When you think of PowerBilt you might think of cool orange staff bags used by Frank Beard, Bobby Nichols, Larry Mize, Fuzzy Zoeller and . . . Cub Swanson?
That's right, Cub Swanson.
PowerBilt has signed the Mixed Martial Arts fighter (right) to endorse its equipment. It's part of the company's initiative to build an edgier personality that will include a power-golf-fitness program in 2014, showcasing Swanson and other athletes from baseball, BMX, motocross, surfing and snowboarding.
"We need to get [kids] off the electronic games and out on the course," says Ross Kvinge, PowerBilt president. "The youth are following the extreme sports athletes, and we feel we can have an impact by reaching out through our athletes and introducing them to golf."
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It may not be as dramatic a comeback as the one fashioned by the man himself from his near-fatal car accident in 1949, but the Ben Hogan Company is back in the equipment business. A dormant brand for nearly a decade, the Ben Hogan Company is being resurrected with clubs bearing the famed Hogan script scheduled to be return in stores in 2015.
Perry Ellis, which owns the Hogan name, has entered into a licensing agreement with Eidolon Brands, whose president and CEO is Terry Koehler, a former director of marketing for the Ben Hogan Co. Koehler already has assembled a research-and-development department that will be based in Fort Worth, where Hogan clubs were first produced.
In an interview with Golf Digest, Koehler would not give a timetable for when clubs would actually be unveiled but did say irons would be first out of the blocks. "Irons were always the anchor of the Ben Hogan Company," Koehler said. "Mr. Hogan set a pretty high bar for us in terms of quality, hard work and precision so this product will not be driven by a schedule. We have a set of design values and performance values we are pursuing. We are focused on doing it right from tip to tip. As Mr. Hogan would tell you, the grip and shaft are a critical component of it, too."
For Koehler, whose company currently makes the SCOR4161 line of wedges, the chance to reunite with the Hogan brand is personal as well as professional.
"We have a lot of Ben Hogan veterans here, and it's never far from our mind," he said. "My office looks like a Hogan shrine. We believe this has potential to be a very big story because of what the Hogan brand meant to so many people. I've been a 'disciple' of the company all my life. It pained me to resign that position because as a young marketing guy that had been my dream job."
Talks with Perry Ellis started last August when Koehler made what he termed "an inquiry call." Afterward, the dialogue picked up momentum. Koehler admits the original call was "driven by emotion," but the eventual deal was the result of seeing a solid business opportunity. "I believe the Ben Hogan brand still has a strong cachet out there and people will stop and look at what we're doing just because of that," Koehler said.
What they won't see on the irons are some familiar names such as Apex or Edge. Callaway, which purchased the company at auction in September 2003 for $174.4 million, retained the rights to those names as well as some others after selling the Ben Hogan brand to Perry Ellis in 2012. Some, however, transferred over to Perry Ellis and can be used.
"I think there were some great names and if some are available we'll look at them," Koehler said. "We're investigating what those other ones are and whether names such as Director or Producer or Radial still mean something to people."
Whether the irons carry a traditional Hogan name or not, Koehler promises it won't matter. "I can tell you these will be pure Ben Hogan golf clubs," he said. "They will exemplify and deliver on every promise Mr. Hogan ever made."Follow @EMichaelGW
As a part of the yearlong celebration, Wilson staffers Kevin Streelman (below), Ricky Barnes and Padraig Harrington, among others, are wearing hats with the company's former shield logo. The retro caps ($20) can be purchased with other cool items sporting the historic trademark. They include vintage-looking FG Tour 100 irons, a centennial model of the company's Nexus carry and cart bags ($200), headcovers ($20), golf balls and towels.
The brand has been around since 1914, and its tour pros have won 61 majors using the company's irons. For more information go to Wilson.com.
The trend in hybrids has been toward looking like smaller fairway woods instead of iron-replacement clubs. Adams, which has been at the forefront of the hybrid movement, is trying to shift the clubs back to their traditional, more compact size.
The Adams Pro, which checks in at 95 cubic centimeters, is more than 25 percent smaller than last year's Adams Super S. "We think the smaller size inspires confidence and makes the club more versatile," says Justin Honea, senior director of R&D, on the company's approach to bridging the gap between irons and fairway woods.
