16-handicap ‘regular guy’ gets the full Tour treatment from Mizuno

Lee Baughman (pronounced BOCK-man) is now a member of Mizuno Golf’s stable of PGA pros, which includes Luke Donald, Charles Howell, Jonathan Byrd and Stacy Lewis [see video above]. Never mind that he’s a 16-handicapper from Pittsburgh, Baughman is part of a unique marketing initiative in which Mizuno will create a 12-person lineup of average golfers who will be treated like tour pros. It’s called Team JPX, a reference to Mizuno’s new JPX-825 game-improvement irons. (Get more information at PlayFamously.com.) Baughman is the first Team JPX member, so I tracked him down for a few questions about his new role as a golfing superstar.
Q: How does it feel to be an instant golf legend?
Baughman: I’m sitting in my office talking to you next to a Mizuno staff bag with my name on it and 13 new Mizuno clubs. It’s been a crazy six weeks.
Q: First time with your name on your bag?
Baughman: For sure. I’m hesitant to even take it out to the course.
Q: You know your golf buddies are going to give you grief.
Baughman: Oh, it’s already started. I’ve been hearing it.
Q: Those guys aren’t going to give you strokes anymore, are they?
Baughman: No, probably not.
Q: What do you do in your spare time when you’re not being a golf legend?
Baughman: I’m in the mining industry. I got a degree in mechanical engineering at West Virginia University and got funneled into the mining industry from there. I’m a product manager for a company that sells underground equipment.
Q: So how did you become a Mizuno staff member?
Baughman: I’m a member of the GolfWRX.com website. I’m sort of a golf-equipment junkie. I play hockey as well, and I’m kind of a hockey-equipment junkie, too. There was a contest listed, without much detail. It said it was an unprecedented opportunity to join the staff of a mystery equipment maker—you’d get a staff bag, clubs and apparel. That was all it said. So I entered and a week-and-a-half later, I was told I was a finalist. I was shocked. This was on a Friday afternoon, and I had to get two videos in by Monday.
Q: Sounds like homework?
Baughman: They wanted one video of me hitting 6-irons. This was right when the Nemo storm was coming, and we already had 8 inches of snow on the ground. So my wife followed me out to the backyard with a video camera, rolling her eyes while I hit a couple of 6-irons after I cleared off a spot. They also wanted me to answer a few questions on the other video.
Q: Just another beautiful March day in Pittsburgh. What kind of questions?
Baughman: One was, "What would my wife say about my golf obsession?" She had the video camera so she walked into the garage, and it was me, my 2-and-a-half-year old and my 1-year old all swinging clubs. She said, "This is where I find him 20 times a day." They also wanted to know what I was doing to improve my game.
Q: What was your answer for that one?
Baughman: My driver was so hit-or-miss last year, I didn’t know if I’d wind up in my fairway or two fairways over. So I said I really had to focus on the driver, get some lessons and get more repeatable with it. And I need to hone the short game. That’s where my strokes were melting away. I live two minutes away from Lindenwood, a nice public course that has a couple of decent putting and chipping greens. I’ve got two small kids, but I still should be able to get there for half an hour of chipping and putting every week. Anyway, a week or so after that, I got a call that I’d been selected. I couldn’t believe it.
Q: Besides that awesome snow-golf video, why do you think they picked you?
Baughman: Well, they wanted to know who my favorite pro was and I said Luke Donald. At the time, I had no idea which equipment company was behind this. It turned out to be Mizuno, so I think that worked in my favor.
Q: So have you been spending some quality time with your fellow Mizuno staffers?
Baughman: Yeah, I went down to Doral the week of that tournament and we shot some video. The production company called me on Friday before that to tell me I’d be spending half a day with Luke. I was supposed to be surprised when Mizuno told me, but the production company thought it would be better if I had a couple of days to digest that. They had me working for two full days, then the staff pros came in for two or three hours and ran off, they’ve got other stuff to do. We filmed clips that will show up on the PlayFamously.com. I did get to stand in a bunker with Luke while he hit sand shots. That was one of the coolest experiences of my life.
