Interview with Carter Penley of Penley Sports

Penley with logo

Readers who are familiar with my writing know of my fascination and respect for US manufacturers of, well, pretty much anything. The commercial forces of the day seem destined to make the US ever more of a consumer and ever less of a builder every year. Those who continue to choose to make their products in the US are now a hardy few who must enjoy the manufacturing equivalent of swimming upstream,

Carter Penley of Penley Sports is a guy like that. He and his company are dedicated to producing their product one at a time, right here in Southern California. Not only that, but Carter is on the production floor every day, ensuring that each shaft meets both his design and manufacturing criteria. It’s also interesting to me that Penley places a good deal of his design focus on amateur players rather than tour pros. Aren’t the pros good enough? Don’t they enjoy the lion’s share of the benefits of most technological advancements anyway? I’m truly honored that a true legend in the golf industry has taken the time and expended the effort of an interview.

Paul Cervantes: When it comes to the golf industry, most players seek the latest in technology. What materials and / or technological innovations do you see on the horizon for premium golf shafts? Will these new materials benefit the average player or will most of the rewards be to the “better” and tour players?

Carter Penley:
Materials are primary to the design of golf shafts as is in all products that incorporate CFE (Carbon Fiber Epoxy) and is the primary driver in the design solution and DSO (Design Service Objective).

Technical innovations not only incorporate materials but require knowledge of and the analysis of the entire lay-up schedule to calculate the compressive/loading strength to perfect the best geometric shape to generate to most efficient load path from tip to butt of the golf shaft.

The advantage of CFE is the freedom of design it affords the composite engineer over metals.

As for on the horizon I am focusing on several design criterion. Number 1 on the list is to incorporate new/exotic materials to enhance playability for all levels of player, 2nd is a quasi-monolithic laminate schedule to advance a more stable performance platform and 3rd is geometry.

As mentioned above my designs tend to lean more toward the average player more than the touring pros. In reality the touring pro being the much better player (usually) is not my first choice for testing because they are so skilled that if there is a problem / defect in a design that in a couple or so hits they will pick up on the problem right away and correct for it and say it plays OK or good, well, that gives me a false positive, therefore I may put into production a less than perfect golf shaft.

In aerospace, testing is performed to fail structures, not to pass them.

Paul Cervantes As a follow up to the first question, how do you equate technological advancements in available materials and innovation to the importance of design and manufacturing precision?

Carter Penley:

As for equating the importance of technological advancements / designs I rate my most critical analysis requirements for me are as follows; laminate schedule analysis represents ~ 50%, materials represent ~30% and ~20% for geometry calculations. Manufacturing processes and fiber alignment although not listed above, to me are critical to the overall analysis for quality and performance of the Penley product(s) and is another reason why I manufacture all my shafts in the USA.

I firmly believe that I need to be in the plant and on the manufacturing floor each and every day to insure all product is manufactured exactly to my design and quality level.

Paul Cervantes: Penley shafts are made in San Diego under your supervision. What are some specific shortcomings that come from overseas manufacture. How much cheaper is it to make shafts offshore?

Carter Penley:

In my opinion the major short comings of overseas manufacturing is control of the manufacturing processes for the Manufacturing Engineer and Quality Assurance Inspector to have the ability to make corrections instantly on the floor during a manufacturing run before hundreds or thousands of bad product is shipped to the customer(s).

Prior to a full production release as a part of my quality assurance program I will, especially for new product, require a 10% pre-production run. The pre-production run is to provide a baseline to verify that the full production run will meet and or exceed all specifications of the shafts physical and mechanical properties. After which all production runs will be subjected to a 10% AQL.

When it comes to the cost of producing product in the US versus offshore it is of course much less expensive for a host of reasons. Primarily are labor cost; particularly in Asia, which I have heard that maybe are as much as 90% less. When NAFTA came along and the large shaft manufacturing companies ran to Mexico, hourly wages were $2-$3/hour and the manufactures on this side of the border just 20 miles north of Mexico were paying $12-$15 / hour.

Secondly the overhead cost are also much less approximately 70% -80% or less than we were paying on this side of the border and the same for facilities and utilities.

Thirdly, last but not least are the state and federal rules, regulations, permits, taxes, fees and a plethora of never ending environmental regulations and won’t even attempt to go into comparing the labor law regulations and conditions! This alone can eat up a good 15% – 20% of your profit compared to off shore companies where most of the above cost is little to non-existent in most overseas countries.

Paul Cervantes: What is your opinion of the practice of many major club manufacturers that install shafts that look like the “retail” version of a shaft but then label it with a “designed for” designation to differentiate it?

