Vikash Sanyal, now the President of Brainstorm Golf and inventor of the Happy Putters — possibly the most aesthetically differentiable putters on the market — got his start as a founding member of the Odyssey Golf Team where he helped the company launch industry-changing product after industry-changing product. He was there when Odyssey flipped the putter industry on its head, and he developed the skills to later build the Never Compromise company, where he shook up the industry again. After a hiatus from the industry since selling Never Compromise, Sanyal has reemerged by developing Brainstorm Golf. He’s attempting to make a splash in the waters of the putter market once again, highlighted by his lie-angle, loft-, offset- and head-weight-adjustable putters launched in 2015.
This time around, however, Sanyal has noticed things have changed; from buying habits of golfers to the equipment market in general. He’s also used feedback from GolfWRX members to help shape his newest products, the Eye Align Series that will sell for significantly less than his original release; that’s because he’s listened to the market, consumer, and GolfWRXers.
Check out the Q&A with Sanyal conducted via email by our Andrew Tursky below for more information, and see more photos and discussion of the new Happy Putter Eye Align Series putters here.
Andrew Tursky: How has the putter industry changed from when you first started working with Odyssey until now?
Vikash Sanyal: Wow, that’s a broad question! It’s changed in many ways. From a manufacturer’s perspective, there has been more consolidation. When we started Odyssey, the market was dominated by Ping, but there were quite a few smaller companies that were emerging. Now the market is dominated by the larger manufacturers who own their own putter brands. One result of this consolidation is that it is much more difficult to gain traction on the professional golf tours. In the old days, almost all the tour players were open to work with, but now most of them are getting paid to use putters through their equipment companies. That being said, one thing that hasn’t changed is that a new technology that can help performance will always have an opportunity to make an impact with tour players. That is why we are excited to bring our new Eye Align Series with adjustable alignment and adjustable weight to the tour, as it addresses the main weaknesses that most golfers have, poor alignment and inconsistent distance control.
Another change that is noteworthy is the shift in the retail environment and consumer purchasing habits. In today’s market, the consumer is so much more educated because of their access to information through the internet. When we started Odyssey, most of our business was through green grass locations, and we relied heavily on the PGA professionals to share our story. Now the majority of the business is generated through off-course shops, and the consumers are coming in looking for the product they want. Another byproduct of consumers being more informed is that direct online sales are much more prominent.
The last change that I want to comment on is that the pricing in the putter category has gone through the roof and it makes us feel badly for the consumers. At Brainstorm Golf, we are challenging ourselves to not only be the most innovative putter company, but also to offer those innovations at a price that all golfers can afford. Consumers shouldn’t have to pay $300 plus to get an innovative putter. We believe our putters are the most innovative on the market at any price point, they just happen to sell for $129.99. This doesn’t diminish the fact that our adjustable technologies are the most unique and impactful technologies offered in the last decade.
AT: How do the increasing prices of putters in the current market affect how golfers purchase putters? Is this a positive or a negative?
VS: The main effect has been that many golfers have stopped buying new putters. The market size has shrunk by over 50 percent in the last decade. It isn’t a coincidence that the average selling price for putters has increased by over $100 during this time frame. Golfers are smart, they look at the putter technologies that have been offered to them over the past decade and they see many recycled technologies. It isn’t that these putters haven’t been great, but the technologies that they offer have been seen before, and even if they are slightly better, the problem is, they are only slightly better, and golfers ask themselves, “is it really worth $350 for something that is only a little better than what I already have?” The challenge for manufacturers is developing meaningful technologies at affordable prices that are unique.
Is it positive or negative? Well that depends on your perspective. From a manufacturer and retailer perspective, it’s a negative because they are selling much less than before. However, I think it is a positive for consumers for them to make a stand and basically challenge manufacturers to be more innovative. At Brainstorm Golf, we were forced to listen, our first products were innovative, but they were also in the $300 range. As we studied the market information and listened to the customer feedback, we knew we had to develop a product unlike anything else, make sure the technology was real, and also make sure the putter was affordable. While it wasn’t easy, we did it, and while it’s only been a couple of months, we have already sold more of our new Eye Align Series with adjustable alignment and adjustable weight than we did all last year. The fact that the putters sell for $129.99 is a large factor in our initial success.
AT: You say the market has shrunk for putters by over 50 percent in the last decade. Is this particular to putters, or is the market shrinking for golf clubs in general?
VS: According to Golf Datatech, the industry’s measuring stick when it comes to research, the majority of categories in the golf market have reduced in size over the past decade, but putters have experienced the most dramatic reduction. Again, we think this is a statement being made by consumers that are demanding more innovation at a reasonable price.
AT: What was the specific feedback you were hearing from customers or Tour players about previous Happy Putters, and what have you changed other than the price point?
