GOLF Magazine’s 2008 Golf Innovator Awards

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People who make a difference The Computer Wiz • The Entrepreneur • The Teacher • The Researchers • The Inspiration • The Supporters • The King • The Mind • The Providers • The Dreamer Golf's difference-makers come in two varieties: the kind of people who make you feel good about the game, and the kind of people who make you feel good about your game. We're grateful for both, and, it turns out, so are you. Interviews by Connell Barrett and Steve Beslow A year ago we presented a list of the game's most important innovators. You received their stories so positively that we decided to do it again in 2008 — and believe us, the selection process was no easier this time around. For nominations, we solicited our friends at the USGA, the PGA Tour, the PGA of America, the National Golf Foundation and the World Scientific Congress of Golf, as well as our own Top 100 Teachers, last year's finalists and you, our millions of loyal readers at Golf Magazine and Golf.com. After months of increasingly difficult decisions, we pared down hundreds of deserving nominees to these 10 remarkable honorees. Did we miss a worthy innovator? Drop us a line at [email protected] Our search for next year's winners has already begun.
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The Providers • The women of the PGA Tour Wives Association give back — and get their hands dirty — one city at a time Kate Rose, 32, wife of Justin: "For 20 years, members of the PGA Tour Wives Association have gone from city to city helping out where we can. While our husbands play that week's event, we volunteer in soup kitchens, help Habitat for Humanity build homes, stack boxes at food drives. We dive into a project. It's not a hobby. It's a mission. We're aware of how lucky we are financially, and this gives us a sense of normality and real purpose in this bubble world. It lets us bond and give something back. It's an incredible feeling to throw a mock shower for abused women who go to a shelter in the middle of the night with only their children and the clothes they have on. There's more to the world than hotels and golf. Justin, and other husbands, pitch in sometimes, but when they're there, it's not about signing autographs. They have to work!" Amy Wilson, 31, wife of Mark: "Golfers are so giving. The Tour Wives have raised about $4 million over the years. One of the most moving moments was going to New Orleans after Katrina. I remember seeing numbers spray-painted on every kind of building — homes, gas stations, restaurants — with black paint. A "12" meant that 12 people had been found dead there. We went to homes and found wedding rings and photos. We gutted an elderly woman's flooded home so that it could be rebuilt and found her marriage certificate drenched in water. It feels good to get your hands dirty and give back to the communities that make the Tour events possible. They support us, and we support them right back."
3 of 11 Justin Steele
The Mind • Dr. Bob Grober, 46, designed the "tempo tuner" that helped Vijay Singh win the FedEx Cup "The human ear is wonderful at pattern recognition, and that can be the secret to creating a smooth, repetitive swing. My Sonic Golf System-1 works on that principle by turning your swing into sound. The more rhythmic your tone, the more rhythmic your swing. Here's how it works: Sensors in the shaft insert measure your club speed throughout your swing, 400 times per second. Those sensors then talk to a microprocessor that converts the measurements into audio, which you hear through a headset. When your swing speed is slow, the corresponding sound is low and soft; when it is fast, the sound is high and loud. It's useful for all levels of golfers. Novices, for example, can focus on grooving a smooth, uniform swing speed; better golfers will want to ensure that their top speed occurs at impact; and Tour pros, like Vijay, can analyze the transition between their backswing and downswing by listening for a brief pause in the tone. When a respected player comes up to me and asks how quickly I can get him a system ... man, that's cool." See a demo at sonicgolf.com Grober is the Frederick Phineas Rose Professor of Applied Physics at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
4 of 11 Gary Matoso
The Supporters • Ken Still, 73, and Pepper Roberts, 77, offer a sanctuary for wounded warriors at American Lake GC, near Seattle Ken Still: "I've played on Tour and in the Ryder Cup, but this is the most satisfying thing I've done in golf: giving lessons and clinics at a course for veterans. That's American history out there — men from every war going back to World War II. And to see young kids come back from Iraq with their hands and legs blown off, and then to watch them be able to hit balls is a treat. We have nine holes, and Jack [Nicklaus] is designing another nine at no charge. These men devoted their lives to this country, and this place makes them feel wanted and loved." Pepper Roberts: "I'm a veteran of Korea. I've seen what war does to a man's body and mind. There's a sergeant here who was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He dragged two men to safety, one in each hand, then looked down and realized half of his hip was gone. He came back to the States and would sit home alone, pull his shades down, and drink for hours. He came here and learned to swing left-handed because he couldn't use his left hip. Soon he was laughing with guys three times his age. He said to me, 'If it wasn't for this place, I would have killed myself.' And I don't care how old you get — you never get tired of getting a hug." Still, far left, and Roberts, next to him, with some course regulars.
