Our Johnny Wunder chatted with Larry Bobka, longtime Titleist Tour rep and club builder, last week for his inaugural Gear Dive podcast. While Wunder’s hour-long podcast is well worth a listen, many GolfWRX members asked for a transcript of the talk, and we’re happy to provide it (all ~8,000 words!), as we continue to refine the content mix members want.
A huge thank you to Larry’s wife Melissa for taking the time to transcribe the podcast!! Enjoy the transcription below.
In the spirit of this show, we are going to get into some deep dives on your career and your experience working with some of the top players in the world and just kind of get into it. I think we’ll just start from the beginning if you don’t mind. If you can elaborate a little bit on where you came from and how we ended up here on this podcast at this point. If you just want to give us the Cliffs Notes of your life
“Basically, I grew up in the Chicagoland area with being a pretty decent high school junior golfer. I played in college. I wasn’t a very good student, so college wasn’t really my thing. The golf course that I grew up at, I ended up becoming a golf professional there and did a lot of teaching. Through that I started understanding what it took to get people to play better. We’re talking early 80’s, so it was kind of the infancy of club fitting.”
“I then had the great fortune in 1984, to go to work for Wilson. I worked for Bob Mandrella and Joe Phillips, two of the legends in this industry as far as promotion and club design. I was very fortunate to design some product and work with some of the best players in the world. I was very fortunate to meet before they died, Sarazen, Patty Byrd, Snead, Venturi…I really had a good chance to meet a lot of the real legends of the game. That was still ’91. From ‘91 to ’95 I helped start UST, the graphite shaft company, which was great. Then from 1995 to 2014 I ran Golf Club Promotion for Titleist out of Carlsbad, California.”
Quick question for you…Actually let’s go back to the Wilson days if you don’t mind. Just to kind of start there. I know it’s 1984 – 1991… I don’t know and I could be misquoting this, but you were involved with the Whale Driver that Daly won the PGA Championship with and he was, I believe at the time, he was in that driver and playing a Ping set of irons I believe.
“Yeah, but, just to correct you, Payne Stewart won the PGA with the Whale driver. He won the ‘89 PGA at Kemper Lakes with the Whale.”
Gotcha. Were you involved, with the zero iron with John Daly? Was that under your umbrella? Were you long gone by that point?
“John had just started. John had just come on the radar. Wilson had signed him and I then left to go to UST. Then at UST, because John was playing graphite, we signed a deal with him to play the Firestick shaft. So yeah, I was still very much involved with John back then. I did not make the zero irons for him, but I know very well of it.”
What was it like working with Mandrella? You know at that time you were working at Wilson with Payne Stewart. I think Bernhardt Langer was the staff guy there.
“You know you’re working with some guys, just to use those two as an example, those are two pretty discerning, not easily adjustable players. Payne Stewart, from what I’ve heard was very challenging to get out of a club and into a new one, especially at that time. Bernhardt Langer, if you go look at his bag pics now he’s still playing a set of irons he was playing from when he was a kid…from what it looks like.”
What is it like working with guys like that at that time? Obviously the environment has changed drastically these days. But back in the day for a guy like you, what does that process look like bringing something new to a player like that? What’s that like? I mean is it, are you only bringing stuff to those guys if you know it’s something they’ll play? Are you bringing every new offering to them? How does that work?
“Well, let’s use Payne as an example to start. He came in and he was signed more for Wilson as an umbrella because at the time he was wearing the NFL clothing. The NFL football, Payne was really, it was important for him to play the golf clubs but it was more important from an NFL/Wilson brand standpoint.”
“So, Payne came in the first day, and at the time I believe he was playing an old set of Cobra blades. He basically came in the first day and didn’t even bring his golf clubs and said, ‘Well, you know, you’re going to build me something.’”
“We had a room that we liked to call ‘The Cage’. The Cage was basically a 25’ x 25’ locked cage that had, at the time, ground wedges, sets of irons, and persimmon woods because it was 1984, that we had built for the players. Basically most of them were all uncut and ungripped. There were a few finished sets of popular models that guys played on Tour.”
