In Their Own Words - Nickent Golf

By Casey BiererSeptember 24, 2005, 4:00 pm
A Conversation with John Hoeflich
Nickent Golf recently announced the appointment of John B. Hoeflich to Senior Vice President. Over the last twenty years, clubs covered by John Hoeflichs patents include such breakthroughs as the Tommy Armour 845 iron, Titleist DCI irons and TaylorMade RAC irons and wedges.
John has been my mentor for 15 years, said Nickent CEO and founder Michael Lee. He was already an icon when I first entered the industry and he is the biggest name there is in golf club design. To have the honor and the opportunity to work with him is a dream come true. I feel he will be the anchor of Nickent Golf and that we can take this company to the highest level under his direction.
John Hoeflich
John B. Hoeflich is the new Senior Vice President of Nickent Golf.
Nickent Golf is a southern California based full-line company best known for their flagship product, the 3DX Ironwood. Founded in 1996 by Lee, Nickent is currently the No. 1 played hybrid on the Nationwide Tour and the No. 3 on the PGA Tour in 2005. Nickent reports 125 players use the 3DX combined on both tours. According to Nickent, examples of their product ingenuity include: the first ever 3-D alignment putter, the first 460 CC directional control drivers, the first wedge and blade iron to feature a high-rebound elastomer inside the iron head, and the first truly integrated hybrid iron set, to name a few.
A Conversation with John Hoeflich
Casey / Q:
How did you go from being a teacher to the golf industry?
John / A:
In 1970, I was high school English teacher in Louisville, Kentucky and my next-door neighbor was a Maxfli ball salesman. Paul and I played a lot of golf together and I thought his job was a lot of fun, since I was a passionate golfer. Paul moved to another territory and I was interviewed for his job and I became a Maxfli sales rep for Kentucky and West Virginia. During my interview I was asked why I thought I could sell golf balls, since I was a schoolteacher and not a businessman? My answer was that I had spent that last three years selling Shakespeare to high school students, so I figured that with that experience, I could sell anything to anyone, and I guess that has been proved to be true.
Casey / Q:
So you have been in the golf industry for over 30 years. What did you do after you started working for Maxfli as a sales representative and what products have developed throughout your career?
John / A:
Well, I was a sales rep for Maxfli for 12 years, then a sales rep for PGA Golf for three years until I became Director of Marketing for PGA Golf. My first two assignments were to help rename the company, and we came up with Tommy Armour. Next, was to come up with a new product line. The Tommy Armour 845s were the first irons that I ever designed. That was in 1987. By 1988, I had joined Titleist to help revive their club business and I developed the original DCI irons and PT metal woods in 1990. After stints at HEAD, IZZO StiX and Liquidmetal Golf, I joined TaylorMade Golf, where I helped develop the 300 Series irons, RAC irons and RAC wedges from 2000 to 2003.
Casey / Q:
How did that come about, going from sales rep to being in charge of creating product and getting it ready for market? Did you have some engineering experience?
John / A:
Not really, but I worked in a machine shop doing odd jobs for my dad from 8th grade all the way through college, which gave me some engineering experience and the basics of golf club tooling.
The other thing is that I had been selling golf clubs and working with tour players for over 15 years. I knew the shapes and transitions that they wanted to see in a club and that is really what qualified me on the artistic side. I also got lucky as I went to Don Anton, based in the San Fernando Valley in California to develop the 845 irons. Don was kind of the Yoda of club toolmakers and had helped create the tooling for most of the golf clubs cast from 1970 to 1990. I told him what I wanted to do, and he sort of coached me through the process. Without Don and some of his toolmakers, I would probably have gone back to selling golf balls. But fortunately, the 845 is the No.2 or No. 3 selling iron model of all time, and the DCI is up there as well.
Casey / Q:
Where are we headed with putter designs?
John / A:
Truthfully, there will always be a fairly high percentage of players that putt with a conventional and traditional putter, and I think the main reason is feel, and that golf is such a traditional game. It takes forever for people to give things up. The cast heads we use today are so superior in performance, yet 40% of the tour players use forged blades. So I think the recent shift to mallet putters is for real, but it may have also reached a plateau. We will be improving mallet designs for years to come. The new Nickent Pipe putter is an excellent example of this.
Casey / Q:
What is the future of design and how do you stay on top of the trends and latest advancement in golf technology?
John / A:
The Future of design, hmm... I think if you look at the evolution of golf equipment over the last few years, the technology available to golf club designers has changed dramatically. To me, it is not surprising that PGA players can hit their drivers 300 yards and hit 5 irons 210 yards. In 1990, we knew that if you could make a 400cc driver, you could hit the ball much further, but the casting technology to make one didnt exist. We had to wait until 2000 before we could cast a 300 cc driver. So, it's all about waiting for the time to take advantage of technology and to actually cast or design better golf club

When TaylorMade came out with the 300 series, we bet that the best seller would be the 300cc and not the 360cc model and it turned out to be just the reverse. Taylor Made started the big driver trend and pushed the design envelope by seeing it was what the consumer wanted.

