TaylorMade’s Sean Toulon has had a front-row seat for the many changes that have occurred in the golf industry in the last two decades.
The Madison, Wis., native began his career with TaylorMade as a sales rep for the territories of Wisconsin, Minnesota and North and South Dakota. Now, in his 21st year with the company, Toulon has a leading voice as the company’s executive vice president of product creation.
“The title has changed, but I’ve pretty much had the same job since 2000,” Toulon says.
Toulon leads a team that is responsible for the design and creation of TaylorMade’s products. It works in tandem with a team lead by another TaylorMade veteran, Chief Technical Officer Benoit Vincent, who leads the development of the technologies that go into TaylorMade products.
GolfWRX Managing Editor Zak Kozuchowski sat down with Toulon at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show to discuss the company’s strategy, its controversial product launches and TaylorMade’s plan for growing the game of golf.
ZK: Tell me about the state of TaylorMade at this moment.
ST: We just finished the second best year that we’ve ever had, second best only to 2012. That means it’s the second best year anybody’s ever had, so that’s a pretty exciting thing for us. It was a little bit more challenging year than what we hoped for. It was such a difficult start. I really don’t think there was much golf played almost anywhere for the first three months of the year. I know it’s easy to blame weather, but it was really difficult as compared to the prior year. So that made it a little challenging to rebound from the negative momentum to start the year. But I think we got through that very, very well and finished off pretty strong. We’re excited about where we are sitting today with our product line up so we’re very optimistic.
ZK: What’s the difference in the company’s strategy for 2014 versus 2013?
ST: I would say that we’re more focused than we were, which is only good. When things start to get more challenging, a little bit more time and effort goes into your strategic planning. Trying to figure out where products fit, where maybe they don’t. What to launch and what not to launch. So I think we’ve got the ball really, really intensely. We’re just looking at the opportunities that we have to grow our share in drivers, fairways, rescues and overall metal woods, and we think there is substantial room for us to grow. The iron is doing very, very well but we have lots of room to grow there. Footwear and apparel business, we’re doing well and we have room to grow there. So I’d say that we’re focused and really, really energized going into 2014.
ZK: Many of your product launches on our site have been met with some skepticism and negativity. But as you said, this is your second best year all time for you and the second best year anybody has ever had in the golf industry. How does it make you feel when you see those negative posts in the forums?
ST: Well, I wish everybody said nothing but unbelievably great things. The negativity that you mean, I don’t mind it if those are their true feelings. If they have other motives, that would be unfortunate. I see it, I read it. I have a really good idea for what the vibe is. I think there are two things that happen. One, we’re the most successful company so that’s an easy one for people to take shots at. In some ways, people hate the Yankees. If we’re the New York Yankees of golf or something like that then you’re going to get some of that. The second part is, they just don’t have the luxury of having the same information that we have. So where some of the things that we do might be curious to them, or even sometimes disappointing, I just don’t think they have all the information and they’re not going to, so we understand that. Part of it just comes with the territory.
ZK: You’re in your own territory though, especially with drivers where you have really touted moving the center of gravity (CG) low and forward in the club heads. I think every serious golfer knows that TaylorMade’s CG is low and forward so if that was your goal, you’ve accomplished it. But why do you seem to be the only company embracing that space right now?
ST: Our company, Zak, has always been courageous enough to stand alone. And that’s really hard for people to do. Since 1979, we’ve bucked a trend and I think we’ve continued to do that as we’ve developed products, especially since 2000. So when we have something that we’re so sure is better, even to some extent, the more controversial the concept might be, the bigger the potential reward. And we’re really, really comfortable playing in that space. SLDR for us, when everybody’s talking about low back, that’s where we were. That’s where everybody really is other than us. We know there is a better way and the better way is low and forward and we think everybody will eventually chase us there. I think that would just be great for the industry because, ultimately, everybody wants to get toward these launch conditions. They’re going to have to figure out a way to scrub spin off and get launch angle up, which is probably going to mean lofting up with lower CG clubs. We, being the first ones there, will reap the most benefit. I think it’ll be fantastic.
Above: TaylorMade’s SLDR driver is one of the most popular — and also most controversial — drivers on the market. It’s low, forward CG makes it one of golf’s lowest-spinning drivers, but critics say its design compromises forgiveness and consistency. We awarded the SLDR a rating of 5 out of 5 stars in our review for its ability to reduce spin, as well as its high peak ball speeds and pleasing look, sound and feel.