Carter Penley:

Decorating shafts specifically for an OEM club company is not unique per se. I have done that for many club companies but my shafts are my designs only, and what you see in that club is the same as all the other shafts I have in my finished goods inventory; the only difference is the shaft they buy from me may have their name on it, but will say “Powered by Penley.” These shafts in our Part Numbering System’ (‘C’ Code) are referred to as private label product. The only difference, if any, is the base coat color and the decoration.

I never sold a private label shaft line to any OEM that said “Designed for or by Ping, Titleist or whomever” that I did not design from the ground up and did not meet my design and engineering standards; that would tarnish my reputation, and would be somewhat duplicitous. My name is worth more to me than the money.

If the original shaft manufacturer did not put their name or mark on the shaft then I would think that the statement “Designed for or by Ping, Titleist or whomever” may indicate that it is different than the original retail product, unless it was actually designed by the “whomever” which in my opinion would be highly improbable.

Obviously the main driving factors for cost are materials and labor. The first item would be CFE. Purchasing a lower grade, reduce the CFE layup schedule per design requirement also resulting in less inspection / QA time.

In my opinion all the above cost saving items are usually done at the expense of performance/quality. But when the question of cost versus performance / quality is broached the general response is: “We make a million clubs a year and if I save one dollar a club that’s another million dollars to our bottom line.” A club builder who worked for a well-known golf component company also added to the statement, “Besides most golfers can’t play good enough to tell the difference anyway.”

Paul Cervantes: Let me extend the question a bit with an example…

Let’s say there’s a shaft you can buy from your local club builder called the “Long & Straight” for $275.

But, when you go to buy a new driver you see one that has a version of the “Long & Straight” installed BUT it also says “designed by ping, titleist, or whomever” that looks like retail version yet the entire driver costs only $299.

So, the questions would be:

1) Are the two shafts really the same or did the shaft manufacturer make two versions of the shaft?

2) If they’re different, how are they different and how do the changes affect performance?

The fear would be that the club company would use the cache of a “$250” shaft to sell their driver yet the actual performance of the shaft would be less since the design and construction are different (lesser) than the retail version.

Or, the retail and “designed by” shafts really are identical which would mean the retail version was wildly overpriced.

Carter Penley: 

To further the thought you are putting forth there are several advantages for the club companies to use a well-known branded shaft. One of which is of perceived quality and or performance which obviously enhances the club companies marketing, promotion and sales success in which the club company can capitalize on the shaft companies claims mentioned above without any consequences of their puffing/hype reflecting on them.

I have seen some extremely high priced golf shafts and this subject has been noted by others (for example, John Muir’s Clubmaker Report Do You Need a $700 Golf Shaft?(4/18/2018) and I’m not sure how they got to that price but maybe they have arrived at that price legitimately, but in my opinion I don’t see how anybody could justify that price. Possibly they know something I don’t?

A second advantage is that the larger offshore shaft companies have is deep pockets and very large marketing budgets and this is not missed by the club companies because they too gain from the benefits of their marketing budgets which basically helps the larger offshore shaft companies close the deal and in some cases consequently eliminating the smaller independent companies.

Third is cost, which should be #1. This is the major item that really contributes to their bottom line and the smaller independent shaft companies take the biggest beating here again when club companies want to cut cost.

My basic business philosophy is not to criticize or make disparaging remarks about my fellow Made in the USA competitors whether it be pricing and or quality / performance of product. But I can give you some input that may influence cost at some shaft companies.

How they apply or place value is their sole decision and in some cases in my opinion they will push the envelope.

  1. Material cost, labor cost and overhead cost are of a few and they come with mark-ups and yield analysis, this is where most cost get inflated.
  2. What price will the customer bear?
  3. Greed.

In my opinion these three items are a few of the major price drivers beyond design and performance criteria; not necessarily in this order.

Paul Cervantes: Aside from cost, is there any advantage to steel over graphite when it comes to shafts for irons? Do lower swing speeds and high total club weight shift the balance back toward steel at all or should we all be moving toward graphite in all of our clubs?

Carter Penley: 

The short answer is no. There is no reason why a graphite (CFE) iron golf shaft cannot perform as well or better than steel iron shafts.

In the mid-late nineties I observed that many high school and college golf teams and a few PGA players were also playing graphite irons and realized that sometime in the near future that graphite would soon be more popular on the PGA tour and I wanted to get ahead of the curve.

I began a graphite iron design project and designed a set of graphite irons in the late 1990s / early 2000s. The first cut was called the Power Iron System, the Design Solution took ~2 years and ~$200K, and I was now ready to fabricate the first prototype set. The DSO consisted of the following, a full set of iron shafts (1-10) perfectly matched with progressive CPMs, descending torque values, and an internal weighting system that I had to develop that would yield a constant swing weight throughout the entire set no matter whose iron heads you installed and all shafts were precut to length ready to install with no tipping required and came in two weight sets 105g and 115g to start, but the design envelope could accommodate 135 grams plus.

