Their Own Words Wilson Golf

RSS

Editors note: Chicago based Wilson Sporting Goods has a history in golf that dates back over ninety years. In 1922, Gene Sarazen became the first member of Wilsons famed Advisory Staff, a relationship that would last for 75 years. Patty Berg and Sam Snead are two other legendary players who enjoyed lifetime endorsement contracts with Wilson Staff. The companys list of golf product innovations is extensive: to include the Sarazen inspired sand wedge of 1932, the StrataBloc driver and fairway wood innovations, their breakthrough with golf balls in the early 1950s and the famed drill-thru hosel first used in the Dyna-Power model irons in 1956. Padraig Harringtons win of the 136th Open Championship represents Wilsons 59th major championship with the companys irons.
 
Tim Clarke has been with Wilson Sporting Goods for eleven years. He started in 1996 as a National Accounts Manager for sporting goods and off-course retailers. He then became Pro Golf regional manager before working as Director, U.S. Golf Sales. He was promoted to V.P of U.S. Sales and Marketing and for the last 18 months has served as General Manager of Global Golf.

 
A Conversation with Tim Clarke, Global General Manager, Wilson Golf
 
Padraig HarringtonCasey / Q:
Tim, is it a little busy in Chicago since Sunday?
 
Tim / A:
Ill tell you, Casey, this has been off the charts. The excitement level has been unbelievable. Our phones are ringing off the hook. From consumers looking to learn more about the product to media people requesting access to Padraig to equipment writers looking to write about Wilson Staff product. Its just been great.
 
Casey / Q:
What has impressed you most so far?
 
Tim / A:
I think the most impressive thing about this wonderful event ' Padraig winning the Open Championship ' is how Padraig truly exemplifies what the brandthe Wilson Staff brandis actually about. Its about major championships. This is our 59th major with irons. Its actually our 80th major championship win with wedges. We had a lull from 99 to last week, but it is really great to be back in the major winners circle. And as we move forward that is what well continue to hope for and expect out of our brand.
 
Casey / Q:
From your vantage point, what makes Padraig so special?
 
Tim / A:
I think a lot of that can be explained by what he said in his press conference after his win. He basically said Im a worker. Ive worked hard and I have come a long way. Thats his quote and I think that when you look at the history and heritage of Wilson and you look at Padraig, the two go together really well. I think it exemplifies what Wilson is all about as well. Ill tell you, Casey, I would venture to say that Padraig has hit more balls than anyone on tour with maybe the exception of Vijay Singh. But Padraig is certainly in that group of a few select guys who work the hardest to get the most out of their games.
 
Dd6 driverCasey / Q:
When did Padraig start playing golf? Whats his career track been like?
 
Tim / A:
Padraig started playing golf when he was 15 years old. He turned pro much later than a lot of these other guys. So, hes made himself in to what he is by shear hard work. He wasnt born in to it. He has worked extremely hard to earn everything that he has gotten. And I think that is reflected in who he is a person, not just who he is as a golf star. The one thing that I hope Padraig does get out of this, because I think he is sometimes overlookedI hope he gets more publicity because then people will have more of a chance to see what a truly wonderful world class player and world class person he is.
 
Casey / Q:
Wilson has a wonderful heritage in irons. How is your current design team set up?
 
Tim / A:
Our lead iron engineer, Jon Pergande, hes really been the quarterback behind the iron design recently. Jon has been with us for over 10 years and he worked very closely with Mr. Bob Mandrella, Sr. Mr. Mandrella, of course, the legendary club designer who has spent over 50 years as Wilsons chief club designer. So Jon has kind of taken over that head designer role in recent years and Mr. Mandrella continues on with us as a consultant.
 

Casey / Q:
The irons that Padraig uses ' the Pi5 irons ' how did they come about?
 
Tim / A:
The way it worked with the Pi5 irons was Jon spent time with Padraig from the very beginning so we would have a true appreciation for what Padraig was looking for. This started in 2003, a couple of years before Padraig first put the Pi5 irons in play at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. It starts with the size and shape of the head that Padraig is looking for. With the Pi iron it was uniquely challenging because it was the first time that Padraig was entertaining the thought of moving from a forged blade to a perimeter weighted iron. It was a big step for Padraig and obviously we wanted to get it just right for him. So Jon takes Padraigs shape and size preference and uses that as a starting point. Then he engineers the weighting and performance characteristics that Padraig is looking for. These having previously been explained in great detail by Padraig.
 
Casey / Q:
And from there you get to a prototype stage?
 
