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How Kings Are Made: The Next Big Little Thing On Tour

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If you are a frequent visitor of GolfWRX, you are probably a golfer on the constant search for an edge on the course. You peruse the different forums anxiously hoping to find that some little thing that you’ve convinced yourself will make the difference in your game. I know this because I’m wired the same way.

I’ve spent countless nights huddled up in the dark corners of this website reading, rereading and reading again some fresh insight on Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons” that has me convinced by morning that I’ve figured out “the secret.” I’ve dedicated as much time to analyzing what Oakley lens is best for my sunglasses (G30 non-polarized by the way) as I did preparing for the SAT.

I’ve read reviews on golf bags, balls, clubs, shoes, shirts, pants, hats, belts, instructors, practice facilities and even sunblock (Banana Boat Sport Performance UltraMist seems to be a popular choice). The point is that I, and presumably most of you, partake in this excessively analytical and borderline obsessive-compulsive behavior for a very basic reason: As long as it’s within the rules, I will take advantage of every edge, no matter how small, if it helps me on the course.

With that context in mind, I would like to introduce you to a new product that could soon become the primary return when we inevitably search for “Best on-course snack:” KingMade Jerky. Now I’m guessing some of you may have already heard about this product either by reading through the GolfWRX thread on it, or Alan Shipnuck’s in-depth look at the company’s founder and backstory on Golf.com: http://www.golf.com/tour-and-news/tour-caddie-jeff-king-turns-pro-beef-jerky-business.

Rather than rehashing the content that is already out there (the thread is a great source for reviews and the column serves as an excellent primer on the company), I instead want to focus on the marketing hype surrounding KingMade Jerky and how it has the potential to turn into a hugely profitable operation.

When I think about the psychology behind marketing products to golfers, there are generally two very distinct strategies that have both proven to be effective in their own unique way, and I believe KingMade Jerky is in the rare position to capitalize on both of them. For lack of a better phrase I’ll call the first strategy “Play what the pros play,” which is based on the very basic principle that we, the consumer, will want to use the same product as people who are better than us, thinking “if it’s good enough for them then it’s certainly good enough for me.” This strategy is the very basis of sports marketing. It’s the reason why Jordan brand is so successful, the rationale that children use when they beg their parents to spend $200 on a pair of Lebron’s. To be perfectly honest, it’s also 100 percent the reason I own the same irons Tiger Woods players, a set of Nike blades.

Tiger King Made jerky

As it relates to golf and specifically this website, it’s the underlying principle behind having a forum like “What’s In The Bag,” we may not always buy exactly what the pros play, but we still want to know what the “best of the best” are using. The club companies and equipment manufactures are well aware of this fact and they understand that by attaching themselves to successful tour players they are essentially buying credibility with a large portion of the consuming public.

I say “large portion” because GolfWRXers and other like-minded consumers tend to be less inclined to buy into the marketing hype and more likely to be skeptical of the inherent problem with paying players to use a certain products:

Is the athlete endorsing this product because it’s actually good, or are they simply doing it for the money?

More often than not, I think we can all agree it’s the money and not the efficacy of the product that serves as the driving force behind the large majority (read: 99.9 percent) of athlete endorsements. In light of this inescapable reality, the discerning consumer must turn to another resource to determine which product they should buy, which brings us to the second marketing strategy: crowdsourcing.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, “crowdsourcing” is the process of obtaining information about something by soliciting opinions/reviews from a large group of people. Examples of crowdsourcing include going on to Yelp to read reviews about a restaurant/hotel you plan on visting, checking out IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes to see what others think about a certain movie, and even logging into GolfWRX and (as I previously mentioned) researching what others believe to believe to be the best sunblock for the golf course.

While “play what the pros play” is dependent upon hype and big budget ad campaigns, crowdsourcing is a strategy that involves a conscious decision to eschew that traditional marketing model. Rather than relying on celebrity endorsements, crowdsourcing simply focuses on creating a great product with the hope and belief that enough positive reviews (on sites like Yelp, IMDB and GolfWRX) will yield a groundswell of popular support that will allow the product to earn the credibility that it needs without allocating a king’s ransom toward its marketing budget. Now that we have positioned the two strategies and shown how they both coexist in today’s marketplace, let’s think for a moment about how they specifically relate to us here on GolfWRX and what it means for KingMade Jerky (I promise you I’m getting there).

