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Gear & Equipment

New TaylorMade CEO outlines brand's future plans

This is an extended version of a Q&A interview with TaylorMade's David Abeles that recently appeared in Golf Digest Stix. Abeles, 43, was named the CEO of TaylorMade Golf in March and gave us his first interview since taking the new job. Abeles brings more than 15 years experience in the golf industry with him to his new role, several of them coming working previously at TaylorMade. 

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Golf Digest Stix: It's your third stint with TaylorMade. How important is it to understand the culture of the company? 

To be successful in this job, it's important not just to understand the culture of TaylorMade, but important to understand the culture of the industry and that of the golfer. I am an authentic, passionate golfer. There is a strategic side of things that encompass success in this role and then there is an intuitive side. If you look at the best leaders in the industry, they have had both. An intuitive sense of what the golfer wants is critical.

 

What is the perception of the company right now, both in the industry and with consumers?

When you're a company that bases its product strategy on innovation -- which is design and development to optimize performance -- there are things you do very well to excite consumers and there are times you do things quicker than most would appreciate or understand. And that's fair, that's definitely fair. But we're in a good place. We move forward and bring exciting products to market so consumers will get off the couch and buy them. We also have an obligation to work with our retail partners in managing some of the inventory challenges they face as a result of us bringing the products to market. We're cognizant of that. It's not a simple fix, but we have good ideas as to how we want to work with our customers. When you pursue innovation as a strategy -- and that is our strategy -- great things happen. But you take a lot of risk. We're very creative, we use technology to optimize performance and we use the world's best players to validate it. We're not perfect, I'm the first to admit that, but no company is.

 

What did you learn in your time that away from TaylorMade? (Abeles left in 2014 to become CEO of Competitor Group Inc., an operator of marathon and half-marathon races.)

I learned that running and golf are different. Running is an inspiring sport to those who run. They run for health and wellness, for charity, for personal records. Golf is a very aspirational sport. When we see Dustin Johnson, Jason Day or Justin Rose hit a shot, we want to hit that shot -- and from time to time we actually do. So we aspire to that level. But the biggest learning for me was the interaction of brands and how it can elevate your business practices. One of the things we'll do at TaylorMade moving forward is build out an experiential platform. To engage golfers on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis so they can experience our brands and products in new ways.

  

Where do you see the growth categories for TaylorMade? 

My first three hours back here I went down to the R&D room to see what we were working on for the future. I spent four hours with our engineers. We work on technologies that are three, four, five, even six years out. Technologies that we feel can define our brand and products and how golf is played. Some of the technologies we can't commercialize yet. The future is bright for our product lines. We'll see solid growth in the metal-wood business and iron business, and we will strengthen our leadership there. We're growing our golf-ball business. We have hundreds of tour players around the world in our ball.

 

What about Adams?

It's taken us a while to get it positioned the right way, but we think we have it right now. It's a very friendly brand to play. What's misunderstood is that it is still a performance brand. It takes a lot of R&D and technology to make an easy-to-hit golf club. And in some cases, our tour players benefit from that.

 

What is one thing individuals can do to grow the game?

It's incumbent upon all of us as golfers to grow the game. To reach out to people of all skill levels. They're friendships for life and they are experiences that grow the game. There's a responsibility for us to play with those who are less skilled. This will bring more golfers to the sport along with all the formal initiatives. There's a lot of energy surrounding golf now. We need to capitalize on that positive energy rather than the negative things people are saying about the sport.

 

How important is social media in promoting your brand?

Short answer: It's critically important. To give golfers around the world access to Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, to actually interact with them. It's amazing. When you can interact with the world's best, it brings people in. It's wonderful for us as well. It plays a huge role in our marketing strategy and just in the industry in general. And it will be a major part of how we promote the game in the future.

When you got the new job and met with your staff, what was the first thing you told them "this is what we need to work on"?

It's funny you ask that because I actually asked myself that question. What's important to us is that we continue to push downfield on great technologies and bringing great technologies to market. We want to build an environment for our people and create something where people want to be associated with our brands. Are we relentlessly innovating in everything we do? We want all golfers to feel about our company like our employees do and our athletes do. Our success will be contingent on that.



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Gear & Equipment

Here's why Rory McIlroy will wear four strange-looking shoes this week

By now we all expect Rory McIlroy to add a bit of flavor to his outfits, whether it's by wearing a loud belt, blocks of color or bold patterns. But he generally stays away from making fashion statements with his shoes—until now.