Designed with a shape based on tour-player input but with average-player forgiveness in mind, the Pro ($200) features a high-strength Carpenter 455 steel face to enhance ball speed. Thin slots stretch across the crown and sole--the latter has a cut-through opening--to improve face deflection.
Available in 16, 18, 20, 23 and 26 degrees, the Pro also uses a more "upside down" iron-like face profile for a larger hitting area.
The "Speed Pocket World Challenge" also took place in three other cities (London, Toronto and San Francisco), with prospective customers getting the opportunity to demo the SpeedBlade 6-iron compared to other irons. A leader board captured golfers' stats and compared them to the results from events in the three other cities. A local winner will be named in each city, as well as an overall "Speed Pocket World Champion," who will receive a trip to the company's Kingdom clubfitting facility. (At noon Tuesday, the leader had picked up 38 yards over his previous irons.)
"It was really fun to try out the new clubs in a setting like this," said Jonathan Balangon of New York. "They usually only do this kind of thing at private country clubs."
Related: Watch Dubuisson make his great desert saves
Normally that might sound a bit odd. But in case you forgot, Dubuisson is the guy who produced those memorable (and multiple) saves from the desert during his WGC-Accenture Match Play title match against Jason Day. The club Dubuisson used for those shots was a 58-degree Titleist Vokey TVD K-grind with 6 degrees bounce, so naturally that was the club Dill went to work on.
And work it was. Normally stamping a club with a name or initials is a relatively quick task, but for the cactus Dill needed to hand stamp each one of the little dots (a close look at the photo of the wedge reveals approximately 200 dots, maybe more) that made up the shape of the prickly plant. Add in the time it took to do the green paintfill, and it added up to more than an hour that Dill spent on the club.
Fields: Dubuisson adjusts to the limelight
"It was an idea the guys came up with almost immediately after he hit those shots out of the desert," said David Neville, marketing manager for Titleist Vokey wedges. When Victor saw the finished cactus he said, 'Very nice . . . very nice.' "
Dill still had work to do, though. Since Dubuisson's wedges are one-half inch longer than standard, the extra length made the swingweight too heavy. To bring it back down, Dill drilled a pair of weight ports in the back, dropping 3 to 4 grams of weight and bringing the swingweight to Dubuisson's preferred D5.
As with most tour players who are waiting for work to be done on their sticks, Dubuisson had time to tell some stories to the guys in the van. "We asked him what he was thinking as he was getting ready to hit those shots," Neville said. "He told us he just wanted to play fast."
Photo courtesy of Titleist
The decision by the USGA Championship Committee to allow distance-measuring devices (DMDs, or laser range finders, golf GPS units or smartphone apps) in all its national amateur championships beginning this year signals a change that's at once both obvious and complicated.
DMDs will be OK for amateurs but practice rounds only for pros. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
The USGA has been OK with DMDs in tournament play since 2006, but only as a Local Rule applied by the tournament committee. Until now, using one in a stipulated round in a USGA event would have been a violation of Rule 14-3. The USGA decision aligns with a similar one by the R&A announced in January.
The rule will not be extended to the USGA's open championships (U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Women's Open). The PGA of America's board of directors announced last year that DMDs would be OK for several events, including the PGA Winter Championships, the PGA Tournament Series, section championships, the Junior PGA Championship and Junior Ryder Cup and the Playing Ability Test, but still would not be allowed at any of its major national events, including the PGA Championship. The explanation given by Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America's chief championships officer, however, was not critical of the devices themselves.
"The main reasons are that at our spectator championships and national PGA member championships, the competitors are able to have one or more practice rounds at the course and also have caddies whose job in many cases is to be able to calculate yardages and distances, whereas at the vast majority of our events players are seeing the course in many cases for the first time and do not have caddies," he said. "Also, with the major tours throughout the world not allowing their use, it would create some issues with the top players if we started to use them at some events but not at others."
Indeed, the PGA Tour is steadfast about not allowing DMDs for its events. "This remains in full effect, and we are not contemplating a change," said Andy Pazder, executive vice president and chief of operations. The concern seems to be that DMDs would reflect poorly on the tour's image and would not help pace of play.