ZK: Why is TaylorMade as a company so concerned with growing the game? It seems that your energy has really shifted there in the last two years.
ST: Well, the reason why we’re interested in growing the game is because the game is in big trouble and I think the same minds have been talking about it for a long time and, in fairness, they have tried some initiatives, a whole bunch of different initiatives, but if you look at the numbers, maybe the decline is not as steep as it would have been without those. But the bottom line is that 5 million core golfers have left the game in 10 years and golfers in the age bracket of 18 to 34 have declined by 30 percent. That’s a big problem. We love this game and to see it in a state of decline is sad. So, I know it’s really hard for people to think that TaylorMade can be altruistic, but we’re a bunch of golfers just like you guys and the people on your site are. We fear that the game is in a fairly long term potential state of decline. That’s not good so we want to help.
ZK: Is there one thing that you can point to… that you can say is this is the biggest hurdle that the golf industry has to conquer.
ST: I think for golfers, it isn’t about time, it isn’t about expense or difficulty (skills are factors, of course), but the two things that I think are really, really hampering golf are getting new people in the game and keeping beginning golfers excited to get in and get better, because it’s really not much fun for them. When you go to a golf course and you have to worry about how long your shorts are, or oh my god, my shirt is untucked in the back or your hat is on a little crooked, or a country club crime like my phone goes off in the grill room, that’s not fun. Can you imagine being a beginning golfer sitting in front of a green five-chipping while you’ve got a bunch of people yelling at you from the fairway to hurry up? So that’s the idea, that it’s no fun. And when it gets really, really ugly, it gets to the point where new golfers are just totally intimidated by that. Why would I go though the time, the expense, the difficulty, all of that if I am made to not feel welcome and I don’t experience any fun when I’m there. That’s the problem. That’s what needs to be fixed.
ZK: At next year’s PGA show, let’s say I am having the same conversation with you. What are the things that you hope you can say golf moved toward, and that TaylorMade moved toward?
ST: Well, let me do TaylorMade first. Obviously we’re going to continue to innovate. We’ve built our company around a concept of relentless innovation. That means, the different groups in the company, whether it’s my group in design and creation of the products, or Benoit Vincent’s group of creating the technologies and bringing these things together. A supply chain that is able to take ideas and concepts and prototypes and not make one, but make hundreds and thousands or even millions of them. We do that, I think, better than anybody. We’ve systematically grown our company to be able to do that. So, that we would continue to innovate and our innovations would lead to massive performance gains that we see on paper. I think that’s going to come true and I think you’re going to begin to see it, really this year with SLDR because those gains are massive in distance. They’re very, very real and the runway for future gain is not only defined, it’s very long. We’re super bullish about that.
And as far as the game, I would hope that Hack Golf… already the ideas are coming in from the launch of that. And that these ideas would come from many, many, many of the 25 million players that love the game. I hope that we’ll be able to put some of these things into experimental mode and that we would get a path that would be clear from that, and begin to really attack some of these problems that golf is no fun and that it’s intimidating and that we’re making new progress there.
ZK: Do you have an idea to grow the game?
ST: I do, but in some ways that’s kind of the problem. I do have ideas and I’ve been doing this for 30 years, right? So you only have so much creative capacity. You know, there’s only so much in there. We’re looking at our company, the whole idea of hacking golf came from an initiative in our company called TaylorMade 3.0, where internally we’re blowing up the hierarchy of our company. We have an executive staff and there is about 10 of us on it, and most of the strategic decisions were made by these same 10 people. We’re all smart, experienced people, but there is a fixed amount of brainpower there. Which means the ideas are… they could be good ones, but it’s from a pretty narrow and pretty well worn lens. So the idea is real creativity, and that leaders should emerge from everywhere. Not only just to be able to hear what they have to say, but teach and train people how to be more creative and more innovative. So, the idea is, let’s open source some of these discussions and these strategies and let’s get more ideas. We don’t have too many good ideas. That’s what’s really gonna happen with Hack Golf. When you start to have ideas coming in from potentially 25 million people instead of 10 or 12, you’re gonna get some pretty crazy things.
ZK: Thank you for your time, Sean.
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- Ruixin Liu what’s in the bag accurate as of the Walmart NW Arkansas LPGA Championship.
