wind. So I sort of went back to the drawing board and tested for about 10 days pretty extensively after Augusta. (I) worked with a lot of different things, but I worked with the TaylorMade guys one day and started just on TrackMan on the range and saw stuff with the golf ball, that new TP5x ball that they have. I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I need.’ This is exactly the thing that I’ve been struggling with, and this is, I feel, what I need.”

Rarely will you hear players speaking poorly, on the record, about an equipment maker, but Rory wasn’t pulling any punches on the podium that day.

• • •

If you put two rookies together in a team competition, as Steve Stricker did when he paired Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman in the second session of the 2017 Presidents Cup, you cannot be sure how they will react. But as I walked with the Americans as they faced Anirban Lahiri and Charl Schwartzel at Liberty National Golf Club, it quickly became apparent that Lahiri was nervous, Schwartzel was not sharp and the American duo was going to be aggressive and get the crowd going. Chappell and Hoffman played well and quickly made the outcome of their match a foregone conclusion, foreshadowing the event as a whole.

Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman. (David Dusek/Golfweek)

The Americans went 1 up after a hole, 2 up after two, 3 up through four holes and 4 up after eight holes. Mercifully, the match ended on the 13th hole with the Americans winning, 6 and 5.

The Americans would end up defeating the International team 19-11 to retain the Presidents Cup, and while attending and working at that event was memorable, it was merely the amuse-bouche for a Ryder Cup entree that will be served next September in Paris.

[Read More …]

Like share or tag someone. Comment below

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *