Road Noise from the FUNAI Classic - COPIED

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Editors Note: Golf Channel business reporter Casey Bierer hits the practice ranges, putting greens and tour trailers of professional golf to speak with company owners, tour reps and players in this new series, Road Noise.
 
This week, Casey reports recent business and equipment news from the FUNAI Classic at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

 
SeeMore Putter Company
Jim Grundberg - Owner & Managing Partner
 
Casey/Q:
Jim, as the saying goes, you liked the product so much you decided to buy the company.
 
Jim/A:
Casey, thats it in a nutshell. My partner, Jason Pouliot and I, had been looking at this technology for a long, long time. Really, all the way back to when we were both at Odyssey. We thought that SeeMore offered a unique precision alignment technology in a category of the game that is really all about precisionthats putting. Even when Jason and I went our own separate ways in golf, we still always had our eyes on SeeMore. About a year ago, we decided we wanted to get back in to business together, and specifically, back in the putter business. After all, we were able to do pretty cool things at Odyssey prior to the Callaway purchase. We thought SeeMore was a real diamond in the rough and just a perfect fit for what we wanted to do.
 
Casey/Q:
SeeMore has been around for quite a while. Why now?
 
Jim/A:
We love the technology, but we also realized there hadnt been any real new product development in seven or eight years. The putter was basically the same putter Payne Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open with. And of course, as you know, thats what really put SeeMore on the map. And when we found out that two out of the ten guys who qualified for the Ryder Cup this year were using the SeeMore putter, it confirmed to us that the technology was still very viable. We figured that the trick to jump start the company would come from developing new models with more eye appeal, yet, that still maintained the same patented alignment feature. Also, we knew we would use different materials to create alternative feels. Thats important because of the new balls that are being made today.
 
Casey/Q:
So, you made a move to purchase the company?
 
Jim/A:
We did. We pursued it, we got a couple of good breaks, and the opportunity presented itself for us to buy the company. We closed the deal a week before the Ryder Cup and as you can imagine, we had a great time watching the Ryder Cup.
 
Casey/Q:
Now, youre moving forward, slowly but surely.
 
Jim/A:
We have a wonderfully exciting future ahead of us. We realize the challenge is to take the technology, which we are now referring to as RifleScope technology, and explain and prove to people that the system is as good and as real as weve always known it to be.
 
Casey/Q:
Why RifleScope?
 
Jim/A:
We call it RifleScope because lining up a putt with the SeeMore putter is really no different than lining up a target with the sights of a gun. You have two sight indicators and the object is to get the spot that you are aiming for ' the hole or a line youre trying to role the ball
on ' set up in the middle of the sight lines.
 
Casey/Q:
So, how is it to be out here, on TOUR, displaying your product not as a product manager, but rather, as an owner?
 
Jim/A:
Its amazing. And, its very good timing because we have some wonderful new stuff to show the players. We have SeeMores first milled putter. Extremely innovative for us and an important step in moving the company forward.
 
Casey/Q:
Youre very experienced in this industry. So, you know all about patience, right?
 
Jim/A:
Patience and I are best friends, Casey. We know its a process and it will probably be 2007 before we are able to bring our new products to the marketplace for consumer use. We also know that there are products in our line right now that were good enough to win a U.S. Open and to get guys to the Ryder Cup team, and thats not too bad. The stuff that is coming down the road for us, though, that has direct tour player input, and it is really exciting. Pat Sellers, one of the most knowledgeable tour reps in the business, is our
full-time tour rep. Were excited hes staying with us as a major part of the team.
 
Casey/Q:
Well, lets turn to Pat since hes standing right here with us. Pat, whats SeeMores tour strategy moving forward?
 
Pat/A:
Every week Im out here and every week I listen to what the guys say and what they tell me they are looking for. Not one person out here on TOUR argues against the philosophy of the SeeMore putter that uses this patented sight line technology. Hiding the red dot indicator at address guarantees that you will be starting from the same position on every putt. And anything that you can make more consistent for the PGA TOUR players, the better they like it and the better they play. And since putting is the most precise of all the strokes in golf, having this RifleScope technology makes perfect sense and the guys like it.
 