“He basically just walked in there and pulled a set off the rack, looked at it and said, ‘These will work.’ Well, I’ll build you a set. ‘No. These will work.’ So we basically just cut ‘em, gripped ‘em and sent him on his way with a set of irons and made him up a couple wedges. He was not easy to get into stuff, but he wasn’t real, real picky as far as blade shape and offset. He was picky with loft and lie, but the other stuff didn’t really matter that much to him.”
Wow! That’s interesting. I mean I think, just in my own research, you know, you and I have talked a little bit about my history of digging in deep into what these guys are doing. I remember when he switched over from the Top Flite and was transitioning into that. It was a big ‘To Do’ because he went from a forged blade into a cavity back, and what was that going to look like? That was at the time when signing a player to a club company was actually in the news. Typically you would show up at the Mercedes Benz Championship or the Tournament of Champions and if a guy had a staff hat on and all of a sudden he had a Titleist hat on, that’s how you knew he got new clubs.
Payne has always been an interesting case for me because, you know, even when he won the Open, I guess it was in ’99, he was playing an old beat up set of Mizuno’s. Just a kind of thrown together set to the outsider looking in. But obviously, it was something he was comfortable with. That’s the kind of stuff you had firsthand knowledge of ‘the Why and the How’. You know Why something would go into somebody’s bag.
Take me to another staff player from that era, somebody like Bernhardt Langer. What was he like to work with? Did you have a lot of interaction knowing that he was a European player? Did you have a lot of interaction with somebody like that, or was that more for the guys overseas?
“No. No. We had a lot of interaction with him. Bernhardt was one of the guys that loved to have a full offset. I mean we had to bend extra offset into his golf clubs because he really liked, and because of the way he’s swinging, it’s a unique action. It’s not what you would call a classic move, but it’s a very, very efficient golf swing that, as you know, it has lasted the test of time. He was very much into offset almost as much offset as a set of Ping I2’s. That’s what he found that worked the best for him. He was also very much into playing Hogan Apex shafts, and in those days, back in the ‘80’s, True Temper was making the Apex and it wasn’t readily available. You couldn’t order a set from True Temper. So, I probably shouldn’t go into some of the ways we got shafts for him, but we did.”
It’s like organized crime. If things fall off the truck we use them. That’s interesting. I know that you speak of offset, which I think is a weird thing. When I see pics of his bag he had a Ping I2 1 iron in line with the rest of his Wilson blades, which I always thought was kind of a funny transition. You know, you didn’t see it all that often. Interesting to know that the offset was his preference.
Okay, so we’re going to keep going down the line here. So then you go from Wilson. You briefly touched on going to work for UST. UST is a big company today. You’re involved in so many Easter Eggs that probably still live in some of the shaft offerings that we see today in that company. You know, what kind of stuff were you working on with them in that time frame?
“At the time the Loomis shaft was pretty hot in irons. You had Davis playing them and Tommy Armour 845’s, and a lot of guys trying heavier graphite shafts. We came out with the Tour Weight Line which was about the same weight as the Loomis shaft but I thought was better designed. It was really a much better shaft. Those were there. We made the shaft called the IT which actually, Couple used for a while. It was a counterbalanced shaft, which was before anybody talked about counterbalancing a graphite shaft. We worked on a lot of things before it came to market. The Pro Force, the Laker shaft, the yellow and purple…whatever you want to call it. We started working on that there and then we did so much. That was the time we did so much work for OEM’s where I did so many different programs where you could take a blank and turn it into four or five flexes so they didn’t have to buy four different shafts. They could buy one shaft and based upon how they tipped it they could use it. Having worked at Wilson I understood the difficulty of buying, the expense, and making it easier for production to have a blank that made more than one flex.”
Wow! Interesting. Really interesting. Obviously with the Laker shaft it was probably a nice thing to see in probably ’98 or ’99. To my recollection, I think it was Sergio that won the Byron Nelson or finished second in the Byron Nelson with a Laker shaft he put in his 975 which is the first time I saw it, and then I think Furyk had it in there as well.
So, it’s probably a nice thing to see that some of the guys you were working with at that time transitioning into that. You know…a shaft that you had thumbprints on. Kind of an interesting transition where your past comes to knock on your door again.