Interestingly, today, more than anytime in the past, the USGA regulations regulating the design of club heads are beginning to have a stifling effect on advances in distance, and control. They are starting to reference MOI and the like. The USGA is tying our hands, which I actually am in favor of. But I also know that there are a lot of very smart talented people who will never stop trying to build a better golf club.
Casey / Q:
Are we at the pinnacle of innovation for golf clubs?
John / A:
Innovation will never stop. The last significant restriction on the performance of the golf ball went into effect over twenty-five years ago, but I dont know anyone who believes that the ball doesnt go further today than it did in 1976. The reason that golf club innovation wont ever stop is that we continue to create new materials and new technologies and golfers have an insatiable appetitive for anything that will improve their game. As long as people will pay good money for better clubs, guys like me will stay up at night looking for ways to make them happy.

The other thing to, is that, I have been huge advocate for a long time of short sets, hybrid sets, reconfiguring the number of clubs in your bag, getting people to rethink their game. Golfers now have an unbelievable choice of lofted fairway woods, hybrids clubs and clubs that can substitute for other clubs and make the game easier. The amount of innovation that will take place in the hybrid and iron area will produce some amazing new clubs for everyone to try.
Casey / Q:
If you had to describe your golf club design philosophy, what would it be?
John / A:
Good golf club design is a perfect combination of art and technology. There are a lot of clubs that look good in the pro shop, but they dont perform on the golf course. There are lots of innovative clubs with incredible technology, but they look so bad no one will even take them out to hit them. Clubs that stay in a players bag and last in the marketplace are ones that combine technology and pleasing shapes in the address position. It is not easy to get the combination right, but it worth it in the long run, because you will sell a lot of that model. No club that has my thumb-print on it will ever escape from the barn until it meets both criteria.
Casey / Q:
Why Nickent and why now?
John / A:
Other than the obvious, my 15-year friendship with Michael Lee, Nickent CEO, I guess you could say that I think that Nickent has the potential to get to the next level in the golf industry. I have always been recognized as the builder of golf club franchises and nothing would make me happier that to spend the next few years helping my good friend achieve his goals for his company. We both recognize that the key to success is great product and we both have a passion for that.
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have worked for some great companies and with some incredibly talented people who have made me look better than I really am. But I have never really fit into the corporate world and have little patience for big company politics where it sometimes more important who gets the credit for something than whether the product is successful in the market. And then there is the risk aversive attitude that sometimes takes over after you experience success. By that I mean, if you look at many companies in and out of the golf industry, after they reach a certain level of sales and they are afraid to try something new, and the stockholders get scared and they dont want to take any risks.
What I loved about Tommy Armour Golf was that we were at 12 million dollars a year and we took risks that led them to become 100 million dollar company. When I started Titleist, we were $14 million dollar golf club company and wanted to get to $100 million. To his ultimate credit, Wally Uihlein rolled the dice with me and when I left, they were well on their way to doing it. And ultimately, that is really what I miss, the thrill of the chase, not the thrill of the catch.
Casey / Q:
How does working with Nickent compare to projects of yours in the past?
John / A:
The exciting thing about Nickent is that we dont have to be afraid to try anything and the chain of command is very short! Our creativity isn't stifled by big corporate business blockades, we are not risk aversive, we dont have to protect 30% market share, so we can do whatever the heck we want as long it is a quality product and people like it. And if Michael ever gets risk aversive, we can go out in the parking lot and settle that with a duel!
Casey / Q:
What do you think the future holds for Nickent?
John / A:
In the near future, were going to try and accelerate the transition to becoming a full line, mainstream company, and become good citizens in the golf community. Long term we are going to make our customers happy that they invested in our growth and products.
Casey / Q:
Can you address Nickents success on tour with respect to the fact that Im told they dont pay players?
John / A:
I think there are two reasons. First and foremost, the clubs perform and its a superior products. And I think the second reason is that we enjoy a good relationship with a lot of the up and coming players on the PGA and the Nationwide Tour and they have been willing to support our product and our company, all while helping their game.
Our goal is to continue to prove to these players that they can add more Nickent clubs to their arsenal and play better golf!
Email your thoughts to Casey Bierer
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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”