Humor me for a moment and engage in small exercise that I think will help make my point. (If you’re not already doing so) I would like you to take a second and picture the different assortment of clubs in your golf bag and think about how you came to the decision to buy each and every one. Why did you buy that driver? Was it because of the commercial that promised 16 more yards? Was it because you saw you’re favorite player using it? Maybe you took a bunch of different ones to the range/launch monitor and this one simply performed the best.

How about those irons? Were you sold by reading the glowing reviews of other GolfWRXers? Did Joe Kwok (whom I can’t say enough positive things about) fit you for them? Or are you a simply a brand loyalist who would never use anything else?

What was the thought process behind your wedges? Are you a Bob Vokey/Roger Cleveland disciple? Did you decide to stray from the pack and pick up a customized set from Scratch (no pun intended)?

And what about your putter? Did you buy a Scotty Cameron because that’s what all the good players at your club use? Or maybe you were looking for something cheap and you found a great deal on BST/eBay? Whatever the case may be (and believe me I’m not judging anyone here), there was definitely some sort of thought process that went into each of those decisions and, whether you like to believe it or not, they were all somewhat influenced by external forces ranging from big-budget ad campaigns to a simple user review. All of which brings us, at long last, to the topic at hand and how I believe KingMade Jerky can capitalize on all of this in it’s pursuit of becoming a profitable company.

First off, let’s tackle “play what the pros play,” or in this case, “eat what the pros eat” and understand how KingMade fits in here. If you follow golf closely and you are a one of the millions who use social media as a vehicle to connect with your favorite golfers then more than likely you have come across tweets such as these:

Cleveland Tweet
Fowler Tweet
GMac Tweet
Greg Moore Tweet
Harry Arnett Tweet
Horschel Tweet

Furthermore, aside from the names listed above, our own Greg Moore has noted in the KingMade GolfWRX thread that other notable names such as Tiger Woods (who reportedly ate a whole 1 pound bag over nine holes at Firestone), Joe LaCava, Matt Kuchar, Scott Brown, Luke List, James Hahn and Scott Stallings all eat it as well.

Initially, the skeptic in me wanted to think that the buzz was a result of the fraternity-like bond between Tour players and caddies. Since KingMade was created by a PGA Tour caddy, weren’t all these guys just looking out for their own and trying to help out one of their buddies? But at a certain point the evidence becomes too overwhelming. I’m not saying these guys are greedy (I would be the exact same way), but it usually takes pretty decent sized check for PGA Tour players to so enthusiastically endorse a product and then broadcast their support to the hundreds of thousands of people that follow them. In this case, and we have to take them at their word, it appears that KingMade jerky has been able to accomplish the “holy grail” of celebrity endorsements: getting them to do it for free.

Just think about how much more powerful the message becomes once you know that these pros aren’t being paid for their support. In fact, let’s juxtapose KingMade’s marketing message with what I believe to be one of the more poorly conceived corporate partnerships on tour: Jim Furyk and 5 Hour Energy.

Sports Business Daily estimates that 5 Hour Energy pays Furyk somewhere in the range of the “high six figures to low seven figures” to feature their logo on his hat. While I certainly understand the rationale behind getting the air time that goes along with being affixed to a prominent tour player’s head, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a consumer who walks into a convenience store looking to buy 5 Hour Energy simply because Jim Furyk uses it (if anything I think it’s had the opposite effect as I’m sure most of us have heard some variation of the “I bet he wishes it was 5 1/2 Hour Energy” jokes after one of Furyk’s unfortunate late-round collapses). The point is that when we watch Jim Furyk in one of those goofy commercials, we know he isn’t endorsing the product because he really loves it. He’s doing it for the money, which is totally fine except for the fact that it devalues the message.

On the other hand, we have KingMade jerky, whose message and credibility becomes exponentially more powerful with each and every uncompensated celebrity endorsement. It’s an important distinction that may go unnoticed at first, but one I’m sure Jeff King and his team are profoundly aware and appreciative of it. While it appears KingMade has already achieved and presumably exceeded their goals as it relates to “play what the pros play,” in order for them to capitalize on that success they are going to need to experience similar success in the realm of crowdsourcing. As of this writing, KingMade currently has 678 Twitter followers, 851 “Likes” on Facebook, and a 77-post thread on GolfWRX with user reviews ranging from: “This is by far the best jerky out right now,” to “Well worth the price” to “A bit underwhelmed….sorry but not as good as advertised.”