At the Irish Open this week McIlroy will wear four colorful, eye-catching Nike Lunar Control 3 shoes that were each designed by a kid whose life has been impacted by cancer. McIlroy, the Rory Foundation and Nike worked together with the Cancer Fund for Children, a charity in Northern Ireland that provides support to kids whose lives have been affected by cancer, to raise awareness through these NIKEiD designs.

Here's a roundup of the shoes you'll see McIlroy wear each day this week:

Round One: Designed by Sara Lockhart

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“I read online that Rory really likes different shades of green so I combined that with some of my favorite colors," said Lockhart, 12, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Rory's verdict: "I like the message she's put on the tongue. She wrote 'good luck' on them."

Round Two: Designed by Ryan Keenan

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“I chose the colors because it is for the Irish Open and they are colors associated with Ireland,” said Keenan, 16, whose mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Rory's verdict: "He's put a little message on the tongue saying, 'Go Rory,' so they're pretty cool for Friday."

Round Three: Designed by Chloe Hyndman

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“I picked black and white to make them look professional, but then added a print to keep them fun and recent," said Hyndman, 15, whose mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Rory's verdict: "I think these are pretty self-explanatory. You've got the little pebble/grain design, which is pretty cool, and purple with a little bit of blue in the laces."

Round Four: Designed by Alex Kernaghan

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“It says ‘Be You’ on my Nike shoes because that’s all you ever should be -- yourself," said Kernaghan, 13, whose father recently passed away from cancer. "I also added in a bit of blue as it’s my dad’s favorite color and yellow to represent the charity."

Rory's verdict: "Alex has designed these shoes which have basically every color in the rainbow...These are a pretty funky pair of shoes and I'm excited to wear them."

These NIKEiD designs can be purchased on NIKEiD.com (and a portion of the proceeds will benefit The Rory Foundation).

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Gear & Equipment

Ashworth hopes to sweep people off their feet with its new saddle shoes

Walking 18 holes is great overall for your body but can be taxing on your feet. That's why Ashworth didn't hold back anything in the way of comfort with its new Leucadia Tour golf shoe.

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EVA heel inserts and OrthoLite sockliners offer high-tech support. The shoe ($170) also features ample traction with its hybrid rubber-cleat outsole.

For all its modern performance features inside, the Leucadia Tour's outward appearance has a throwback look with its saddle-stitch design and leather-welt construction. The soft-leather upper enhances the classic look while still providing a comfortable fit.

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Gear & Equipment

Rickie Fowler used a little Tiger Woods magic to win the Players last week. With some help from Scotty Cameron

Scotty Cameron, the most successful man in putters, revealed some interesting information about Rickie Fowler's putter on his website this week. Among other things, Rickie's using a putter originally reserved for Tiger Woods. 

It's clear that Rickie and Scotty and his crew are pretty tight: "We're talking an 11-year-plus Scotty Cameron and Putter Studio relationship that borders on familial," the post says. So it makes sense that when Rickie wanted to change things up with his putting last year, he went straight to the source.
 
They did a lot of testing with Rickie, and ended up realigning his setup: "His lower body and upper body were going in opposite directions," Cameron wrote. With the new setup, they needed a new putter to match it.
 
This is where it gets cool.
 
Rickie, Scotty and one of the fitters, Paul, came across a "dusty-topped box" that contained putterheads originally made for Tiger, called the Newport 2 GSS. (GSS stands for German Stainless Steel, an Acushnet trademarked term for a type of 303 stainless steel.)
 
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(Photo: scottycameron.com) 

The head is similar to the Newport 2, except the lines are a bit sharper and the face more shallow.
 
They took it, attached a shaft so it stands at 35 inches (70 degree lie and 3 degrees of loft), stamped "Rickie Fowler" on it, and gave it a silver finish.
 
The putter was in his bag all last season for his top five finishes in each of the 2014 Majors, and he used it when he was dropping all those birdie putts down the stretch to win the Players this year.

 
While the story on Scotty Cameron's website is cool on its own, it made me wonder how the whole thing went down. Why hadn't anyone touched the box of putterheads over the last four years? (Tiger hasn't played a Scotty Cameron Putter since 2011.) Did Rickie stumble upon them himself, or did Scotty pull it for him?
 
My questions, unfortunately, weren't answered. Titleist isn't speaking about it any further because Rickie doesn't have a contract to play Scotty Cameron putters. I get it: He's not one of their players, so they're not going to talk about him.


Obviously, I'm now picturing the secret box of putters made for Tiger back in his heyday were stored in a golden vault, saved for a day when Woods may need them.
 
Since there were several magic putterheads in the box, I wonder who will get the next one. 