“Well, it was interesting because Larry Bodle, who hired me, who started UST, he was the Senior Vice President of True Temper for years. When he decided to leave there and start UST with the guys from Mamiya over in Japan, he called me up and we went through that. When I left to go to Titleist about a year…year and a half later, he said, ‘I’m going to FedEx you a shaft. It’s the Pro Force. We finished it. We’ve got an idea on the color. I respect your opinion and I’m going to FedEx.’ When I opened the box the first time I saw it, I called him and said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’
“But, you know, I was involved with the Firestick back at Wilson, the red and black. TaylorMade back in the day had the Flex Twist which was silver and black. So there were colored shafts but nobody ever really wanted to go to that extreme without taking black out of a shaft because they were worried. As a graphite shaft company, as your battling, I understood the reasons why. Having helped start it and knowing the difficulties you had, he really made a great decision, and quite frankly that was probably a decision that a lot of people wouldn’t have the guts to do. Larry to this day is still a great friend. He runs KBS and FST. He helps design putter shafts for us here at ARGOLF so it’s been a great relationship. Larry and I have known each other, well he knew my kids before they were my kids and that’s been 31 years.”
Oh wow. So you guys are old friends is what you’re trying to tell me.
We’re going to transition now into the meat and potatoes of your career, with all due respect to 1995 to 2014. Your story is interesting because you had (we’ll get to Tiger in a second), you had an opportunity to, when you first got to Titleist in ’95, you were there for that transition with Davis from the Tommy Armour into a Titleist club. Where I believe, this is where some of our tech geeks are really going to go crazy, I believe in ’95 he played in the Masters and I think he was using a set of Mizuno’s. I believe in the Ryder Cup that year he went back to the 845’s for the Ryder Cup and I think he was sort of in that weird area where he was just about ready to go to Titleist. You had an interesting opportunity to work with a player that was sort of open to any head shape or anything. He went from an 845 which was basically a Ping I2 to a Mizuno MP29, back into an 845. Then you get handed the responsibility to try and find the Titleist club for this guy. What was that like…the early days with Davis? I mean what did that look like? When he shows up at your door or the first time your phone rings and it’s Davis Love III. You’re responsible for figuring out how to get 14 clubs in this guys bag. Where does that conversation begin? What does that sound like?
“Well, at the time Wally Uihlein picked up the phone or sent me an email and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to sign Davis and we’re going to make him a golf club.’ Basically it was, make him whatever we need to make him. Find out what was going on. I knew Davis a little bit from my Wilson days and the UST days. I didn’t really know him all that well. I actually flew down to St. Simon’s Island, Sea Island and spent a couple days with him. Actually the first day I was there Freddy was there staying at his house. I basically spent the first day just sitting talking to Davis and Freddy a little bit talking about golf clubs. With them being such good friends, Freddy actually had some insight into what he had seen with shots from Davis. Freddy left on Monday night. The next day Davis and I went out and played golf at Ocean Forest, which at the time I don’t even think was quite opened yet, so we got to go out there and play. We spent some time and just talked. We talked about what he liked and what he didn’t like from the 845’s to the Mizunos’ and kind of what he wanted to see in a golf club.”
“I remember one thing back from my career back at Wilson. Joe Phillips one time brought Toney Penna in before Toney passed on and helped me with wood woods. Toney always told me that if I wanted to be good at making clubs for Tour players I had to learn to ‘Look, Listen and Copy’. So, I just sat there and looked, and listened and tried to copy what I thought he wanted.”
“I was very fortunate that Titleist was willing to do whatever it takes to make him a golf club. I got some large, oversized forgings from Japan. I did a lot of grind work on it. Took it over to a machine shop local in Carlsbad, got some cavities cut in and basically made him the set of golf clubs that he won the PGA with. I believe he won the Buick, back in the day it was at Torrey, he won at Torrey with that set I believe.”
Yes. I believe it was ’96, correct me if I’m wrong, but he sort of played those for a little while, but he would swap out…this is all based on my Getty Images that I would geek out on and go back and look, but he swapped in and out for a little while until he finally settled on those in ’97. He played those all year, didn’t he? But he won.
“Yeah. He did. It was a transition. Part of the transition for him was also going from…You’ve got to remember, back in college he was a Ping I2 player. He was a cast guy in college. Part of the issue that he had was going up and back between the feel of the cast club and the feel of the forged club. He ultimately knew that he was going to play his best golf with a forged club, but it took him some time to figure that out.”