Tim / A:
Right. Jon and the R&D team make several different variations of the product using prototype molds. We make limited runs of the different heads. Then the heads are shafted to Padraigs specs and we get the prototypes to him and he tests them. Padraig comes back to us with his feedback and requests for alterations. In the case of the Pi5 he wanted us to make the top-line thinner. He wanted it to look like a blade from his address position but he wanted the game improvement performance characteristics that come from a perimeter weighted cavity-back iron. I think he once explained to Jon that he wanted an iron that had game improvement built in but in the address position he didnt want to see any of the game improvement features. Its a process of give and take and its one that takes quite a bit of time. But the investment in time and effort is worth it because we want the same thing that Padraig wants. We want him to be able to play his best golf.
 
Pi5 setCasey / Q:
Padraig also plays your driver, doesnt he?
 
Tim / A:
He does. One of the most exciting things for us as a company is that we do not have a driver deal with Padraig. Padraig is free to play any driver from any company that he feels is the best product for him and gives him the best chance to win. So for us to have our driver in his bag for basically the last four years is huge. The Dd6+ is a driver Padraig put in to play late last season and its the driver he had in his bag during this Open Championship at Carnoustie.
 
Casey / Q:
Whats unique about this driver?
 
Tim / A:
It is a very traditional looking product from a shape standpoint. But it is a little stretched out on the back which is where the high MOI characteristics come in to play. Were able to move weight back away from the face while increasing the drivers stability but we do it in a very traditional presentation. And that fits Padraigs eye. Its a nice pear shaped driver but it has a very big footprint in terms of the face of the driver. And as we all heard in his press conference after his win on Sunday, he has unbelievable confidence in this Dd6+ driver product. And that is of course gratifying for us to hear because he certainly doesnt have to say that. You dont hear a lot of players talk about their equipment, especially after a major. Their minds are on other things. So it was special for us that he mentioned how much he likes the driver.
 
Casey / Q:
But it cant just look good to his eye, right? It has to perform as well.
 
Tim / A:
Padraigs driving distance has come a long way in the past four or so years. And Im not one of these guys to sit here and say thats all technologythats all because of our driver. I mean Padraig has worked so hard on his conditioning and on his swing mechanics and obviously the increase in his driving distance is mostly attributable to his hard work. I think hes averaging close to 300 yards right now and thats up about 15 to 18 yards over four or five years ago. But I do think that our willingness to develop a driver that suits his eye while also ensuring the driver delivers high performance is one of the reasons he plays the driver and why he is driving the ball so well. He was intimately involved in the design of the driver and I think that makes a difference to Padraig when he goes to put the peg in the ground and rips the driver.
 
Casey / Q:
He also used your Wilson Staff hybrid at the Open Championship?
 
Tim / A:
Padraig uses the Dh6 hybrid, and again, he was very instrumental in the design and the development of this golf club. He was adamant about a certain look and shape and feel and we worked very hard to build a hybrid that he was happy with. Padraig is an interesting player in that regard. He wants the traditional look in clubs but he also wants the game improvement technology built in. For him, hes looking for every competitive edge he can get but there do seem to be limitations in terms of how radical the golf club can look to his eye. So our challenge continues to be to push the limits of technology while still maintaining a traditional look to the club. Now obviously, with Padraigs direct help, we were able to hit a home run in building this Dh6 hybrid. Youd have to say hes got a ton of confidence in the club and results out on the course prove the point. He hit the hybrid in the playoff on 16, 17 and 18 to win the Open Championship at Carnoustie. And that is a testament to the trust Padraig has in this product. And I cant think of anything more thrilling for a manufacturer than to see a player of Padraigs caliber trust the product in the most crucial competitive situation of his life.
 
Padraig and JesperCasey / Q:
What is Padraigs history with Wilson?
 
Tim / A:
Padraig has been with Wilson for over ten years.
 
Casey / Q:
The relationship solid?
 
Tim / A:
Padraig really epitomizes what our Staff brand is all about. Our goal is certainly to continue to work with Padraig and have Padraig continue to represent the Wilson Staff brand around the world for as long as possible. The relationship weve developed with Padraig over the last ten years will hopefully carry us forward together for the rest of his playing career.
 
Casey / Q:
In this day and age in professional sports forever is a very rare thing. But Wilson does have a history of enduring staff contracts, doesnt it?
 
Tim / A:
When you look at Wilsons history over the years as it relates to our TOUR staff, we had the longest running sports contract ever in the history of sport with Gene Sarazen. That was then surpassed by another Wilson Advisory Staff member, Patty Berg. And of course Sam Snead had an incredible relationship with Wilson during his career and literally had a lifetime contract. We would love nothing more than to have Padraig be the player that surpasses these prior milestones to become the longest running Advisory Staff member in Wilsons history.
 