Maybe when Rickie and his girlfriend Alexis Randock get back from the Bahamas, he'll tell more of the story.

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Gear & Equipment

There's more to the popularity of the Ping G30 driver than just turbulators

loop-john-k-solheim-300.jpgThis is an extended version of the Q&A interview with Ping's John K. Solheim that appeared in the May 13, 2015 issue of Golf Digest Stix. Solheim is the third generation at Ping, founded by his grandfather, Karsten, in 1959. Now executive VP, John has seen the G30 driver rise to No. 1 in sales according to Golf Datetech.

Golf Digest Stix: How much of G30's success in the marketplace is because its "turbulators" technology story is easy for consumers to understand and embrace?

John K. Solheim: When you see the ball going longer and straighter, it makes the technology easier to understand and embrace. [But] we did make a conscious effort with our marketing to go deeper into what makes the G30 work. We wanted golfers to understand the turbulators (below) by showing them the wind-tunnel footage.  

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How much does having a marquee player like Bubba Watson help in terms of promoting and selling the driver?

We actually video-taped Bubba when he first got his G30 driver [last year]. His results were very impressive, and the driver went immediately into his bag, validating our engineering efforts. Combined with Bubba's fun personality, it turned into a perfect promotional video. Bubba doesn't just hit long drives, he's got a complete game, so he is great at promoting all of our clubs. 

Other manufacturers and retailers have talked about "cleaning up inventories" and "managing product cycles." That doesn't seem to have been an issue with Ping. Why?

Our business model of custom-built clubs shipped within 48 hours of receiving an order eliminates the need for our retailers to over-stock our products. If they take the time to fit our products, it usually leads to a sale. They simply place the order, and we ship them the already-sold clubs. It allows us to better forecast our business from an inventory perspective and run it more efficiently for the benefit of all involved. We take a long-term view of the business by maintaining sustainable product cycles, which provide our customers predictability and, more importantly, jobs for our employees.

Why have golf-equipment sales in general been off the last two years?

Golf's participation challenges have been well-documented, which certainly plays a factor in equipment sales. It's also no secret supply had outweighed demand. We don't believe in the short-term strategy, "if it doesn't sell, lower the price and try this new one," because it just leads to oversupply. While overall industry sales have declined in the last few years, we've gained market share in most key categories, which tells us our business model has more viability than ever. We don't get overly concerned about the annual ups and downs in equipment sales. We know that golfers will get new equipment when better equipment is available.

How much harder is it to sell the idea of innovation to golf consumers today?

Innovation is a core value of Ping and what drives our culture. A lot of times innovation gets confused with "new," which doesn't always mean better. We define innovation as something that leads to improved performance in a product, and we focus on communicating those benefits. 

How has the retail landscape for golf changed, and what does that mean for the equipment-buying experience?   Retailers of all types continue to see the value in custom-fitting. They may operate their businesses differently, but the goal is the same: develop loyal customers. We're investing in the tools and education to improve the buying experience. We look at buying clubs as an investment in a golfer's game, not as an expense. If they get fit into the right equipment by an expert, it will pay dividends on the golf course in the form of lower scores and more fun.

Ping's made a long-standing commitment to fitting. How is custom-fitting easier or more difficult today for manufacturers, retailers and consumers?   We believe custom-fitting is more exciting than ever. It is part of everything we do. It's been that way for over 50 years, so we don't know any other way. With today's technology to research and analyze the golf swing, we're able to develop tools and methods for fitters that simplify the process while ensuring consumers clearly understand the improved results from the custom-fitting. It is all right there in the launch-monitor data.

What challenges/opportunities are there with social media and consumer interest?   Interestingly, the Ping brand was largely built on social media before there was such a term. It was called "word of mouth" and my grandfather, Karsten Solheim, relied on it heavily. He knew there was no better validation for his products than happy golfers. If they played better with Ping clubs, they shared that with their friends. Today, social media provides us a platform to further share the Ping brand story with our extremely loyal consumers while reaching a new, younger audience that consumes most of its information through digital and social media. We enjoy the challenge of creating interesting content or simply answering a question about fitting for them. 

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Gear & Equipment

What you need to know about the wavy sole design in Tour Edge's new hybrids

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In an era of fairway woods and hybrids touting faces with driverlike explosiveness, turf interaction might be the most easily overlooked attribute of a metalwood. But it was a point of emphasis last year with Tour Edge's Exotics CB Pro fairway wood because of the club's ribbonlike sole structure.