5 of 11 Scott Halleran/Getty Images
The Inspiration • D.J. Gregory, 30, beat adversity to bring you a unique look at the PGA Tour "When I was two years old, my doctors told my parents that cerebral palsy would likely keep me in a wheelchair for life. This year I've walked 600 miles at 37 PGA Tour events. You could say I'm determined... OK, I'm stubborn. Jim Nantz, a longtime friend, helped me get my idea to the PGA Tour. I just thought it would be great to follow a Tour player every week and record my experiences. "My blog isn't about scores or stats. I write about the amazing people I meet — the most friendly, down-to-earth athletes in the world. Spending time with them has shown me that they're not just out on the course to do business, but that they care about what they're doing and about the people watching them do it. It's been an incredible physical challenge, walking up to five or six miles a day for 45 weeks — and falling every time my cane can't quite keep up with my legs — but I wouldn't trade it for the world. Even the toughest days — five a.m. wakeup calls, 36-hole rounds, challenging courses where I fall three or four times — can't take away the fact that I am living a truly once-in-a-lifetime chance. "I didn't start this journey for recognition, or even to inspire people, but it's been amazing how supportive everyone's been. And if that's a card I can play to help someone else, I couldn't be happier. If any part of my story inspires, I hope it's my determination. I've learned that if you want to accomplish something, you can't stop going after it until you've got it." You can read Gregory's blog on pgatour.com.
6 of 11 Logan Mock-Bunting
The Researchers • Dr. Bob Christina, far left, 68, and Eric Alpenfels, 46, challenge conventional beliefs and uncover some unexpected results Dr. Bob Christina: "Our mission isn't to stir the pot, but if you ask the right questions, that's often what happens. At first glance, you wouldn't necessarily think that you could improve distance control by looking at the hole [rather than your ball] while you putt, or that teeing the ball higher could consistently gain you 10 yards or more, but our research found both to be true. When you test what is considered an obvious question, you don't always get an obvious answer — that's the philosophy of our research program. Often the 'tried and true' method wavers and something else turns out to be more successful. That's when you know you're getting somewhere." Christina is dean and professor emeritus of the School of Health and Human Performance in Greensboro, N.C. Eric Alpenfels: "There are more than 60 million golfers in the world, and I've never met one who doesn't want to get better. We use our resources, time and energy to help us improve not only what we are teaching golf students, but how we are teaching it. Golf is a hard game, and the better people play, the more they enjoy it. That's why we use amateurs in our testing, since those are the people we are actually trying to help. A lot of companies test their products mechanically, which will definitely give you some answers. But when you put a driver in the hands of an 18-handicap and point him to a tee, the last thing you're going to get is Iron Byron." Alpenfels is director of instruction at Pinehurst Golf Academy in Pinehurst Village, N.C., and a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher.
7 of 11 Monte Isom
The Teacher • Mike Shannon, 55, helps Tour pros and Average Joes take dead aim on the greens "You may be aiming wrong on the greens and not even know it. The aim of the putter is the foundation of good putting. Without it, the stroke must be manipulated to get the ball on the correct path. I've seen players of all levels — from Tour stars when I was a pro at Isleworth Country Club [near Orlando] to everyday players — think that they're aiming correctly when they're actually three or four inches off line for every ten feet of a putt. To get to the bottom of this, I worked with a team of optometrists to analyze thousands of putts, to better understand the way your eyes can mislead you. We found that your aim is influenced by your vision and your dominant eye, which, unfortunately, can deceive you on the greens. Depending on ball position, when many players look down at address, they see a perceived line that's actually right or left of the true line. That costs you strokes. "I've found that every player has a unique front-to-back ball position that works for them, with their vision. If you have the ball one inch too far back in your stance, you'll aim about three inches right of the true line on a 10-footer, but you'll think your aim is correct. One inch too far forward? You'll aim left. I help players find the right ball position. I've seen guys move the ball an inch at address and become perfect aimers, dropping four, five strokes just like that. You could say it's eye-opening." Learn Shannon's putting secrets. Mike Shannon is the putting instructor at the Golf Learning Center at Sea Island Resort, on St. Simons Island, Ga. (888-732-4752; seaisland.com)
8 of 11 Chris Stanford/Corbis Outline
The King • Arnold Palmer, 79, attracts millions to the USGA — and has inspired a new museum, the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History "I'm chairman of the USGA members program. It's important for golf that the USGA have a large membership. In the long run, the USGA is probably the most important single body in golf. It brings many more people into the game and helps them understand it better. It teaches the rules and etiquette. It encourages young people coming into the game to give it the respect it deserves. "I was very pleased and proud this year to have been given the privilege of having the USGA 's new museum open in my name. It's like winning the Amateur, Open and Senior Open all at once. I don't think you can put into words how important it is to me as an individual. When I was a kid, it was my family, God, and the USGA. If there was a fire at the museum and I could only save one artifact? The Jim Chase word portrait. That is the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life." — (Quotes compiled from staff and USGA reporting.) At left, Palmer in his Latrobe workshop. See our special section for Gigapan panoramic photos of Palmer's office and the newly renovated USGA museum.