“Fortunately I had the luxury that things didn’t have to be done right away. We gave him a year to actually transition into the golf club. He did it before then. But it was a full time effort and I spent a lot of time on a grinding wheel and spent a lot of time watching him hit balls and spent a lot of time walking practice rounds. You know, getting him comfortable with the golf club, getting him comfortable with Titleist, and getting him comfortable with me.”
Right. So let me ask you questions. I’ve been to Tour events. I’ve seen reps follow players. When you guys get huddled up in the middle of the fairway, the player pulls the club out…what’s the conversation like? Is it like the pitcher and the coach at the mound? When you are at the fairway talking to these guys at the practice round and you’re discussing, is it, “How’s everything going? How does it feel? Or is it like this thing is, the 7 iron keeps going left and we’re going to have to bend it up or left or down or whatever?” What kinds of conversations are taking place? Is there a stock conversation that happens for you when you’re out there with those guys or is it not? I mean, is it just different every single time?
“It can be different every time. It’s a fairly stock discussion and again I’ll refer back to my Wilson days because I learned so much. I still remember working and doing some ball and club testing with Hale Irwin. Hale is still a good friend to this day. Hale would sit there and go, ‘You know, Larry, I don’t care about the engineering (he used more flowery language than that). I don’t really care about the engineering. I don’t really care about all the components. All I care about is when I put that golf club down behind the ball, when I’ve got to hit a 5 iron on the 72nd hole at the United States Open, I’ve got to like the way that golf club looks, and I have to be confident that it’s going to perform the way it’s swung.’ If you take that as the mantra for working with Tour Players, then the conversations become, ‘How is the set feeling? What’s happening? Are the long irons performing the way they’re supposed to? Are the short irons? Are there any tendencies there?’ Then you end up working at the point where the shape is right, but do we need to do a little work on the sole? Does it need a little more offset? Are the lofts okay? Their expectation is when they hit a golf shot, they look up at that window of where the trajectory is supposed to be. If it’s not in that window, then we have to fix something.
“It sounds kind of basic, but it’s just like a 15 handicapper who buys a new hybrid or buys a new set of irons. Your expectation when you swing and when you look up, you want to see that ball in your window, your flight window. That’s exactly what Tour Players want.”
Right. And that’s what ultimately builds trust, which is the ultimate compliment I think of any player talking about their clubs, is that they trust them.
We’re going to transition from Davis. Quick question on working with David Duval. I know before Vokey came on the scene, you had your own line of forged wedges that were kind of the Bobka introduction into wedges. Some beautiful wedges. I don’t know if our listeners really remember. I do. I actually had the Faxon wedge. It was literally because it was an imported wedge and I had never seen one before. I thought it was a really cool thing to have a wedge with holes in it because I saw Freddy at a tournament with holes in his wedge, so I felt like I needed one too.
“What was that process like? That was an interesting…I don’t want to say it went under the radar, but it’s sort of a time in Titleist, I think a lot of it has to do with how strong Vokey came on and how popular that got really quickly. What was that process like? I mean, developing those wedges in that initiative for you, that had to be not only interesting but actually kind of nerve wracking. It’s like introducing a book or a painting out to the world.”
What was that like for you with those wedges
“The thing about it was, when I got there, I basically had to kind of take stock of what we had. At the time they were making DCI’s. They were working on Titanium with the Howitzer. They had Starship Metalwoods. The line of Titleist golf clubs, although fairly popular in performance, weren’t exactly called ‘players golf clubs’. So I basically took stock of what we had. We were going to sign these players. We were talking with Tiger, talking with Davis, they wanted to sign Duval coming out. Now you’re looking and going, ‘What do I have to make golf clubs with? What can I find quickly to make golf clubs with? And then we’ll see what to do.’ “
“I actually took a flight from California to Millington, Tennessee where Hoffman Forge is, which used to make golf clubs for years and years for Wilson. I went down there and saw what they had from a standpoint of wedges and said, ‘Hey, I don’t have any wedges for anybody.’ They had two or three open models that I could purchase and make some golf clubs out of. So that basically came out of the need for these players wanting some wedges.