Clearly this is the space where KingMade needs to make up the most ground. Obviously no product will ever be able to garner 100 percent support from 100 percent of consumers, but they definitely need to do everything they can to expand their reach (particularly on social media) so that there are more mouths to spread the (hopefully good) word.

While I have never tried the product and therefore I cannot speak to whether or not it lives up to the lofty expectations set by the tour players we just talked about, I will tell you that this is not a company that I would bet against. For starters, I don’t believe that that many influential people would go out of their way to support a product (or a friend) for free without truly believing in it. So with that in mind let’s work off of the premise that KingMade has managed to create a very solid product.

Here’s what I see happening in the coming months: We will continue to see PGA Tour players and influencers tweet about the product as they continue to try and help out a member of their fraternity and that will continue to build the brand’s awareness certainly among hard-core golfers and eventually among more casual fans as well.We will also start to see KingMade popping up on the television coverage every once in awhile, may in the way of a player’s towel as seen here:

A Kingmade Jerky towel on PGA Tour player Scott Brown's bag.

A Kingmade Jerky towel on PGA Tour player Scott Brown’s bag.

Or perhaps we might even catch Tiger, GMac, Rickie, or Kuch devouring a bag during a stoppage in play. The more examples we get of this, the more you are going to see people Googling “What was Rickie Fowler eating on the seventh tee” or tweeting at Golf Channel’s Tiger Tracker asking him, “What was that snack El Tigre just pulled out of his bag?” These may seem like trivial examples, but in this day in age it’s how nascent brands with little-to-no advertising budget get built. Outside of the PGA Tour, I think you are going to start see “in the know” golfers breaking out bags of KingMade at your local course, which will inevitably lead to questions from the rest of the foursome, a sample piece or two, and if it’s agreeable to them, a new customer.

If you consider yourself a “stick” or at least someone who wants to look like a good golfer, think about how quickly some other similar products have spread like wildfire and become ubiquitous at amateur tournaments. Have you ever seen a commercial for how driveway markers can be used as alignment aids? I doubt it, but you have seen tour players and other really good amateurs with those orange rods sticking out of their bag, so you went and got one too (I know I did).

What about Amino Vital energy drink? I’ve personally never seen the product advertised on television, but I went and bought some because I saw it all over tour player’s towels and I wanted whatever edge they were getting. How about something as simple as the “Player’s Towel”? Up until a couple of years ago, all the good players I knew were still using those cheap hotel towels. You know, the ones that are a little shorter than normal with the little lines in them. Then, all of a sudden, I played with a guy in a  tournament who was using a Player’s Towel. I thought it looked cool, so I asked him about it and then went and bought one. And I wasn’t the only one. The next thing I knew, they were everywhere. It’s a fascinating cycle where these smaller, usually more expensive, boutique-type products basically go viral within the golf community and they blow up and become profitable companies.

One of the best parts of being a member of the GolfWRX community is having the ability to learn about these companies in their infancy, watching them grow up before your very own eyes and rooting for the good people behind the scenes during the entire process (and let’s be honest it’s also fun to be the guy in your group whose always ahead of the game, like getting in early on a successful IPO). Off the top of my head, besides the ones I previously listed, I can think of several examples of companies like these who have gone on to experience some serious success in the industry: Byron Morgan, Scratch, KBS, Jones Golf Bags, Stitch and Iliac Headcovers… the list goes on and on.

KingMade is easy to dismiss because it’s “just” a snack company, but if we are willing to invest the time and energy to find the right Oakley lens or best sunblock, shouldn’t we care just as much about our on-course nutrition? If I was a betting man I’d wager that we will. In the eternal pursuit of every edge, there is no detail too small and no rock that should go left unturned. If I’m going to have a snack on the course, then I want to have the BEST snack. And if KingMade is as good as they say it is, then I’ll bite, hook, line and sinker.

To paraphrase the motivational speech that Al Pacino delivers toward the end of Any Given Sunday, life (and golf) is a game of inches, which is why it’s time for me to wrap up this column. The UPS guy is at the door. He just arrived with my sample pack.

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Jack McAuliffe is an aspiring golf everything: writer, agent, marketer, even player…really he just needs a job. He also runs TheGolfDog.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @ElNino22.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Vonny

    Sep 23, 2013 at 4:27 am

    Great article……Congratulations Jeff on the best beef jerky ever!!

