2000: Business - Purple can be pleasing
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Fort Worth, Texas
There is a French’s mustard jar on the desk of Larry Bodle, president and CEO of shaft maker United Sports Technologies.
This is the very jar that inspired UST’s wildly successful Proforce graphite wood shaft. The jar is mustard yellow with traces of purple. The shaft is mustard yellow with a purple section near the butt.
How ugly is the Proforce shaft, which was introduced in January 1999?
“Very few (PGA) Tour players think the color is very cool” Bodle said. “Some have just turned their backs and walked away.”
How successful is the Proforce shaft? José Maria Olazábal used it in his driver when he won the 1999 Masters. Jim Furyk used it in his driver when he won the 2000 Doral Ryder Open.
Miguel Angel Jiménez used it in his driver when he tied for second behind Tiger Woods in the 2000 U.S. Open. In the 2000 NCAA Division I Men’s Championship, UST was the third most popular wood shaft behind stalwarts True Temper and Aldila.
Young golfers across the country, including 2000 U.S. Junior champion Matthew Rosenfeld and U.S. Amateur champion Jeff Quinney, are flocking to this distinctive shaft. Three of eight quarterfinalists at the U.S. Amateur used the Proforce shaft in their drivers.
The company says the Proforce shaft is designed to produce a low, penetrating trajectory, but almost all players, when interviewed, talked about how far they seem to carry the ball on their tee shots.
“It really gets up in the air and goes,” Rosenfeld said.
“We were eating lunch, trying to decide what color the new shaft should be,” Bodle said. “Finally I told everybody, ‘We’ve got to come up with a racy look. We’ve got to be noticed. Make it look like this mustard jar.’ Reflecting back on that decision, I realize it was either boom or bust. We could have been laughed off the Tour.”
Well, maybe the laughs were snickers.
“We’ve been turned down by some of the top guys who wanted us to paint it a different color,” Bodle said. “We refuse to do this – for anybody.”
Here at UST headquarters, the shaft is often referred to as the Laker Launcher. Fans of the Los Angeles Lakers have a natural affinity for the shaft, as do fans of the Minnesota Vikings.
“We get calls all the time,” Bodle said, “asking about the Vikings shaft or the Laker shaft. We also get calls from schools who want to know if we can paint it in their colors. The answer is no.”
The Proforce, conceived to be used with today’s oversized driver heads, is made of sheet-wrapped graphite and contains a very stiff tip.
This, said Bodle, provides the stability that skilled players are seeking. So far the shaft has been produced in two models, 65 Gold and 75 Gold, reflecting the gram weights of the two shafts. A new version, 55 Gold, will be seen at the 2001 PGA Merchandise Show. A filament-wound graphite shaft for irons, the 95 Gold, also is part of the Proforce line.
The 65 Gold, the most popular of the Proforce shafts, is listed as having 3.2 degrees of torque.
The attention-grabbing shaft has changed UST’s business profile.
“Before this shaft, about 1 percent of our business was in the after-market,” Bodle said. “We sold almost exclusively to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Now more than 12 percent of our business is in the after-market.”
This means that independent clubmakers and hobbyists have discovered the Proforce. Before Proforce, golf’s most distinctive shafts probably were produced by A.J. Tech, which uses candy apple red paint on its shafts.
“That’s our identify,” said A.J. Tech founder Al Jackson. “In a place like Japan, it’s a status symbol. Sure, a few people in this country don’t like the candy apple red color, but now, compared to that UST shaft, we’re downright beautiful.”
Bodle laughs at the playful remarks of Jackson.
“The worst looking combination,” he said, “is probably our Proforce shaft with the Taylor Made copper head. It doesn’t match too well. If you can look at that, you can look at anything.”
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