Bob Parsons: The eccentric man behind PXG clubs

By Rex HoggardJanuary 20, 2016, 12:15 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Littered across the walls of Bob Parsons’ well-appointed office is the history of a life fully lived.

From the Purple Heart medal he was awarded after being injured while on patrol in Vietnam to the faded computer – complete with floppy drive – he used to develop his first accounting program, Parsons’ office, which is located behind one of his numerous motorcycle dealerships, is a reflection of a man who wears many hats.

Parsons is a U.S. Marine, accountant, self-taught computer programmer, domain hosting trailblazer, ordained minister, billionaire and, now, golf club manufacturer.

How influential Parsons may become at the latter remains to be seen. Opinions range from the mastermind behind the domain empire being the modern incarnation of Ely Callaway to a golf junkie – he spent over $350,000 in 2015 on golf clubs – who is in over his head.

Either way, the 65-year-old is committed to Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG), the golf club manufacturing startup which roared onto the PGA Tour landscape earlier this month when the company announced it had signed endorsement deals with the likes of Zach Johnson, Billy Horschel, Charles Howell III and James Hahn.

Parsons’ vision for PXG is one that is unrivaled in the golf industry.

“It wasn’t, ‘Hey, you guys need to get this done within the next two or three months.’ I said, ‘You guys have as long as you need to get it done well. Spend as much money as you need to and we’ll use whatever process is the best process.’ That’s what they had to launch from,” Parsons told last month.

To that end, he hired some of the industry’s top talent, including longtime Ping designers Brad Schweigert and Mike Nicolette, to develop an iron that looks and feels like a blade but performs like a cavity-back.

Asked earlier this month at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions if Parsons could play the role of “disrupter” in the golf industry, Johnson’s answer was telling.

“He could be, but in a good way,” the two-time major champion said. “He’s going to push the ceiling. I want that kind of person pushing a company that I’m involved with.”

Whether that translates to a successful business remains to be seen, but Parsons’ track record suggests he deserves the benefit of the doubt even in an industry that has been buffeted by economic headwinds for years.

After all, this is the same man who taught himself computer programing and transformed a business he began in his garage into a software giant he sold in 1994 for $64 million.

When Parsons, who grew up “poor as a church mouse” in Baltimore, Md., launched in 1997 his stated goal was, “to make a little money from a lot of people.” PXG, which began selling golf clubs last April, is the polar opposite.

At $300 an iron and $700 for a driver, a 14-club set will run about $5,000, nearly twice as much as a normal set of “performance clubs,” and PXG’s target audience is a relatively well-defined and affluent group.

“The market for this is much larger than anyone can even imagine,” Parsons said. “We’ve had people hit our clubs and say, ‘I’m going to start saving. We’ve had statistics we’ve looked at and golf buyer’s nature. To take the time you need to be able to afford to go to a club and pay the green fees, it’s nothing if you belong to a private club so if you’re looking at how many people are in that situation it’s at least a few million.”

Parsons explains that PXG, “won’t be attacking the competition directly,” a lesson he learned and has refined since his days as a Marine Corps rifleman – which is designated 0311 in USMC nomenclature and serves as the name of PXG’s first set of irons.

His Scottsdale, Ariz., office is dotted with reminders of his time in the Marines, and he pauses in front of a plaque that includes the Purple Heart medal to reflect on what he learned while serving.

“I went to college and graduated magna cum laude at the University of Baltimore. I would never have done that without them,” he said.

Although he considers himself a “misplaced accountant,” he admits his true calling is in marketing and a mind that is naturally drawn to shattering barriers and plowing through stop signs.

It was one of those trailblazing moments that made Parsons a household name in 2005 when he created a risqué advertisement to air during the Super Bowl that included a now-famous “wardrobe malfunction.”

Under pressure from the NFL, Fox pulled the second airing of the same ad, which was scheduled to be broadcast during the two-minute warning, and the resulting media storm produced untold exposure for

“Instead of our ad showing, what happens is much more acceptable to America. There’s a Fox ad for the “Simpsons” and Homer stabbing a baby. You can stab a baby, but lord you can’t have a tank-top strap pop,” Parsons said.

Parsons, who according to the 2015 Forbes 400 is worth $2.1 billion, said golf consumers can expect a similar cutting edge in PXG’s media campaigns, with the initial print advertisements referring to the company’s products as the “duck’s nuts.”

“What we have in our ad that you’ll never see in another golf ad, we have a warning that says, ‘Our clubs are amazing but expensive.’ It explains why they’re expensive,” Parsons said.

In fact, PXG’s Tour staff, which ballooned to a dozen players on the PGA and LPGA tours with this month’s announcement, is a rare nod to the status quo for Parsons, yet even his move into the endorsement landscape came with a signature Parsons moment.

“There is a rumor going around that most of those players I paid them a lot more money than they were making before, that’s not true. Most of them are getting less than what they were making before,” he explains.

“When I was a young man and I started to date, my dad gave me a tip, he called me Robert not Bob, and he said, ‘Robert, the No. 1 thing you want to look for in a girlfriend, the most important thing is you want one that likes you.’”

The golf world got a glimpse of Parsons’ unique, albeit somewhat autocratic, personality in 2014 after he’d purchased Scottsdale National Golf Club, a decision he made after flirting with the idea of buying an NFL franchise (he was leaning toward the Oakland Raiders).

In a letter sent to members Parsons wrote, “Currently our members who use the club the most support the club the least. In fact, many members who are at the club each and every day spend nothing and do not support the club at all. This will not continue.”

Scottsdale National Golf Club

Parsons went on to offer the club’s 175 members a “resignation opportunity,” with full refunds paid to those who didn’t care for the future he envisions for the club, which includes a redesign of the original 18 holes, a new 18-hole layout and what he describes as the “bad little nine.”

Nearly 40 percent reportedly accepted the offer. Although no one was willing to speak with on the record regarding the buyout, one source familiar with the situation said the membership welcomed Parsons’ improvements to an already well-maintained golf course if not his totalitarian approach to running the facility.

Although Parsons declined to talk about membership issues, he did say he’s not trying to create another Augusta National, just a place he can be proud of.

“It was the perfect thing for me knowing that I love golf and I got my own place,” he said. “We can make this as fine as we made the golf equipment and all the other business ventures we’re in. It was just no question.”

It’s that unique business model, and Parsons’ refusal to yield to convention, that now threaten to shake up a game mired in participation declines and saddled with an elitist history.

Whether Parsons’ ambitious mandate is the answer is already a topic of much debate, but he seems to sense the impact his performance-driven approach, regardless of cost, could have on the industry.

“What we have shown is what can be done if you think differently and what I would expect is the other companies, they are all very well run, but I think if they aren’t paying attention now you’ll see their product improve as well,” Parsons said.

Parsons is many things – philanthropist, risk-taker, marketing maverick – but if his introduction to the golf industry is any indication he is not timid.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.