Q: You're a 2-handicap golfer, a mechanical engineer and a girl -- three things that don't usually go together. Does it stop people in their tracks when they see you do your job?
A: [Laughs] I guess it's surprising, even though I choose not to think of myself as a novelty but as a part of the team. But yes, I think you have people's attention because there aren't as many women in this industry that can speak with a technical competency about golf clubs and performance, and really also speak from the player's perspective. That's a really powerful package, whether you're a man or a woman.
Q: Before we launch into how you ended up where you are, tell us exactly what a director of metalwood engineering does for a living.
A: We have a strong team of development engineers and designers, and I work with each of them to support and direct their efforts on things like setting specifications, looking at competitive products and analyzing their performance capabilities, looking at new materials and methods of manufacturing, and looking at how we can improve our overall product performance. I also work very closely with our vendors over in Asia as well as locally to execute and manage the projects, and I work as a liaison to our leadership and tour department. I provide technical presentations for their knowledge base, so that they can adequately explain the product performance to our players and our leadership team. And I support our sales and marketing with the same type of information.
A: In high school. I grew up in the Grand Rapids area, in a suburb called Grandville. I was fortunate enough to play on a high school team there and win a couple of state championships with my team. I was able to get into the University of Michigan's engineering program and walked onto the golf team, and was awarded a partial scholarship to play golf there as well. At the time they'd only had one previous engineer that had competed on the golf team. It's a challenging and rigorous program, so I knew going into school that while I was interested in playing the game at a competitive collegiate level, I wasn't looking to play professionally past college. But I knew that I loved the game and that I wanted to be around it for the rest of my life if possible, and I enjoyed the science and the math side of it and how I could make products perform better. So that led to my aspiration to become a product designer and to really understand how golf clubs work and how you could improve their performance.
Q: It's not very common for high school girls to want to go into engineering. What influenced you?
A: My dad is very creative. He owns his own business and does architectural signage -- signs for businesses, hospitals, universities and such. And my mom is a nurse, so I think I get a lot of that scientific, logical background from her. The two in combination make for a good engineer. I've always enjoyed science and always excelled at it, and I approach golf really scientifically as a player as well. I enjoy that with thoughtful care you can work your way through the game and really improve. I've always been a focused person, so I think that's where it came from.
Q: So you earned a BS in mechanical engineering. How did you then get your foot in the door in Carlsbad, the mecca of golf club manufacturing?
A: When I graduated from college in 2002, the job market in America in general was fairly depressed, and there were some definite challenges. I knew that I wanted to work in golf club design and product development, so I sent my resume to all the manufacturers' HR departments and I heard back from no one. But I'm a fairly persistent person, so I piggy-backed off my brother and went with him to the PGA Show in Orlando (he's the head pro at River Point Golf Club in Harbor Springs, Mich., so he goes every year to see the new products for his shop). It was at the time when the PGA Show was very much thriving and they would bring full staffs from all the different companies. So I walked around and just introduced myself to anyone that I could meet from R&D and said, "Here's who I am, here's what I want to do, and do you think there might be a place for me?" I was fortunate enough to meet my current boss, Dan Stone, there, as well as the contact that lead me to first be employed on Alan Hocknell's team at Callaway.
Q: Was there a steep learning curve in the beginning?
A: In my first job at Callaway, I worked more in Blue Sky research, which means conceptual technologies that aren't necessarily tied to a product but are five to ten years down the road. They're concepts that reach beyond the grasp of where product design is now and but offer opportunities for how we can make products perform better. It was a great environment coming straight out of college -- I was on a team that was very experienced. It was a six-man team and four of the six had Ph. D.s, so I was definitely in an environment to be mentored. I had a strong foundation of being an engineer and also a golfer, so I brought a different perspective to the table in that I could relate the actual engineering physics of the ball flight and the club design back to what I understood as a player.
Q: After two years at Callaway, you went to Cleveland Golf. How did your job change there?
A: The opportunity that they presented was much more in product creation and directly tied to end products that would be made for the golfing public, and that really suited me. They brought me on to work on brand-new tour products, so I lead that effort and worked directly with their tour players and developed an expertise at being able to communicate the technical details to the player at an understandable level, as well as fit them using Trackman and doing a lot of the product development that met specifications specific to tour players. I worked with Vijay Singh and David Toms and a lot of the Cleveland players during the few years I was there. And I covered the gamut of product categories all the way from drivers to fairways, hybrids, irons, wedges and putters as well. It was a great experience, and I felt like it was a good proving ground to understand all aspects of product design and performance.
