By Richard Audi
I recently sat down with Ari Techner, President/CEO of Scratch Golf Clubs and one of the company's founders. Scratch Golf is the fastest growing golf club company in the industry and a true pioneer in wedge fitting and design. Ari is a world renowned expert in club fitting and design and has been in the golf business since he was 15 years old. He has personally fit thousands of people for clubs from Scratch's Tour Custom line as well as helping to design all the clubs that Scratch has produced.
Q: Give us a quick history of Scratch Golf and how you guys got started?
A: Scratch was founded in 2003 by myself; Jeff McCoy, our Master Craftsman; Paul Friedrich, our VP of Tour Operations; and my brother, Chad Techner, our COO. Jeff, Paul and I met years earlier at the Professional Golf Management program at Ferris State University. After college we all went our separate ways and were working in the golf industry. Jeff has been grinding golf clubs since he was in high school and has an incredible talent for shaping golf clubs. We saw a hole in the golf market as nobody was making custom wedges one at a time to fit the individual player. We spent a year on R&D, testing different wedge grinds with different players swings and determined exactly what worked and why. Our grind fitting system puts you into one of the three swing types that we identified: the Sweeper/Slider, Driver/Slider or Digger/Driver. These swing types and our fitting system is based on this extensive R&D and real world player testing. Our first product offering was our Tour Custom wedges that are handmade by Jeff McCoy. Soon after that we released our Tour Custom irons and after that our retail JLM and subsequent 1018 and 8620 wedges, along with the retail irons that make up our current product line.
You guys have seen a lot of success on the various professional tours. How you were able to get the top players in the game to take notice of your clubs and play them, despite the fact that you guys are a small company and do not pay players to play your clubs on Tour?
Paul is a former Tour caddie and in 2006 he went out on the Nationwide Tour with a bag filled with wedges to try to get the players to put them in play. The clubs caught on fast as the players started to realize that they could make more money by playing equipment that worked better for their game, rather than taking the tee up money at the beginning of the week to play a club that does not work as well for them. By the end of 2006 we had seen numerous Scratch wedges in play on the Nationwide Tour as well as a few on the PGA Tour. We graduated one player using our wedges from the Nationwide Tour to the PGA Tour and by the end of 2007 we were the No. 1 forged wedge on the Nationwide Tour. The next year saw Scratch wedges winning two tournaments on the Nationwide Tour and in 2009 we had our first win on the LPGA Tour with Cristie Kerr. And this year saw us really break onto the PGA Tour as top player Ryan Moore switched to our irons and wedges the week after the final FedExCup tournament.
At that point in time, Ryan was playing an equipment contract, correct?
Yes. Ryan decided going into 2009 that he was not going to re-sign his equipment contract and instead take the year to try out different clubs and make sure he was playing what was best for his game. He turned down very large contracts from pretty much ever major club manufacturer, but he believed he would do better financially in the end if he was able to play with whatever clubs he felt helped him play his best. After switching to our clubs Ryan did not finish outside the Top 10 once and finished the season with a third- place finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. He likes our clubs so much that we came to a deal at the end of the year for Ryan to become our Staff Professional on the PGA Tour, and the main spokesman for the company. He is now our business partner and part owner of the company.
See what’s in Ryan's bag.
That is very exciting stuff. I am sure that someone like Ryan validating your product by shunning all of the larger manufactuers is huge for you?
No question about it. We have seen a huge spike in sales and Web site traffic since announcing our partnership with Ryan. We have also gotten a lot more inquiries from new stores that want to bring Scratch in for 2010.
Let's talk more about Ryan's clubs. I understand that you guys have just finished making Ryan a new set for 2010 with the newly mandated USGA legal grooves. Tell us about this set.
This set that we made for Ryan is unlike any other irons that you will see on Tour. Most iron sets have 4-degree loft gaps between the short- and mid-irons and 3-degree loft gaps between the long irons. Ryan felt that this traditional set makeup did not give him the yardage gaps that he wanted and had too many clubs too close together, especially in the longer irons. For years, he had wanted to get a set like this made but never had a company that could make them for him without having the sole grinds and offsets inconsistent and incorrect from bending the heads. Since Jeff McCoy grinds all of our Tour Custom clubs by hand to exact specs and because we bend the raw head to loft before doing any grinding or finishing, we were able to make this set for him and have it come out perfectly with the exact sole grind and offset that fit Ryan's game. The set starts at 20 degrees and goes to 60 degrees in 5-degree loft increments.
Wow, that is very interesting. So you guys were able to make Ryan a set that he wouldn't have been able to get from any other company?
Yes, that is correct. It's something that he had been thinking about for years, and had never had anyone be able to make for him even being a player at the absolute top level of professional golf. Our ability to make pretty much anything in terms of set makeup and specs is one of the things that sets Scratch Golf apart from other companies in the industry. The nice thing for the normal golfer who is not on Tour is that they can get the exact same treatment as Ryan if they come to our facility to get a set made.
Since the lofts in Ryan's set are so far from standard, how did you decide which club to make what loft?
One of the other really cool things about this set that we made for Ryan is that we decided to completely forgo traditional club numbers. Instead, we have stamped the actual loft of the club on the sole of each club. So, Ryan does not have a 4-iron or a 7-iron or a 9-iron; instead, he has a 20-degree iron, a 25-degree iron, a 30-degree iron, a 35-degree iron, a 40-degree iron and a 45-degree iron along with a 50-, 55- and 60-degree wedges. We are just waiting for the first tournament of the year to see how the announcers on TV react when trying to figure out what club he just hit.So with this non-traditional set makeup what are Ryan's yardages like?
Ryan has found that he gets consistent 15-yard gaps between each club. He hits the 20 (degree) 220 yards in the air, the 25 (degree) 205 yards, the 30 (degree) 185 yards, the 35 (degree) 170 yards, the 40 (degree) 155 yards, the 45 (degree) 140 yards, the 50 (degree) 125 yards and the 55 (degree) 110 yards. The 60 (degree) is not a club that he hits full shots with very much but it goes about 95 yards if he does. He loves to work the ball and hit different shots so he is not concerned if he has a partial yardage into a green, as he rarely hits a stock full shot anyways.
That sounds like a perfect setup for him. Since he is now carrying one less iron/wedge, what other clubs does he carry?
Aside from giving him what he considers to be perfect yardage gaps, one of the things Ryan loves about this setup is the flexibility it gives him to add another club to attack the par 5s. Aside from his nine Scratch irons and wedges and his putter, he will be carrying a driver, a strong 3-wood at about 13 degrees, a weak 3-wood or 4-wood at about 17 degrees, and a hybrid at about 20 or 21 degrees. He feels this will allow him to hit more par 5s in two with a comfortable club and shot and make more birdies on those holes.What do you guys have in store for 2010?
2010 is going to be huge year for Scratch. We have a new line of handmade putters coming out as well as some small tweaks to our retail iron and wedge lines. We also expect to see a much larger number of touring professionals using Scratch clubs on every major tour. We have a tour trailer that will be following the PGA Tour around each week working with the players as well as stopping at local clubs and stores to fit the general public. We also have a few other very exciting things in store that you will find out about sooner than later.
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