All testing was very encouraging and went well but my partner(s) decided to put the company up for sale against my wishes and without my consent. At that time I pulled the plug on all ongoing projects including the Power Iron System.

Despite all the turmoil I had this burning desire to see how good my theory / design was. I arranged to build two sets for two very well-known PGA tour players both of whom had won major PGA events I believe one had won ~20 major wins the second player had 2 major wins and neither one had played with graphite iron shafts, I believe, but for sure I know that one of them had never played graphite iron shafts. With both playing the ‘Power Iron System’, one won a major event at his second or third event out and the other player won his very first event! So far looks like graphite iron shafts are up to the task!

It is my belief that graphite irons are still a viable design and is on the PGA’s horizon, at least still on my horizon. It also appears that my design was far enough ahead of today’s designs that it still is my opinion they can be successful and I plan to bring the Power Iron System back again?

Paul Cervantes: As a designer, what are you working toward in the next generation of Penley shafts?

Carter Penley:

Currently we are working on the marketing and sales distribution of our latest designs the ET2 Pro-Series, ET3 Quasar, Hybrid HH2, and Platinum Fairway woods. All incorporating the newly developed TBAR™ (Tip to Butt Aspect Ratio) theorem.

TBAR™ algorithm has been 5 years in development primarily a manufacturing process yielding the tightest tolerances in today’s golf shaft design bringing to the golf industry the best performing golf shafts, matched by no other golf shaft manufacturer.

See ‘TBAR™’ white paper on Penley web site Penley Golf Shafts ‘TBAR™, part 1 thru part 6.

T-BAR™ White Paper

Also on the drawing board for the near future are:

Q.M.I.T. (Quasi Monolithic Integrated Technology). My hypotheses is that a common defect in the structural design and physical properties which is inherent in tapered tubes because of the traditional geometric shape of the golf shaft. Basically this fault is more prevalent in drivers and also exist in irons too, creating an uneven offset load path that currently cannot be avoided. This affects all level of players to some degree and often leads to the compounding of their off center ball strikes (miss-hits) and also can cause erratic ball flight which will cause the player to start second guessing their swing technique and or lose confidence in their long/short game. If my working hypotheses is correct and proves out it will cause a paradigm shift in today’s golf shaft design for years to come!

A second generation project will be under study soon and is referred to as the Black Magic project and basically consist of a combination of exotic materials that exhibit unique micro mechanical property advantages over the more commonly used materials used in today’s golf shaft.

I’m looking at these materials to primarily design the next generation long drive (and future Penley tour level golf shafts) that will have a much more robust load bearing platform to withstand the ultra-high butt to tip load path and radial torque loads generated by today’s top long drive pro. In 2005, Scott Smith set the world record at 539 yards in an official LDA competition using a PENLEY shaft. His record still stands today. Look for 600 yard drives soon!

 

Interview with Carter Penley of Penley Sports

An Interview with David Edel of Edel Golf

edel
David Edel Applying his Craft

Paul Cervantes:

It’s been a while since we’ve touched base. In that time a lot has happened at Edel Golf. You’ve relocated from Oregon to Texas. You’ve added a lot of variety to your putter and wedge offerings and really stepped it up when it comes to irons. Tell me a little about the ups and downs of the move and the development path of the new Edel clubs.

David Edel:

Moving to Austin, Texas was a huge move for Edel Golf, my family, and for me on a personal level. I love the Oregon coast as it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. However, running a golf club business on the Oregon coast was very difficult. Moving to Austin centrally located Edel Golf where travel was so much easier and being in a vibrant growing town centrally located between Dallas, San Antonio and Houston gave us a base to expand and grow the brand.

Another factor that made a huge impact was finding an investment group which was based out of Austin at the time. This investment group invested much needed capital and strategies that helped grow other revenue streams other than our base product line of putters. We started making wedges within the first year after moving to Texas and, through that process, we were able to develop and move into the iron category. Having once been involved with Henry Griffitts, I saw a huge opportunity in the iron market that was not being implemented with the large OEMs, not to mention the increase in bottom line revenue as a result. We knew the metal wood market would be difficult to compete against large OEMs that put millions into R&D, but also knew that we could be a force in rest of the bag with in-depth fitting systems and bespoke made irons, wedges, and putters.

Paul Cervantes: 

I was intrigued to see that Edel has branched out into Single-Length irons. How did that come about?

