Tales From The Tour
In The Perfect Fit book Jeff Sheets shares some of the tour player stories that he got to experience while working on their golf equipment. Here are some Tales From The Tour excerpts from The Perfect Fit.
Before his first Masters victory Nick Faldo and I spent the week together in Houston evaluating his shaft frequencies, rebuilding his set, all the while documenting what we learned about his flex profiles. Working with Nick that week (and the same week a year
later before his second consecutive Masters win) I realized that Faldo had feel capabilities that were beyond your typical touring professional. His ability to sense and interpret feedback was unmatched.
When I worked the tour van, we used to share stories about Arnold Palmer's tremendous feel capabilities. Arnie claimed he could feel the difference between a 7.2 and 7.3 shaft flex frequency coefficient. Because he was so adamant about his sense of feel we would hand cut 7.25 shaft band stickers for his clubs!
It was the spring of 1990, during the week of the Byron Nelson Invitational in Las Colinas, Texas when Nick Faldo shocked me with his sense of feel. Nick was undergoing some contractual negotiations between OEMs. He brought me a set of forged blades and had insisted to the manufacturer that they be absolutely perfect in their specs. The heads appeared to be the most perfect set from a specification standpoint I had ever seen.
I was to assemble the irons using Precision FM 7.5 shafts at a D3 swing weight, with all of Nick's specs for length, loft, lie, etc. built into the set. The irons turned into a thing of beauty. By the time I had the set completed the frequency profile of every iron measured a perfect 7.5 coefficient. All, except for the 9-iron. It measured out to a 7.6. Likewise, the irons balanced exactly to D3 except for the 9-iron which swing weighted at D3½.
Since most touring professionals cannot detect a 2 cycles/minute difference in shafts, nor a full swing weight point, I knew that this set would perform well. With virtually every fathomable spec set at a zero tolerance (except for the 9-iron which was slightly off) I felt comfortable informing Nick that the set's specs were perfect when he picked up his irons from me. He proceeded to play a practice round and reported back into me upon completion. “How are the irons?” I asked.
Nick responded, “Some of the shots drifted on me in prevailing winds so I may want to look at using a different shaft, and the 9-iron appears to be too stiff and too heavy.”
It was 1990, and Lee Trevino's first year on the Senior (now Champions) PGA Tour. Lee did not have an equipment contract settled with a manufacturer as the tour year began, so he was able to play any type of equipment he chose. I re-shafted his chosen set which included eight different club head models from eight different sets of irons. Lee had fond memories of each club that helped make up the set. I was able to compensate for different hosel lengths and bore depths to arrive at a frequency matched, perfect set of irons. Lee's complete set looked like a garage sale grab bag when it was assembled together.
Even though you may have the capabilities of building such a set, I don't recommend it unless your customer can beat anyone on the course using only a Dr. Pepper bottle.
At the AT&T Invitational at Pebble Beach in 1992, Jack Nicklaus had recently sold his interest in MacGregor, and was contemplating a new golf equipment partnership. He was joined at this event with his sons Gary and Steve. Jack was tinkering around with various clubs from some of the manufacturers at the tournament, and decided to pay me a visit in my tour van. I had provided his personal clubmaker Jack Wullkotte with products for Nicklaus on a couple of occasions but had never worked directly with Jack. I don't recall if it was a driver I built for Jack or one I was shortening for Steve, but as I slid the grip onto the shaft I noticed Nicklaus looking at me with a perplexed grin.
“I have never seen a rubber grip installed on a golf club before,” he claimed. I was stunned. One would think that Jack had seen thousands of rubber grips installed between his MacGregor ownership and four decades of competitive golf.
I built a lot of drivers for Arnie in '91 and '92 while I was with Founders Club. Regardless of his tinkering, he was a very easy customer to work with. Back then, Palmer played only wooden drivers in competition, but eventually he toyed with metalwoods as the persimmon was dying on the vine. Arnie's
specs for his metalwood driver were constant and I found a way to cater to him quickly.
For starters, Arnold played a very special steel shaft that was no longer in production at the time. True Temper would make special production runs of their Extra Lite wood shaft specifically for Arnold. I would take my supply and tip and butt trim them to his specs, rough up the tips, install ferrules, and finish them off with the tedious underlisting and leather grip wrap. All that would be left was to epoxy the head in place. This permitted me to deliver a Palmer club “out the door” in as little as five minutes. Even though he enjoyed tinkering so much, we could swap different head models rapidly without any slow downs.