  2. matt

    Sep 21, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    it was 48.00 for 6 1 pound bags..so really not that expensive, I would like to try some.

  3. Christine Benko

    Sep 21, 2013 at 8:18 am

    I loved this article! #kingmade jerky is definitely set up for success! Great product, great marketing, and a fast growing group of followers/spokespersons!!! Couldn’t be more proud!! And, for the record, “these guys are good” and this jerky is good!!! I was “hook, line & sinker” and they had me at bag #1!

  4. J

    Sep 20, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Yup. Sure did.

    We REALLY needed yet ANOTHER article about beef jerky.

    Thanks.

    • Nick

      Sep 21, 2013 at 12:14 am

      Thought it was a great article. Jeff is a great guy. He’s not sponsoring any of these guys to eat it or support it. Guys on tour are eating it bc it’s that dam good. Funny guys on here will spend $6.50 for bad tough jerky but won’t spend an extra $1.50 for the best jerky you’ll ever eat. It’s tender, flavorful and very healthy for you. Why not give it a try before you bash it. Eat what the pros eat! #crushbags

      • J

        Sep 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm

        Wasn’t bashing the Jerky.
        Pay attention.
        We didn’t need another promotion for this beef jerky. There has already been articles about it. Don’t need it shoved down our throats repeatedly.

        • Nick

          Sep 21, 2013 at 9:51 pm

          This is a forum that’s what things like this are for. There’s a hundred topics on Cameron’s, vokeys,Tiger, taylormade etc,. Why can’t there be multiple topics on beef jerky made for and by golfers? I think once you try it your opinion might change. Give it a try go #crushbags

          • J

            Sep 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm

            Once again. Not the jerky. I have tried it. It’s jerky.

            And your right, hundreds of articles about all kinds of things golf.

            This isn’t SnackWRX.

            It’s shameless promotion for a company that doesn’t pay to be a sponsor. Period.

    • John

      Sep 24, 2013 at 6:45 am

      I bet you have a ton of friends that love being around you…

  5. Cdubs

    Sep 20, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    $54 for a 16 oz bag!!!

    • nip

      Sep 20, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      only us ‘pro-business’ golfers can afford it. lol

      outta my grad student budget.

  6. K dubb

    Sep 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Well that was different, so is this jerky available in North Texas?

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Plenty to be thankful for

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golf course sand bunkers

This has always been my favorite week of the year, well, at least since I got old enough to understand that Christmas gifts do not just “appear” out of nowhere. I think that was about 60 years ago! This is the week of the year where, hopefully, we all take time to ponder the wonderful blessings of our lives.

No matter what 2022 might have brought you, I’m sure you can find at least a handful of blessings to be thankful for. My favorite holiday movie is a 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire film called Holiday Inn. If you haven’t seen it and enjoy old movie musicals, you might make it a “must see” this season. Besides being the movie where the classic White Christmas was introduced, there is a wonderful song for Thanksgiving called Plenty To Be Thankful For. It’s also a favorite of mine.

As I ponder my own year and the 70 years before it, I realize I have so many wonderful things to be thankful for. That starts with my blessing of good health. I find it remarkable to be on the north side of 70 and still have no issues. No prescription drugs. Only one visit to the hospital in my life, the result of a motor scooter incident when I was 13. A fabulous Mom and Dad, small town upbringing. A lifetime of great friends and the blessing of living in a small town on the Texas coast. And most recently, the entry of a great lady into my life that makes it all so very much better.

I have the opportunity to run a fledgling custom wedge company, Edison Golf, which allows me to challenge the entire category with different thinking. And I love writing this column every week to share the many lessons learned and observations made in this 40-year career in the golf club industry.

There are just so many things I cannot list them all. But right there with them is the blessing of the strength and flexibility to still move the golf ball around pretty good. To be able to still play to a low single digit handicap from the regular tees (no ‘senior tees’ for me, thank you), and test courses from the back tees occasionally is fun.
That last blessing comes straight from God, of course, but I “help Him out” by making stretching and fitness a part of my daily regimen for over 30 years. And that is something anyone can do to improve their golf scores.

