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Honma EVP John Kawaja on marketing, tour strategy, working with Justin Rose, and putting a rumor to bed

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John Kawaja, executive vice president at Honma golf, spoke with our Johnny Wunder in the latest edition of the Gear Dive.

The industry veteran touched on a number of topics under the marketing and tour strategy umbrellas, including plenty about staffer Justin Rose. And while the entire podcast is well worth your time, we understand that some WRXers are more textually inclined.

So, as we often do, here are a few highlights from the ‘cast.

On working with Justin Rose

Kawaja: Mark [King] and I have worked with Justin for many, many years…he’s a consummate professional. He is by far and away the best brand ambassador one could have when it comes to playing great golf, being a great spokesman for your brand and really knowing equipment, which is helpful for a company [that is]…trying to get better every day…”

What was a bit surprising, to be honest, is how quickly we were able to switch out the No. 1 player in the world to Honma equipment…we’ve got 11 clubs in his bag, including a driver that has a Honma shaft…that’s probably the biggest surprise…People were saying, “he’ll probably never play their driver.” And I’m not sure there are many people on the planet that would have bet he was going to play a Honma driver with a Honma shaft.

With Justin, everything is always in the pursuit of getting better. We’ve got a 47-degree wedge and a 52-degree wedge. We a 56-degree wedge in his bag for most of the year, but the 60-degree wedge, we’re working on. He has a certain feel and a sensation…all these guys have fantastic feel, but I think Justin is the most extraordinary I’ve worked with…so, we’re working on the wedges We’re working on CGs and bounce and grind and grooves and groove spacing…but until we can make something that’s better than what he’s got in his bag, we don’t expect him to change what he’s playing.

He’s really happy with the irons. He’s delighted with his long iron…that is a prototype of a set that we’re introducing in June called the Tour World X iron…fairway woods, we actually haven’t even started…we’ve just been focused on other parts of his bag. We don’t want to force him to feel like he needs to have 13 clubs in his bag…and we’re never going to touch a putter. But we’ve just started to work on fairway woods. Next time I see him, we’ve got some product for him to hit.

On the company’s approach to professional tours and what’s next

Kawaja: We wanted to start with Justin and…establish ourselves with the No. 1 player in the world…he’ll be the face on tour of our brand for the foreseeable future. Anybody that Justin has played with this year, we’ve heard from, because they’ve noticed what Justin has seen. We’ve worked with tour players–some of the non-contracted guys, some of the guys that are curious…We’re not in any rush.

We’re never going to have the tour presence that a Callaway, or a Titleist, or a TaylorMade have…but we do intend to grow our presence…we do want to have a few more players…we’re going to look for players that have global reach, and we’re going to look for younger players. Younger players are always riskier, but we’re looking at kids that are making the transition from collegiate golf to professional golf…we think that we’ll grow our tour presence next year…but one or two.

On the importance of a tour presence

Kawaja: I think it’s extremely important. It always has been. You could always correlate No. 1 on tour with No. 1 in the marketplace in literally every single category. That, I think, says enough. Golfers are, we may all be different, but I think there’s one thing in the psychology of a guy that calls himself a golfer…there’s a gene we all share, and that’s the aspiration to hit one like a tour player.

They’re the best influencers. It doesn’t matter social media followings or whatever…if you’re watching golf and following golf, they have an influence on the bags, on the apparel, on the look of most golfers.

On dealing with rumors in general and the suggestion Honma’s TW 747 driver is too hot in particular

Kawaja: Well, [the rumor] is simply not true. …Our core message is about the beauty of our products and not performance, so it’s kind of ironic people are worried our drivers are illegal. We’ve been making the highest-quality golf equipment for 60 years. We know what we’re doing. We’re not a startup.

I think I understand where it comes from. We’ve been working with several PGA Tour players. Universally, they’re seeing faster ball speeds with Honma. Not incremental gains, but two, three, four miles per hour…One of the big four equipment companies…they’ve seen these results…and unfortunately, that rumor started. And I don’t know how it started, but it’s hard to believe. It’s not true. And frankly, it’s bush league.

On the competitiveness of the tour environment

Kawaja: It is a competitive environment. I remember when we were over at the other place, we talked every day about what our competitors were doing, and we tried to beat the crap out of them every day…We’re kind of new out there. I think the people that are out there every week, there’s a kinship among the tour reps who are working with players and working the range every week…we show up, we’ve got the No. 1 player, we start to work with guys, guys are curious…it’s competitive…

I’m a competitive guy by nature from a business perspective and from a previous life [Kawaja is a two-time curling world-champion for Canada]…and we welcome the opportunity to work with more tour players and show them what we’ve got.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Wes

    Apr 25, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    This guy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It is a fact that they had illegal drivers in the hands of tour players earlier this season. Own up to it and move forward. People like a comeback story.

  2. M

    Apr 25, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Nothing to see here. Move on

  3. rex 235

    Apr 24, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    Johnny-

    Hot?

    All the new Honma models are RH Only- so what?

    • Johnny Taylor

      Apr 25, 2019 at 9:52 am

      rex235,

      No clue what you are referring to with your post. See Scratchserver’s reply to my post to understand what I was talking.