One last question before I get to Tiger. What was it like working with David Duval?
“From an equipment standpoint, he was always very interesting to me, as are a lot of players, but, he seemed like somebody that…I know how discerning a palate Tiger Woods has, but Duval, oddly enough, to me seemed like a guy that was very, very in tune with his clubs, as well. Specifically, the action that he had was very unique. He was also a great striker of the golf ball and seemed to really have a true understanding of what he needed to do to win. What was it like working with him from a builder’s standpoint? He was in the 962B’s and the old DCI 2 and 3 iron forever before he switched to Nike. What was he like to work with? I mean was he a guy that you had to pay a lot of attention to? Or was he kind of like a lone wolf?
“No, no. He needed, like any top player, you needed to pay attention to him. He was really good to work with. He really was where the 962 B’s came from because the 962 DCI was a little bit too much sole weighted. It was a little too big, a little bit too much offset. So we ended up making the B’s basically for him. If you look at a set of B’s the sole is really…the back part of the heel is really pulled down.”
Right. I played them for three years. The best irons I ever had. It was the best irons I ever played when I was playing a lot were those. I bored holes in the middle of them so I can personally relate to those irons.
“Yeah. So that was a lot of work because of his action, because of his face being closed at the top and him holding on through. He didn’t like any heel in the golf club. Especially when he got into firmer conditions, if he had some heel in the golf club, the club would tend to turn left and he couldn’t get that little baby fade that he tried to hit. For him, the sole and the lie of the golf club are very important. It was extremely important for him being kind of a low launcher. That’s why the 2 and the 3 iron were always the DCI B’s because they had sole weight and they flew up in the air better for him. So from a standpoint of working with him, it’s just unique. Everybody is just so different as far as their actions and what they need.”
“A lot of times you’d make a set of golf clubs for somebody and go, ‘Oh man, I love those things.’ And somebody would try them at a practice round and say, ‘Make me a set.’ I’d make them a set and about a week later I’d get a phone call and they’d say, ‘Oh, these didn’t work at all.’ Well, I kind of figured they wouldn’t, but you’ve got to try them.”
“He was very discerning. He was a low launcher and tended to spin the ball a little bit more than most players, but a marvelous talent and a great feel. I remember walking some practice rounds with him and watching somebody go, ‘I’ve never seen anyone hit irons that good, consistently, all the time.’”
Yeah, he was…man at his best he was…I saw him a couple times and he was…you know…certain guys out there just hit it differently than the rest of the world and he was one of those guys. It was just like, Oh my God, he’s superhuman.
Okay, now it’s Tiger time. End of ’96 he signs a big contract with Titleist/Acushnet. Obviously a big responsibility. It’s kind of all hands on deck getting him into a bag of Titleist clubs. From what it sounds like, he had the same kind of deal that Davis did and had about a year to transition into something.
What was it like working with somebody like that? He was a little younger. He hadn’t played on Tour yet. He was still a player that knows what he needs and knows what he wants, but at the same time it’s still a kid in the candy store. What’s it like working with somebody like Tiger? What was that time like ’96, ultimately into ’98? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you guys actually got a set of irons in the Winter of ’97, actually got a set of Titleist irons and wedges into his bag for ’98 season. What was the first type of set you guys were looking at? I mean how did that work?
“Well, the transition was not easy, because of who he was and the contract and the sales reps. A little bit of pressure that this is arguably one of the best players ever. We need to get him in clubs right away. So you feel a little bit of pressure there, but as far as working with him I never felt the pressure. One of the reasons was because of Butch Harmon. I was very fortunate through my days at UST to create a very close friendship with Dick Harmon. Dick, you know, rest in peace, was one of my best friends in the golf industry. I had a very close relationship with the Harmons.”