David Edel:

As a result of machining our own iron heads, a unique opportunity arose with Bryson Dechambeau, who at the time needed to have a custom made set of single length irons and wedges. Bryson had played my putter since he was 11 years old and once he moved to Dallas to attend SMU our relationship blossomed to help him with his special needs. At the time, he was a talented player but I didn’t really see at the time his interest in single length to go where it went. I merely was trying to help a talented young player get the proper equipment to achieve his goals. What happened was a complete surprise to everyone, and I think for him as well. Not that he didn’t think or believe he could do it, just that the 2015 season was truly magical by winning the NCAA National Championship and the US Amateur. His efforts showed that his idea to play single length, which had been done before with Tommy Armour’s EQL single length clubs of the late 1980s, had teeth.

Based on Bryson’s achievements, and the knowledge obtained from trying to make the best possible club for him, gave us the foundation to take our club knowledge to develop the most sophisticated single length fitting model and product line the industry has ever seen. His efforts proved that single length could work for the best players in the world, and moved the concept from a gimmick to reality.

Single length isn’t without its issues, most of which are more mental than physical. Mental…meaning the golf industry and its players are reluctant to change. Overcoming the physical issues are nothing compared to mental change needed for players to take a great idea to implementation. It is understandable…people have been playing years with variable length golf equipment, so moving to a one-swing, single-length concept at face value seems like a huge change. It is actually not, and only simplifies an already complicated game.

Cobra Golf’s entrance into the space was a good thing for us. It showed that a large OEM believed enough in the concept to validate its merits. They also applied much need marketing that small companies like Edel Golf can’t afford. The downside was a result of a rush to market with a non-fitted product that gave many their first attempt at one-length as they call it to be less than effective, especially in the 5, 4, and 3-irons. I knew with such a new and industry-changing concept, if it wasn’t fitted without a superb fitting model and product line, the movement would have its issues. Fortunately for us, we accomplished our goal of a great head design, coupled with Paderson shaft advanced composites and truly great golf club was born.

Paul Cervantes: 

I was also impressed to see how much work Edel has done to evolve your putter line. How would you sum up the advances you’ve made?

David Edel:

One advancement came about during our move to Texas was our Torque Balance putter concept that evolved into a superb putter fitting model. Torque Balance or toe up tech was a concept I developed as a result of creating a teaching aid that I thought would help golfers with over acceleration issues. It was an adjustable ball bearing system that would allow the putter head to rotate about the shaft in a 360 degree manner. If the player over accelerated the putter, the face wold rotate open and make the ball roll to the right. What I found out astounded me; putters we were making were very difficult to keep from rotating open due to the design and MOI. So, it hit me right between the eyes that regardless of my fitting process I could assemble for the player to aim and weight the putter correctly, this hidden monster of face rotation was a real problem.

Testing other putters that professed face-balance, also showed that the implied warranty wasn’t truly face-balanced. For this reason we developed a new fitting system based solely around Torque Balance or Toe UP, which was industry changing, and gave us a technical advantage over our competitors. The difficulty was making a putter that was toe up without looking funky, something I believe we accomplished.

Another inclusion to our putter line since moving to Texas was our special relationship with Pixl face insert technology. Pixl inserts are 91 hexagons with a special carriage to hold them in place, provides us the largest sweet spot in the industry. This proven technology makes the sweet spot larger because these individual Pixl’s act as independent sweets spots making off center hits roll farther than a solid face.

Paul Cervantes:

You know I’m kind of a wedge freak. Just think of me as Lee Trevino without the game. Edel seems to treat bounce differently than other companies. What have you learned that can help the average player’s wedge game?

David Edel:

Our wedge tech has also been transformative to the industry. With the help and collaboration with famed instructor Mike Adams, we developed a wedge fitting model and product line that changed the narrative for the industry. We developed concepts around a wedge with the center of gravity in the middle of the club, where at the time almost all wedges due to their design had the CG towards the heel. We did this by shortening our hosel, and scalloping heel weight and redistributing the weight more towards the toe. We created four grind patterns with heel, toe, trail, and leading edge bounce relief that made the club very versatile for different playing conditions. We developed a unique groove pattern that moved the grooves towards the toe, placing those grooves to the middle of the CG and the total face width. Making all three centers in the same spot. Another advantage to our wedge model was a 25 shaft model that allowed the fitter to change flight and spin numbers to offset launch conditions and spin values that were the result of the new groove changes implemented by the USGA and R&A. As each shaft has different weight values, coupled with length requirements each head would be hand ground to ensure proper swing weights. Our research concluded that low bounce was not advantageous for players, and through countless fittings, higher than industry standards were needed. We developed a bounce system based on width and angle to help the fitters and players achieve optimal turf interaction. So when the industry is moving to lower bounce numbers, we went the opposite direction with our average bounce being the 18 to 26 range, which may sound alarming, but is neutralized by the correct width. We were fortunate to have In Gee Chun win the USGA Women’s Open, and The Evian Masters plus countless other international events. Also, Hoo Joo Kim won the LPGA’s Pure Silk Classic.

