Few things -- if any -- have been born out of a shank. Much less three shanks in a row. But the Golf Swing Shirt, created by Ray Rapcavage, was created out of three consecutive shanks in his backyard. Ray sat down with Golf.com to answer a few questions about his creative swing aid and his round in Ireland with Swing Shirt sponsor Padraig Harrington. To enter a contest to win a round with Paddy for yourself or to buy the Swing Shirt for $69.95, head over to GolfSwingShirt.com
What makes the Swing Shirt different than other training aids?
It really is a great aid for anybody that is serious about improving. And who isn’t? The swing is a very complicated act, and there have been tons of articles about the proper swing by great instructors of the game. It really all boils down to feel. And that’s what instructors have been trying to teach. And that really is the hardest part of the swing. How should this swing feel? As an amateur player, that was always a challenge. There were times I was striking the ball well when I had that feel. But that was on a Friday, and then on Saturday, you don’t have it anymore. Then you go in a tailspin. I always had this image in my mind of something you could create that you could put on to feel what a good golf swing would feel like. Then you would have a holy grail.
At first glance, it’s got a quirky design. How did it the product come about?
I was practicing in my front yard about a year and a half ago. I was taking a few swings and was hitting a lob wedge. I shanked three in a row. I hate to even say that word. I took a swing and -- bang -- shanked one that hit my house. Then another one almost hit my car. A third flew over a hedge and almost hit my friends’ car. I stood there and had this hopeless, panic feeling come over me. I thought I had been swinging well, and all of a sudden, I have the shanks. Again, this image flashed into my head of something you could put on to feel how your swing is more in sync and that everything is happening at the same time. I’m standing there and had a sweater on. I picked it up over my head and turned it sideways so one sleeve was in front of me. I shoved my two arms into the one sleeve and started to swing again. I felt, “Wow.” Everything was in sync. I took some more swings and flushed about 20 in a row. I feel as everything is operating as one piece. Over time, I took that sweater and found an Under Armour type of a shirt that had a lot of flex and compression in it. I chopped that shirt up, stapled and sewed until I had one arm in the front and one arm completely off.
How did you first begin to market the product?
I was excited to develop a swing trainer for me. At the time, this was something I was thinking was just for my own swing. I practiced with this 'Frankenstein' shirt for about three months, and I started to see there was a lot of potential in it. I was putting it on friends, family and even strangers. I was at a driving range and people would ask what the heck i was wearing. And 85 percent of people I put it on would hit the ball so much better. I have a friend in the apparel industry, so I talked to her and came up with a basic design. We put it into production, then I sought out the opinions of experts and pros. I got in touch with an icon, Jimmy Ballard, who has been in the business for more than 40 years. He was basically the swing guru before guys like Harmon and McLean. I sought him out and after I don’t know how many calls and emails, he finally agreed to talk about it and actually put it on. He came out with his group of people. I put the shirt on him, and he started to hit with it. For a long time, he went really quiet on me. Then he put it on his head pro, and after hitting only about 10 shots, he turned to Ballard and said this thing is absolutely amazing. He said I don’t know who you are or any of your credentials, but I am totally blown away by this. In the golf swing teachers world, he’s a head above the rest. I was standing there, and it was a surreal experience.
What was your next step?
Then, I wanted the approval of a PGA player. So I sought out Padraig Harrington. And it was kind of the same thing. His agent said Padriag doesn’t get involved with any swing trainers. I kept asking if he could at least try it. I shipped it one of the 20 shirts I had made, and he called me back and said it was phenomenal. He passed it on to Padraig, and he tried it. He called me back and said Padraig thought it was great. We all met in New York, and he was on our team. The product has come a long way from a couple of shanks in my front yard. It was invented by accident, and now it’s selling in 26 countries.
What made you pick Padraig as a Tour pro to seek out?
He was on the top because when you look at the dynamic of his swing, it’s very body-oriented swing. It’s a very connected swing. I had seen him play at the Open about three years ago. I was watching him as he put things under my armpits to help him practice. Anybody that has taken towels under their arms is trying to get that sense of connection. The problem of that move is that it shortens the swing. So it helps, but makes your swing arc a little too short. I picked him first, and he accepted.
Do you remember the feeling when Padraig officially signed on to endorse the product?
It was a surreal experience. I felt like I was almost in a dream. To have a person like Padraig standing in front of me with the Swing Shirt on and having him tell me that he thinks this product is great was in incredible feeling. Especially if you know how the whole product happened.
From a shank to standing in front of a major winner.
Exactly! The other point in time that it really became an incredible experience was early in January, Padraig asked if I was able to play golf with him in Ireland. I said of course. As we’re strolling up with 18th fairway in Portmarnock on the outskirts of Dublin, he turns to me and says the product is great. As I’m walking up this fairway in Ireland having this chat with Padraig as almost old pals, I can’t believe it. It’s an incredible experience.
You got some strokes from him didn’t you?
You’re asking all the right questions! We played a competitive match. Padraig is a wonderful, phenomenal athlete and fiercely competitive. There isn’t a casual 18 holes. He gave me six strokes over my handicap, and I was playing off a three. It was a highly competitive and spirited match and came down to the last hole. It was the highlight for me as a player to be there and to have that type of experience with him.
Have you encountered any setbacks from start-to-finish with this product?
It’s been smooth sailing the entire way. That was confirmed when we attended the PGA Show. The response from that show as a team and a company was so overwhelming. On the demo day, we had a stand on the driving range and were inundated all day long by pros and people in the industry. Some of the best instructors came by and hung out with us. At any time, there 7-8 pros and people who had the Swing Shirt on. Camera crews were swamped. Our inventory was cleaned out. We sold hundreds of shirts. It was incredible. At the end of the three days, I was hoarse and exhausted. It was another surreal experience. i thought the product would be popular, but I didn’t think it would instantly be like this.