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Opinion & Analysis

I did that! An interview with Driver vs. Driver winner Eric Sillies

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A $50 pair of shoes! That was the big extravagance for Eric Sillies after winning the $500,000 prize on Golf Channel’s television show Driver vs. Driver presented by Wilson. That might make him sound dull, but after talking to him recently, I’ve learned he’s anything but. I spent almost an hour chatting to him about life since Wilson chose his driver, Triton, to be the company’s flagship model for 2017.

It been more than a month since the Triton hit shelves at golf retailers, and aside from a non-conformity hiccup with the USGA (which has since been resolved) the initial reaction to the driver has been very positive. A lot of people followed the show and liked the concept, and many have been curious enough to find their way to a store to try a Triton.

Sillies isn’t privy to the current sales numbers, but he did say that Wilson seems to be very happy with the exposure so far. The feedback he’s received since launch has been mostly about how forgiving the driver is in the hands of ordinary golfers, which makes him very satisfied.

“Its always great to get direct feedback from real golfers,” Eric said. “To see trends and patterns of feedback that focus on key benefits, it translates theory into reality.”

Wilson_triton_pieces

Related: See more in-hand photos of the Triton driver

In terms of his relationship with the company moving forward, Sillies is on the Wilson Advisory Staff for the foreseeable future and will be at the upcoming PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando later this month. And in talking to him, he is a great ambassador for Wilson, mixing enthusiasm with professionalism. But for now he is back to his day job in Cincinnati with LPK, a global product design agency.

Since winning, Sillies has had a lot of press interviews and speaking engagements, far more than he ever envisaged. “Work has been great, giving me time to deal with all these commitments,” he said. “But I’m still focused on my day job.” The word grounded springs to mind when talking with Sillies.

Driver v DriverAs for the Driver vs. Driver show itself, Sillies said it was surprisingly authentic and pretty true to what appeared on people’s screens. A few of his early ideas got dropped, but Sillies is used to the iterative process involved in product design and understood that there are a lot of restrictions in play because of USGA rules.

Sillies had some concepts on a modified grip and his initial weighting idea was based on a sliding rail. He also had some ideas on innovative weighting fins to improve aerodynamics. They were built into an early prototype, but analysis by Wilson Labs showed that they had no impact on aerodynamics so again the idea was canned. And his original name for the driver, “Manta,” was switched to Triton along the way. He said both he and Wilson were very happy with the final product, which is arguably the most adjustable driver in the industry.

During the 12-month process of filming and airing the TV show, Sillies said he felt very much felt a part of the Wilson Golf team. He got to meet and work closely with a bunch of people from Wilson, including Wilson Golf’s General Manager Tim Clarke. Clarke called him first thing in the morning before the news broke about the non-conformity issue.

He also met PGA Tour player Kevin Streelman, who endorses and uses Wilson Golf equipment. “It was only when the cameras were off and I spent some time one on one with him that I found out how genuine [Streelman] was,” Eric said. “He gave me a bunch of advice and very useful feedback on my designs.”

Sillies also praised Michael Vrska, Wilson’s Global Director of Golf R&D, as a great guy and crucial to his success. “Mike and his team got the club through from the design prototyping stage to the finished product, with the rendering, design graphics, production, sales and marketing, Sillies said. “He is hugely knowledgeable and very experienced at what works and what doesn’t work.”

Sillies on Fairways of Life with Matt Adams.

Sillies on Fairways of Life with Matt Adams.

Talking about Vrska led Sillies to admit how much of a huge learning curve there was in the process, and how much stress there was in the relatively short time frame from concept to launch. Sillies said Vrska allowed him to be central in the process all the way through. “This is your club, you need to decide,” Vrska reminded him.

Sillies nearly didn’t enter the competition at all, but for a work colleague suggesting it to him. Not being much of a golfer, he relied on his product design skills honed at LPK. He had some golf pedigree, working as an intern at Dick’s Sporting Goods and designing the aesthetic direction for its 2012 Nickent golf club line. But in terms of a brand new club concept it was new ground, so he resorted to his mantra of making things better by making better things.

In the few weeks before the entry deadline approached, Sillies spent time during his lunch breaks and at night researching golf instruction videos. He had three main ideas. One was to put a white spot on the top of the club that was the width of the ball to show golfers where they should make contact.

“It’s so hard to hit a golf ball anyway that setting up well is a big part of it,” Sillies said. “I thought, why isn’t there a club that’s solving for that? So I decided to make one.”

He also added a removable piece that attached at the bottom of the club, which could adjust the weight of the club at several different points to fit a golfer’s swing. Both ideas ultimately made it to the final product.

Finally, he wanted the most aerodynamic club he could find. He said he was inspired to come up with an aerodynamic design by animals, specifically a manta ray. His driver wound up being the most aerodynamic of any on the show.

