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I did that! An interview with Driver vs. Driver winner Eric Sillies

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A $50 pair of shoes! That was the big extravagance for Eric Sillies after winning the $500,000 prize on Golf Channel’s television show Driver vs. Driver presented by Wilson. That might make him sound dull, but after talking to him recently, I’ve learned he’s anything but. I spent almost an hour chatting to him about life since Wilson chose his driver, Triton, to be the company’s flagship model for 2017.

It been more than a month since the Triton hit shelves at golf retailers, and aside from a non-conformity hiccup with the USGA (which has since been resolved) the initial reaction to the driver has been very positive. A lot of people followed the show and liked the concept, and many have been curious enough to find their way to a store to try a Triton.

Sillies isn’t privy to the current sales numbers, but he did say that Wilson seems to be very happy with the exposure so far. The feedback he’s received since launch has been mostly about how forgiving the driver is in the hands of ordinary golfers, which makes him very satisfied.

“Its always great to get direct feedback from real golfers,” Eric said. “To see trends and patterns of feedback that focus on key benefits, it translates theory into reality.”

Wilson_triton_pieces

Related: See more in-hand photos of the Triton driver

In terms of his relationship with the company moving forward, Sillies is on the Wilson Advisory Staff for the foreseeable future and will be at the upcoming PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando later this month. And in talking to him, he is a great ambassador for Wilson, mixing enthusiasm with professionalism. But for now he is back to his day job in Cincinnati with LPK, a global product design agency.

Since winning, Sillies has had a lot of press interviews and speaking engagements, far more than he ever envisaged. “Work has been great, giving me time to deal with all these commitments,” he said. “But I’m still focused on my day job.” The word grounded springs to mind when talking with Sillies.

Driver v DriverAs for the Driver vs. Driver show itself, Sillies said it was surprisingly authentic and pretty true to what appeared on people’s screens. A few of his early ideas got dropped, but Sillies is used to the iterative process involved in product design and understood that there are a lot of restrictions in play because of USGA rules.

Sillies had some concepts on a modified grip and his initial weighting idea was based on a sliding rail. He also had some ideas on innovative weighting fins to improve aerodynamics. They were built into an early prototype, but analysis by Wilson Labs showed that they had no impact on aerodynamics so again the idea was canned. And his original name for the driver, “Manta,” was switched to Triton along the way. He said both he and Wilson were very happy with the final product, which is arguably the most adjustable driver in the industry.

During the 12-month process of filming and airing the TV show, Sillies said he felt very much felt a part of the Wilson Golf team. He got to meet and work closely with a bunch of people from Wilson, including Wilson Golf’s General Manager Tim Clarke. Clarke called him first thing in the morning before the news broke about the non-conformity issue.

He also met PGA Tour player Kevin Streelman, who endorses and uses Wilson Golf equipment. “It was only when the cameras were off and I spent some time one on one with him that I found out how genuine [Streelman] was,” Eric said. “He gave me a bunch of advice and very useful feedback on my designs.”

Sillies also praised Michael Vrska, Wilson’s Global Director of Golf R&D, as a great guy and crucial to his success. “Mike and his team got the club through from the design prototyping stage to the finished product, with the rendering, design graphics, production, sales and marketing, Sillies said. “He is hugely knowledgeable and very experienced at what works and what doesn’t work.”

Sillies on Fairways of Life with Matt Adams.

Sillies on Fairways of Life with Matt Adams.

Talking about Vrska led Sillies to admit how much of a huge learning curve there was in the process, and how much stress there was in the relatively short time frame from concept to launch. Sillies said Vrska allowed him to be central in the process all the way through. “This is your club, you need to decide,” Vrska reminded him.

Sillies nearly didn’t enter the competition at all, but for a work colleague suggesting it to him. Not being much of a golfer, he relied on his product design skills honed at LPK. He had some golf pedigree, working as an intern at Dick’s Sporting Goods and designing the aesthetic direction for its 2012 Nickent golf club line. But in terms of a brand new club concept it was new ground, so he resorted to his mantra of making things better by making better things.

In the few weeks before the entry deadline approached, Sillies spent time during his lunch breaks and at night researching golf instruction videos. He had three main ideas. One was to put a white spot on the top of the club that was the width of the ball to show golfers where they should make contact.

“It’s so hard to hit a golf ball anyway that setting up well is a big part of it,” Sillies said. “I thought, why isn’t there a club that’s solving for that? So I decided to make one.”