Of course, a key to getting USGA rulemakers over the hump on DMDs seemed to be that very issue. According to John Spitzer, managing director of equipment standards for the USGA, a trial run at last year's Women's State Team Championship showed that 80 percent of the players used a DMD on par 3s and 89 percent used one for their approach shot on par 4s with "no statistically significant difference" in pace of play. In its announcement the USGA referenced that experiment, saying, "USGA researchers found no evidence that DMDs had a negative impact on pace of play."
The new rule allows both laser and GPS and (in a limited way) smartphone devices, but a player cannot utilize a device that also provides information about measurements of slope or wind speed or club recommendations. A flowchart on the USGA website helps golfers understand what functions are allowable.
Several DMD industry representatives were obviously pleased with the decision. Dan Steiner, vice president at Laser Link Golf wrote in an email, "As you might guess, we think it has been a long time coming, but we're glad something finally happened. We have heard for months from many different people that this is 'a different USGA,' and this step is definitely one to illustrate that."
Paul Herber, senior vice president of sales and business development at SkyGolf, maker of the SkyCaddie GPS, believes the decision could influence consumer attitudes. "What the R&A and the USGA have done in the last few weeks has been the final endorsement we needed," he said. "Those who've wondered whether a GPS is in the spirit of the game, that idea goes away now."
Yet while expanding the use of DMDs to some USGA, PGA and R&A events, a large question remains: If the information and efficiency provided by DMDs is a good thing (and testing from SkyGolf suggests that it improved average pace of play by 20 to 25 minutes in tournament golf), why restrict the rule to amateur events? Why not include it for the open championships? Why not allow players on the PGA Tour to receive exact yardages from ShotLink? In a world of instant information, it seems decidedly backward that fans who go to pgatour.com are able to access more precise yardage information, let alone exact updates on the leader board and cutline, than the players competing in the event.
The game seems better when the ruling bodies embrace technology that enhances the game for all players (such as adjustable drivers) without threatening its basic principles and challenges. The DMD decision is logical, practical and overdue. Golf can only get easier with information, not only about the yardage to the hole but also diagrams and other features that eliminate indecision and confusion. Why not apply this for elite players at the best events? Doing so would likely only enhance the use of DMDs by everyday players while possibly helping the pace-of-play issues that currently plague the professional tours.
It'd be an example of a little efficiency going a very long way.
Adams Pro Hybrid
PRICE: $200 (Lofts: 16, 18, 20, 23, 26 degrees)
A thin Carpenter 455 steel face enhances ball speed and forgiveness. Michael Allen used a prototype of this club at the Allianz Championship.
Although he shot 66 during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Phil Mickelson switched to an Odyssey Metal-X Milled Versa #9 HT putter before Friday's second round. The putter was 34 inches long with a touch of offset added, which Mickelson says sets up the head better for him. The move didn't seem to work in the short term as Lefty struggled with his putting on the Poa annua greens, losing more than three strokes to the field in strokes gained/putting during the final round at Pebble Beach GL. ... Two players at opposite ends of the driving distance spectrum put TaylorMade's SLDR 430 driver in play at the AT&T. Short-hitting Brian Gay had a 10.5-degree version, saying the club produced a more penetrating ball flight than the TaylorMade R1 he had been using. Bomber J.B. Holmes opted for a 12-degree model and used the club to rank third in driving distance for the week at 294.4 yards. ... David Duval used an interesting putter on the Monterey Peninsula. The flat stick was from Kramski, a German company known for producing extremely expensive putters. The 2001 British Open champ finished T-35 -- his best finish since the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas -- and won $29,139.
At the start of last year, Rory McIlroy's switch from Titleist to Nike Golf sent shockwaves through the industry as well as the Twitter-sphere. One reason was the sheer enormity of the deal (in the nine figures). The other was the claim that it was a huge risk for the then-World No. 1 to make a wholesale change when at the top of his game.
Harris English testing his clubs. Photo: Erik Isakson
McIlroy's results in 2013 hardly allayed concerns, but that didn't stop a slew of players from changing clubs and balls for this year. One is two-time PGA Tour winner Harris English, who left Ping to join Callaway. According to English, it's how one goes about making a change that makes the difference.
