SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In American pop culture, you are what you eat or you are what you drive.
So when quiet, unassuming PGA Tour player Ted Purdy pulled into the parking lot at Mountain Shadows Golf Course in some kind of Batman meets the Dukes of Hazzard vehicle, I had the same reaction as most onlookers:
What the hell is that?
Purdy, the 2005 Byron Nelson Classic champion, has one foot off the PGA Tour. He has minimal status, played in only four events last year and finished 242nd on the money list.
Until he gets both feet back into golf, he's got a part-time gig as a sales rep for America's newest muscle machine, the Rally Fighter by erstwhile carmaker Local Motors.
He wouldn't turn more heads if he was riding in a convertible with Lindsay Lohan.
"Yeah, it's fun," Purdy said. "I'm driving down the freeway in Phoenix, and people are yelling out the window and taking pictures. I should put a message on the side that says, 'What kind of car is this? Call me.' And then have my phone number on it. I think I will do that."
The car slightly resembles a 1967 Camaro. It's jacked up high on the chassis, like it's ready for cross-country action (and it is), has big wheels and a tank-like attitude. The Rally Fighter has an engine with 450 horsepower and, well, it's a beast. How fast does it go? You probably don't have the guts to find out. "It's amazingly fast and quirky and powerful and beautiful," Purdy said. "Plus, you can run over just about anything."
The Rally Fighter goes for a mere $75,000. Yeah, I'll take three. Local Motors is the brainchild of Purdy's friend Jay Rogers, who is following in the footsteps of other independent car-makers like Tucker, DeLorean, Bricklin and Tesla. Rogers has already been profiled in a lengthy feature in Playboy magazine. He served in the Marines in the special forces, then went to Harvard University and got his MBA.
He borrowed several million dollars, started a car company and held a design contest on the Internet. A 19-year-old from Korea won $20,000 for the winning design, which was then tweaked — again, online — by many of the other contest contributors. Rogers has a plant where the cars are assembled in Phoenix. Local Motors is turning out about 30 a year and hopes to ramp up once sales pick up. The Rally Fighter, which has a fiberglass body, went into production in 2011.
"Jay is one of the most amazing guys I've ever met," Purdy said. "And the Rally Fighter is the world's first and only co-operative-created vehicle. It's unique."
Purdy, 39, hopes to help his friend get Local Motors off the ground. His job is to get the Rally Fighter in front of the wealthy country-club males it appeals to. Like PGA Tour players, for instance. A lot of them are car aficionados with surplus cash, so just parking one near the TPC Scottsdale clubhouse during Waste Management Phoenix Open week ought to create a lot of interest.
Meanwhile, Purdy hopes to play his way back onto the Tour. He'll head to Honolulu to try Monday qualifying for the Sony Open, and he'll go the Monday-qualifying route as often as he can. He's always been a superior ballstriker and a player who makes a lot of birdies. What went wrong with his game the last few years, he believes, is that his grip got too strong. That led to snap-hooked drives out of play, which led to wide-right tee shots trying to protect against the snap-hook.
"I grew up playing with no effort, reckless abandon, go at the target," Purdy said. "That's how I played. I wasn't able to do that with a bad grip. I started hooking the ball and I just played terrible for a while. Now I'm hitting it straight again, and I know where the ball is going."
As a University of Arizona alum, he was interested in settling down and becoming a college golf coach when the Arizona job came open last year. He didn't get the job, however, so he took on the Local Motors gig while working on his golf game.
He felt he'd solved his grip issues last fall but two weeks before PGA Tour Q-school, he wrenched his left shoulder while sitting in a dunk tank to raise money at his kids' school. When a thrower hit the target and he was about to be dunker, he grabbed on to a ledge with his left arm and strained something. When he got to Q-School, he still couldn't raise his arm above shoulder level, and after a poor opening round, he fell too far behind to catch up.
"When was the last time you heard of somebody suffering a dunk-tank injury?" Purdy said with a laugh. "It's always something, I guess. I've got two jobs I want to do well at so I guess it's going to be a pretty busy year for me. At least, I hope so."