“I flew down to spend a couple days with Tiger and Butch at Isleworth and basically just went through the same thing. Went on the back of the range and sat there and talked to Tiger and to Butch and asked, ‘What are you looking for? What do you want to feel? What do you want to look at? What kinds of shots are not in the clubs that you currently have that you guys are working on?’ From that standpoint, it’s again, a ‘Look, Listen and Copy’. It’s basically just going there and trying to discern exactly what the player wants and how to do that. Do you make one set of clubs and try to hang your hat on that? Or, again, I’m going back to Old School Wilson days…Back in the day we would make three sets of irons for a player. Somebody like Hale Irwin…you would make three sets of clubs and they would hit all the 3 irons, all the 4 irons and all the 5 irons. They would pick their ‘gamer’ set from those three 3 irons. They would pick the ‘A’ set, and then the ‘B’ set. The ‘B’ set would be their backup set, the ‘C’ set they probably gave away to their buddy.”
“We didn’t care because golf clubs are individuals, especially back then. Now there is a lot more technology as far as measuring golf clubs. But to me, golf clubs are still works of art. You can put all the science you want into it, but to me it’s all about the lines and the performance. I was very fortunate that I had the help of Butch to understand that. I spent a lot of time listening and trying to discern what he wanted. It worked out pretty well.”
“We made a couple of go rounds. I remember one time Tiger called me up and said, ‘Hey, this old guy gave me this old set of Hogan Apex’s and I’m on the range and I’m just killing these. I’m FedExing these and I want you to take a look at these.’ I still have that set to this day.
“It’s an old set of Hogan Apex’s, but he liked the look of it. He liked the offset of it. He liked the sole of it. It was a little bit different than what we were going to do. One of the things that he needed because he had so much speed and he had such a flat spot at the bottom of the swing, he needed bounce. He needed more bounce than a normal player. There were things that we put in.”
“My wife likes to refer to me sometimes as this Old Sage Indian Tracker who watches people hit golf clubs and you read the dirt. But that’s how I learned. You learned how to read the dirt. I remember being back in the early ‘80’s and middle ‘80’s and guys with their fledgling equipment trucks out there. There wasn’t much in the way of equipment trucks then. I remember guys would go and bang it against the concrete side to bend the loft and lie on their clubs.”
Yeah, that’s not how it is today.
“No, it’s a lot different now.”
So, how do you land on the famous Titleist set that he had? I guess it was a 681 Tiger set. I believe that was what he landed up playing from 2000 – 2001 into 2002 I think is when he switched to the Nike blades. How did you land on that set? How did you ultimately land there because I don’t think there was a lot of changes once he got into that set. I think he kind of stuck with that one. That was kind of his baby. How did you…?
“No. We ended up finding…that actually we had a couple of the old box blade Titleist forgings. They had enough bounce and enough material for us to grind in what he was looking for. So ultimately at the end of the day the original sets were made out of those. Then after we landed on a shape and a bounce and everything he wanted, then we ended up just taking the set overseas and getting the 681’s made by Endo.”
Oh, Endo. Interesting! That’ll buzz in the forums. Because there’s always that urban legend of Tiger…Mizuno made his irons and they scratched Titleist on it. There is all this kind of crazy stuff. You probably just answered quite a bit of questions that people are going to have.
“I never put a Titleist name on a Mizuno iron. That is urban legend.”
You heard it here! You heard it on GolfWRX.com!
Last question, I guess really for all the players, and this I where I started to notice the Tour Issue Prototype things. You know we follow each other on Instagram and you’ve seen some of my posts. But the 970 fairway wood was sort of like this weird mystical creature that would float around that some of the head pros that were on Titleist staff would get one. You know the random 17 degree 4 wood they could get their hands on. What was that thing? Was it a PT that was with a different label? What exactly was it because it made it in to some serious bags. Obviously Tiger made that thing famous multiple times. What’s the story behind that? I mean what was it exactly?
“Well, 970’s again, when I got to Titleist I basically took stock of everything, like I said, with the wedges and the irons. We had this Starship metalwood, which wasn’t a very attractive looking golf club to a discerning player. I went back in the factory one time and I was digging through boxes and all of a sudden I found a bunch of these old 970 fairway woods. I’m like, ‘Wow. Maybe I can do something with these. I remember these. These were kind of cool rocket ships.’ “
“I remember the next day Curtis Strange was coming in because we had signed Curtis. So Curtis comes in and he’s like, ‘What do you have in fairway woods?’ And I pulled these things out and he looked and he’s like, ‘That’s perfect. I love that. That’s a great shape.’ You know he played the Maruman Conductor metalwoods which was very much a similar shape. He was like, ‘These are great, you know’, and you could bend them around. So all of a sudden we brought the 970’s back out and I used a bunch of old stock for the Tour. We weren’t even selling them at the time. Then it was like, ‘We’ve got this and we’re starting to run out of them. Why don’t we just take the original molds, change the sole plate to 970, give it a little bit different finish and that’s basically what the 970 was. It was a PT with a different sole plate and a different finish.”