As we all face the “off season” (even here in South Texas it gets cold and rainy occasionally), you can make the decision to have lower golf scores to be thankful for this time next year. Just because you are cooped up inside for the next few months doesn’t mean you have to forego golf and preparation for next year can begin right now.
I believe flexibility is more crucial to stronger shots and lower scores than strength. A simple internet search can turn up dozens of good guides to stretching for a longer, fuller and stronger golf swing. If you add a bit of endurance and strength training to that, it’s amazing what will happen to your golf fortunes. Nothing more complex than a daily walk and swinging a weighted club daily or several times a week will pay off big dividends when you can get out on a winter golf vacation or next season starts.

I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving, and I look forward to another year of being able to share my lessons from a lifetime in golf and over 40 years in the golf equipment industry. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Opinion & Analysis

2022 Fortinet Australian PGA Championship: Betting Tips & Selections

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Is Cam Smith in Oz the Jon Rahm of the Spanish Open?

The recent, dominating T2/winner of the DP World Tour Championship went off at around 9/4 to beat Tommy Fleetwood, Min Woo Lee and company in Madrid in October, eventually sauntering home by six shots and delighting home fans supporting his third win at his home Open.

This week, Smith looks like going off at much bigger (at 7/2) to beat a slightly fuller depth of field, again including Min Woo, to win his third Australian PGA, after going back-to-back in 2017 and 2018.

There is little left to say about the winner of the 150th Open Championship in terms of class, summarised by the run of T2/T10/T3 at the three most recent Masters, as well as wins at the Sony Open, Tournament of Champions and The Players.

Of course, his career year has also been hot with controversy, denying a move to LIV and then vehemently defending his right to join the Greg Norman-led tour a couple of weeks later, but that’s not our concern as bettors. Indeed, look at the way his presence has been received back home.

Smith’s local Brisbane Times reports that the 29-year-old superstar was the first golfer to be awarded the ‘keys to the city’ and will also probably get his desire of a LIV event in Queensland.

He’s huge news back home, and if we are looking back at that Rahm comparison, looks pretty big at over 3/1.

Smith, though, is a grinder, no matter how good of one, and whilst wins have come in decent numbers under par, he tends to win when the short game simply outlasts everyone else in tough conditions. I’m not certain he gets that here, where the winning score was 22-under last time (in January 2022), and examining his impressive victories, it’s worth noting that none of his six PGA Tour victories have been by more than a single shot, with his second Oz PGA by just a stroke further.

You can count the LIV victory as better than I do if you like. No complaints on that score, but following that win he’s gone 42nd and 22nd on LIV – beaten by a lot less a player than he faces this week.

The filthy each-way doubles look certain to be popular, with Smith across the card from Joburg fancies Bezhuidenhout and Lawrence, but in a light betting heat, I’ll take a chance with just a couple of wagers.

Just one outright for me this week.

Golf form site, tour-tips.com  rates Ryan Fox the number one this week, a short-head over Smith, and whilst he isn’t quite that elite class, his form shows he is plenty good enough to beat the favourite on his day, and hasn’t that much to find in comparison to Adam Scott, MIn Woo and Cam Davis, all of whom are rightfully respected and popular.

Fox is easy to precis.

In what has been a stellar season for the always-promising Kiwi, the 35-year-old has improved from around 200th in the world rankings at gthe start of ’22, to a current ranking well inside the world’s top-30, and certain of invites to all the most desired events.

Fox waltzed home by five shots in the desert at Ras Al Khaimah and won again by a stroke at the Dunhill Links, an event including tournament stalwarts Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood. In between, Fox posted eight top-10 finishes including running-up in Belgium, at the Dutch Open, Irish Open and, just a couple of weeks ago, by a shot to Fleetwood and one of the latter’s favourite courses, the Gary Player GC.

Fox went into last week’s DP championship as a live contender for the title, which, given his commitment to the European Tour, would have been richly deserved. Perhaps that’s too political for here, though.

Either way, despite starting slowly in Dubai, he made his way up to 19th after four steadily improving rounds, enough to hold off Rahm from swapping places at the end-of-year rankings.

The silver medal is the least Fox should have got, and with a strong game on the sand-belt and a significant win in Queensland at the QLD PGA in 2018, challenging here should be a formality.

Fox has always had a strong driving game, and finding greens has rarely been an issue. However, he’s now gone from being one of the worst with the flat stick to ranking in the top-10 for putting average at even the toughest of courses.

I have the selection at the same price as Min Woo, who may have needed the run-out when a beaten 6/1 favourite here 11 months ago, so that 14/1 is simply too big to resist, especially as the latter has not won since July last year.