As a side note, in January 1992 in Palm Springs, California, Arnold Palmer put a metalwood in play in an official PGA tournament competition for the first time in his life. At 62 years of age he shot an opening round 66 to lead the Chrysler Invitational on the regular (not Senior) PGA Tour. I had assembled that driver in less than two minutes!
Another die hard leather grip user was Raymond Floyd. I had the privilege of working with Raymond for many years while I was with the Brunswick Shaft company. I could set my calendar by the precise 90 day interval where Mike Boylan of Wilson Golf would give me a new sand wedge head for Raymond Floyd.
Raymond had an outstanding bunker game and was proven by the wear and tear on his sand wedge while practicing. Therefore, he received a new head every 90 days to ensure good groove integrity when he wasn't in the bunker.
My biggest challenge with Raymond was his last minute request for either a wedge or driver. Steve Williams, his caddy back then, would pop into the tour van and say, “Raymond is teeing off in five minutes. Can you have a club ready for him?” I had this common “last minute” routine down smoothly with most touring pros. But those who used leather grips made it all the more difficult.
The fire drill would go like this:
Minute 1: Mix up fast curing (5 minute) ‘Tour Van’ epoxy. Cut shaft at both tip and butt ends. Tip abrade the shaft and install the ferrule.
Minute 2: Install leather underlisting onto cut shaft. Make hosel adjustments to proper loft and lie on the head.
Minute 3: Install the head onto the shaft using epoxy, making sure to align grip properly.
Minute 4: Take a quick break, start building another player’s set, or read a magazine as the epoxy sets.
Minute 5: Once the epoxy had set, begin wrapping leather over the underlisting. Hand completed club to the golfer or caddy.
Minute 6: Pray that the club doesn’t fall apart on the first tee (and none of them ever did!).
Having worked with hundreds of touring professionals over the years, it is easy to gather first hand knowledge on the visual importance of the putter setup. Lie angle plays a definitive role. With some veteran golfers, a particular look during setup is very important to achieve. In these cases, orientation of the toe or top-line, the look of the flange, or other visual keys are more important than a particular spec.
One year at the Players’ Championship, Lanny Wadkins brought an old Bullseye putter to my tour van for adjusting. He had the exact specifications written down and asked that I re-adjust the putter because the hosel had been bent. Lanny stated that the putter didn’t look right to him. I meticulously adjusted the lie angle, loft, and face progression until Lanny’s specs were achieved. The putter’s specs could not have been any more exact, but when Lanny returned to pick up his putter he set-up to it and stated, “It still doesn’t look like I remembered it looking (before it was damaged).” He stepped out of the tour van and slammed the head against the concrete a couple of times. He then set-up again, laid the putter down, looked at it, and then repeated beating the head on the concrete. After one more session of this, Lanny turned to me and said, “Now this looks right. I’m going to go roll a few putts with it.” Unfortunately, I was not quick enough to document Lanny’s newly “adjusted” specs for future reference.
Aside from being an accomplished ball striker, Lee Trevino is also a quick study when it comes to equipment and its performance. Long before launch monitors were used for optimizing set specifications Lee used manpower to accomplish the same objectives. When it came time to adjust new set specifications for Trevino’s clubs it took two or more people to help him get the lofts and lies correct.
Lee would hit balls with one person on the tee box and the other down range. Starting with his wedges he would begin hitting full shots. The person down range would radio back the yardage and dispersion (i.e., “104 yards, 1.5 yards left of center”). Every shot was recorded in the same manner that we capture launch monitor results today.
As Lee would move onto the next club and learn its yardage he would have one of us adjust the loft (and lie if necessary) in order to achieve the desired distance. We would eventually make it through the entire set, altering the specs as we moved from his short irons to long irons. The end result was precise yardages between each iron in the set (even with obscure lofts and lies). It was common to find only a couple of degrees of loft between some clubs to achieve the distance Lee was looking for. To the uneducated, Lee’s specs looked like a mess on
paper, but the performance results were clear to see.
On a side note, Lee would occasionally leave a club out of his set when playing a course. “There are no 9-iron shots on this track,” he’d exclaim, “and besides, I hit that club worst of all.” Take a tip from one of history’s outstanding ball strikers; and use only the tools that work well for you.
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