As a result of our understanding of bounce in wedges, we applied the same attention to our iron fitting model. Since each player is unique with regard to angle of attach and lean conditions, the most important angle besides lie, was the angle of the bottom of the club that is directly being influenced by the ground. We were the first company to implement bounce angle concepts to all irons, ensure that each player would have perfect turf interaction relative to their motion. Since the shaft in a huge engine to value of the club and as a result of each shaft having different gram weights, we developed an iron that could be hand ground to achieve optimal swing weights without having to add lead down in the hosel, changing the CG. The heads are also uniquely designed to have centered CG which was not talked about until recently.

Since moving to Texas, our clubs have been involved in winning four USGA titles, two on the Web.com Tour and one on the Champions Tour. Currently we have five players using putters on the PGA Tour, and two on the Champions Tour which is quite an accomplishment for a small company. With that said, what we take a lot of pride in the large stable of quality fitters that have made huge a huge impact on the golfers of all abilities to make long-term changes in their games. Tour support is important for the sole fact it validates to the general consumer that your products are good. Our philosophy is we treat everyone as if they were a tour player. We don’t make a club different for a tour player than we do for an average player trying to get better. The concept is no different and when people are spending hard-earned money and time dedicated to playing the game, deserve nothing less than an excellent process and product bespoke made for them. We take great pride in being a steward of the game, upholding tried and true techniques, philosophies, and quality manufacture which over time will ensure our place in the industry, regardless how big we are.

Paul Cervantes:

Thanks, David…I’m looking forward to checking out your latest putters and wedges.

Edel Golf

An Interview with David Edel of Edel Golf

Andrew & Benji take on The Dakotas Tour

How can it be over six years since I wrote this; impossible! Still, reading it again reminds me of writing it and makes me want to drop AVL to see how he’s doing.

Cheers.

PC

 

In 1996 Tiger Woods said, “Hello world,” and things haven’t been the same since. Before Woods ever put a tee into the ground as a professional he’d been made a multimillionaire by Nike and Titleist. For the first time, far more of a player’s income was going to come from sponsorships than tournament winnings. A new world order had arrived and golf almost instantly expanded into a truly global game.

Since then, we’ve said hello to a bunch of mini-Tigers like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa. What each of these players have in common (along with a lot of game) is a massive corporate support mechanism. Each is as much a brand as a player. Fowler actively cultivates his image and look on his website by asking, “Love my look?” His Cowboy-orange and flat-billed cap are tools helping to set himself apart from the rest of the khaki-clad PGA Tour crowd. And, while it would be easy (if a tad cynical) to say most great players have yet to set themselves apart by winning,

I don’t want to create the impression I don’t like this crop of young, corporately well-connected, players because for the most part I do. It’s just that I also enjoy following the kind of player who lacks such deep-pocketed support. It’s important to understand how many players come to professional golf in anonymity and with significant hardship.

It’s well known Ben Hogan failed on the PGA tour at least once before finally breaking through. Before succeeding, he was down to his last bit of cash, $86 from a war chest of $1400. He had promised his wife Valerie (who was driving with him from event to event) that if he didn’t earn a check in the next tournament they would take what little money they had left and make their way home to Fort Worth, Texas. The morning before the tournament, the Hogans awoke to find their Buick stripped of its rear tires and wheels, its rear axle propped up on rocks.

Hogan got a ride to the tournament and ended up winning $385. Hogan described that check as the biggest one he had ever seen and he was quite sure it was the biggest he would ever see in his entire life. It’s impossible to imagine that Hogan sponsored by Nike, given millions of dollars before he had ever put a tee into the ground in a professional event. Hogan is a reminder that for every Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler there are thousands of aspiring players who come up another way; a much harder way.

Jim Von Lossow came to professional golf in a way much closer to that of Hogan than of Fowler or Woods. Jim’s an old friend of mine and some years back he told me of his time on the PGA Tour. He was only 20 when he left Seattle for California and his parents had no love for the idea of playing professional golf. Jim’s quest to play on tour was one he faced largely on his own. He ended up on tour for a few years and even played alongside some storied players like Tom Kite and Jack Fleck. Though Jim didn’t make many headlines while on tour, his journey led him to become a PGA instructor, the first putter manufacturer to mill heads from 303 stainless steel and now one of the most respected club fitters in the country.