9 of 11 Logan Mock-Bunting
The Entrepreneur • BJ Maloy, 35, inventor of the Epoch tee, a performance peg with an eye on the environment "I know what you're thinking: 'Just another gimmicky tee — what makes this one any different?' Well, for starters, its success on the PGA Tour — 33 Tour wins since 2004. The physics are simple: The tee's four radius posts span the dimples, removing the friction and deflection created by a standard tee. This promotes faster ball speed, less sidespin and longer tee shots — up to 12 extra yards, according to testing with real golfers. The only way you could create less friction would be to have your ball actually hovering over the ground. Obviously test results are only useful if they are backed up in the real world, which is why our success in the pro game has been so important — we also have 73 wins on the LPGA, Nationwide and Champions Tours. Another bonus: the tee is built entirely from recycled and renewable materials and is completely biodegradable, so it won't damage the environment. Changing golf equipment isn't easy — the modern wood tee was invented in the 1890s, but it wasn't until 30 years later that most people stopped teeing it up on sand mounds. When I showed up with my tee on the PGA Tour they laughed at me. After 106 tour wins in four years, they're not laughing anymore."
10 of 11 Baldur Bragason
The Computer Wiz • Daniel Forsgren, 34, the inventor of Protracer, the best thing to happen to televised tournaments since David Feherty "My background is in computer games. I developed Pinball Fantasies. Heard of it? It was pretty famous. One day I was playing a computer golf game, which traces the ball's flight, and I thought, 'You know, they never show that on TV — maybe we can find a way to show the actual shot trajectory.' So I developed Protracer. We use a highly sensitive camera that detects light frequencies and that's good at discriminating a golf ball. Then computer-imaging analysis traces the ball's flight. The European Tour got on board first. We debuted at the Spanish Open in 2007 but had some problems. We set up in a little tent, it was raining, and water was leaking on thousands of dollars of equipment. Our cameras were tracing birds, bugs, and divots — and only occasionally golf balls. [Laughs.] But we got the kinks out. We got the go-ahead to try it on the PGA Tour this year, and our breakout moment was at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines. Tiger hit a big draw, but it was very windy, and his ball was thrown to the right. (See that Protracer shot, and others, here.) You could really see the trajectory and how the wind affected the ball. Fans and broadcasters loved it. Peter Kostis enjoys analyzing with it. CBS, ESPN, NBC and the Golf Channel all now use it. There's just one problem. People have trouble with the name. They tend to confuse it with ShotLink. And a CBS producer called it the Pro-Tractor. Maybe Golfball Fantasies would have been catchier."
11 of 11 Tim Mantoani
The Dreamer • Lee Elder, 74, brings more African-Americans to the game — and hopefully, one day, to the PGA Tour "It's been 33 years since I broke the color barrier at the Masters and 11 years since Tiger won the green jacket. But today Tiger's the only African-American on Tour. That's a shame, and I want to change that. I still teach about 20 clinics a year for minority kids, but I have a new mission: We need to give college-age kids with real talent and desire a place to play to see how good they can be. Tiger's foundation and The First Tee help younger kids, but not the 18- to 24-year-olds who don't have access to country clubs and financial backers the way Caucasians do. It's night and day. So I'm lobbying agencies and CEOs to help me open a large facility that will let young men and women of color with real talent develop their games — a 36-hole layout with video equipment, a great range, teachers. It's affirmative action for golf. It's funny, I meet CEOs who give me their cards and say, 'Let me know what I can do.' Then I call, and they're too busy to talk. But that's OK. I'm used to obstacles. We've already opened a clinic in Bermuda, and I know we'll open one here. It will take time, but can you imagine Tiger at Augusta, in his forties, slipping a green jacket onto the shoulders of a young African-American? That would be a thrill! That would be going to the mountaintop."