Fox can continue a big year for the Kiwis following Lydia Ko’s brilliant victory and subsequent crowning as this season’s LPGA queen.

The only other wager that appeals as a value pick is defending champion Jediah Morgan over Marc Leishman in a match bet.

Leish is a bit of a hero of mine, but it may sadly be time to give up on him as a serious potential winner in this class.

After a lucrative career, the 39-year-old came off a Covid slump to once again show up at Augusta over the last couple of years, but this has been a poor year.

There have been highlights – top-15 at the U.S Open, maybe – but he played poorly at River Highlands, in an event at which he historically does very well, and followed that with missed cuts at the Scottish Open and Open Championships, and midfield, don’t-write-home-about-it efforts at the first two FedEX play-off events.

Leishman is now at LIV, doing nicely ‘thank you’ and collecting $3 million for doing nothing much. In fact, his individual results gained him less ‘sole’ money than Pat Perez, another who caught onto the coat-tails of his teammates.

Respect to him, but Leishman isn’t going forwards these days, and will need the weather to turn bad if he is going to be able to live with some of these birdie machines.

Count Jediah Morgan as one of those birdie machines.

Although he produced a 100-1 shock in January when winning this event in just his fourth event as a professional, Morgan did it in some style.

The 22-year-old recorded three rounds of 65/63/65 to take a nine shot lead into Sunday, and simply went further clear, crossing the line 11 shots clear of Andrew Dodt, himself with plenty of previous in this grade at home, and a further shot clear of Min Woo.

In 2020 Morgan had won the Australian Amateur around this course, beating Tom McKibbin (see Joburg preview for his chances over there) by 5 & 3, an event that has thrown up Cam Smith amongst other multiple international winners, and whilst he hasn’t shown his best lately, returning to a venue he knows so well should be to his big advantage.

Morgan was one of the surprise signings to LIV Golf, although, as he admits, he “didn’t have much in my schedule,” given his exemption to the DP World Tour didn’t kick in till the 2023 season, plus it gave him the chance to compete at Centurion Club for LIV London – “The field is nice and strong so it’s a cool format to see how I shape up.”

Morgan has played every event since, although mixing it up with sporadic entries and invites onto the PGA, DP and Asian tours do not help a young golfer settle.

His Dunhill Links effort wasn’t bad – a 76 on that horrendous day two the cause of his eventual missed cut – but 25th and 13th at the last two events are as good as Leishman produced at the same events.

Leish has the back-form and the class but looks on the way down, and while the attention of being defending champ could overawe the younger man, he has put up with ‘Golf, but louder’ for a few months now.

I have these much closer than the prices suggest, so take the 8/5 in a match.

Recommended Bets:

  • Ryan Fox 14/1 Each -Way
  • Jediah Morgan to beat Marc Leishman -72 holes – 8/5 
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Opinion & Analysis

TourPutt – The secret of the pros?

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Driver vs. Putter: Your Choice?

If you were granted one golf-related superpower, which would you choose? The ability to hit 300-yard drives straight down the fairway all the time, or never 3-putt again?

Bobby Locke, one of the greatest putters in the game, said to ‘drive for show, but putt for dough’ And when you consider that the putter is the most used club in the bag, it seems like a no-brainer. But then again, according to Mark Brodie and his ‘strokes gained’ method, a long, straight driver may be more important to saving strokes. So what would you choose?

For me, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with the putting skills as I am currently suffering from the worst case of yips I’ve ever experienced in over 30 years. Sure, it’d be nice to outdrive the guys in my regular foursome, but I don’t think I can live down the shame of missing inside of 3ft all day, every day. And with no genie in site, I have searched high and low for that perfect putter that can cure my woes.

After trying nearly 50 putters over the past two years and enduring numerous snide remarks to get putting lessons instead, I finally gave in. I bit the bullet and sought professional help from Jong-hwan Choi, Korea’s number one putting coach to the pros.

Choi’s resume includes LynnBlake Master Instructor certification, AimPoint LV3, PuttDoctor, MichaelHebron Neuro Learning for Golf, and many others.

Choi is an accomplished Tour putting coach who has made a name for himself through relentless research and dedication to master his chosen craft. Thus far, the pros and elite amateurs he helped have won a total of 350 tournaments, including KPGA, KLPGA, and LPGA wins. He is so popular that it can take up to a year to book a lesson with the man himself, but I was desperate. After pulling all the strings I can muster, I was able to get an interview with him in the hopes of getting some help
with my flat stick.