Casey / Q:
You obviously have a lot of faith in Padraig Harrington.
 
Tim / A:
We have the utmost respect for Padraigs golf skills and we also have the utmost respect for Padraig as a human being. And I think its a two way street. I believe Padraig respects the products we bring to him and I think he values the opportunity that he has to have such a direct influence on the design of that product. And I dont think it is lost on Padraig that there is such a wonderful history and heritage that comes along with the Wilson Staff brand.
 
Casey / Q:
The golf equipment business has not had the easiest go of it in recent years. What is Wilsons position currently?
 
Tim / A:
Weve made some great strides here in the United States in the last couple of years but still have a long way to go to get back to our glory years. If you take a look at the Wilson Golf brand from a global perspective, the Staff brand in Europe, in Asia, in Asia Pacific, in Japanit is an extremely powerful brand. Our number one market currently is the European market and a good deal of that success comes from the exposure that Padraig Harrington gives us. Padraig won the Order of Merit in Europe last year even with a relatively limited schedule. However, as Padraig has made his move over to the PGA TOUR, we are seeing some wonderful resurgence in the U.S. and with that we are looking to find some of the form that Wilson Golf and the Staff brand has enjoyed in the United States in years past.
 
Casey / Q:
For people that might not know, or might not remember, Wilson was considered dominant in golf for many years, correct?
 
Tim / A:
Wilson was for many, many years the single most dominant golf brand. Hands down. It was Wilson and MacGregor and I think Wilson remained dominant for many more years than not. Not being dominant in the United States is a much more recent thing. One that we would like to turn around in due time. Im not suggesting well get to that point again at the snap of a finger, but I do believe that as we continue to build our U.S. advisory staff presence back up we will see an improvement in our market share. Padraig is a huge part of that. Jesper Parnevick is a huge part of that effort. We recently signed D.J. Trahan who is a young American player and we feel very strongly about his future.
 
Casey / Q:
What are you objectives at Wilson Golf?
 
Tim / A:
Our objective is to continue to grow our stable of players who have a presence in the United States and this will help us get the exposure for our product that we are looking for here. Its not going to happen over night, but heyweve been at this for ninety years. Wilson Golf isnt going anywhere. When you think of the incredible, vast expanse of the Wilson Sporting Goods global business, and you realize that Wilson Golf is part of that enormous success story, you understand that Wilson Golf has vast resources at its disposal and we will use those resources ' judiciously of course ' to remain successful. And, in fact, to get back to where we know we want to be in the U.S. market. But were not likely to throw gobs of money around doing it. There is a good reason why the Wilson Sporting Goods Company and why Wilson Golf has been around so long.
 
Casey / Q:
Talk about some of your new products that will be released shortly.
 
Tim / A:
We have some very exciting new products coming out. We actually have a brand new muscle back forged iron coming back in to the line which as you know for us, for Wilson Staff, is a major point of heritage for the company. D. J. Trahan has actually put them in to play already. We gave him a prototype to test and he wouldnt give the prototype back to us he liked it so muchso he put the set in his bag. Good for D.J. Bad for us. He got a new set of irons and we lost our prototypes. But thats OK. We made more.
 
Casey / Q:
Iron names ' the nomenclature used to designate irons ' also interesting at Wilson. What will these new irons be called?
 
Tim / A:
This is a very interesting story about these new forged muscle backs. The name was going to be FG 58, standing for 58 majors. But with Padraigs win on Sunday we have changed the name to FG 59. In fact, weve had to go back to the forging house and re-tool to accommodate the name change. But thats OK. I just hope we get the product out before the PGA Championship or we might have to re-tool the club again when the name changes to FG 60. So, yeah, the R&D team is looking at the revised molds as we speak for that new golf club.
 
Casey / Q:
Anything new for Padraig?
 
Tim / A:
Padraig has been actively involved in the development of a new iron ' the Pi7 ' which will come to market this fall. He had a tremendous amount of input in this iron. He actually got his completed set a week before the Open Championship but did not have enough time to practice with them before the tournament started. But some early sets have gone over to our other European Tour players and weve actually had two wins over there already with this new iron. It has a little bigger head than the Pi5 but still appears very traditional from the address position. Were excited about it. We look forward to continuing to build on the iron success that weve had while also letting people know that we have fantastic drivers and wedges and hybrids and fairway woods. And I think were well on our way to doing that.
 
Casey / Q:
Well, Tim, congratulations to Wilson on major win number 59. And please give my congratulations to Padraig when you see him.
 
Tim / A:
Thanks, Casey. And I will tell Padraig congrats from you.
 

Email your thoughts to Casey Bierer