Nike Golf cooking up plenty of ideas in The Oven

By Mike BaileyJune 3, 2010, 5:01 pm

The Oven outside signage

FORT WORTH, Texas – Nike Golf has been making golf clubs for less than a decade, yet there's enough golf history for the company to fill three walls of fame, which are located in The Oven, Nike Golf's Texas-based research-and-development center for golf clubs.

Just past the entrance of this 50,000-square-foot facility is a museum of sorts celebrating the company's short-but-successful run in the golf business. One lighted display chronicles everything from Nike's early entry into the golf business with Seve Ballesteros (apparel), to its current roster of players, which includes major champions Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink and Lucas Glover. Another wall shows the development of clubs since 2002. And another is its wall of champions, continuously updated with the company's worldwide tour staff wins, which stands at 49 and counting.

Tom Stites
Ken Stites, Head of Reseach and Development for The Oven
The eight-year-old facility, which in addition to R&D, serves Nike Golf's stable of tour players, is closed to the public. The company, however, recently played host to a group of journalists and gave them a guided tour of The Oven. Headed up by respected industry veteran Tom Stites, The Oven is Nike Golf's answer to the parent company's Innovation Kitchen, located at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

'I guess you could say this is where we cook up our ideas,' said Stites, who once designed golf clubs for the Ben Hogan Co.

Nike Golf's Texas connection

When Spalding purchase Hogan in 1997, the company eventually moved the Hogan operations from Ft. Worth to Massachusetts. Stites and his team were offered transfers but said, 'No thanks.' They weren't interested in uprooting their families, he said.

So the core of Stites' design team remained and, in 1993, became the club design company Impact Technologies. They created custom clubs for tour players as well as major manufacturers. And when Nike came calling almost a decade ago, Stites had the same answer; he and his team weren't interested in moving.

Stites' stand actually proved beneficial to Nike Golf. Dallas-Ft. Worth, with its central location, is home to many PGA Tour players, and the DFW Airport is one of most accessible hubs in the world. And while Fort Worth isn't exactly balmy in the winter, the area does have a good golf climate for most of year.

Today the original five from Impact Technologies still work at The Oven. Combined with hires from other companies, Nike's team of engineers, machinists and clubmakers has 'more than 230 years of experience,' Stites said.

Inside the Oven: what's cooking

The Oven has the usual departments of any golf club R&D department and then some. There's the testing lab, where Nike Golf not only puts its own clubs through their paces – testing qualities such as COR and durability – but tests the competition as well, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on other companies' new golf clubs.

There's the CAD room (computer-aided design), where ideas are put on paper and transferred to the CNC shop to build prototypes. The machine shop is where clubheads are finished, and then they're sent to the assembly room, where Nike engineers build clubs.

This room also has a patented device called the 'Green Machine.' Unlike some equipment used by other companies, the Green Machine measures golf clubs according to the lie angle of the club, producing more consistent results, company officials said.

But the one room that sets Nike Golf apart, officials say, is the grind shop, a lost art with most clubmakers these days. The grind shop is where Nike Golf basically creates works of art, painstakingly carving raw forgings into clubheads that match the needs of specific tour players. Those creations not only inspire, but are also replicated to some degree for the consumer market.

In the last few years, The Oven has expanded by more than 17,000 square feet with new offices and an auditorium as well as an extensive outdoor short-game area, complete with a stone bridge over a creek and real and synthetic greens.

As Nike Golf's recent TV ad campaign might suggest, The Oven is also a place where tour players such as Cink, Glover, Leonard, Woods, K.J. Choi and Anthony Kim like to spend time. The hitting bays, the putting lab and the outdoor short-game area see a lot of traffic from Nike Golf's playing pros, who give plenty of input into product development.

Perhaps one of the more significant product developments at The Oven as of late has been the Method putter. During the tour, club designer David Franklin, who has been with Stites for 19 years, gave a putting lab demonstration on how the Method gets the ball rolling faster than other putters. It was in the bags of both Glover and Cink when they won the U.S. Open and British Open respectively in 2009.

Other Nike Golf staffers such as Leonard and Choi have made the switch from their longtime putters as well. (Tiger Woods, of course, is still playing with the same Scotty Cameron model that's been in his bag since 1999.)

Franklin related the story of how Nike Golf, early on, built Woods an exact replica of his current putter and placed the company Swoosh on it. According to Franklin, Woods said it was just as good, but 'not better,' so he didn't see any reason to switch.

Franklin believes the Method putter is superior to Woods' putter, but readily admits that a putter's emotional bond with a player is difficult to break, especially considering Woods' immense success.

Perhaps, Woods' disdain for Poa annua greens, which he will see at this month's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, might spur the world's top player to try out the Method in competition. Perhaps not, but Franklin can certainly hope.

'That's our ultimate goal,' he said with a laugh.

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1