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19th Hole

Highlights from our talk with the “King of Stamping,” Titleist’s Aaron Dill

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Aaron Dill, right-hand man to Bob Vokey himself and the “king of wedge stamping,” as Andrew Tursky called him, talked with the TG2 on a rare day off after spending the week attending to staffer’s needs at the Masters.

While the full 40-minute podcast is well worth a listen, we’re picking from the buffet to make you a plate of some of the best of the chat with Mr. Dill.

On Bernd Wiesberger’s Masters wedge…

The Austrian traditionally gives Dill a call prior to the Masters to dial in his set and discuss wedge stampings. “He’s really into that stuff, and so am I…it’s a collaborative process.” Interestingly, Dill says the actual wedge stamping doesn’t take nearly as long as the preparation. “That stamping took…five to 10 minutes tops,” Dill says. The process of actually applying the paint involves bottles with fine tips and little squeegees, then cleaning the wedge with a little acetone.

On players preparing for the Masters…

“We take into account that the conditions are so unique…Augusta National does such a great job of preparing the golf course…it’s just immaculate out there. Conditions are generally firm and fast.” Thus, “prep involves a little bit of sole testing, a little bit of bounce testing.” Players test different soles to deal with the firmness and want to be sure their grooves are fresh. The process starts a month or two before the event.

On common player changes at Augusta…

While the likes of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth don’t change much, according to Dill, some players, “I don’t want to say ‘panic,’ but when you get to the Masters, you want to play your best golf. Equipment preparation and golf course preparation is so important those first three days…Justin and Jordan will roll into the event with the same four pieces they played at every other event.” The only changes pertain to new wedges with fresh grooves.

On gaining players’ trust…

“Trust is earned over time. Spending time with them. Listening to them. Getting an idea what they want and what they need…I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been able to work with these guys since they were really young…I got to know Jordan Spieth when he was a high schooler. Being able to say that I spent all that time with those guys validates our relationship and the trust they put in me and Bob Vokey.”

On wedge grinding…

“Wedge grinding is understanding how to polish and ground and how the wheels work…it’s the combination of learning how to grind, but also, understanding what you’re grinding and why.” Dill says the ability to translate a player’s preferences into the wedge s/he wants is vital.

On learning grinding from Bob Vokey…

“Bob, would it be OK if I took a case of heads and just practiced?” Dill would ask. He would then take the heads from Vokey’s shop and practice grinds at his own truck and take them back to Vokey for feedback. Vokey would then mark up the wedges with Sharpie (like a teacher with a red pin), showing Dill what he needed to change. He’d then work with Vokey’s in-house polishers to refine things further and continue to learn.

Wedge grinding is “like a haircut: once you take it off, it’s not going to go back on there…you have to take your time and become one with the that machine.”

On turning wedges into what Tour players want…

“Tour players have these incredible eyes for things. You learn a lot about that when you’re polishing over time: what players are looking for and why, how you can turn a club from a tool into a piece of art…blending beauty and the things that are needed in the sole to produce the things they want.”

On the popularity of Vokey wedges…

“It’s a combination of beauty and technology. Bob will tell you, ‘we’re not going to sacrifice the aesthetics of the wedge.’…He doesn’t want to produce a product that isn’t stunning.” Dill adds, “the first thing we focus on is the aesthetics and the profile. Then, once we have the attractive profile, we’re going to start focusing on technology.” Dill adds the focus then turns to grooves, soles, and CG, “but beauty comes first.”

On developing grinds…

“With Tour players, we spend years testing with them…The D-grind is kind of this interesting play on bounce where you need it and playability where you need it…We call it the big brother to the M-grind…All of our grinds are inspired by what’s successful on Tour. The D for us has been a really big offering, especially when we’re on the East Coast due the the Bermuda grass, the sand-based soils, and the grain pattern.”

“We’ll use Jason Dufner as an example and the K-grind as an example. He said, ‘Hey I was hanging out with Tom Kite, and Tom had this wedge that was really cool, but I want to change this, that and the other thing…can you make that?’ After taking an oversized wedge to the shop floor and grinding, Dill produced the sole Dufner wanted. Dufner took the wedge out, played it, was successful with it, which led to more players asking for the grind. “That’s where the whole process starts,” Dill says. And if a wedge does well on Tour, the company then considers bringing it to retail. “But we certainly don’t just make stuff to make stuff,” Dill says, “that’s why the Tour is so important to us.”

