As Its Third Generation Comes of Age Ping Advances
Karsten Solheim died in February 2000. His company honors his memory every day, but not in the usual way. That alone would make Karsten proud; in company headquarters two hours south of here in Phoenix, its easy to find placards with the universal negative sign (red circle, diagonal bar) over the words, Weve always done it that way.
So instead of relying on framed portraits in the halls of Ping (although they are there), Karstens company remembers him by innovating, by turning golf into an engineering problem and solving it.
The JAS putter is the most extreme example of what Karsten had in mind with heel-toe weighting, said John A. Solheim, Pings chairman and CEO, and Karstens youngest son. John A. (the reason for the use of the initial will become clear soon) took over active day-to-day management of Ping in 1995.
The putter he introduced Tuesday to members of the golf press, gathered in Phoenix and then here in this desert resort, features a forged titanium face and tungsten at either end of the head for that all-important weighting. It also carries a suggested retail price of $425.
The drumbeat gets louder. It was Karstens way to make the best product he could from an engineering point of view, and to charge what he thought it was worth, no matter what the rest of the market was doing.
It was also his way to find a new way, when necessary. Ping has taken that idea to heart in more than engineering: Even before the 2002 PGA Merchandise Show, Ping announced it would not come back in 2003. Trade shows, it decided, were not the best way to communicate with customers and the press. Better to spend that money getting those people on Pings own turf, where their attention will be undivided. Nike did the same thing this summer. Precept is doing it this week (carefully planning its event to begin when Pings ended). Callaway has been doing it since 2000. Other companies are likely to follow, even those who also attend trade shows.
The drummer has also marched Ping away from lockstep adherence to product releases timed for trade shows. So it was that Ping introduced new items across almost its entire line: Irons, wedges (as single replacement clubs), putters and bags were on view. Only metalwoods were untouched, and word is we wont have to wait long to hear about those.
Without a touch of arrogance, Ping executives fearlessly answer the obvious questions about whether this moribund golf economy is a suitable platform for such a large product introduction. True, they say, not much is selling well (irons have been particularly sluggish) ' but its all relative. Ping is doing fine, they say, and theyre confident theyll do well with the new gear.
Thats a luxury available only to big companies who have a lot of resources and dont make a lot of mistakes. Another advantage Ping has been able to preserve since Karstens days is inventory management. In golf clubs, at least, the company builds to sales, not forecast. Essentially, it only builds what it has already sold. This was a business principle near and dear to Karsten, and the company has managed things well enough so that if it stopped making irons this minute, all the clubs on the racks at the Phoenix assembly facility would be shipped out within two days.
Every company has its own personality; among the top golf equipment companies, they all have enthusiasm in common. At Ping, the passion is expressed mainly as quiet commitment. Energy and exhilaration are redirected into more innovation. (A slide in a presentation to journalists said, Engineering is the center of the universe.)
But some of the most obvious excitement reporters have ever been allowed to see at Ping was displayed this week. The company had just completed a large sales meeting, gathering more than 200 sales representatives and distributors at Phoenix headquarters for the first time in Pings history. The buzz in the wake of the meeting was not just about new products, but also the presentation skills of John K. Solheim, John A.s son and the companys vice president of engineering. At this meeting, John K., 28, came of age as a Ping executive, was the consensus at headquarters. And even though his father, 57, still feels in his prime and has no plans to slow down, company execs were comfortable calling John K. the heir apparent in front of reporters.
John K., an honors engineering graduate from Arizona State University, inherited the Solheim reticence. He is friendly but quiet, and it would never occur to him to brag unless he could back it up, and maybe not even then. Like his father and grandfather, he is thorough, and seems to have engineering in his blood. He has worked with his father on various projects (the Ally putter and others), and has run projects on his own (the Isopur putter line was his responsibility).
But John K. did not come to the company immediately after college. And he spent part of his youth in the very un-Solheim-like pursuit of playing guitar in a band.
That may be why slow-motion videos of golf clubs hitting balls, prepared to show journalists how Ping engineering ideas are put into action, are accompanied by edgy, modern rock music. And it may explain why the heir apparent can be seen walking around in cutting-edge bowling-style shoes, and why his goatee looks hipper than his fathers now-white version.
But dont expect the Ping drumbeat to syncopate too much. The principles that guided the grandfather and the son live in the heir apparent. Indeed, they were passed down directly: John K. followed his grandfather around for an entire summer, watching as the older man walked the 20-plus buildings of the Phoenix plant and oversaw all aspects of design and production.
So the shapes of the new putters will be familiar to golfers, even though they will soon be able to use the Internet to choose their face and ballast (back) options for the new Specify series. And the i3 irons lived for three seasons with no new model introductions until now, when the i3+ irons are ready. (Ping often makes small changes to designs every year, but has avoided introducing each change as a new model.)
Still, industry watchers wonder about the day young Solheim will become the third-generation leader of one of golfs most powerful names, and what things will be like when he does.
You can see here how much more inertia this new putter line has compared to its parent models, John K. says, pointing to statistics on a slide. Then to be sure he has been understood, he translates: It doesnt twist. All done without a hint of irony, condescension, or irritation, the words come from him just as they have passed through a now-whiter goatee.
Oh, its been great, says John A. Solheim in his quiet, rich voice, allowing himself a smile as he thinks back on his sons development as a golf engineer. Johnny has already done a lot of great things for Ping, and Im pleased to see how hes going. That sales meeting was very good.
The patriarch would have been proud, and that knowledge alone seems to make the Solheims feel good about the way the largest family-owned business in golf equipment is going. And while the memory of Karstens death feels recent (his widow, Louise Solheim, started her address to the recent sales meeting, It has been 30 months, and had to stop for a moment), there is clearly a forge-ahead attitude. Like a steady and familiar drumbeat, it carries Ping fearlessly into a tough market with a lot of product, and a lot of pride.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.