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Q&A: Aerotech Golf President Chris Hilleary

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The best-case scenario for a small golf equipment company is essentially what has happened for Aerotech Golf in the last six years.

Matt Kuchar began using a set of the company’s SteelFiber composite shafts in his irons in 2008. Since the switch, he’s won five times on the PGA Tour, and along the way he convinced friend and fellow top-ranked golfer Brandt Snedeker to try the shafts. Snedeker liked them so much that he put the same model in his irons, and has used them in route to four PGA Tour wins as well as the 2012 FedEx Cup.

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The success of Kuchar and Snedeker has led to several other PGA Tour winners using the shafts, but what seems like an overnight success actually began 17 years ago.

Aerotech Golf President Chris Hilleary joined Aerotech Sports in 1997 as the director of its golf division. The company’s main focus was the production of composite hockey sticks, however, which allowed Hilleary to purchase the golf division in October 2005.

Since that time, Hilleary has grown the Bellingham, Wash., company to an enviable spot in the industry. SteelFiber is the No. 1 graphite iron shaft on the PGA Tour, and its popularity with golfers has led to it becoming a custom iron shaft option for nearly every major equipment manufacturer.

Hilleary took the time to chat with GolfWRX Managing Editor Zak Kozuchowski about the SteelFiber shaft, his company’s success and what the future holds for Aerotech.

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ZK: Chris, you said that you strapped yourself financially to purchase Aerotech Golf in 2005. What was it that made you do that?

CH: I worked for Aerotech Sports (Aerotech Golf’s parent company) for nine years and ran its golf division. During that time, I designed the SteelFiber technology and I knew that this shaft had the potential to revolutionize the iron shaft category. When the opportunity to purchase the golf division came along, I actually had to compete against one of the largest shaft manufacturers in the world to purchase the brand. I initially looked for investors, but I decided to leverage everything I owned and was able to outbid the competition. In retrospect, it was one of the smartest decision I’ve ever made.

ZK: Tell me about the SteelFiber shaft specifically. Where did the idea come from, and why do you think that it has been so successful?

CH: Before I began designing the SteelFiber shaft, I saw a void in the market as composite shafts had not been embraced in the iron category. Over 95 percent of all drivers and fairway woods used graphite at the time and I was confident iron shafts would get there, but I needed to overcome some performance hurdles first. That’s when I set out to create a graphite iron shaft that had all the control and consistency of steel but had all the benefits of graphite as well. The SteelFiber shaft was actually an evolution of several designs over time. Early on in the development I realized that I needed to add a higher density (heavier) material into the structure to achieve the performance enhancements I was looking for. After several attempts co-mingling different materials with the graphite the real breakthrough came when I discovered the micro-thin steel fiber and applied it to the entire surface of the shaft. The unique combination of the graphite core with the full layer of steel has created an iron shaft that outperforms steel shafts that has ultimately accounted for its success.

Brandt+Snedeker+Arnold+Palmer+Invitational+NuQOwW6-Eual

ZK: What do golfers need to know about SteelFiber shafts if they’re considering purchasing a set? I’ve been told by top custom fitters that the shafts tend to play on the stiff side and that they have a higher balance point than a lot of iron shafts.

CH: First of all, golfers should understand that this is a composite shaft so it has all the vibration-dampening characteristic of a 100 percent graphite shaft. This lowers the risk of injury, aggravation of existing injuries and reduces the fatigue associated with swinging heavier, harsher steel shafts. Secondly, we have designed this shaft with a very stable lower quadrant and tight torque values. Combine that with the full layer of steel and it results in an extremely controllable shaft even as the butt frequencies get lower (softer). Therefore, the shaft plays on the firm side of flex as you mentioned. This is evidenced by that fact that over 80 percent of all the shafts being played on the PGA and Champions tours are our standard stiff flex. Our balance points run about 50 percent (middle of the shaft), which is not necessarily high but when using lighter weight shafts with standard head weights (designed for building steel shafted irons) a club builder may need to add a tip weight or make a slight length adjustment to hit target swing weights.

