Technological advances have changed many aspects of the golf game, but none may have been as impacting as the sci-fi club conjured up in the brain of TaylorMade founder Gary Adams.
A month removed from beating Lee Trevino, Hubert Green and Ben Crenshaw by one shot at the 1978 San Antonio Texas Open (and setting an all-time PGA Tour record of back-to-back final rounds of 63 and 62), I was sitting on my golf bag after a practice round at the Disney Team Championship when a blonde gentleman asked me a question that would lead to a life-changing event.
“How much is Titleist paying you to carry that golf bag?”
I looked at him thinking he knows as much about the PGA Tour as I did about the world’s first test tube baby that was born in July of that year.
“They’re paying me nothing,” I replied. Titleist only provides the bag and balls, and that’s about it.
There was a long pause, and then, unfazed, he said, “If I match that will you carry my bag?”
Gary Adams, as I would quickly learn, wanted me to hit his golf club. A club that resembled the driving range clubs I had seen as a kid. Fresh off the biggest win of my young career I really had no interest in changing or trying a new club. On top of that, he didn’t have a name for his company or the clubs. Outside of its odd look, the only identifying marks on it were the words “metalwood” on the top of the club and “USA” on the bottom.
But the guy had passion. So I agreed to reconnect the following week in Chicago. Needless to say, I left that meeting believing metalwoods,
as he called them, had great promise as a durable driving range club.
As I was preparing for the 1979 Tournament of Champions, I received a call from Gary. He was ready and was sending four clubs to the tournament hoping I’d use them. Because he couldn’t afford to travel to La Costa, Calif., he couriered the clubs to me via a sports writer friend of his.
I agreed to use the clubs on the practice tee and provide feedback. Days passed and neither the courier nor the clubs materialized.
The day before the first round, both arrived around 3 p.m. as I was preparing for a practice round. Intrigued, I decided to give the science fiction-looking clubs a chance by putting the ball in a divot. My first shot took off like a rocket right down the middle of the range some 250 yards. My initial reaction was to look around and see if anyone else witnessed what I just did with this odd club.
“Is this club legal?” I asked the writer.
I was impressed enough to add the club to my bag when the first round began the next day. It made its debut on my second shot on the par-5 second hole. I had used my regular driver off the tee and striped it about 250 yards. My metalwood shot went 270 and nearly reached the green.
I was convinced.
The very next week in New Orleans at Lakewood Country Club. I was paired with Lon Hinkle and Jim Simons in the first round.
Our second hole was a short par-5. Back then a large number of golfers would use Top-Flite or another surlyn type ball to try and reach the par-5 holes in two shots. I was using a Top-Flight and I had hit my drive down the right side of the fairway just in the light rough. Hinkle, a long hitter, was 40 yards ahead of me. I was 293 yards to the front of the green. It was foggy and I could not even see the guys on the green. Hinkle was waiting because he felt as though he could get there. I went ahead and hit my new metalwood, thinking I would be 40 yards short or so.
Well, it was damp and along with the spring effect that the first metalwoods had, I flushed it. The ball took off as it did the week before, flew about 280 yards, one hopped up to the front of the green and went over the green.
The guys in front of us on the green began raising their hands. They waited on us and asked, “What was that?”
On the remaining three par 5s those guys waited behind the green to see where I was going to hit it. After that round, it was a very short time before guys were coming over to my bag on the practice tee and asking to try my new metalwood. I would guess 25 to 30 players hit my metalwood on the practice tee that afternoon.
What we found out a few months later was that the rebound effect that the club had every once in a while would flatten. They ended up putting bars behind the face for improved strength and that reduced most of the rebound.
As 1979 rolled on there was more and more chatter about the new metalwood. Gary began showing up at tournaments selling the his metalwoods for $49 to players. In the beginning he only had 10-15 clubs at a time. But by summer he was able to get around 75 clubs into a golf bag.
The tournament I remember the most was the 1979 Milwaukee Open. I met Gary on Tuesday and he gave me a golf bag completely full of metal woods; about 90 of them. After nine practice holes I headed to the driving range to find Gary. To my surprise he was gone. I went on to play the back nine and was walking off the tee when I heard Gary behind me yelling, “Hey Ron, wait.” I stopped and waited for him. I asked, “What happened? Why did you leave the practice tee?” Gary smiled and pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket and said, “I sold all of them!” Of course I was surprised that he’d sold all 90 in less than two hours, but I knew most players wanted to try the club.
Gary asked me how I thought we could get more clubs in player’s hands. I told him about a guy named Lou Gibson (nick named the Butcher) who repaired clubs in the parking lot, traveling around following the tour. I suggested he to do the same, and while players were having their clubs re-gripped or repaired get them to try his clubs. So TaylorMade worked with Lou for a while but soon had their own repair trailer and ultimately the “Trailer Park Repair Company” backed parade was born. Soon there were several companies following with repair trailers, offering clubs, shafts, and everything manufacturers wanted players to use on tour.
Along with the metalwood changes in the game were cavity back forgiving irons, balanced putters and golf balls. In the early days players designed clubs. Now we have engineers who design equipment, along with player input. Speed cameras and all the modern testing equipment prove the engineers work. Now we have everyone hitting longer and straighter, but they still have to make putts, which on tour is as much as 40 percent of your score.
On the success of my metalwood experiences, Gary launched TaylorMade in 1979 and independently owned the company until 1984.
In 1981, I became the first PGA Tour player to win with metalwoods in my bag when I won the Michelob-Houston Open. It didn’t take long until every company was offering metalwoods and every player had them in his bag. Most PGA Tour players today have no memory of persimmon or drivers the size of today’s 5-woods. Gary Adams changed the game forever. I was happy to help.