"Not really," English replied when asked if McIlroy's struggles through much of 2013 had given him pause. "You have to have some controls. You have to keep some stuff the same. You can't switch everything at one time. That's definitely not what I'm doing. You have to change over time."
For English that process began by speaking with several staff players to get a feel for Callaway equipment and how the company works with players coming over.
"Chris Kirk is a good buddy of mine who switched to Callaway," said English. "I talked to him a lot. I also talked to Phil Mickelson about the new stuff. Players who switch know what it's like going through it."
A large part of which is product testing. Golf World sat in on a recent clubfitting session with English at Callaway's Carlsbad, Calif., test center. The day started with English hitting a mere 10 half-wedge shots before he started pounding drivers with Randy Peterson, Callaway's director of fitting and instruction, and Nick Raffaele, the company's VP, sports marketing, carefully looking on.
"For the driver we started with the specs of his Ping G15 and made tweaks along the way," said Peterson. "We don't want to change too much, too fast."
That's not a worry for English when it comes to drivers, as his preference for testing the big stick is to hit relatively few balls on the range to narrow down the choices and then do extensive on-course testing. One of the primary reasons is that English is not a "numbers" guy, but rather a shot shaper who needs to work the ball both ways off the tee.
"I grew up on south Georgia golf courses," English said. "You know, dogleg left, dogleg right, every hole is a dogleg. I like to get on holes where I'm teeing it up on the right side of the box and hitting a cut off the left bunker, or I have to turn it right to left and hit a high draw out there. It's hard for me to do that on the driving range."
That's not to say testing isn't useful for English, who realizes the importance of someone being able to interpret the data to make sure the club is working efficiently. It's also an opportunity to focus on small details. For example, English asked if the chevron alignment aid, which is on the company's new Big Bertha Alpha but not the X2 Hot Pro, could be added to the latter.
During testing, but particularly with the irons, Raffaele constantly reminded English to "make the swing you make--don't adjust to the club." His point is simple: Tour pros are good enough to adapt to almost anything, but you want to build the clubs to the player's swing, not the other way around.
For English there was an added element to the iron testing--as a Ping staff player he had never played a forged iron before. "It feels so different but so much better," English said of the Callaway RAZR X MB irons he put in play at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. "It's a lot softer off the face. Sound is so important. I like a more muted sound."
Although English didn't require any work with wedges, having played the company's Mack Daddy 2 late in 2013, designer Roger Cleveland offered some instruction tips, leveling English's shoulders (his right shoulder was lower than his left on bunker shots) to help keep the depth of each strike in the sand equal.
For putters, English prefers mallets (his two wins last year came with Ping's Nome TR and Scottsdale Hohum models) and has no qualms about changing. "Typically, I switch every six months or so," he said. "Confidence is 90 percent of putting. If it looks good to me, that's all that matters." Still, English stuck with the Hohum at Kapalua, where he finished T-11.
Another piece of equipment English won't be changing in the near future is his ball. Subscribing to the theory that too much change at once can get confusing and make the comparison of old clubs versus new more difficult, English continued using the Titleist Pro V1x dot ball, likely switching to Callaway's Speed Regime model later this season.
Although English doesn't own the credentials of McIlroy, he too has had people ask him about switching after such a successful year.
"That's a tough question," English said. "I think getting better equipment in my hands can lead to more wins, and I feel like the guys at Callaway can do that. ... I want to be in the hunt in some majors, and really shoot towards that Ryder Cup team. I played Walker Cup in Scotland, and I loved playing for the United States. I think that's a pretty realistic goal for me, and I'm going to work hard and shoot for it."
A task he takes on both intelligently and incrementally.
PRICE: $400 (Lofts: 8.5, 9.5, 10.5 degrees, all adjustable)
The titanium head features a pair of tungsten weights on the perimeter of the sole to boost forgiveness. A stripe on the crown assists alignment.
