They are known as the “tour vans,” the toy stores on wheels that race from tournament to tournament, making sure that the world’s top players have everything they need—the right shaft, the right lie angle, the right grind and, sometimes, just the right mind to know that everything’s in good shape.
On Wednesday in Pebble Beach, PutterZone.com editor Sean Weir popped into the tour vans of Nike Golf and TaylorMade, who both just happen to be behind two of the hottest putters on tour—the Nike Method putter and the TaylorMade Ghost putter. Lucas Glover won the previous U.S. Open with a Nike Method putter, while Justin Rose recently won the Memorial with the Ghost putter in hand. Following is Sean’s report from inside the tour vans:
These tour van drivers must have mad parking skills, because their trailers are all jammed tightly into a small area riddled with Monterey pines. TaylorMade, Nike, Titleist, Cleveland, Callaway…all of the big boys are here, as they are on every significant tour stop.
The fact that this is the U.S. Open seems to have added a little extra crackle in the air. The guys inside the vans tend to be fairly loose under pressure, but you can see in their eyes that this isn’t just another tournament. The buzz around the vans is audible today.
My first stop is the Nike Golf tour van, where I meet Rob Burbick. The van is big but not huge. The perimeter of the interior is lined with counters and drawers. An island in the middle is loaded with the tools of the trade, such as grinders and benders. Rob is the one who drives this rig. He had some epic stretches on the highway to get here from Texas, yet doesn’t look any worse for the wear.
Rob pulls out one of the slim slide drawers—similar to the drawers in a large shop box—to reveal a bunch of raw-shafted putters that can be cut and gripped and bent in a matter of minutes. Each of the putters has “The Oven” stamped on the sole, a nod to Nike’s research and development facility in Texas (Rob calls the tour van the “Microwave Oven”). The Oven logo is also incorporated into the putter covers.
We talk about the Method putter. Rob tells the story of one tour pro who, before trying the Method, wanted it bent to four degrees of loft instead of the stock 2.5 degrees, so that the loft would match that of his existing putter. But he was persuaded to roll some putts first under high-speed camera, and was amazed to discover that he was getting the same launch angle with less loft while reducing ball skid from four inches on his current putter to one inch with the Method.
Rob notes that most grooved putters feature lower lofts, “sacrificing launch angle to achieve quicker forward roll.” But with the Method, he says, “we get correct launch and faster roll. We get both.” How? He says that the polymetal groove technology on the Nike Method putter boasts added rebound that, despite the lower loft, increases launch angle.
My next stop is the TaylorMade van, where I meet tour representative Todd Chew (pictured above), who says that the TaylorMade Ghost is the ticket right now. In other words, if this van were a diner, you would say that the Ghost is selling like hotcakes.
Todd shows how the two oblong metal plugs on the sole of the Ghost—which are fixed in the retail version—can be customized for the tour professionals. So they stock numerous Ghost heads with empty ports in the sole, into which they can install plugs of different weights to match the specific swingweight requests of the players.
The sightlines on the Ghost are also customized. While the retail version has three parallel black signtlines on the crown, Todd shows me one with a single black sightline (pictured here). Something tells me that more than a few people will be drooling over this single-sightline version.
The energy inside the van seems to be intensifying. It’s time for me to get out of the way and let these guys do their work. Will the Method or the Ghost find itself in the hunt on Sunday? Based on recent history, I wouldn’t be surprised.