Wow! Wow! That was in my late teens or early 20’s when that was all going down. I remember being at Sahalee in ’98 and Duvall had…
“Thank you for making me feel very old right now.”
Hey, it’s all brotherly love. I remember ’98 Sahalee watching Duvall play those. Duvall and Harrison Frasier were playing a practice round together and they both pulled their head covers off their 3 woods on one of the holes. They both had these Super Dooper charged up looking Titleist fairway woods. I remember being completely transfixed with what they were, trying to scurry around to get a better look. That was sort of my quest to get my hands on one. I never did but I wanted one bad. So, thank you for that little blast from the past.
“The 970 originally, because it was a low spinning golf club really didn’t sell very well because to the masses it wasn’t an easy club to hit.”
“But when it was put in the hands of a high speed player, it really turned into a rocket ship. For Tiger and a few of the other guys, we bored them through to the bottom and actually put tapered tip steel shafts into them.”
That’s right. Yeah.
“Because guys were coming off of wood woods, like Davis. A lot of players had barely given up their persimmon woods which were tapered tip. Most metal woods, virtually all metal woods other than Hogan Apex’s that were the Hogan metal woods that were tapered tip Apex shafts. There were no tapered tip metal woods back then. So players liked the feel of that tapered tip wood shaft as a transition. That’s where you see some of those bore throughs because it came out of the players feel and ball flight.”
Wow. That’s some serious info.
We’re going to leave that point in your life. I think we could spend another day or two on that topic but we’ll move on.
Let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing now…ARGOLF. How did that start? Give me the skinny on that. The website, just doing some research for this interview, it looks like you guys are doing some really beautiful things. Tell me about what you’re excited about now and what you guys are doing over there in Jupiter.
“I’ll tell you a quick story of how I got here before I tell you what we’re doing. I actually left Titleist, had moved up into the Green Bay area to be closer to my parents because of my dad’s failing health, which he’s okay. He’s better now.”
“I was the lead coach for the First Tee of Northeast Wisconsin. It was great to spend a lot of time kind of going back to my roots as being a golf pro and spending 12 – 14 hours on the tee working with kids. I really enjoyed it. Through a friend of a friend, I got a phone call about ARGOLF. These guys were coming over from France. Jesper Parnevik won a Champions Tour event a couple years ago with the putter. They were looking for somebody to do fitting, run the operation… I was like, ‘I’m a little burnt out from companies, but do me a favor and send me a couple putters and I’ll hit them and see what I think.’ So they send me a couple putters. I went out to the club I was teaching at, hit a couple putts and I’m like, ‘Oh, geesh. I think I’m getting back in the business.’ I loved the feel of the putters. I love it.”
“ I flew down here and spent basically three days playing golf with the owner and his wife and really hit it off with them. It was good timing in my life to give it one more shot. It’s a very rare opportunity you get where you can take everything you’ve learned, the contacts you’ve made, and really put it to use in a job. I’ve been very fortunate here. I really love it.”
“In fact, Trevor Dodd’s was just in a few minutes ago. He’s using our putter now here in Florida. He’s trying to play Champions Tour golf. We were just sitting here talking about the Wilson days, Ultra metal woods that I designed that he played for like 15 years. It’s a lot of fun. Some days it’s a trip down Memory Lane, other days it’s bringing in a bunch of young, new players, and teaching people about what they should do with their putting and making them some really cool putters.”
That’s exciting. That’s really exciting. I have to ask the question, what separates ARGOLF (for the listeners, you can go to ARGOLFputtinglab.com. That’s Larry’s company. They are over in Jupiter, Florida.) Back to the question…What exactly, for somebody that’s been in the business for a while, what makes these guys stand out? I mean what does this putter, or what does the design of the putter or what in the fitting process of these putters, in your opinion is a little bit different than what’s out there that’s a little bit more popular? What do you, where does your passion lie for this?