Driver: Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero (9 degrees @8)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana
3-wood: Titleist TSR1 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei AV Raw White 55 S
Hybrid: Ping G430 (19 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI 75 R
Hybrid: Ping G430 (22 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI 75 R
Hybrid: Ping G430 (26 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI 75 R
Irons: Titleist T200 (6-PW), Titleist T150 (7-PW)
Shafts: AeroTech SteelFiber i95
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM9 (48-10F), WedgeWorks Proto (54-M), Miura MG-R01 (58)
Shafts: AeroTech SteelFiber i95 cw (48, 54), UST Mamiya Recoil 95 (58)
Grips: Golf Pride MCC, Grip Master
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- Will McGirt what’s in the bag accurate as of the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Driver: Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond (8.5 degrees @9.5)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus TR Red 6 X
3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth Plus (15 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue 7 X
3-wood: Ping G430 Max (15 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue 7 X
5-wood: Ping G430 Max (18 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue 8 X
Irons: Srixon ZX5 Mk II (4, 5), Srixon ZX7 Mk II (6-PW)
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Wedges: Cleveland RTX6 Tour Rack (50-10 Mid, 54-12 Full, 58-09 Full)
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Putter: Scotty Cameron prototype
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Club Junkie Review: Graphite Design Tour AD VF wood shaft
Graphite Design has been a legendary brand in the world of premium golf shafts since the company was founded in 1989. Graphite Design has had some popular shafts over the years, but they are probably most well known for the Tour AD DI that was released in 2010. Today we are talking about the newest shaft in the Graphite Design lineup, the new VF. The letters do stand for something, Victory Force, and according to Graphite Design every victory requires force! For a more in-depth review, please check out the Club Junkie podcast below or on any streaming platform. Just search “GolfWRX Radio.”
Out of the box, the VF has a very familiar look with a red handle section and a black tip section that are separated with the traditional 10 silver rings. The color combination is definitely more subtle than some of the other Tour AD shaft combinations. Graphite Design doesn’t make too many low-launching shafts, so the VF is filling that need. The VF will suit players looking for low/,id launch and low spin shaft to put in their driver or fairway wood.
The shaft profile is a firm+ handle section, it matches the stiffest handles Graphite Design shafts, with a stiff midsection, and finally a very stiff tip. Exotic materials are used along with MSI Design to maintain stability and consistency. Graphite Design uses Torayca M40X carbon fiber in the handle section to make it stiffer and enhance control of the shaft. Ultra-high modulus Torayca T1100G is used in the middle and tip section for added stability without losing that smooth feel.
I built up the VF shaft using a universal tip system that allows me to use the shaft in any driver head. The building went extremely smoothly as every Graphite Design shaft I have ever installed has a consistent tip diameter and I have never had any issues with a sloppy fit. Once the VF was cut to length and installed, the shaft has a great look that doesn’t jump out as distracting or eye-catching. If you are playing a TaylorMade Stealth 2, then the shaft blends in naturally and they look to visually be great partners!
You would expect a smooth and responsive feel from any Graphite Design shaft and you will get just that with the VF. For me the shaft was exactly as Graphite Design describes, being mid/low launch and offering a very penetrating ball flight. The Tour AD XC might launch a touch lower, but I like the feel and consistency I get from the VF just a little bit more. No matter what driver head I used, the VF seemed to offer ball flight in a similar window, slightly lower than the Fujikura Ventus TR Blue I was using. Even shots into the wind showed no real signs of rising or ballooning. Spin was also lower than I expected with the VF shaft. On the course, I noticed a penetrating, boring flight no matter where I hit the ball on the driver face. Shots struck low on the face held a good amount of distance and even the low heel strike seemed to launch lower and carry further.
I even took a couple of driver heads out to the range with a launch monitor and noticed that I rarely saw a spin number with a “3” in front of it. Almost every shot, good and not so good, seemed to spin around that 2,600 RPM number. With many fittings and shaft tinkering, that is usually on the lower end of what I find with my swing. As I said with the shaft being mid/low launch I was seeing an average of around 11 degrees while using a couple of 10.5-degree driver heads. On course, the VF was very straight and consistent and while it seemed easier to square up than I expected, it did not want to go left as easily as some other shafts. I would consider the flight just slightly fade biased but if you release the club properly you will be rewarded with a straight shot down the fairway.
Overall, the Graphite Design Tour AD VF is a really solid mid/low launch and low spin option with a smooth feel. It is starting to gain some traction on the professional tours and could be a great shaft for your swing as well.
Graphite Design Tour AD VF Specs
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