Casey/Q:
I know how tough it is to compete week in and week out for that putter count out here on TOUR. You must be pretty excited to be adding new product to your arsenal in terms of what you can show the guys out here?
 
Pat/A:
Oh, Casey, its amazing. We havent really had any meaningful new designs recently and weve always used the same materials. Now with new ownership - a couple of guys in Jim and Jason who are totally focused on SeeMore - we are going to be able to take the proven RifleScope technology and make it available in putters with a variety of different materials. This new prototype, for example, is a classic Anser design but with precision milled 303 stainless. Well, thats a home run with TOUR guys. And weve never been able to offer that before. The players out here at this level are all so highly tuned in to sound and feel. The best sound comes from things that are completely solid. And the milled 303 stainless combined with the classic design and our RifleScope design is a truly wonderful product. So, I cant tell you how excited I am to enter in to the 2007 PGA TOUR season with what will be one of the most innovative and Im sure popular putter lines in the game today.
 

Callaway Golf
Barry Lyda - PGA TOUR Representative, Callaway Golf
 
Casey/Q:
Barry, two new drivers are the big story this week for Callaway Golf.
 
Callaway FT-I Driver
Callaway's new FT-i square-faced driver.
Barry/A:
Casey, no question about it. Weve got two new drivers coming out with the FT and Fusion technology. They have been tested extensively out here on TOUR by our staff players and they both incorporate considerable feedback that we have received from these players. The two new drivers will be added to the hugely successful FT-3. The FT-3 is staying very much an important part of the line.
 
Casey/Q:
How do the three driver styles break down?
 
Barry/A:
All three drivers have the titanium face, carbon composite back, and, they are 460 cc in size. But, the shapes are very different. The FT-3 I know you are quite familiar with. Its a little rounder with a more bulbous shape, especially the face. The new FT-5 which is still on par with the FT-3weve taken the face and expanded it to include a much larger hitting area. The face is extended from the heel towards the toe so there is a much greater, much more user friendly hitting area. In order to do that, we had to make the back a little smaller and the club doesnt have quite as tall of a profile as the FT-3. So, when a player looks down at each one of these, the FT-3 and FT-5, theyre going to see two traditionally shaped drivers with similar technology that offer different face height profiles.
 
Casey/Q:
Then theres the new FT-i, a driver that you could say stands out in the crowd.
 
Barry/A:
Oh, yes, the FT-i, I standing for inertia, is the highest MOI of any driver that we have ever made. The reason why is, weve added areas that have not been on a driver before. Those would be the two square corners of the drivers head. The fact that we did it with carbon composite and graphite makes it so light that we can move a lot of weight back to the corners where we want it to be. The areas that we have moved weight to, well, thats simply not possible in a round-back driver because theres no driver body there. You cant put weight where there isnt a structure to secure the weight.
 
Casey/Q:
Whats the result of the new technology?
 
Barry/A:
What happens when we do this is the driver becomes extremely straightthe ball is leaving the face and flying extremely straight. That doesnt guarantee youre going to hit the ball straight. Were not saying that. But, we will tell you that the ball will fly straight in the direction you hit. There is much less curvature of the golf ball off the face. That tells us that if you can set up properly, if your alignment at address is good and you can start the ball on a good line at your target, the ball is going to fly pretty much on that line. So, we believe the FT-i is going to be a big help to the average golfer who has trouble with hooks and slices.
 
Casey/Q:
Youve been testing the new drivers out here on TOUR?
 
Barry/A:
We tested on TOUR last week with the FT-i, and were continuing the testing here at Disney this week. But, most of these guys out here actually want to work the ball a little bit more. So, there are some guys who will really want to put this in play, like Charles Howell and Rocco Mediate and Rich Beemwho want to put it in play. But, most of the guys will move to the FT-5 because its going to be a little more workable in terms of shaping the golf ball off the tee.
 
Casey/Q:
Youve also got a new Odyssey putter coming down the pike?
 
Barry/A:
We do. The all new Black Series putter which is a carbon steel milled putter with a tungsten flange at the back which lowers the center of gravity allowing the putter to roll the ball faster so you dont have to have as much loft. Weve brought it out here on TOUR to test and weve done so with proven, traditional shapesthe Anser style and the mallet style, that have been two of Odysseys most popular out here on TOUR.
 