It was a busy offseason for players changing equipment companies. Perhaps the biggest name to make a move was Ernie Els, who left Callaway after six-plus years to sign with Adams Golf. Although Adams has some iconic players on its Champions Tour staff (Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer among them), the signing of Els marks the company's first significant PGA Tour player to use its equipment in more than a decade. Another multiple major winner making a move was Vijay Singh, signing with start-up Hopkins Golf to play its wedges, wear its hat and carry its staff bag. Callaway was also active, adding FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson, Harris English, Matteo Manassero and Lydia Ko, among others. TaylorMade was busy as well, inking Trevor Immelman and Scott Langley after having previously signed Carl Pettersson. ... Not everybody was on the move, however. U.S. Open champ Justin Rose re-upped with TaylorMade for five years. ... After cracking the face of the Titleist 910D2 he used for three years, including during his win at the PGA Championship, Jason Dufner had a new driver in play at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions -- Titleist's 913D2. Dufner finished fifth in Hawaii while ranking T-3 in driving accuracy. ... Dustin Johnson changed to TaylorMade's new Tour Preferred MB irons in the offseason and had the clubs in his bag at Kapalua. Johnson finished T-6, ranking T-2 for the week in GIR, hitting 60 of 72 greens. Johnson also used the company's new Tour Preferred X ball.
No, it wasn't the ball he and playing partner Keegan Bradley used, or the Ping Eye2 wedge he had in the bag (unlike a few years ago, this one had conforming grooves). It wasn't even a Phrankenwood. Instead it was Lefty -- maybe the most vocal player when it comes to supporting his equipment sponsor, Callaway -- who did the golf equipment equivalent of sleeping with the enemy by using TaylorMade's new SLDR driver.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Depending on who you speak with, Mickelson's decision to use the SLDR is either a massive blow to Callaway or no big deal. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Certainly the move helps validate the technology of the SLDR (a TaylorMade spokesperson said the company was "flattered" Mickelson was using it) while possibly slowing some of the momentum Callaway has earned in 2013 as it has gained market share in metalwoods. But for those who feel it is a death knell for Callaway or the end of the Mickelson/Callaway relationship, a look at some recent -- and not so recent -- history is in order.
This is not the first time Mickelson, an inveterate club tinkerer, has used a competing company's product. In addition to the Ping Eye2 wedge in his bag last week was a Ping Anser hybrid. Last fall Lefty also used a TaylorMade RocketBallz 3-wood in Asia, prompting speculation of a rift between him and Callaway.
At that time Harry Arnett, senior VP of marketing at Callaway, said, "We'll have something for him very soon. And we're confident he'll find that ours is better."
That "something" turned out to be Callaway's X Hot 3Deep, a club Mickelson used as his driver in winning the British Open at Muirfield in July. Discussing the latest move by Mickelson, Arnett struck a similar tone.
"Throughout Phil's career, he has experimented widely and routinely both within the Callaway range of products and even outside Callaway's range into competitive products from time to time," said Arnett. "We've always allowed him to do so even on occasion when it was within our contracted right to prohibit it. This was the spirit of the agreement with Phil when it began a decade ago and one of the main reasons he signed with us at that time."
Arnett confirmed that about a month ago, Mickelson asked if he could experiment with a "competitor's product" and was granted permission. Then Thursday night of the Presidents Cup, Mickelson called Callaway CEO Chip Brewer and asked permission to put the driver in play at Muirfield Village, feeling he needed to have a driver in the bag since the rain and wet conditions made the course play longer than it had earlier in the week. Again, permission was granted.
"We are aware this creates a conversation and wish the circumstances were different, but we also understand the uniqueness of our relationship with Phil," said Arnett. "We are 100 percent confident the driver we have coming will dramatically outperform the competitive driver he's playing and will be in Phil's bag when it's ready to come to market."
Nike VR_S Covert Tour
PRICE: $200 (Lofts: 3- and 5-wood, adjustable)
Tiger Woods used these fairway woods that feature a sole cavity on several impressive shots on the par 5s at Muirfield Village.
Titleist Vokey SM4
PRICE: $130 (21 loft/bounce options)
These wedges offer five sole grinds from 48 to 64 degrees. Graham DeLaet used both his 54- and 60-degree SM4 to hole shots (from the fringe and then bunker) on the 18th hole of two Presidents Cup matches.