Ray Rapcavage, a commercial real estate analyst in Rumford, N.J., had an idea. A wild and crazy idea.
A 3-handicap golfer, Rapcavage was hitting full wedge shots in his front yard. He shanked three in a row. Thus his desperate idea.
He pulled an old oversized sweater over his head, positioning one sleeve in front of his body and the other at his back. Then he forced both arms into the front sleeve. He was ready to attempt a golf swing.
“I was like a machine,” he said, recalling the moment. “It really felt great.”
And that was the birth of the Golf Swing Shirt (www.golfswingshirt.com), a practice device that is intended to squeeze the arms together and teach connectivity: the art of a golfer’s body parts remaining synchronized and connected during the swing.
All that was early in 2011. A short time later, he showed his discovery to a friend. “Ray, you really are crazy,” the friend said, “and, on top of it, you look like an idiot.”
Relentless, Rapcavage slipped the sweater on his friend. “He took three swings and started pounding the ball,” Rapcavage said. “He had to admit that it was helping him.”
The sweater quickly was replaced by a shirt – torn, ripped, stapled, reshaped. Finally he took it to an apparel factory. “Can we turn this into a product?” he asked. Yes, it was possible. After 70 or 80 tries, it became a shirt made of stretchable compression material.
Next the irrepressible Rapcavage decided to seek the counsel of instructor Jimmy Ballard, whose teachings focus on connectivity.
Rapcavage talked with Ballard’s agent, who said, “He’s not really endorsing anything right now.”
However, Ballard had half an hour for Rapcavage, who flew from New Jersey to the Florida Keys for the meeting.
“I had a high degree of apprehension,” Rapcavage conceded. “I go down there, I put it on, I take a couple of swings, he’s staring at me like an eagle, but he’s not saying anything.
“I’m thinking he must believe I’m crazy, but he says, ‘I want to try it on.’ He hits some balls, but he doesn’t say much. He puts it on his head pro. He puts it on a stranger. After half an hour, he takes me into his office.
“Once again, I’m thinking, ‘Oh boy, here’s where the whole thing crashes and burns. I’ve got to fly back to New Jersey, I’ve got to explain this to my wife.’ I was uncomfortable.
“And he says, “Ray, this is best thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen everything. I’ve tried everything. This immediately teaches the concept of connection, which is what I teach. You figured out how it had to be cut. The fabric is incredible.’
“At that point, I think I’m going to faint.”
Ballard confirmed that story of Rapcavage’s visit, and he sounded like a cheerleader talking about the device, calling himself “a huge fan of what Ray has done.”
Rapcavage and Ballard worked out an endorsement deal, but Rapcavage wasn’t finished with his promotional campaign. He signed Padraig Harrington as a spokesman for the product. And he continues to make frequent public references to Ben Hogan and the idea of keeping the arms and elbows together during the swing.
The retail cost of the shirt is $71. It comes in eight sizes and three colors (orange, black and white).
“We’re in full production now,” Rapcavage said. “We’ve sold thousands, and we’ve not yet had one person who has returned it.”
The Golf Swing Shirt reflects one element of golf that never seems to go away: Many of the sport’s most original ideas come from individuals who dream up their own little inventions.