ZK: When an iron shaft becomes successful on tour, it tends to be successful for a long time. For example, True Temper’s Dynamic Gold steel shafts have been the most played iron shafts on the PGA Tour for decades. Do you think SteelFiber has that kind of staying power?

CH: The Dynamic Gold has been the benchmark in iron shafts for more than 70 years and we can only dream that the SteelFiber shaft has that kind of staying power. With that said, the Dynamic Gold shaft replaced the hickory shaft because of the performance benefits it exhibited over its predecessor. The SteelFiber has now taken iron shaft performance to the next level by adding performance characteristics that the steel shaft could not achieve. If history repeats itself, you never know, the SteelFiber shaft has a chance to become the new “gold standard.”

ZK: Some large golf equipment manufacturers have expressed their frustration with USGA rules that they say have limited innovation. Do shaft manufacturers face similar obstacles, or is there still a lot of room to innovate in the shaft space?

CH: I think the golf shaft is one area that can continue to stretch the boundaries of performance and make the game more enjoyable for everyone. As material science, manufacturing processes and the understanding of shaft performance improves, we will continue to create new innovative designs.

ZK: Tell me what’s next for Aerotech Golf.

CH: Our main focus has been managing the growth that we’ve been experiencing during the past few years and especially in the last 24 months. With that said, we continue to research new materials and expand our knowledge of shaft performance and will be adding to our product line soon. Our next product launch will be a comprehensive line of SteelFiber hybrid shafts. We have been getting several hybrid shafts in play each week out on tour and it’s time to share those designs with the golfing public.

ZK: Thanks for your time, Chris. 

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Desmond

    Apr 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

    My professional club maker, a Top 100 Guy, had no problems dialing in the correct flex and swing weight in my iron sets with Aerotech Steelfibers. I guess club making is an art… experimentation, talent and skill.

    • Chris

      Dec 3, 2014 at 1:21 am

      What is your expert clubfitters name, location and contact info? Thanks.

  2. Abu Dhabi Golfer

    Apr 5, 2014 at 10:40 am

    After playing with an Aerotech rep by chance at Semiahmoo GC near Bellingham a couple of years ago, he encouraged me to experiment with their products through local fitters.

    Even though it is the iron shafts that tour players only seem to use, I actually ended up getting a stiff 70 gram SteelFiber in my three wood.

    The impact feels so stable and stays square.

    It’s money.

  3. Sean

    Apr 4, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Chris helped me select the SteelFiber’s I now have in my irons. Very approachable, answered all my questions, asked me a lot of questions, and was very helpful. I am very, very happy with these golf shafts.

  4. Chris

    Apr 4, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Im sure these are fine shafts, but they just didnt work for me. Couldnt get the feel down. I even had a GD top100 fitter work with me.

    Best of luck to them though!

  5. chris

    Apr 4, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    I have also had issues swingweighting a set of 125’s. In fact, they still sit unbuilt in the corner of my workshop. I just picked up tungeston tip weights (10g), so im hoping thats enough added weight to make them playable.. Perhaps we need to have a “Steelfiber LB” = low balance. I’d love to have a steelfiber shaft where the last inch of the tip section is just as solid steel rod with epoxy vents,
    I just hope when i finally get this issue worked out, that all the great things i hear about these shafts are true.

  6. froneputt

    Apr 4, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    I love these iron shafts, and they have saved my elbows and shoulders. Their old hybrid shafts work but I want slightly more kick. Looking forward to see what they have in the new versions.

  7. paul

    Apr 4, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I love these shafts. Play them in titleist CBs. Dispersion is much better then with the DGs. First time I tried them I hit five 7 irons into a circle with a 10′ diameter (which is absurdly consistent for a 16 handicap)

    • paul

      Apr 4, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Also I wished he would have addressed the balance point issue a bit more. I added lead tape to my 3&4 irons because I couldn’t figure where the head was.