It’s no surprise that Jim and his wife, Susan, have two children who grew up excelling at golf; their daughter, Hannah, and son, Andrew. When it came to Andrew, Jim hadn’t realized how good he’d gotten until Andrew and his friend, Eric Benjamin, shot back to back rounds in the low 60s. This got Jim thinking and he and Susan decided to stake Andrew and Benji enough cash to cover a summer playing The Dakotas Tour. “When I was coming up, I didn’t have the support of my parents when it came to golf,” Jim told me. “So, it was important to me that my wife and I give Andrew and Benji whatever help we could.”

Toward the end of July, Andrew and Benji loaded Andrew’s 1997 Toyota Camry and headed east toward Bozeman, Montana. Bozeman would serve as the duo’s home base for their summer on The Dakotas Tour since Benji knew some folks there. Andrew & Benji missed the first eight events of the 2010 Dakotas Tour season. These tournaments were played in cities with names like Okoboji, Iowa. Obscurity is common in professional golf. A serious golf fan might be able to name 50 PGA Tour players but there are 125 exempt spots. Add the players on the Nationwide Tour, the Canadian Tour and all the myriad other mini tours and we’re talking about serious obscurity. Galleries consist of friends and family, but more likely no one at all. Testing one’s game on a tour like the Dakotas was a strong reminder that golf can be a very solitary game, especially for aspiring professionals like Andrew & Benji.

Still, this is a duo that’s pretty comfortable with obscurity. They’ve even created their own organization to promote it; The Northwest Obscure Golf Association. Andrew & Benji came up with the name when they were forced to admit that to play as much as they needed to play to sharpen their games they’d have to play on some of the area’s scruffier courses. So, for two months of summer in 2010, Andrew & Benji tested their games against other aspiring professionals. They played some golf, they drove a lot of miles and had a lot of fun. At the end of the summer, they both agreed it had been the best one ever.

Obscure

After arriving in Bozeman, Andrew & Benji drove about 700 miles for a one day Pro-Am at Wild Oak GC in Mitchell, South Dakota. For the next few weeks, Andrew & Benji teed it up twice in Yankton, South Dakota at Fox run and then at the open qualifier at Hillcrest Country Club.

Which open? The Bobcat State Open at Fargo Country Club, of course. Notably, the state animal of South Dakota is the coyote, so go figure. Jim Von Lossow had told me what good players his son Andrew and daughter had become, but it was Andrew’s humble blogging that drove home just what fine players he and Benji are and at the same time what a difficult undertaking they were attempting.

Andrew’s first blog entry:

Benji and I played a practice round at Fargo Country Club. It was a nice day, around 80 degrees with a slight breeze. The forecast for tomorrow is calling for wind and sun. I tee off at 8:20am while Benji tees off at 1:20pm. 

The greens are very firm and fast. The key to approach shots is staying below the hole and taking one club less for the ball to run up to the pin. This is a very Northwest-style golf course so Benji and I feel comfortable playing here.

Here are a couple pics from today at the Fargo Country Club…

AVL
Eric Benjamin

To the casual reader, I’m sure these photos simply look like two really good players teeing off. But, when I look at them I’m trying to imagine if Andrew & Benji felt differently when they put the tee in the ground. They were doing what they had done thousands of times before, but they were doing it for a very different reason. Their ability, their pure joy in playing the game and their newfound drive to play golf for a living, had taken Andrew & Benji to this very unusual place.

I once watched Nick Price in one of his first tournaments on the Champion’s Tour. I had sought him out before he teed off to tell him how much I enjoyed his book, The Swing, which had come out a few years earlier. Nick Price was as kind and gracious a man as his reputation would suggest. There were a few people who watched him tee off, but by the 3rd hole his gallery had all but vanished. It was a perfect, glorious day in Southern California and one of the best players in the game was playing a competitive round of golf in almost total solitude.

That was an odd event. It was the first day of a tournament that had been moved from one course to another and attendance would be light until the weekend. But, that day reminded me what a lonely and isolating game professional golf can be. As I walked with Price I marveled at his rapid-fire swing and the dead-solid sound the ball made when he struck it with an iron, and I felt a little sorry for him. I know…Price wasn’t really alone, and was certainly not lonely. Still, live professional golf very often doesn’t always bear as much similarity to the game we see on television as we might expect.

Andrew & Benji were taking their first steps toward becoming a colleague of Nick Price but I’m sure they didn’t see it that way. They were and are good friends who wanted most of all to have their best summer ever. While they were at it, they would measure their games against each other and against the games of the other players with the same mission.

They both knew it wouldn’t be easy:

Day 31-33

Day 1 of the Bobcat North Dakota State Open:

Benji and I both shot 75. I played in the morning and made the turn at 3 over and shot even on the back. 