Q: When did you move to Titleist?
A: I've been with Titleist for five years now. Dan Stone, who'd been my boss at Cleveland, came to work for Titleist as the VP of R&D and he thought it would be an opportunity that I'd really appreciate and enjoy. I honestly couldn't pass it up. Looking at Titleist as a brand, I thought we had such a great opportunity to really move the needle in terms of golf club performance. So I made the leap and came over, and to the best of my knowledge I was their first female engineer. I've been the first female engineer at a couple of places now.
Q: What's that like? Do you have to know more than the guys to be accepted?
A: First and foremost, most players and most other people wonder, "Does she know the game of golf?" The second you say, "My handicap is a 2," that answers that question for them and paves the way. But technical competency is equally important, and in my opinion far outweighs that. I've never felt at a disadvantage at any organization I've been with, and I think that's just a testament to the passion I have for the game of golf and for the products that we create. That comes across when you talk about it, and it really imparts enthusiasm and excitement throughout an organization. You can look at it as, "Oh, I'm the only woman in this and people are holding me back," but I've absolutely never felt that way. We women have every opportunity to prove ourselves and go to places that are unexpected.
Q: What's the biggest misconception about metalwoods among average golfers?
A: I'm not sure it's hit home to the entire golfing population how much better they can play if they are properly fit. There's such an incredible power in going through that process, and if you don't, you're leaving so much on the table. I know it's called "Drive for show, putt for dough," but if you're not hitting the fairway, you're going to struggle. Being properly fit from driver all the way through your fairway woods and hybrids so that you understand the gaps and distances allows you to be a better player and to better manage the golf course.
Q: Are people intimidated by the concept of fitting?
A: I think there is an aspect of intimidation, particularly among women golfers. I think they believe they have to be able to make solid contact a certain number of times in a row [to warrant a fitting]. I've played with many women and fit them on the course, and you don't really need consistency, you just fit to trends. And it's not a one-and-done situation; you have to keep getting fit as you improve.
Q: It's surprising even how many pros don't take full advantage of fitting, isn't it?
Yes. The most interesting players to talk to are those that know everything about the products; Jason Dufner is an example of that. We talked to him recently because he won, and he knows every loft, every lie, he knows his launch and his spin, and he knows how to dial it in. To see a player like that, and then to see the opposite -- players that have no understanding of it -- you just know they're leaving something on the table.
Q: And what's the future of metalwoods? Haven't we gotten as close to the legal limit as we can on things like fast faces and clubhead dimensions?
A: You can choose to see the limits as a challenge rather than an obstacle. We've made an investment in our R&D department to integrate some concept development within our team, so we are working on products one and two generations out, and we're looking at opportunities that we have to improve distance and accuracy. Those are always our goals. So whether it be through our advancements in the way that we fit, or in terms of product design, or the material structure of the products, all of that's on the table. We don't handcuff ourselves to one technology platform. It's always interesting, meeting with our players and tour representatives and sales force and talking about the product when I know what's coming next. We keep it very tight to the vest. We obviously know where we want to go and what areas we want to improve on, but in terms of the technologies that are going to take us there, we keep them very closely under wraps. It's a small world out here [in Carlsbad]. I think we all have a lot of respect for each other as competitors. It translates directly from the game of golf in that there's a sportsmanship or a gentleman's game aspect to the game.
Q: What would you say to a young woman who's interested in getting into club design?
A: There's a huge opportunity in golf for women that are looking to be in product design and product development, because we bring a different perspective to the table. A lot of women engineers have really strong attention to detail. Golf is such an analytical and scientific game that a woman who plays this game successfully already has a lot of the attributes to be successful in project management, and that's one of the core competencies needed. I think they should focus on understanding product performance really specifically, and then think about how you can relate that aspect as you play with a product yourself, what's different about it as you go and test one product to the next. One of my favorite activities is just hitting different clubs and trying different things, because I think there's so much to learn just by observing ball flight and by understanding where you're hitting it on the face. You have to experiment with different things so that you can talk from a position of experience. It's a great industry to be in. Ultimately, golf is a game, so we get to have a lot of fun.