Casey/Q:
It looks like it has a pretty unique face.
 
Barry/A:
It does. The face is double milled. This is not an insert that you see. The face has been milled one way on the whole surface and then milled another way in the center sweet spot area to make it look like it has an insert. We brought this putter out for our TOUR players to try last week at Vegas and we got a lot of fantastic feedback in terms of looks and feel and playability. And weve got guys trying it again this week at Disney and the excitement level is pretty high. Later on, in 2007, we will actually have the option of the White Hot insert and XT insert in the putter. But I think this is going to become an extremely popular and successful model of putter for us here on TOUR and in the marketplace.
 

Nike Golf
Rob Burbick - PGA TOUR Representative, Nike Golf
 
Casey/Q:
Rob, one word for youSumo.
 
Rob/A:
That does seem to be the word of the day around here. We have been doing a lot of testing with our staff with our latest prototype drivers, the new Sumo model and Sumo. The Sumo is particularly interesting and its really been capturing the players attention. Its certainly a different shape that will more than likely cause people to sit up and take notice. Its hard to miss, thats for sure.
 
Casey/Q:
Whats special about it?
 
Nike SQ SUMO2
Nike's new SQ SUMO2 square-headed driver.
Rob/A:
This is our highest MOI driver ever made. In fact, I dont know if there has ever been a driver made with MOI numbers that approach this drivers numbers. Thats what the SUMO stands forSuper Moment of Inertia. Its in the 5,300 range. We know that the USGA has set the limit at 5,900 so, this is getting very close to that limit. It is more stable on off center hitsthats the bottom line. The ball is going to fly straighter even if you dont catch the ball exactly on the center of the club face. Now, certainly, thats been the goal of drivers for a while now, but this one is off the charts.
 
Casey/Q:
You guys have been working on this driver, quietly I might add, for some time now.
 
Rob/A:
The earliest testing prototypes of this driver were hit by some of our guys in Ft. Worth during the Colonialso thats all the way back in May. At that time, they werent finished yet. They were really early prototypes. Now, here at Disney, we have the finished deal available and ready for our guys to try and test. Well make drivers up for them as close to their specs as we can. Then well watch them hit the two new drivers and get their feedback. At that point, we know well have to tweak it closer to their exact specsyou know, move a degree one way or another in loft, change out shafts, things like that. Because, you know, were really dealing with a different animal in these new drivers. So even though we have their exact specs dialed in with the current Sasquatch, these new drivers are reacting a little bit differently.
 
Casey/Q:
Youll also employ the use of a launch monitor?
 
Rob/A:
Absolutely. Once we dial in the specs nice and tight, well take them over to the launch monitor and get exact numbers so they can see the difference between how the new driver performs relative to their gamer. Some guys might want to switch immediately and put the new driver in play, some guys might want to test with it a little bit more and ease it in play over the off seasonwell see all kinds of reactions which we always do. Its an interesting process to be sure.
 
UST Golf Shafts
Jim McIntosh - PGA TOUR Representative, UST Golf Shafts
 
Casey/Q:
Jim, you guys have been more than holding your own out here this season?
 
Jim/A:
Oh, man, its been an amazing year for us on the PGA TOUR with the success of the V-2. This has been a breakout year for us with the visibility of that shaft. It shows up really well on television and we have a lot of guys out here on TOUR using it. Every week it seems, some professional player on some tour on television is either winning with it or doing very with it at the very least. And that translates in to retail sales for us as a shaft company. So, were really excited about that.
 
Casey/Q:
Youve got new things in the works as well?
 
Jim/A:
We do. Some of the new things weve been testing out here on the PGA TOUR is a V-2 counter balance model in 69 grams, 79 grams and 89 grams. Weve also been testing some high launch shafts under a new model name ' I cant share that with you yet - that well have in 60 grams and 70 grams. It will have a new color scheme and will be a really cool shaft. And, were working on new hybrid shafts as well. All this stuff gets tested out here on TOUR well in advance of us finalizing a design. And then, taking the players feedback in to account, we make adjustments and come out with a final product that consumers can find in golf shops.
 
