The Ultimate Fitting

Monday March 2nd, 2009
This is where the work gets done in Nike's truck.
David Dusek

Unlike you, the pros on the PGA Tour don't order their clubs on discount Web sites or buy equipment off the rack at a golf specialty store or pro shop. They go to high-tech testing centers and get custom fit for the latest gear.

To keep those fancy new clubs in perfect shape—and give pros a chance to tinker at their leisure—a fleet of equipment vans and trucks park close to the practice area at every Tour stop.

The equipment vans come in all shapes and sizes. Manufacturers that have only a handful of Tour players in their stable employ small trucks, but the biggest companies use 18-wheelers that are more than 50 feet long and weigh about 65,000 pounds.

Callaway Golf's truck is designed in a typical setup. A countertop runs along the walls and an island covered with grinders, belt sanders, balances and tools stands in the middle. Drawers filled with clubheads, shafts and other components are everywhere. Tiny slips of paper hang like orders in a diner, each with a player's name and a job order on it. Most of the equipment lying around is the newest, state-of-the-art gear. Some things are still in the prototype stage, lacking cosmetic touches but infused with the technology of tomorrow that you can't buy today.

Bruce Martin not only builds golf clubs for Callaway players like Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, but he also drives the truck from tournament to tournament. "I usually get to an event on Saturday or Sunday and set things up," he says. "And by Wednesday I'll be driving to the next venue."

Martin's home is in Overbrook, Kan., but he'll be on the road for more than 30 weeks each year.

Wally Walakovits, who drives the truck and builds clubs for Nike Golf, spent 260 nights in hotels last year. His company's new rig has plenty of workspace for him to build clubs for players like K.J. Choi and Stewart Cink, but it also has a conference center. Players, agents and Nike reps can enjoy the flat-screen TV, sofa, meeting table and video games while Walakovits plies his trade. According to Nike's Steve Stach, who also works in the truck, the carpet rolls to about a 10 on the Stimpmeter, and a hole near the doorway lets players practice their putting. The meeting area itself smells like coffee. "David Duval gave us this espresso machine as a gift," says Stach.

Most of the work done inside equipment trucks is maintenance. For example, many pros have their clubs re-gripped about once a month, which can be done in about 15 to 20 minutes.

Another common job is adjusting the lofts and lie angles of irons. Because Tour players pound thousands of range balls on hard turf, their irons can bend fractionally. For a top player, even a tiny imperfection can make a big difference.

"Vijay Singh is very meticulous about his equipment," says Cleveland Golf's Mike Moberg. "He gets his lofts and lies checked every few weeks, and he can feel when they're even a half-degree off."

For a player like Singh, that half-degree could mean a perfectly-struck ball falls short of its target or sails wide; weekend players would never feel the difference.

Many players take advantage of an equipment van's inventory and experiment with new combinations of shafts and heads. According to Walakovits, Justin Leonard, who returned to his former coach Randy Smith last fall, also switched from a 46-inch driver to a 47-inch driver. Leonard then won the 2007 Valero Texas Open in October and has recorded six top-10 finishes in his last seven starts.

At the FBR Open, the 2007 PGA Tour rookie of the year, Brandt Snedeker, wanted his driver made slightly more upright. After it was taken to TaylorMade's truck, Wade Liles removed the shaft and heated the hosel with a blowtorch. He then used an iron bar to bend the glowing metal before carefully measuring and adjusting the lie angle he'd created on another machine. A few minutes after bonding the shaft and head back together using epoxy, Snedeker's driver was ready.

To get their equipment just right, a few players enjoy taking matters into their own hands. "Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia grind their own wedges," Liles says. "A lot of people must think we're lazy, but they know the look they want so we're happy to set Sergio and Retief up with goggles and let them have at it."

According to Liles, many players came to the TaylorMade van at rain-soaked Torrey Pines to have the loft on their drivers increased in hopes of maximizing distance on the wet fairways.

From working closely with Tour players at the Buick Invitational, Liles is already anticipating what he'll need to do in June when the U.S. Open returns to Torrey Pines.

"We'll build lots of rescue clubs, 5-woods and 7-woods that week," Liles says. "When those greens get hard and the course is fully stretched out, players will need to hit high shots to make the ball to stop. Getting a long iron to stop on greens rolling to a 13 will be tough."

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