On the importance of wedge fitting…

“It’s important to get out and test things…if you’re going to make an investment in your golf equipment, you might as well make sure that whatever you buy is right for you. Everybody’s different, and that’s why we make 27 different models in SM7.”

On Justin Thomas’ wedge stamping…

“When he was younger, he came out to our test site…he was hitting shots, and he was just peppering this flag. And they were like, “You’re like radar. Every single time it’s perfect.’ That’s how ‘radar’ started. When I first met Justin, he had that on the wedges. When he came out on Tour, I asked him if wanted to keep stamping it.” Thomas said he wanted to do something different, so Dill started stamping some lyrics from some of the songs Thomas was listening to. “And his short game kind of went down hill a little bit,” Dill says, and Thomas said, “On this next set…go back to ‘radar.’”

On memorable stampings and the process…

“Morgan [Hoffmann] is great because he always has new material for me. We would relate it to things that were going on in his life. Another great guy is Robert Streb…Darren Stiles is another funny guy…He did latitude/longitude coordinates on some of his clubs…I tell guys, ‘I don’t want to do initials, that’s boring. Let’s tell a story, let’s have some fun. Let’s be funny. Let’s be unique.” Dill says that sometimes players come up with ideas, and sometimes they leave it in his hands. “Ian Poulter, he would have just ‘IJP’ on there. One day we were talking about cars.” Poulter told him about his newest Ferrari: his 13th and asked if maybe Dill could fit the names of all 13 models on a wedge.

On his all-time favorite stamping…

“I did the 17th hole at Sawgrass for Robert Streb. That was really, really fun. I stamped the Valspar chameleon on something.”

On whether raw wedges actually spin more…

“Not necessarily. We did some great work on scoreline testing. Sometimes, when you cut your scorelines in and put a surface over the top, like a chrome or something like that, we describe it as folding a piece of paper in. Every time you fold a piece of paper in, it can become a bit softer. So, that’s where we got together with our vendors and realized there’s a better process for that…the perception is raw spins more. In our testing, it’s so small, it’s not that much.”

On who has the best short game on Tour…

“I think my favorite guy, who is just impressive with a wedge, is probably Jordan [Spieth]. He does everything well and is just so consistent. Now, there’s another guy I’ve enjoyed watching forever, he’s one of those guys that Tour players go to…for wedge advice: Brett Rumford.”

Listen to the full podcast here.

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19th Hole

Pat Perez: The R&A “do it right, not like the USGA”

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Pat Perez opened The Open, as it were, with a 2-under 69, and at the time of this writing, he’s 4 under for the second round and tied for the lead.

Clearly, there’s something Double P likes about links golf. And when he was asked whether he was surprised by how receptive the greens at Carnoustie were after his opening round, Perez shook his head with conviction and said.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA…They’ve got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you’ve got the greens receptive. They’re not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn’t. The course is just set up perfect.”

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”

Pat Perez has no problem speaking his mind. While it has gotten him in trouble in the past, you have to respect his candor. The interesting question, as I asked in the Morning 9, is how many Tour pros agree him?

Sure, it’s unlikely any of Perez’s compatriots will join him publicly in his “R&A does it right, USGA does it wrong” stance, but it’d be very interesting to know what percentage are of the same mind.

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19th Hole

68 at the British Open in the morning, golf with hickories at St Andrews in the afternoon

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Yes, golf fans, just another day in the charmed life (or week, at least) of one Brandon Stone.

Stoney (as I assume his friends call him), came to Carnoustie on the heels of a final-round 60 to win the Scottish Open. All he did in his opening round was fire a 3-under 68. Not bad!

But his Thursday to remember was only getting started as Stone made the 25-mile trip south to the Old Course to peg it…with a set of hickory clubs! Well played, sir, well played.

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19th Hole

Jean van de Velde’s 1999 British Open collapse is still tough to watch in LEGO form

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Gather ‘round, golf fans, for the saddest British Open story ever told–in LEGOs.

Maestro of the plastic medium, Jared Jacobs, worked his singular magic on Jean van de Velde’s notorious final-hole collapse at Carnoustie in 1999.

The interlocking plastic brick cinema begins after van de Velde’s approach shot has caromed off a grandstand railing to land on the opposite side of the Barry Burn.

 

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19th Hole

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