2006: Way, way, way outside the box
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Sometimes he asks himself where the time has gone. It has been 35 years since he founded Aldila, the graphite shaft manufacturer, and 15 years since he founded Odyssey, the insert putter maker.
In his mind, though, reminiscing is for fuddy-duddies, so Jim Flood settles enthusiastically into the present tense. Grandfatherly at 73, he nevertheless smiles a little-boy smile, as if to say, “What can I invent today?”
Flood is one of golf’s most enduring personalities. In a prolific career of inventing clubs and training aids, he has created an eye-popping collection of imaginative products along with some of the wackiest names in golf.
Although known internationally for starting Aldila and Odyssey, Flood also was the brains behind Lil’ David Gawfe Tools, the Basakwerd putter, the Power Pod driver and the Putterball training device.
Now appearing in an infomercial near you: Flood’s newest threesome of names: Rockroller, Stimpdimple and Tempo-Timer.
These training aids are being sold under the banner of the Ernie Els Training System. Yet another Flood startup, EETS was launched with the blessing of Ernie Els, who is a part owner, and the help of Brad Adams, son of TaylorMade Golf founder Gary Adams.
The Rockroller and Stimpdimple are designed to promote a smooth, one-motion putting stroke. The Tempo-Timer is a weighted sleeve that fastens quickly to the shaft of any golf club. Players then hit balls with the Tempo-Timer in place.
At this year’s Masters, several contenders used the Tempo-Timer during practice and warmups. One was Tim Clark, the Masters runner-up, who was seen before the final round hitting 8-iron shots with the Tempo-Timer attached. (Most golfers use it on their drivers.)
Who is this man with a seemingly endless fountain of golf ideas?
Flood grew up in Denver, where he caddied at Cherry Hills Country Club and eventually became a scratch golfer.
“When I was about 7, I had an idea I thought was great,” Flood says. “I thought I had figured out how to jump off the back of the garage without getting hurt. It was a dumb idea – I broke my arm. I did learn at a very young age, however, that all of my great ideas would not always work.
“My mom would invariably say, ‘What a great idea.’ My dad would usually say, ‘It doesn’t sound like it will work, but give it a try.’ Dad also said, ‘People will love to tell you that your ideas won’t work.’
“So, no matter how many times I’ve been criticized for having dumb ideas, I’ve always tested each and every one for its potential success. I have a garage full of dumb ideas, but I’ve also had a few that worked out pretty good.”
Flood thought about turning pro but ended up in the U.S. Army and then the brokerage business. Moving to California, he helped raise money for an upstart golf company called Lynx, the brainchild of one of golf’s legendary entrepreneurs, Carl Ross.
In San Diego, Flood met Dale Thompson, an engineer who helped design fighter jets. Thompson knew a lot about a lightweight material called graphite, and that interested Flood a great deal.
“It sounded like it would make a great golf shaft,” Flood says. “Lots of people (were) looking for some way to make high-quality shafts that were lighter than steel. Aluminum shafts didn’t really catch on, but graphite was intriguing.”
Flood wasn’t the only person with this perspective. At the Shakespeare Co., famous for its fiberglass fishing rods, engineer Frank Thomas was making golf shafts with several materials, including fiberglass, graphite and Kevlar.
Thomas, who in 1974 would become technical director of the U.S. Golf Association, introduced several prototype composite shafts in 1970, but Shakespeare ultimately decided to concentrate on fishing.
It was Aldila, formed by Flood in 1971, that grabbed the attention of touring pros. Aldila’s initial graphite shaft surfaced at the Tournament of Champions early in 1972. Tom Weiskopf and Bruce Crampton were the first players to hit it, but it was Gay Brewer who took the graphite shaft and ran with it – all the way to the proverbial bank.
“I had loaned one of the drivers to (singer) Glen Campbell,” Flood recalls. “He just had
to have it. At least, that’s what he said.
“So I’m walking through the locker room (at the Byron Nelson Classic) and I’ve got another one of the drivers with me. There weren’t many at that time. I see Deane Beman, who says, ‘Oh, is that one of those graphite shafts?’ I ask him how he knows about it, and he tells me that Gay Brewer has one in his bag.
“Well, I haven’t given one to Gay Brewer, this I know. So my heart starts sinking, because I’m thinking that somebody else is introducing them on the Tour.
“I go out on the course, and sure enough he’s playing with one, but I can’t get close enough to identify it. After he’s done, I go up to his caddie and ask if I can look at the driver. I slip the headcover off, and it’s the one I had given Glen Campbell.
“Gay walks up and I ask him, ‘Where’d you get this?’
“He says, ‘Shoot, man, I’ve been using this for six months.’
“I say, ‘No, you haven’t, because I made this club.’ We soon became the best of friends, and old Hound Dog had his biggest year in 1972 using that shaft.”
In 1973, Aldila’s second year, sales jumped to about $12 million, Flood says.
The original Aldila shaft had an astronomical amount of torque – almost 10 degrees, compared to 2 or 3 degrees in the strongest graphite shafts today – but they buggy-whipped the ball to amazing distances.
“I’d love to try some again,” Brewer says. “That first one really fit my swing. I used it for over a year, and finally it broke. I never could get another one to match it.” (Flood had so much trouble matching shafts that initially he ended up with 15 different flexes.)
Flood sold his interest in Aldila, beckoned again by what would prove to be an almost insatiable entrepreneurial urge. He founded a club company, Lil’ David Gawfe Tools, which enjoyed a meteoric, if short, life span. In the first six months, sales totaled about $2.3 million, according to Flood. (When Lee Elder broke the color barrier at the Masters, he used Lil’ David irons.)
Flood sold Lil’ David and launched Orizaba, maker of the ungainly Basakwerd putter, which was used by touring pros including Gene Littler, Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer. The Basakwerd was invented when Flood took a left-handed putter, flipped it over, and started putting right-handed with it. So the shaft ended up being attached to the putter head near the toe.
He also started Vachelon, a shaft manufacturer, and introduced the Power Pod driver, which resembled a croquet mallet on the end of a shaft. In 1991, Flood started Odyssey Golf to take advantage of new materials for putters. Odyssey’s original Rossie putters – featuring a Stronomic insert, composed largely of urethane – were named after Bob Rosburg.
“It’s the first time I was acknowledged as being one of the best putters out there,” Rosburg says. “I always found it kind of strange that even when companies were paying me to use their clubs, they didn’t put my name on a putter.”
Rosburg calls Flood “a very clever guy who is willing to develop the ideas himself. He’s a hands-on kind of guy.”
Flood, however, never seemed satisfied with just one product or one concept. He sold his stake in Odyssey as well. (Later, Callaway Golf acquired Odyssey for $130 million in 1997.)
“I suppose I could have made a whole lot of money from Aldila and Odyssey,” he said, “but I didn’t hold onto either one of them for long enough. I was always busy inventing new things, and I’ll admit that I didn’t pay enough attention to the financial part.”
After Odyssey’s sale, Flood decided to focus on training aids, first the Putterball and then what became the Ernie Els Training System.
Of all his accomplishments, Flood says he is proudest of his involvement in the development of the Pro Kids Golf Academy and Learning Center in San Diego. Aldila made an early contribution of $10,000 to the Pro Kids project, and Flood spearheaded the effort to attract inner-city kids to golf.
“He just loves golf and loves to help golfers,” Brad Adams said. “And believe me, he never runs out of ideas.”