“We use either solid blocks of 304 or 316 German Stainless Steel for our blade line. We use 7175 Aircraft aluminum for our mallets. There are no inserts. Everything is milled on a 5 axis mill from solid blocks. They are not skin milled, they are totally milled from scratch. They give tremendous feel, tremendous speed.”
“I’ve been very fortunate with my connection with Larry Bodle and FST/KBS to get shafts that match up really well with the putters. Grips we won’t talk about. Our stock grip is a Lamkin, the deep etch putting grip. I’ve known Bob Lamkin Jr. since we were probably both in First Grade. There’s all kinds of putting grips. We could spend a couple days on putting grips if you wanted.”
“We have a unique ability here to use the Quintic Ball Roll Machine, which you need to go online and check out the Quintic Ball Roll. You could have the most beautiful putting stroke, but if your ball roll isn’t any good, you’re not going to make putts. I have a wonderful tool and I get the opportunity to take a lot of the information that I’ve learned through the years as an instructor and as a Tour Rep and put it to use so when somebody walks in here and says, ‘I’ve been putting for 30 years and I’ve never putted very well. They walk out the door with a handle on why they haven’t putted well, what’s going to help them put well, and where their next step is. I have a lot of very happy customers. It helps roll into our line, the fitting philosophy, and some beautiful mallets and beautiful blades. That’s pretty much it. It’s kind of that in a nut shell.”
“Like I said Trevor Dodd’s just left. Trevor Dodd’s came in last week. He came in and JC Anderson came in.”
“And Trevor has my putter actually. He has my own personal one that we sent out to a company to get a different finish on. He grabbed it. He hit a few putts with it and he’s like, ‘Who’s is this?’ I said, ‘Well, I guess it’s yours now.”
It’s gone now. It’s not your putter any more Larry.”
“That’s what we’re about. Everything here is built to custom. We’re branching out to other places. In the next couple years here ARGOLF is going to be…we might never be the biggest brand…but we hope to be the best brand.
That’s a good way to go. That’s a good way to go.
I have a question I’ve been dying to ask you. Of all the clubs you have built, and all the things that have come across your desk and that you’ve been involved in, what is your favorite or what are you most proud of without the stock answer of, ‘the next club that you build, or what you’re doing now’? Is there one golf club that you built for a player that you are very proud of or that just symbolizes something big for you?
“There’s a couple. I would say the Wilson Whale, without a doubt, the laminated driver was…it was different for the time. Basically Joe Phillips walked in and said, ‘We need an oversize driver. Let’s find a model that looks pretty good.’ We pulled out a model, an old 1931Persimmon Gene Sarazen Wilson wood and said, ‘Hey, let’s make this as big as we could. It was a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of satisfaction. Payne Stewart won a Major with it, so I would say that is definitely one of my favorites. I would say probably Davis’ handmade, hand ground irons that he won a Major with…I’m extremely proud of those. I guess I’m like a lot of the guys that I knew and I learned from, it’s every golf club you make, whether it’s winning a Major Championship, or…I just had a lady win a big International Team Event down at PGA National. She emailed me this morning about the 22 footer that she made on the 22nd hole of the match to win it all. That’s why we make golf clubs. That’s why we do what we do.”
What a way to end it. We went about half hour over what you and I talked about. I couldn’t hang up the phone. I want to thank you first for being my first guest. What an honor. You obviously gave us, for me personally, a lot to chew on lots to be excited about. If you want to find Larry at ARGOLF, once again, it’s ARGOLFputtinglab.com. They are in Jupiter, Florida. You can go on their website. It’s a very, very cool website Larry.
Go on down and see him. You guys just got some insight from one of the Masters, one of the Obi Wan Kanobee’s of the business. What a great way to kick off this podcast. Thank you so much for your time today. At some point I’ll make the pilgrimage down to Jupiter to come see you and come this Putting Lab. I’m excited.
“Absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity and I feel it’s an honor too to be Number One. I enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoy passing along the real information about what happens and how it happened because I’m a firm believer that the way to get motivated and keep playing golf is to bring some of the past into the future.”
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