Never Compromise
Mike Eggeling - PGA TOUR Representative, Never Compromise
 
Casey/Q:
Mike, whats the good word?
 
Mike/A:
Casey, the Exchange putter line in general has been very successful for us out here on the PGA TOUR. Of the players in Never Compromise putters, the count is very high in Exchange line putters. The guys seem to like being able to move the weights around.
 
Casey/Q:
For those folks who dont know, these are stainless steel putters, right?
 
Mike/A:
That is right. Its 303 stainless so the quality is second to none. The guys that have tried it out here have had some really good results right off the bat with it. Typically, theyre the guys that go in and out of putters so if it didnt perform they would switch in to something else. And thats not the case. Guys who have tried putters in the Exchange line and who have decided to putt with it, have been sticking with it. So, thats a testament to the quality of the design and the wonderful performance characteristics found in the Exchange putters. Well have several new models available next year.
 

AccuFLEX Golf Shafts
Mark Gerent
PGA TOUR Representative, AccuFLEX Golf Shafts
 
Casey/Q:
Mark, its been a big year for AccuFLEX and for you personally.
 
Mark/A:
Casey, it really has. Its been a big year. We have introduced the new Creation model shaft from AccuFLEX. Its a new filament wound shaft. It incorporates NanoMet technology which is metal particles in the nano spray. Its an extremely unique design. There is a 600 parallel section all the way down to ten inches prior to the tip. This creates an energy transfer system. It takes all the energy on the downswing all through the thick part of the shaft and transfers it to the tip and this creates a hinge affect with high launch and very low spin. This shaft is straight like you wouldnt believevery accurate.
 
Casey/Q:
Youve had good reaction from the TOUR guys?
 
Mark/A:
The guys out here on the PGA TOUR have been extremely complimentary of the shaft. So, this is pretty advanced, cutting edge technology and the TOUR guys are getting to use it now. We had our first PGA TOUR win with this new Creation shaft a few weeks ago which is huge for us. The shaft was only out on TOUR for two weeks and it already has a win.
 
Casey/Q:
Big time technology?
 
Mark/A:
The Creation has many bells and whistles, to be sure. As a result, its a very costly shaft to make. Consequently, it will be a pretty pricey shaft at retailabout $399. The shafts are all IM plated in Japanthe only place that allows this type of plating due to the OSHA laws.
 
Casey/Q:
Mark, I must stay, it would seem youve made hay out here on TOUR in a relatively short period of time.
 
Mark/A:
Well, yeah, thanks for noticing. You know, AccuFLEX has only been out here on TOUR for a year and a half and we already have 20 or more shafts in play and a win. Thats really big for AccuFLEX and its a credit to the entire companyour president, Jody Baucom, and everybody who works so hard in an effort to produce the best golf shafts in the world. We are certainly seeing the fruits of our labor pay off out here on the PGA TOUR.
 
Casey/Q:
I remember seeing you out here over a year ago when you were the new kid on the blockthe new TOUR rep out hereand you were just trying to get guys to try the shaft let alone put it in play. Now, you have a win on the PGA TOUR.
 
Mark/A:
Its incredible, really. I have players now that come and ask me to try our shafts. They say, hey, I saw this player or that player hitting it, can I try one? And thats what is great about having some success. Success just breeds more success and a higher, more visible profile. And that is rewarding as a young tour rep out here on the PGA TOUR. Hopefully, we can keep our hot hand going the rest of this year and carry it right in to next season.
 
Fourteen Golf
Rusty Estes - PGA TOUR Representative, Fourteen Golf
 
Casey/Q:
Rusty, give us a little background on Fourteen Golf.
 
Rusty/A:
Fourteen Golf was founded in 1981 by Takamitsu Takebayashi as a custom design house in Japan. Mr. Takebayashi started the company after he went looking for a particular golf club, couldnt find it, and realized he could make what he wanted better than what was then currently being offered in the marketplace. His goal, and the result of Fourteen Golf, is to make beautiful golf clubs that perform at the highest levels of the game. And if you look at our entire line of clubs ' drivers, fairway woods, hybrids, irons, all the way down to our wedges ' the stuff is just flat out gorgeous.
 