He also added a removable piece that attached at the bottom of the club, which could adjust the weight of the club at several different points to fit a golfer’s swing. Both ideas ultimately made it to the final product.

Finally, he wanted the most aerodynamic club he could find. He said he was inspired to come up with an aerodynamic design by animals, specifically a manta ray. His driver wound up being the most aerodynamic of any on the show.

Wilson_Triton_address

Surprising, Sillies doesn’t yet have a final version of a Triton driver to call his own, but he was recently fitted and is expecting one soon. He called being fit for a driver he designed “a surreal experience.” Did he enjoy being on camera and being the center of attention?

“To my surprise, I found I loved it.” he said. “Everyone was so nice, so helpful and supportive. It couldn’t have been a better experience for me. I would encourage anyone to go through the same experience.”

So what did he think was the coolest thing in the whole process?

“To me it is being able to now go into a golf store with friends and see my driver on the shelves and knowing that people across the country are going to be playing it and thinking, ‘I did that!'” he said.

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Joey

    Mar 1, 2017 at 11:10 am

    That would be so sweet to make tour own club.

  2. Chris C.

    Jan 24, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    The local GG now has the conforming Tritons. With one 6 gram and two 2 gram weights, the swingweight was C-6. If you go with a two 6 gram and one 2 gram configuration, you can get the club up to C-8. Does anyone recall a major OEM release with a lighter swingweight? Anything close? It is a shame that this club has been ruined.

  3. chip

    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Hey Mark, if you ever decide to write another article, use Spell Check and Grammar Check. That was a disaster.

  4. Ccshop

    Jan 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Happy someone could fulfill there’s dreams and get a product on such a competitive market. That being said, hitting the driver in person, ugly look and ugly numbers. Don’t know how successful this driver will be at the price point

  5. Chris C.

    Jan 21, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Unfortunately, Wilson’s decision to eliminate the 12 gram weights makes use of the carbon sole plate impractical. That is, unless you like swing weights lower than D-0.

  6. Dat

    Jan 21, 2017 at 2:01 am

    Good for him! Shame the USGA caused this product to be a slight downer on launch, but otherwise a decent 1st attempt at crowd-sourcing design.

  7. Fah Q

    Jan 20, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    USGA deemed it non-conforming. Therefore Wilson had to remove them from store shelves and change the design. Does he feel like he should give his money back and give it to the other guy who lost who would have won legitimately?

  8. Jim

    Jan 20, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    The show was a little contrived but overall pretty fun to see how the design process works with golf clubs. I hope the club does well but Wilson really needs to step up their marketing and endorsements if they expect any big sales. I’m a little surprised that Wilson didn’t offer Sillies a job though, especially as he is already in product design. At least he got the money for the rights to his club design.

  9. Matt

    Jan 20, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Most aerodynamic driver on the show? I know you have to put stuff like that in this article to make Wilson Golf happy, but you’re ruining your credibility. Re-watch the show and you’ll clearly see it wasn’t even close to the most aerodynamic. Did you know it also didn’t meet USGA regulations as well?

  10. Weston Maughan

    Jan 20, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Eric is a genuine guy! I enjoyed competing against him on the show. Glad to see Streelman play the Triton on the PGATour this week too!

  11. Tom Duckworth

    Jan 20, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I’m really looking forward to how it tests out with the golfing press. I can’t think of a driver that you could do more with to change it around to fit you and change the sound as well. Not too many drivers you can get right inside of. I just hope it gets a fair test. I thought the show was a bit underwhelming but maybe a good driver in the end.

  12. Kevin

    Jan 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Mark, just curious if you were able to watch the show. There was a large portion of an episode on aerodynamics, and the Triton was not the most aerodynamic by quite a bit. Just want to make sure consumers are getting the right information. Thanks!

  13. Jeremy

    Jan 20, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    So how much of the final product was Eric’s and how much was Wilson’s?

  14. TexasSnowman

    Jan 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    great personal story, but I don’t think it will sell.

  15. S Hitter

    Jan 20, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    How does he feel about the design being judged to be non-conforming by the USGA, after all the trouble that the show’s producers went into hammering that point home to all the designers during the production phases in the show?

  16. Rat

    Jan 20, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Great interview, I think he still may have ideas that could work with the Wilson Team guiding him.
    I enjoyed the show and I am in process selecting may driver combination from Wilson’s Triton. So many shafts to choose from is great and most at no up charge. AWESOME…
    How about a fairway wood design for the future?

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
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So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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