  4. Johnny

    Apr 24, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Anyone else a little suspicious of the so-called rumor of a hot driver?

    • Scratchscorer

      Apr 24, 2019 at 9:23 pm

      I suspect that Honma started the rumor. I don’t blame them, it’s savvy marketing.

  5. John

    Apr 24, 2019 at 10:14 am

    hahaha. I have always operated with one rule when it comes to accusations. I never believe them until it has been officially denied.

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Brooks Koepka can’t stop defending major titles

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All right, it’s only two, but its two-consecutive PGA Championships…on the heels of two-straight U.S. Open titles. Thanks to the PGA moving up three months, he kinda-sorta has both doubles at the same time.

Brooks Koepka fought the golf course, his swing, the competition, and the self-inflicted pressure that he strives to minimize, and came out a winner. His margin of victory over workout pal Dustin Johnson was two strokes. Johnson had his chances but failed to capitalize. Can you fault him? If you had told him on Wednesday that he would be the only man to shoot all four rounds in the 60s, he might have anticipated a trophy at week’s end. Not to be. Despite a sequence of stumbles, Koepka parred the odd 18th hole and earned his sixth PGA Tour title and fourth major championship.

Here are five reasons he did it.

5. Dustin Johnson might be a one-off major winner, after all.

What they said couldn’t be done, was in Johnson’s grasp. Koepka’s apparently-insurmountable, 7-shot advantage had withered to 2 mere blows, and the man responsible for the winnowing was Dustin Johnson. The man from Myrtle was 3-under on the day, and stood a mere 12 feet from a 4th birdie at the 10th. Behind him, Koepka was even for the day, and about to birdie the 10th hole from 2 feet. Johnson missed, then bogeyed the 11th. What if DJ had made his birdie, and the roars had erupted. Would Koepka have stuffed his ridiculous, 160-yard lob wedge for a kick-in birdie? Probably not. DJ had to be perfect on Sunday, and when he most needed the endurance and the mental fortitude, both were lacking.

4. Koepka survived

I’ve played BPB and I’ve watched my high school golfers compete on it during New York state federation play. It is as difficult as you saw today. One bad swing leads to a bad hole, and it might lead to a run of four bogeys, as Koepka had on holes 11-14. He bogeyed a par five! He bogeyed a flip-shot par three!! He then turned around and parred the two most difficult holes of the closing stretch. Despite another bogey on his nemesis, the 17th, Koepka had enough wiggle room to limp home with par for a 2-shot victory.

3. Koepka elevated his game when needed

There was a point when the lead was down to one stroke, but if not for this shot, Koepka and Johnson would have been tied. The champion knew the adrenaline he was feeling, which explains the ludicrous thought that a gap wedge would fly 158 yards in the air. It did, and the ball settled two feet below the hole at the 10th. No matter what was happening in front of him, Koepka was about to shave a stroke from par. Golfers who choke a tournament away never make shots like this one.

2. Despite this…

I don’t have any words to describe this exchange. Your guy is trying to win a major, and somehow, it seems to be about you?

1. Karma

Doing a kind thing when you least need to do a kind thing, leads to Shivas, the god of Irons, smiling down on you.

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PGA Championship: 5 things we learned on Saturday

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Day three at Bethpage promised to differ from the first 48 hours of the 2019 PGA Championship. With a halved field and no 10th-hole tee times, odds of missing your tee time were reduced, even for David Lipsky. Brooks Koepka began the day with a 7-stroke lead, but the chance to chase him down depended on one of two scenarios playing out.

The first demanded similar course conditions to days one and two. In that situation, someone would shoot 63 or 64, hoping Koepka remained at par or higher. Conditions were different, as the wind picked up and then swirled, sending a higher number of tee shots into the rough and beyond. As for the second, well, it required Koepka to balloon to a mid- to high-70s score, allowing a score anywhere below par to make up ground. Neither one happened, and Koepka left the state park with the same lead as he had 24 hours prior. We still learned quite a bit on Saturday, so have a look at the 5 most important things we learned on Saturday at the 2019 PGA Championship.

5. New names made their presence known

Ardent followers of professional golf have read about Jazz Janewattananond, Harold Varner III and Luke List, but until today, none had made a dent in the first page of a major professional event. Each sits at -5, tied with Dustin Johnson, seven blows behind Koepka. Varner will accompany Koepka on the Sunday march, but all four of the minus-fives will play either for 2nd spot, or the coveted “If Koepka should falter” trophy.

4. How do you come from THAT far behind?

Simply put, you need to make six birdies at least, get to 9 or 10 under par, and pray for rain. Koepka’s swing looks like it’s here to stay. He doesn’t get tired physically, and he isn’t under the weather. Yesterday, I predicted that Matt Wallace would hit more shots like this one. I stand by that prediction, and expect Wallace (at -4) to be the only one of the chasers to give Koepka a run. Wallace is playing for the same sort of legitimacy as the leader. Koepka wants to be a part of the conversation for best golfer in the world; Wallace wants to be much more than an afterthought when Ryder Cup 2021 comes around. Sunday will put the Englishman in another class.