Wilson_Triton_address

Surprising, Sillies doesn’t yet have a final version of a Triton driver to call his own, but he was recently fitted and is expecting one soon. He called being fit for a driver he designed “a surreal experience.” Did he enjoy being on camera and being the center of attention?

“To my surprise, I found I loved it.” he said. “Everyone was so nice, so helpful and supportive. It couldn’t have been a better experience for me. I would encourage anyone to go through the same experience.”

So what did he think was the coolest thing in the whole process?

“To me it is being able to now go into a golf store with friends and see my driver on the shelves and knowing that people across the country are going to be playing it and thinking, ‘I did that!'” he said.

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Joey

    Mar 1, 2017 at 11:10 am

    That would be so sweet to make tour own club.

  2. Chris C.

    Jan 24, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    The local GG now has the conforming Tritons. With one 6 gram and two 2 gram weights, the swingweight was C-6. If you go with a two 6 gram and one 2 gram configuration, you can get the club up to C-8. Does anyone recall a major OEM release with a lighter swingweight? Anything close? It is a shame that this club has been ruined.

  3. chip

    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Hey Mark, if you ever decide to write another article, use Spell Check and Grammar Check. That was a disaster.

  4. Ccshop

    Jan 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Happy someone could fulfill there’s dreams and get a product on such a competitive market. That being said, hitting the driver in person, ugly look and ugly numbers. Don’t know how successful this driver will be at the price point

  5. Chris C.

    Jan 21, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Unfortunately, Wilson’s decision to eliminate the 12 gram weights makes use of the carbon sole plate impractical. That is, unless you like swing weights lower than D-0.

  6. Dat

    Jan 21, 2017 at 2:01 am

    Good for him! Shame the USGA caused this product to be a slight downer on launch, but otherwise a decent 1st attempt at crowd-sourcing design.

  7. Fah Q

    Jan 20, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    USGA deemed it non-conforming. Therefore Wilson had to remove them from store shelves and change the design. Does he feel like he should give his money back and give it to the other guy who lost who would have won legitimately?

  8. Jim

    Jan 20, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    The show was a little contrived but overall pretty fun to see how the design process works with golf clubs. I hope the club does well but Wilson really needs to step up their marketing and endorsements if they expect any big sales. I’m a little surprised that Wilson didn’t offer Sillies a job though, especially as he is already in product design. At least he got the money for the rights to his club design.

  9. Matt

    Jan 20, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Most aerodynamic driver on the show? I know you have to put stuff like that in this article to make Wilson Golf happy, but you’re ruining your credibility. Re-watch the show and you’ll clearly see it wasn’t even close to the most aerodynamic. Did you know it also didn’t meet USGA regulations as well?

  10. Weston Maughan

    Jan 20, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Eric is a genuine guy! I enjoyed competing against him on the show. Glad to see Streelman play the Triton on the PGATour this week too!

  11. Tom Duckworth

    Jan 20, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I’m really looking forward to how it tests out with the golfing press. I can’t think of a driver that you could do more with to change it around to fit you and change the sound as well. Not too many drivers you can get right inside of. I just hope it gets a fair test. I thought the show was a bit underwhelming but maybe a good driver in the end.

  12. Kevin

    Jan 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Mark, just curious if you were able to watch the show. There was a large portion of an episode on aerodynamics, and the Triton was not the most aerodynamic by quite a bit. Just want to make sure consumers are getting the right information. Thanks!

  13. Jeremy

    Jan 20, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    So how much of the final product was Eric’s and how much was Wilson’s?

  14. TexasSnowman

    Jan 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    great personal story, but I don’t think it will sell.

  15. S Hitter

    Jan 20, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    How does he feel about the design being judged to be non-conforming by the USGA, after all the trouble that the show’s producers went into hammering that point home to all the designers during the production phases in the show?

  16. Rat

    Jan 20, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Great interview, I think he still may have ideas that could work with the Wilson Team guiding him.
    I enjoyed the show and I am in process selecting may driver combination from Wilson’s Triton. So many shafts to choose from is great and most at no up charge. AWESOME…
    How about a fairway wood design for the future?

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Is lighter always longer?

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One of the continuing trends in golf clubs – particularly drivers – is the pursuit of increasingly lighter shafts; this obsessive goal has given us the premise that the lighter the club, the faster you can swing it. And that idea is driven by the relentless pursuit of distance at all levels, and for all golfers.

But as long as he is, for example, Dustin Johnson ran away with the Masters because he was exactly that – a “master” at ball control and precision. DJ outperformed almost everyone in the field in terms of fairways and greens. That gave him more birdie putts, better looks because of his precise approach shots, and many fewer tough par saves.