For Benji’s round in the afternoon the wind picked up and baked out the greens. He hit a flagstick from 190 yards and the ball then went into the water in the greenside hazard. In the last 3 tournaments, Benji has at least hit one flag per tourney. His round also lasted 6.5 hours. 

Day 2:

Benji shot 70. He played solid but just had one bad hole. He was punching out from the trees when his ball caught the trunk of a tree sending it into the hazard. Benji missed the cut by 2.

For myself, I shot 81. Made the turn at 3 over again and knew I had to make some moves if I wanted any chance of making the cut. Instead the round went the other way.

We are leaving North Dakota today and heading to Milbank, South Dakota. We will drive three hours and play a practice round at Pine Hills Golf Club for a one-day Pro Am tomorrow, August 30th.

We are looking forward to playing a new course and teeing it up in another tournament.

For 7,000 miles, Andrew & Benji chased the little white ball across the Dakotas and into Montana, going all the way east to Iowa for the Tour Championship. They were like the golf equivalents of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, hopping from town to town, staying at KOA campgrounds. Playing golf was the reason for their trip but I will bet it was the trip itself they’ll remember most keenly. As another Cervantes once wrote, “The Journey is better than the inn.” In an era when people are brought together over vast distance by technology, it’s even more important to venture into the expanse from time to time. I’m sure Andrew & Benji would agree.

Koa AVL
Koa Benji

I wondered a lot about Andrew & Benji and their dream of playing golf for a living. In fact, when I started working on this story, I wasn’t even sure they really wanted to play the game for a living. So, I talked to Andrew about it.

Today, Andrew Von Lossow’s day job is studying Design at Eastern Washington University where he’s on schedule to graduate in 2013. He told me about the reaction of his fellow students when he tells that in his spare time he’s a professional golfer. Not surprisingly, they don’t quite know what that means. When most people think of the word professional, they think of doctors and lawyers, not golfers.

When asked to describe his game, Andrew said, “My strength is ball striking. I can hit high long irons and from there I have good confidence in my other irons. My chipping and pitching are works in progress. Same with my putting; I am a streaky putter I can really get it going when I am on. When I’m not, it is a lot of two putts and the occasional and dreaded 3 putt.” He’s clearly a guy who believes in his game and has done a lot to develop it from working with a number of teaching pros to enhancing his overall fitness by following a rigorous fitness regimen developed by the Titleist Performance Institute.

As ever, golf is a game of making three shots into two shots any way you can. The different mind set of the truly fine player is revealed when he says, “Once I make one birdie, I feel I can string them together. The more birdies I make, the more unaware of my score I get because I get caught up on the next shot to make the lowest score possible.” Poor players don’t think that way. A couple good holes is more likely to make them protective than confident. Andrew clearly has the confidence to go low when the opportunity comes his way, as he did by finishing 5th and winning $800 in the Gallatin Valley Open.

He wrote about the event and the end of his first pro tour:

Back Home

What a journey it was out in the Dakotas. Benji and I both agree that this was the best summer we have ever had. Benji had some great finishes in tournaments while I was enrolled in the school of hard knocks in the tour life. What I learned was very important for becoming a better player. Golf is not easy as we all know. 

The last tournament, The Gallatin Valley Open, I came in 5th shooting 72-68. The first day I shot 4-over 40 on the front nine and I took some experience from my previous tournaments and shot 4-under 32 on the back nine. The next day I shot a bogey free 68 to make a move up the leader board to cash my first professional check.

I’ll bet Andrew’s closing 68 felt so easy. At the same time, I’m sure that front nine 40 must have had him doubting that he was cut out to play professional golf. The ability to turn off those doubts and salvage par says a lot about his resiliency. Still, it must be extraordinarily difficult for an aspiring professional to measure his game, until the heat of professional competition gets turned up. Then it becomes easy, if potentially confidence crushing. There are so many good players today. As sure as I am that the best players of eras gone by like Nicklaus, Hogan and Ballesteros would still be amazingly successful players today, I’m equally certain the depth of quality players is greater today than it’s ever been.

No one needs to tell Jim Von Lossow about the difficult challenge that lay ahead for his son. There is surely no way to tell whether Andrew will be able to make a living playing golf. But, that’s not really the point. In golf and in life, outcomes are never assured. All we can do is make our best swing, go find the ball, and do it all again.

Today, Andrew & Benji are continuing to hone their games in preparation for their next trek on tour. They’re sure to have plenty of birdies and their fair share of bogies when they do.

Their best summers ever are just ahead.

Andrew & Benji take on The Dakotas Tour

Tiger Woods “Performance Reasons” at the Safeway Open in Napa, CA

Tiger Woods has cited “performance reasons” in withdrawing from this week’s Safeway Open in Napa, CA.