The main message was simplification. For the tech crazies, they loved the Happy Putter with all the adjustable features. However, many tour players, retailers, and consumers asked us to clean up the look of the putter and simplify the technology. We actually need to thank your readers that posted reviews in your equipment forums because their comments influenced our product development. People often ask me what the breakthrough moment at Odyssey was, and it’s easy to say when Nick Faldo won the Masters, but I actually think the breakthrough moment occurred a couple of years earlier when we found a way to get our technology, “better feel,” into more traditional shapes. Odyssey really started to gain momentum on tour and the market place when we launched the original Dual Force series that were traditional shapes with the Stronomic insert. It’s the same thing we are experiencing with the early momentum of the Eye Align Series, new and innovative technology, that is much different than anything else being offered, contained within traditional shapes. If a golfer can take a shape they already like and make it easier to align and easier to control distance, why wouldn’t they?
AT: How did the GolfWRX community specifically influence product development in the new Eye Align Series?
VS: We have a lot of respect for your audience, mostly because of their passion for equipment. One of the best things about your audience is that they are brutally honest, but that is a good thing. As a new company, one of the challenges is being open minded to constructive criticism without being so sensitive that you are always jumping around and overreacting to every negative opinion you receive. We read every review and comment that appeared on your website, and there was some very specific feedback regarding design and function that directly influenced our Eye Align Series. For example, many of your readers felt the technology was “too complicated,” this led us to simplify and focus our efforts on alignment and distance control, the two most important aspects of putting. We also recall comments that your readers didn’t like the way the putter looked at address, so we decided to offer our adjustable technologies within more traditional shapes taking away another barrier.
Another thing I love about your readers is that they are not afraid to mix it up within themselves. For every criticism we received, there were readers who defended the product, which we really appreciated. Ultimately, your readers are very well informed and have great input. In fact, the changes they suggested, were very much in line with the feedback we have received from tour players.
AT: So tell me about the new product(s) and technology, and how you think it will help golfers play better.
The best technologies are the simple ones that have the most impact. When you think about putting, it’s pretty simple. If you align accurately and you control your distance well, you are going to be a good putter. The Happy Putter is the only putter on the market that allows golfers to dial in those two features. The most common problem on the greens is poor alignment, if you can’t see the line properly, your mind knows this subconsciously, and you don’t commit to the stroke, causing deceleration, and ultimately resulting in poor, inconsistent putting. The reason we believe the Eye Align Series is the best alignment putter ever made is that every golfer can adjust the alignment to fit their individual visual tendencies. I’ve personally witnessed numerous tour players improve their alignment by simply changing their alignment guide, some see lines better, others shapes, colors vs. black and white also matters. Even the width of the alignment lines can have an impact. The bottom line is that for the first time ever, golfers don’t have to guess what they see best, they can try the different guides, and through our visual diagnostic test, which can be found on our website, they can know what they see most accurately. Just think how much better golfers will putt if they know they are lined up accurately. They would only have to focus on their distance control, and we all know, the less you think on the greens the better.
We also firmly believe that “Lazy Eye Syndrome” is real, if it wasn’t, putters wouldn’t go stale. Over time, golfers get tired of looking at the same alignment features, they focus less, and they don’t putt as well. Our alignment system allows golfers to “reboot” their eyes. Before that meant golfers would buy a new putter or pull an old one out of the garage. Now they just need to change their alignment guide, so the feel of the putter stays the same even though the look is new.
Likewise with the adjustable weights. Every golfer has a swing tempo for their putter, and with the Happy Putter you can adjust the weights to find the best weight for your individual swing tempo and be much more consistent with your distance control.
It’s simple, but it works.
AT: I also understand you have a new “multi-alignment guide” system. Can you explain how this system works, and what benefit it may have for golfers?
It’s really quite simple. Every golfer, for that matter, every person has personal visual tendencies. Colors vs. black and white, lines vs. shapes. Digging even deeper, there is a difference between thick lines and thin lines, and also between what types of shapes are preferred. We have developed a system that allows golfers to “diagnose” their individual visual preferences. The cool thing is that no matter what your preference, we have a guide that will help you line up more accurately than ever before. Our putter comes with three guides, but starting this fall, we will be offering an additional 12 guides to choose from, and we expect that number to grow. It’s also a great way to fight Lazy Eye Syndrome, rather than buying a new putter, just buy a new set of alignment guides at a fraction of the price. We’ve started sharing this technology with the tour players and the response has been great. First there was curiosity because we are offering something that no other putter has, but that curiosity quickly shifts into excitement as for the first time, these tour players understand their natural visual tendencies. The technology is real, and we’ve witnessed that the results are immediate. Just imagine how much better a player can putt if they only need to think about distance control because they know they are lined up accurately.
AT: What does the future hold for Happy Putter as the putter industry continues to evolve?
Our goal has always remained the same, to help as many golfers as possible by offering the most innovative technologies in the putter category. There is a reason that the putter market has experienced a massive reduction in size. Golfers are smart, and they motivate our team to make putters that offer impactful technologies that have never been seen before. Not incremental advances or recycled technologies, but rather major steps forward that will make golfers take notice. Having done this a couple of times before, we realize there is no room for ego in building a market leader. The breakthrough ideas may come from tour players, our retail partners, consumers, and yes, GolfWRX forum posters. But we don’t care who gets the credit, we just want to make the best putters in the industry.