But my topic today is to pose the question: “Is lighter really the key to being longer for all of us “recreational” golfers?”
Let me begin by saying that “recreational” doesn’t mean any lack of seriousness or dedication to the game. Hitting better shots and shooting lower scores is the goal for all of us who care about our golf games, right? What I mean is that we do not make our living playing the game. We do not practice incessantly. We do not spend hours at the gym every day specifically preparing our bodies to optimize our golf skills.

Today I’m going to put on my “contrarian” cap and challenge this assumption of “lighter is longer” on a couple of bases.
First, if you watch every accomplished player, you will see that the body core rotation is fast enough to “beat” the hands and clubhead to the ball. All instructors agree that the big muscles of the legs and body core are the key to power and repeatability in the golf swing. The faster you can rotate your body through impact, the more power you generate, which flows down the arms, through the hands and shaft and to the clubhead. This is a basic law of “golf swing physics”.

The simple fact is, the speed at which you can fire these big muscles is not going to be measurably impacted by removing another half ounce or less of weight from your driver. But what that removal of weight can do is to possibly allow for your hands to be faster, which would aggravate the problem I see in most mid- to high-handicap players. That problem is that their body core is not leading the swing, but rather it is following the arms and hands through impact.

Secondly, speed without precision is essentially worthless to you, and likely even counter-productive to your goal of playing better golf. Even with the big 460cc drivers, a miss of the sweet spot by just a half inch can cost you 8-12% of your optimum distance. You could never remove enough weight from the driver to increase your club speed by that amount. So, the key to consistently longer drives is to figure out how to make consistently more precise impact with the ball.

No golf adage is always true, but my experience and observation of thousands of golfers indicates to me that the fastest route to better driver distance is to get more precise with your impact and swing path, and not necessarily increasing your clubhead speed. And that may well be served by moving to a slightly heavier driver, not a lighter one.

I’ll end this by offering that this is not an experiment to conduct in a hitting bay with a launch monitor, but rather by playing a few rounds with a driver that is heavier than your current “gamer”.

Continuing with my “contrarian” outlook on many aspects of golf equipment, the typical driver “fitting” is built around an intense session on a launch monitor, where you might hit 30-40 or more drives in an hour or so. But the reality of golf is that your typical round of golf involves only 12-13 drives hit over a four-hour period, each one affected by a number of outside influences. But that’s an article for another time.

For this week, think about pulling an older, heavier driver from your closet or garage and giving it a go for a round or two and see what happens.

I would like to end today’s post by wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. It’s been a helluva year for all of us, so let’s take some time this week to count our individual and collective blessings.

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Podcasts

TG2: Reviewing the first major OEM (Cobra) 3D-printed putter!

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The first major OEM with a 3D printed putter is Cobra Golf! I took the new Limited Edition King Supersport-35 putter out on the course and found it to be a great performer. Cobra partnered with HP and SIK Putters to create a 3D printed body mated to an aluminum face that features SIK’s Descending Loft technology.

 

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Opinion & Analysis

You went to play, now you want to stay: Homes near Cabot Links & Cliffs

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At some point, we’ve all had that moment during a vacation where we look around and think to ourselves, “Instead of visiting, why don’t we just move here?” It always sounds a little crazy in the moment, but really, what’s stopping you?

Like many, I have done this myself, and it leads me down a rabbit hole of golf destination real estate to places all over North America where you get world-class golf minutes from home.

So whether you’re a big spender or looking to downsize and find a cozy hideaway, these homes near Cabot Links & Cliffs have it all.

Homes near Cabot Links & Cliffs

Inverness, Nova Scotia

Steps away

$1,495,000 – 12 Mine Road Inverness MLS Number: 202011562

Location, location, location!

This is currently the most expensive house in Inverness NS, and for good reason. It’s steps away from Cabot Links and overlooks the resort. It’s over 2,600 square feet of beautiful open concept living, and with a local address, you get a discount on tee times at the course, although with its growing popularity, you aren’t guaranteed times like if you stay on the actual property.

Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this view every day? Listing: 12 Mine Road – Realtor

Just up the road

$980,000 – 30 Broad Cove Road Inverness, MLS Number: 202010717

If the first one seems a bit crazy, this next one might be right up your alley.

This 4,000 square foot home, is only minutes from Cabot Link and Cliffs and has amazing views that overlook the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It has everything you could want including a large chef’s kitchen and enough room to host friends and family.

Listing: 30 Broad Cove Road – Realtor

Just you and the ocean

$394,000 – 6 Bayberry Road, Port Hood, MLS Number: 202015994

If you like golf but want a little more separation from the Cabot golf resort, less than 20 miles down the road is Port Hood, another quiet seaside town filled with quaint shops and endless views of the ocean.

You can wake up every morning to the sounds of the ocean and the smell of sea air, and when you want to play golf at a top 50 course in the world, you just need to make a relaxing drive along the water to get there—heck, if you are so inclined, and happen to have a boat, you can go almost door to door that way too!

Listing: 6 Bayberry Road – Realtor

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