When the day finally came, I arrived at Choi’s academy armed with 3 of my current best-performing putters. I was eager to glean the secrets of the pros and to find out which of these best fit my stroke. I was greeted by Choi and briefly shown around the spacious academy, which had a large flat putting surface and some basic training aids that are common online. Upon chatting about Choi’s background and teaching philosophy, he reminded me of the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. He was constantly emphasizing positivity and proactive learning reinforced with hard work and dedication towards self-growth – that skills are built, not born. Sure, I get that.

But surely, preaching alone doesn’t improve (my) putting?

TourPutt: The Secret of the Pros?

When Choi offered (after some subtle arm twisting) to look at my putting, I was puzzled when he pulled out a tablet rather than some kind of putting trainer. I figured maybe he was going to film me first, then point out some flaws on the monitor. Nope.

We were going high-tech for this one. We were joined by his friend and business partner Chan-ki Kim, a software engineer who co-developed TourPutt, a state-of-the-art putting training system.

According to the dynamic duo, TourPutt was developed to accurately assess a player’s putting tendencies, habits, and skills utilizing big data and A.I. Rather than second-guessing and trying to identify the faults, Tour Putt acts like an MRI machine that shows the doctor where to problem lies. Once the diagnosis is made, Choi would bring to bear his extensive experiences to cure the ailing putter. Sounded simple to me. But how would it know what my problem was?

As Choi’s fingers danced over the tablet in his hand, the TourPutt sprang into action and a small circle the size of a hole-cup appeared on the artificial putting surface. As I surveyed the circle of light beamed from a ceiling projector, Choi asked me a question I hadn’t considered before. ‘Which breaks are you most comfortable with on short putts? What are the odds that you make them?’ Taking my blank look as his cue, Choi proceeded to explain the process of mapping my putting pattern to gauge my stren gths and weaknesses.

To begin, I was directed to putt a golf ball into a hole from 36 random locations ranging from 3 to 6 ft. A ball tracking camera with two projectors mounted on the ceiling rendered various crisp, clear images onto the putting surface. Prior to start, I was informed that the putting surface was sloped 3% from top to bottom. So if you were to imagine a clock face, the 12 o’clock location would be a 3° downhill straight putt, while 6 o’clock would be a 3° uphill straight putt.

As I am right-handed, all putts from the left side of the 3 o’clock would be a hook like, and the left side a slice lie, all to varying degrees. When I asked why it was fixed at 3%, Kim explained that tour regulation greens don’t allow for more than a 3 degree slope within 6ft of the hole. Also, most amateur golfers had a difficult time detecting such a small amount of slope, and thereby misjudge the breaks to a higher score.

Knowing Where to Tap

After the pattern test began, it took me a little over 20 minutes to complete a total of 36 putts at random locations. I was quite conscious of the many eyes on my performance and equally frustrated at how often I was missing putts despite my best efforts. After I was done, Choi pulled up my results, or key performing index (KPI), on a large screen TV where I was able to see exactly where I was effective in my short putts. In brief, I had a tough time with both hook and slice lie putts. I showed slightly better results with uphill straight and slice putts, but absolutely nothing to write home about.

Now, I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story of the plumber who was called to fix a steam pipe. After looking around the pipes and tapping a couple of valves, he charged $200 for his services. When the irate customer demanded to know why it cost so much and asked for a detailed breakdown of the services, the plumber replied, ‘$10 for tapping, $190 for knowing precisely where to tap.’

As such, my results from the pattern test were eye-opening. I’ve never known what lie I was more effective at, much less the percentage of probable success. For example, the more often I use TourPutt to practice or diagnose my putting, the more accurately it can diagnose my skills. Thus, I can pinpoint which area to improve through practice, as well as try to get the ball to an area I am more likely to save par.

Wow. This was tour pro stuff. Was this the secret of the pros?

The green area indicates a successful putt and the red is where I missed. The numbers show how long it took me to strike the putt after being instructed by a bell sound.

I was starting to get heady with the possibilities this digital marvel was able to provide. It took both of them to bring me down to earth again by informing me that knowing the areas of improvement is only half the battle.

For the actual tapping part, Choi and Kim then walked me through the many innovative features of TourPutt focused on helping me improve my putting. I was mesmerized by the detailed graphics that flashed all over the putting surface.