      • The dude

        Apr 5, 2014 at 10:47 am

        Good point….so a tighter dispersion was your net gain? How can that be…when you compare them to steel?

        • paul

          Apr 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm

          Lower torque maybe? I don’t know. But my accuracy has never been so good.

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Whats in the Bag

Shane Lowry’s winning WITB: 2019 Open Championship

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Driver: Srixon Z 585 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 70X (45.25″, tipped .75″, D3 swing weight)

3-wood: TaylorMade M4 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-8X

Irons: Srixon Z U85 (2 [18 degrees], 3 [20 degrees bent to 21]), Srixon Z 575 (4, 5) Srixon Z 785 (6-PW)
Shafts: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White TX Hybrid (2), KBS Tour 130X (3-PW)

Wedges: Cleveland RTX 4 (50 [bent to 51, 35.75″, D5], 58 degrees [35.25″, D7.5)
Shafts: KBS Tour Wedge X

Putter: Odyssey Stroke Lab Exo 2-Ball (Lowry’s putter has an all-black finish, and he switched into it earlier this year at the RBC; 34″)
Grip: SuperStroke Traxion Pistol GT (custom shamrock)

Ball: Srixon Z-Star XV Pure White

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet 58R (logo down)

Image c/o Srixon (obviously, Lowry does not have all wedges pictured in play)

Additional Shane Lowry WITB notes, via Johnny Wunder

2019 Open Champion Shane Lowry, compared to Tommy Fleetwood, is on the other side of the spectrum in regards to brand loyalty. He is Cleveland/Srixon in 12 clubs including the ball with the only two exceptions being the TaylorMade M4 3-wood and his Odyssey Putter. In this case, that makes sense, those clubs seem to be a challenge to swap, especially the 3-wood, and Cleveland/Srixon isn’t really known for putters on the PGA Tour.

I got some interesting intel on his driver Switch from the TaylorMade M2 into the Srixon Z585.

According to Rodney McDonald, VP of Tour Operations for Cleveland/Srixon, Shane is a dedicated staff member that is always willing to get all Cleveland/Srixon in the bag.

On Lowry switching into the Z585 Driver McDonald had this to say

“The switch was very easy. Even though he had won early in the year with another driver, he was not driving it good at all. He is very loyal to our team and our products that he came to us to find a new driver. He instantly loved the look of the Z 585 and once we started testing the numbers were exactly what he was looking for. His main comment about the driver is how his misses are minimal and he can hit all the shots he wants to.”

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Tommy Fleetwood’s bag is as awesome as he is (Tommy Fleetwood WITB)

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I’m obsessed with this guy. If there was a movie about his life, Aaron Taylor Johnson would play him…can we make that happen?

His bag has taken over for my past obsession with Charles Howell III, David Toms, and Rocco Mediate. I’m drawn to players that tweak a bit, it keeps it fun for me on Getty Images at 3 a.m.

Much like a Bernhard Langer, there is no telling what OEM sticks will land in Fleetwood’s bag. It’s awesome and a sign of the non-contract “eat what you kill” mentality shared by some of the biggest names out there (BK and Patrick Reed to name a couple).

Tommy has messed around quite a bit in the past two years with his bag and the fun part is, he’s not afraid to shake it up.

Here is a partial list of clubs that were previously in the bag since ’17 leading up to his current setup

  • TaylorMade M3 driver (Mitsubishi Kuro Kage 70X shaft)
  • Titleist 917 D2 driver (@ 8.5 degrees) (Mitsubishi Kuro Kage 70X shaft)
  • Nike Vapor Fly 3-wood (13 degrees) (UST Mamiya VTS ProForce Red 7X shaft)
  • Nike Vapor Fly 5-wood (Mitsubishi Diamana Blue 80TX shaft)
  • Titleist 917 3-wood (14 degrees) (UST Mamiya VTS ProForce Red 7X shaft)
  • Titleist TS3 3-wood (12.75 degrees) (UST Mamiya ProForce Black 7X shaft)
  • Nike VR Pro Blades
  • Callaway MD4 wedges
  • Ping G410 3-wood (14 degrees) (UST Mamiya ProForce Black 7X shaft)
  • Ping G410 7-wood (18 degrees) (Mitsubishi Diamana BF 80T shaft)
  • Odyssey 2-Ball (plumbers neck)

His grips are also a fun one, he goes Blue Golf Pride TVC in his woods, Iomic Sticky in his irons, and black Golf Pride TVC in his wedges. God, I love this guy!