3. Spieth and Scott went quietly away

No one likes to foretell doom and gloom, unless they go by the name of Bran Stark. It is someone’s job to predict such things in golf, and the team of S and S shared the cloak of most likely to play above par on Saturday. The Jordan Spieth who gutted out the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay was not present today. The Adam Scott who played through the rain to defeat Angel Cabrera in the 2013 Masters playoff was also unavailable. Bethpage is a big, brawny golf course. With the exception of Lucas Glover in 2009, it rewards big, brawny golfers.

2. Is Bethpage a boring place to play a major championship?

I don’t think so, but I’m not convinced that this was the best set-up for it. If the PGA likes birdies, tell me how they went from 10 billion birdies in the event’s first half, to quite a few less on day three? Something changed, or perhaps the course caught up with the conditions. There is a lot of thick rough out there…why? Increase fairway width by 10%, so that balls that barely miss, have a chance at redemption. Move the tee markers up on number six and make it a drivable par four for at least one round. Do the same on number eighteen, just for one day on the weekend. If Koepka is on his game for day four, anticipate a nice time for a long nap.

1. Will Brooks Koepka seal the deal on Sunday?

All signs point to Yes, and major championship number four, and possibly the blessing of Pope Brandel of Chamblee. However, we did see a few flinches on Saturday, and we would like to mention them here. To begin, his putting distance control was erratic. Did you see that first putt on 17, from 20 feet? The one that went 75% of the way to the hole? Brooks made his share of 5-feet putts today, but if the distance control gets weird tomorrow, and the short putts start spinning out, well then… Another area of concern was driving. He can’t be perfect, but with the big stick in his hands at all times, the big miss might be coming. If BK goes wide right or left and makes a big number, the confidence might be shaken.

All right, I’m searching for a needle in a haystack of straws at which I’m grasping. Got that? It’s a double metaphor, because a double metaphor is what is needed to keep Koepka from holding PGA and US Open trophies for the 2nd consecutive cycle.

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PGA Championship: 5 things we learned Friday

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Don’t worry, we’ll get to him. You have to be patient. Some interesting stuff happened at Bethpage Black on Friday, but doesn’t something always go down in metro?  Some late stumbles ensured that the plus-fours would see the weekend in a competitive fashion. Not talking knickers, mind you, but the guys who shot 72-72. All right then, enough with the musings, on with the 5 things we learned on day five of this week.

5. El Gato Con Rayas won’t be winning the Slam this season

Tiger Woods had history with BPB, doncha know?! Some things have a due date, an “it’s not you, it’s me” moment. 2k19 was that for TDubs and the Black. He fought, mind you. He birdied his 27th hole, but that was followed by 4 boges in 5 holes. He didn’t have his A nor his B game this week, so he didn’t walk away a beaten man. Just as well, as that guy who just wants respect went low again, opening up a 7-stroke lead at the halfway point. So that you know, I’ll take bets on Eldrick bagging either the U.S. or British Open championships. He’s coming out of 2019 with 16 majors, bank on it.

4. Three of your teachers made the cut

There are 3 shields on the leader board, and they will be there until Sunday. Marty Jertson, Rob Labritz and Ryan Vermeer stood tall as Friday dusked. They looked at their loved ones and said, simply, “I can’t believe it; I did it. I made the cut.” No matter what happens over the next two days, this triumvirate might as well be named Vardon, Taylor and Braid. They showed the golfing world that fellows who work a day job in golf, can prepare and perform at the level of the world’s finest touring professionals. Cheers to you, gentlemen.

3. Spieth and Scott are done; Wallace is your man

Despite this prank, or perhaps because of it, Matt Wallace is my pick to overtake Burger King and win the 2019 PGA Championship. If you can hashtag a chip on someone’s shoulder, Wallace has had a massive one since he was snubbed by Thomas Bjorn last fall for the Euro Ryder Cup team. The Englishman made 6 birdies on day two, and shows no signs of stopping. He’ll make 8 birdies on Saturday, mark my words. That should send a signal flare that even BK notices. Oh, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott? They had their day of glory. They’re done.

2. They might be workout bruhs, but…

…enough is enough. DJ was poised to be the schizz until BK said “?Habla usted back-to-back US Open?” He’s now on the cusp of B2BPGA, and that’s something that the golfer currently known as Paulina’s will not stomach. Not with brother Austin in his bag. Not with all of South Carolina pulling for him. Johnson won’t be paired with the leader on Saturday, so he’ll have to make some noise on the first 4 holes to get muscles’ attention. He can do it, but can he sustain it? This weekend, he will.

1. How did this guy get an invite, again?

Just messing with you, B to the K. This guy epitomizes values: goes overseas to meet new people and learn the game the hard way; works his arse off in the gym to get large and fit; shows no fear when faced with adversity and greatness. I can’t promise I never dissed Brooks Koepka in previous pieces, but man, he sends a message. 7 birdies each day. 0 bogies day 1, 2 bogies day 2. If he keeps making buckets of birdies, t’ain’t no one gonna catch him. Here’s to you, Brooks, and whatever choice of swimwear is yours, today. Records? They nice.

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