Company president and chief designer Dave Glod is now bringing that technology to a hybrid. The wavy sole on the new CB Pro U lets the club move easily across the turf by reducing contact points.

The sole also includes small heel and toe cavities for additional relief.

All of this doesn't mean the head lacks horsepower. The Carpenter 475 cupface is brazed to a steel body for a cleaner joint. Saved weight is then redistributed to the sole for a lower center of gravity.

The club will be in stores June 1 ($250; 17, 19, 21 degrees).

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Gear & Equipment

Something to consider if you're finally breaking down and getting a laser range finder

With its Tour X Jolt laser range finder, Bushnell Golf has a distance-measuring device that seemingly does everything. It allows users to measure distances (up to 450 yards to a flag) and can adjust its reading to account for elevation changes.

loop-bushnell-tour-x-450.jpgBecause the USGA prohibits this function in competition, Bushnell includes a black faceplate (to replace its standard red plate) that disables the nonconforming feature.

Other functions include the ability to switch the lens display between red and black measurement readings for improved vision based on lighting conditions. And after the device locks on a target, it vibrates to confirm it has the proper reading.

The Tour X Jolt retails for $500.

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Gear & Equipment

Dubious golf product of the week: Uberlube

As you can imagine, the editors at Golf Digest receive countless pitches from entrepreneurs looking for product reviews (free publicity). More often than not, it’s an “ingenious” invention that is “sure to delight golfers of all ages and abilities.” Personally, I’ve grown perhaps too cold and quick to dump these in the trash folder. So, in an effort to better fulfill my professional duty to spread golf news, I’ve decided to regularly showcase the products I find least appealing. Any subsequent reader “click-to-purchases” will just further confirm the shakiness of my ability to judge consumer taste. Think of it like George Costanza vowing to do the exact opposite of his instincts to see where it gets him.

So with that, I offer snippets from my latest email from Uberlube. 

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   Uberlube lets skin glide across itself in a non-greasy, body friendly way - extremely long lasting, will work as hard as you do.
 
Hi Max,
 
 I hope this e-mail finds you well!
 
“For any upcoming stories you are working on, I would love for you to sample and review, Uberlube - a high performing, long-lasting lubricant that is used for a variety of activities ranging from anti-chafing during sports to anti-frizz for your hair! Including style, sex and sport, Uberlube is a revolutionary lubricant with many uses.” 

“For traveling purposes, Uberlube is introducing the Good-To-Go series. Uberlube is now perfect for transporting and fits easily in the pocket, purse, or gym bag.”

“Please visit Uberlube.com for more information.” 

Hold on, honey, I’ve got to go get something from my golf bag.

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Gear & Equipment

Our lobby has been overrun by golf bags

Here's a snapshot of our lobby at Golf Digest headquarters, which suggests either A) we're testing new golf bags, or B) there's a massive backup on a tee somewhere.

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Actually, yes, it's that time of year when our equipment editors are reviewing golf bags for our annual bag Hot List. They started with 63 bags, which meant scrutinizing an endless assortment of zippers and dividers, straps, and water bottle holders. The best of the bunch will be featured in the Hot List in the July issue. Your assignment until then is to check out last year's bag Hot List for background.

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Gear & Equipment

A limited-edition Rory McIlroy putter put out by Nike sold out in two minutes

Apparently some people think that if they have the same putter as Rory McIlroy they might putt like him. How many? At least 215. That’s the number of folks who shelled out $450 for a Nike Method 006 putter -- selling out the limited-edition online offering in just two minutes on Wednesday.

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 McIlory has used the putter -- which is a derivative of the company’s Method Midnight 006 -- for his last two major championships. The blade-style putter was developed by Nike master craftsman David Franklin and features the polymetal groove technology that was first introduced in the company’s original Method line of putters. “When we get together to discuss what the athletes need to perform at a world-class level, we bring our expertise to the table and they bring theirs,” said Franklin. “There is power in that and we take it very seriously.”
 
Indeed, both McIlroy and Tiger Woods have often talked about their involvement in the club development process at Nike. “This is really the first time I've worked with a manufacturer where I've been so involved, and so I really feel like my opinion is valued, a lot,” McIlroy told Golf World last year. “We might discuss something and the guys will come back a couple of weeks later and we’ll have the physical product in our hands, and right away we're working on, ‘how does this look, how does it feel, is it what you imagined it to be like.’ I've worked really hard with the guys on developing stuff that's going to work for me.”
 
Apparently 215 everyday golfers feel that it’s going to work for them, too. And if you’re looking to get your hands on one of the Method 006 putters, some will still be available at select retailers beginning April 17.

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