His back is fine but his game still suffers and Woods won’t return until it’s ready to go.

The now 40 year old Tiger Woods is missing a piece of the equation. His game will never be ready (by his old standards) again. He’ll never again be the player who won the 1997 Masters or the one who blitzed the PGA Tour in 2001 or even the one who won his last major in 2008.

Woods keeps looking in the mirror expecting to see those younger versions of himself and instead keeps seeing that 40 year old guy with a twice-surgically repaired back.

Ouch.

He also sees the rest of the Safeway field, where the highest ranked player is world number 12 Paul Casey, yet he still doesn’t like his chances.

Ouch times two.

This all goes back to my fundamental belief about the deepest fear in Tiger Woods’ heart; the fear of being just another really good tour player. He doesn’t want to go toe to toe with Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day.

He wants the young players of today to lay down for him like the now 50+ year old, 1990s under-achieving-used-to-beens did through the early and mid 2000s. But, today’s 20 and 30-somethings aren’t going to do it for him, so Woods will stay home and his 40 year old game can remain in hiding.

So much for moving the needle.

 

 

Tiger Woods “Performance Reasons” at the Safeway Open in Napa, CA

Revisionist History is Alive & Well at Golf Digest

Question: Did Martha Burk, who wrote a letter to Augusta in 2002 and led a protest in 2003, help or hurt the cause?

Answer: I think Burk set back the process by years.

Sometimes a troubling bit of revisionism can reside in a single sentence. The question quoted above was posed by Golf Digest. The answer was provided by Golf Digest Editor, Marcia Chambers. As is often the case with revisionism, I have every confidence most readers will have missed it, or at least will wonder how it could possibly be relevant.

Chamber’s response revises history by her use of the word, process. Her sentence makes it appear that prior to Martha Burk there was a process in place at Augusta National to admit women members. This would be analogous to the contention that Rosa Parks set back the process pf racial desegregation by refusing to sit in the back of the bus in Alabama back in 1955.

Quite simply, organizations, whether golf clubs or municipal transit companies, do not like to be told what to do.

As I grow older, even small examples of revisionism are troubling to me. It’s easy for me to imagine a young person reading Chambers’ quote and imagining Burk as a common rabble-rouser just out to make trouble.

The PGA Tour’s history does not allow for much leeway when it comes to issues of equality. The end of its Caucasian Clause came in the year of my birth, 1961. It feels real to me since its stain continued into my own time.

Too long ago for you?

In 1984, Shoal Creek Country Club hosted the PGA Championship. At the time, the club had no black members. It is stunning to think that the PGA of 1984 wasn’t savvy enough to be aware of that fact at the time. If that’s easy enough to forgive, how can we forget that when 1990 rolled around the PGA again awarded Shoal Creek with its most prestigious tournament?

Though six years had passed, there were still no black members at Shoal Creek.

Fortunately, the Martha Burks of that time and place were not silent: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference threatened a boycott and sponsors like IBM pulled millions of dollars of commercial advertising from the broadcast. In a matter of weeks, Shoal Creek hastily accepted a local black businessman as an honorary member.

The only difference between Shoal Creek and Augusta National is muscle. In 1990, Shoal Creek feared both financial loss and a damaged reputation. Augusta did a simple calculation based upon the immense wealth of their brand and decided to weather what in the end was merely a bothersome squall of adverse of public opinion.

But know this:

Had Martha Burk stayed silent in 2002, today poor Condi Rice would probably be teeing it up at her local muny. The truth is Martha Burk started the very process Marcia Chambers now says she delayed.

Augusta National is a singularly magnificent golf course. Its co-founder, one of the great gentleman of sport this country has even known. But, its history is always complex and sometimes conflicted.

Marcia Chambers, by way of an implication, brought by a single word in one sentence, has only added to that complexity.

A comment from Martha Burk:

Thank you very much. The piece is a concise and very accurate frame, not only of Chambers’ statement but of the Shoal Creek situation and the response re ANGC. Maybe now that female members are allowed, the asterisk will be removed from the “official” PGA tour event list — an exception they carved our for Augusta in the wake of Shoal Creek when Augusta opened to African American men, but no women, contrary to the new PGA policy against race and sex discrimination. As you know, some clubs dropped out of the tour rather than admit women, but Augusta got to have it both ways.

As for Chambers, I am puzzled. She and I were in contact during the controversy, and she seemed to be entirely with me and what I was doing.  Her book, The Unplayable LIe, had called attention to the problem of sex discrimination in golf long before I got involved.

Again, thanks for an honest and straightforward critique.

Martha Burk

Revisionist History is Alive & Well at Golf Digest