China Where Clubs Are Born Every Day
As I have watched the modern game develop into everything from desert golf to titanium shafts to titanium heads to launch monitors and beyond, I have always wondered how the 15th-century hawthorn-stick crowd would have reacted to the spread of the pastoral little pastime they came up with. It must have all seemed so simple then. Need a whippier shaft? Shave a little off the back. Ball not springy enough? Stuff a new one. And even by the early 19th century, golfs reach didnt extend much farther than a dozen or so courses in eastern Scotland, known only to the games handful of enthusiasts.
Likely thoughts as your driver bullets you down a boulevard in southeastern China, where traffic control devices, if they exist at all, are the merest decoration. We are here, about 45 minutes from Guangzhou, Chinas third-largest city, to shoot a show on the birth of a golf club. But we are far beyond blackthorn trees and blacksmiths.
A few blocks from one of five plants Sino Golf Manufacturing operates in this area, we have just dispensed with todays Were Gonna Die Moment. Our driver held his own against a truck that interfered with our left turn, and all is well again. Down to business.
With officials from Nickent Golf, we walk the highly organized plant floor. John Hoeflich, the noted club designer for Nickent, is watching his 4DX driver head come to life in its 1,700 Celsius nursery ' Chinas biggest vacuum furnace.
We had a lot of success with the weight ports in our hybrids, Hoeflich says. We want to transfer that same technology to drivers.
That takes a complicated mold, made from a steel master known in the industry as a tool. There is some tension as the first prototypes are tried, and not just because of the intricacy of the tool. Theres also the titanium, which is more spongy than liquid when molten. It cant be poured into a casting mold the way steel can. So it has to be forced into every corner of every mold. Thats where Sinos expertise comes in.
Theres a huge wheel in there, where the molds are, says Simon Chu, Sinos executive director and our tour guide. The titanium ingot melts, and the wheel spins the molds at up to 300 rpm. The titanium gets where its supposed to go.
It better, because the titanium crown on this driver is only 0.4 mm thick, a little thinner than a business card. That will leave some room in the overall clubhead weight for the ports, which get some mass low and back, consistent with Hoeflichs plan and the well-proven laws of center-of-gravity in clubheads. Inside the furnace, viewed through a tiny porthole, is the silvery ingot, descending into a white-hot inferno. From this otherworldly realm will come the reality that was no more than a napkin drawing just months ago. For Hoeflich, who had a hand in designing such club stalwarts as the Titleist DCI irons, the Tommy Armour 845s, and numerous products for TaylorMade and others, this is how the modern development game plays out.
And increasingly, this is where it plays out. The playing of the game is certainly global, at least at the professional level. Golfs purveyors look at this country of 1.2 billion and salivate at the potential market. But for now, the consumer end of the business in China has yet to take off. A growing middle class will help, especially in the cities, but most wise heads in golf agree that those awaiting golfs golden era as a participatory sport in China will need patience.
But the B-to-B golf world is thriving here, as foundries such as Sino compete for the business of all manner of club companies. Labor costs are an issue, to be sure, but the desire to have clubs made here goes beyond the economics. With foundries competing, club developers who come to China can forge partnerships in development instead of just vendor relationships ' and that leads to quality for the consumer. What the Chinese companies have been willing to learn and do for the golf club developers has made its way into some top clubs. And while there will always be a component of the consumer population that prefers to buy domestic product, Chinese manufacturing has become a fact of golf equipment life.
We get a great deal out of our partnership with Sino, Hoeflich says. They understand what were trying to do with this club.
On the street outside Sino, Zeng Chengs day continues, enriched by the curiosity of rarely seen TV cameras. Two schoolboys, age about 10, smile as I say Ni hao, and muster the courage to say Hi. They laugh at the exotic joy of speaking a little English to the enormous stranger, with his badly accented Mandarin. Down the dusty street, a nonchalant dog continues his trot across the truck lane, ignoring horns: he knows his timing. A woman in red velvet slippers pedaling a bicycle cart overloaded with textiles stares at our cameras, sees us staring back, and instantly turns away in shyness.
We are 10,000 miles and centuries away from the origins of the game we serve, but not more than 100 feet from its spread. Which is probably what the ancient Scots would have thought.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.