Tommy Fleetwood WITB @The Open

Driver: TaylorMade M6 (9 degrees @7.5)
*has lofted up a bit, his driver has been down to 6.5 I’ve heard.
Shaft: Mitsubishi DF 70X (45 inches)

3-wood: TaylorMade M6 (15 degrees @14)
Shaft: Mitsubishi DF 70X (42.5 inches)
*was in a Ping G410 until the Scottish Open where he switched into the M6.

Irons: TaylorMade GAPR Lo (@18.75), Srixon Z785 (4-iron, 23 degrees), TaylorMade P7TW (5-9)
Shafts: GAPR: Project X 6.5 (39.5 inches), 4-iron: Project X 6.5 (38.5 inches), 5-9: Project X 6.5 (38 inches @ 5-iron, minus 1/2 inch from there) (26, 30, 34, 38, 42 degrees)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 (47, 52, 55, 60 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Wedge notes: 48.10F (bent to 47) Tour chrome finish
52.08F raw
56.10 (bent 55) raw
60.08 raw

Putter: Odyssey White Hot Pro #3
Grip: Super Stroke Mid Slim 2.0


Quick thought: I do see a specific trend when it comes to free agents, and it’s mildly telling. Keep in mind I understand that it’s not 100 percent, but the trends are there.

In woods and wedges specifically, TaylorMade seems to be a popular choice in the overall woods category for non-signed players and Vokey is hands down the wedge of choice. Makes sense in my opinion, I’m not a big “best company” guy, but I do understand the choice. Both companies make and have made extremely high-performing sticks for many years. Consistency in anything is a hard opponent to beat. When Nike bounced out of clubs Rory, BK, Casey, and a few others put Vokeys straight in, and a BK and Casey put TM woods in the bag. (Just an example for context)

Anyway, Tommy Fleetwood is four back going into the final round. I have a weird feeling if it blows he could be holding a trophy.

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Equipment

Tiger Woods opts for lead tape on his Newport 2 rather than a heavier putter: Here’s why it makes sense

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After days of speculation about which putter Tiger Woods might end up with an attempt to tame the greens at Royal Portrush, we now officially know he settled on his old faithful GSS Scotty Cameron but with a twist—some added lead tape.

The whole reason the speculation was in high gear early in the week was because of Tiger was spotted with a new custom Scotty that had the Studio Select weights in the sole to increase head weight to help with slow greens, something Tiger has talked about in the past—especially when it comes to the greens at The Open Championship.

We can even look back a few years ago when Tiger finally put a Nike putter in play, the original Method (those were nice putters) and talked about both the increased head weight and the grooves on the face to help get the ball rolling on slower greens.

The decision to stick with the old faithful with added lead tape goes beyond just a comfort level, even if the two putters look the same at address, it’s about feel and MOI around the axis.

Let me explain. Sure the putter heads weight the same, but depending on where the mass is located it will change the MOI. The putter with the Select weights vs. lead tape in the middle will have a higher MOI because there is more weight on the perimeter of the head—it’s like a blade vs. cavity back iron. Sure, two 7-irons can weigh the same but the performance will vary significantly.

For a player with such deft feel like Tiger Woods, any change like that can could cause doubt. Tweaking an already great putting stroke and on the eve of the last major of the year is not really something you want to do, which is why it isn’t surprising he stuck with his legendary Newport 2.

Lead tape in the middle allows Tiger to increase the head weight with very little change to the natural rate of rotation for hit putter and hopefully manage the slower Portrush greens better.

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