Casey/Q:
While it might appear that Fourteen Golf is new to the PGA TOUR, Fourteen Golf has really been around professional golf for quite some time.
 
Rusty/A:
Weve been active in professional golf on the Japan professional tour for some time now. Our credibility in Japan comes from the fact that weve been the number one wedge on the JPGA (Japanese Professional Golf Association) for the last five years. With over sixty percent of the players on the Japanese professional tour, thats where the company started to break out. The company has built on that success and thats really what allows Fourteen Golf to be out here.
 
Casey/Q:
And your history on this tourthe PGA TOUR?
 
Rusty/A:
Fourteen Golf products have been in play on the PGA TOUR since the late 90s. However, 2006 is the companys first full-fledged push here on the PGA TOUR with a full-time rep, having product available for these guys to test and play with. 2006 actually has Fourteen Golf with product in play on the Nationwide Tour and the LPGA Tour as well.
 
Casey/Q:
Whats the deal with the product?
 
Rusty/A:
Our utility irons, the HI-550 and HI-660 as well as
HI-858these are utility irons in 2-iron and 3-iron lofts. These are iron-like styled golf clubs that are intended as
long-iron replacements. They perform very similarly to long irons, however, because of the technology built in, they are easier to hit. We also have a full-fledged hybrid, the UT-306, which we launched at the British Open. Its in play with a couple of guys out here on the PGA TOUR.
 
Casey/Q:
What sets Fourteen apart? Whats your hook, so to speak?
 
Rusty/A:
With the HI utility irons, there is a very easy transition and flow from a regular iron in a players bag to our utility iron. Like, if a player replaces their 2-iron with our HI-550, the difference in look between our HI-550 and their 3-iron is going to be minimal. And this is true of the HI utility iron in a 3-iron loft. When the player goes from hitting his own 4-iron and then goes to hit the HI-550 in a 3-iron loft, hes not going to feel like hes hitting a completely foreign object. Theres really good flow from a set of irons ' any OEM irons - in to our utility irons.
 
Casey/Q:
What about your materials?
 
Rusty/A:
The material we use, chrome molly benedum, is a very durable and yet soft feeling material. Because of that, when you go from a nice feeling forged OEM iron and then hit one of the HI utility irons, its going to have that same high quality soft feel that the better players really seem to like. Theres no harsh jump. We have proper head weights where we dont have huge weighting issues as a player transitions from a long iron to a utility iron.
 
Casey/Q:
There are a lot of hybrids out here on TOUR. Tough to compete?
 
Rusty/A:
The hybrid market is saturated right now with a lot of really high quality product. Just about all the OEMs have really good product across the board. Weve tried to differentiate ourselves with a product that is versatile and really fits the needs of the players out here on the PGA TOUR. So, yes, things are competitive, however, we make a very high quality product and I have a lot of confidence in that.
 
Casey/Q:
Are there other models of note in your line?
 
Rusty/A:
We also have more of a wood-like hybrid in the UT-106. A lot of guys are starting to use these hybrids to replace fairway woods, in some cases all the way to the 3-wood. This is a little more rare because the 3-wood still gives these guys explosive distance. So, its more replacing the 5-wood and 4-wood. What weve tried to do is offer a variety of product that can be used as a long-iron replacement or a fairway wood replacement.
 
Casey/Q:
Ive heard a number of guys out here comment on how pretty the clubs look.
 
Rusty/A:
Well, thats nice to hear. Fourteen Golf prides itself on aesthetics. The look and sound has to be very pleasing to the professional golfer as well as to the consumer. The engineers at Fourteen Golf take painstaking care in making sure those needs and demands are met. The golf clubs are flat out beautiful to look at.
 
Casey/Q:
Rusty, lastly, where does the name Fourteen Golf come from?
 
Rusty/A:
The name Fourteen Golf comes from Mr. Takebayashis desire to design fourteen perfect clubs, the number of clubs a player can legally carry in the bag. An extension of that, the feather that is incorporated into the Fourteen Golf logo, comes about by the fact that all the positive scoring attributes in golf have an association with birds. Birdie, eagle and albatross ' all bird associations ' hence, the feather of a bird is incorporated in to our logo. Mr. Takebayashi is a very smart man and he is quite famous in Japan.
 
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