Q: He’s pretty good out of the sand, isn’t he?
Baughman: Oh, man. He asked me, ‘How’s your bunker game?’ I felt dumb even answering him. He’s Luke Freaking Donald. I said, "I feel pretty good about it, but I’m just trying to get out, I’m not trying to hole it like you are." Luke was hitting them within two feet pretty consistently. We filmed a bit about him teaching me how to practice with a wedge. He’s like, "Ten shots from here, 10 from here, 10 from here." We got out to about 90 yards, he still had his 60-degree in his hands, and his first try, he hit it four feet past the hole and spun it back to two inches. Everyone’s jaw dropped. Except the director, who said, "Cut!"
Q: Did you get some good lessons from those guys?
Baughman: I hit shots in front of them all. The videos are about them teaching me how to be a pro. Luke was showing me how to deal with crowds and not be distracted, so he was snapping a camera in my backswing. He said, ‘If you hear a click, stop in the middle of the backswing and give the crowd a death stare.’ Jonathan Byrd taught me how to give canned answers to the media. It was pretty funny.
Q: You’re a star, you’ve got to play the game.
Baughman: One of the clips with Charles Howell, he was showing me how to sign autographs for the crowd. Right after that we were doing some still photos with the crew and the director. A couple that was at Doral for the week was watching us and when we were done, they said, ‘Can we get a picture with you?’ So they did and they told me, ‘I hope you play well this week.’ Everybody on the crew was laughing.
Q: Think you could take Luke in a bar fight?
Baughman: I’m only about 6 feet, 190 pounds, but I was like a monster compared to all those guys. Howell, Byrd, Luke—they’re all five-foot-nine, 160 pounds and trim. I feel like I’m fairly athletic, but I look a lot bigger than them.
Q; Did you come out of this experience with a new nickname like The Mad Bomber or anything?
Baughman: They tried to dig one out of me, but no, I don’t have one yet.
Q: What’s the best part of your game?
Baughman: It depends on the day. One day I’m driving well, and the putter lets me down. One day, the short game goes well, and I make mistakes elsewhere. Overall, I’d probably say the irons.
Q: What’s the worst part?
Baughman: Putting, definitely. I haven’t really given it much attention.
Q: Well, it’s not like you have to do it on every single hole or anything. Oh, wait!
Baughman: Yeah, I know. I only play three or four rounds a week. It takes four or five holes to get some feel and by then, your score is already in the toilet.
Q: What’s your golfing highlight so far, not counting the Mizuno gig?
Baughman: I’ve been trying to drag my whole family into the game. I bought my brother a set of clubs a few years ago. I got my 12-year-old nephew a starter set and took him to a range. I finally took him to Lindenwood for the first time, and I made a hole-in-one right in front of him. So I think he’s expecting that from me on every par-3 hole now.
Q: I how you said something like, "See how easy this is? Just do that."
Baughman: Yeah. Like, why’d you get a five on that hole? I made a one. It was a 54-degree wedge on the executive nine-hole course they have at Lindenwood. It was maybe 120 yards.
Q: An ace is an ace.
Baughman: I’m counting it, for sure.
Q: Are you wearing your Mizuno logo shirts to work now?
Baughman: I’m trying to avoid that, but I’ve got a whole closet now. Honestly, it’s kind of overwhelming. I changed shirts four times each day for the videos, and they were like, ‘Just put that in your bag.’
Q: There’s still snow on the ground in Pittsburgh. Have you tried the new irons yet?
Baughman: The funny thing is, I was going to buy the exact JPX-825 irons a month before this all came up. I decided I needed to get custom-fit and get better clubs. I did a ton of research first, like someone from GolfWRX.com would. I hit them extensively, and I was 100 percent set to buy the JPX irons. My wife even gave me the green light. Between that and the Luke Donald thing, the company probably couldn’t have gotten a better fit.
Q: What’s your favorite Pennsylvania Turnpike exit?
Baughman: I take it to work every day. I don’t know the exit number. It’s the one where I get off to go home. I know where I’m going.