I was already impressed with the diagnostic aspects of TourPutt, but upon seeing the actual features to help me improve my putting, I was doubly blown away. From reading the green speed and breaks accurately to effective swing tempo and motion tracking, the system seemed straight out of the future.

Putting from variations of the 3% slope helps golfers to get a better feel the greens, a skill that can translate onto reading the breaks on actual greens.

Before TourPutt came into being, Choi was frustrated with the difficulty in collecting crucial data from an actual green as it was difficult to find a flat area to map his student’s patterns. When he discussed the matter with Kim back in 2019, Kim immediately became interested in ways to mesh modern technology and A.I. driven data to the art of putting. As an elite level golfer with extensive knowledge in the fields of VR and AR (virtual and augmented reality), Kim understood right away the issues faced by Choi and how he could help.

Delving deep into Choi’s experience and insights, Kim designed the TourPutt’s interface to yield accurate and reliable data that can be cross-checked, correlated, and compared across past and future performances. Best of all, TourPutt and its proprietary app feature the ability to keep track of all of my performance from any TourPutt system and access the data anywhere at any time. I could even replay all of my past putts and see the speed and the path it took, and compare them with other golfer’s data in the system. Mind. Blown.

Kim further explained that this feature of collecting real-world significant big data is one of the biggest advantages of TourPutt, and enables it to evolve further with every putt stored in its vast database.

The app can be used in both English and Korean, and can keep track of my performance and improvements.

The Student Becomes The Teacher

Once the flaws are identified, we moved on to the more traditional slow-motion video to see what I was doing wrong to miss the putts. For me, I kept too much weight on the back foot, and also needed more forward press to keep the putter head online through impact.

After several minutes of drill to correct the issues, I was holing the putts much better. The data from the second pattern test confirmed the improvement, and I was also shown the actual paths that my two putts took before and after the fix. All in all, being able to verify that the diagnosis was correct with immediate results, all backed by data was highly reassuring and enlightening. But what if these improvements were short-lived? That as soon as I walk out of Choi's presence, the magic evaporates and my crappy putting returns? I can’t tell you how often a club I thought was the answer to my prayers devolved into an ordinary stick as soon as I paid for it. It’s downright uncanny how often this happens.

To this end, Choi gave me a glimpse of hope. He assured me that since I was investing time into my skills and not money into more equipment, it will definitely last longer. Also, the coaching provided by Choi is reflected in each and every putt I had made since the lesson and recorded as part of my putting profile. So if I were to stray from the ‘good’ putts, the system can be used to bring me back on track. And if this cycle of improvement continues, I would be able to be my own teacher and
eventually practice effectively and independently on my own.

Honestly, I don’t know about this part. After all, I too know that the right diet and exercise will give me a six-pack; but knowing and doing it are two separate things. In the end, how effective any tool can depend on how well I make use of it, so it will have to remain to be seen. What I can say with certainty, however, is that TourPutt seems to work for a lot of people. Choi’s students continue to post wins on various tours with regularity, each crediting him with their improved putting performance. In turn, Choi credits his partner Kim and TourPutt’s growing database for accurate diagnosis and self-learning.

ToutPutt and its built-in sensors are capable of sensing where the lies have changed. The self-learning A.I. system actively adjusts for the changes to the putting surface, thereby eliminating the need for recalibration.

In Korea, the art of putting has found its poster child in Choi, with more and more golf academies and private studios installing TourPutt for its members. Several local tour pros and top amateurs have also installed the not-so-cheap system in their homes and have said to benefit from the move. Remember when Tiger showed up one day at the range with his own Trackman? I would imagine having a TourPutt in your basement is something like that, but I can only guess. I don’t have a personal Trackman either.

Choi attends seminars all over the world each year to continue his improvement in putting instruction.He is currently working on compiling his own training and certification program to impart to a new generation of would-be putting gurus.

Now that I know where I need to improve on, does this mean I will be taking money off my foursome buddies with alarming regularity? Well, let me see. I signed up for pilates a few months ago and found out exactly where I need to work on for more flexibility. But as I still creak all over when bending over to tie my shoes, I’d guess my putting won’t miraculously improve right away neither. But hey, that’s on me. I’ll just have to start working on the tapping part. Anyone looking to buy some used putters?

For more information on TourPutt from the man himself, check out the video below.

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