Tom Wishon semi-retired on October 1, 2016 and handed his product line over to Diamond Golf International to continue with the marketing, sales and distribution of his products to custom clubmakers worldwide. Wishon now works as a consultant for Diamond Golf through Wishon Enterprises. He does all the design work and provides counsel on other business matters related to the administration of his product line and brand. Wishon is also a former member of the PGA of America and a 40-year veteran of the golf equipment industry. During his career, he has written 10 books and more than 200 magazine articles on golf equipment and has designed more than 350 original models of golf clubheads and shafts, more than any other single person in the 500 year history of the game.
Wishon has designed original clubhead models for US PGA Tour players such as Scott Verplank, Ben Crenshaw and Bruce Lietzke, and he designed the last set of golf clubs used in competition by the late Payne Stewart in 1999 before his tragic accident. He stands as the only designer from the custom clubmaking side of the golf industry to have designed clubhead models used to win on the PGA Tour, Champions Senior Tour and in Ryder Cup competition.
With this the holiday season plenty of people will be shopping for clubs, balls and other golf equipment — what’s the best advice you can provide?
You can usually try out a bunch of putters and wedges from off the rack retail golf stores and not get burned too badly, but never, ever buy a driver, fairway woods, hybrids or irons, off the rack in a big box or online retail golf store/website. Golfers are as different as can be in their size, strength, athletic ability and most of all in their swing characteristics. The business model of all the major golf equipment companies is to package their new head designs into golf clubs that are made to one series of standard specifications with a choice of shaft flex only. Drivers & Fairway Woods are too long today, Irons have too low of loft for the vast majority of golfers to ever hope to play to the best of their ability. If you are serious about investing in new golf clubs, the only way you will get the most bang for your buck is to work with a certified, independent custom clubfitter who will be to your golf clubs like a tailor is to a suit. But with a normal price for his work.
How much of a difference is there in terms of overall product quality between the leading equipment manufacturers?
Very little because the vast majority of all of the major equipment companies use the same clubhead, shaft and grip production companies to manufacture their heads, shafts and grips.
You’ve been a long time advocate in people getting totally fitted for club purchases. Does it give you a sense of satisfaction all of the key equipment companies are now singing its praises?
No, not at all. The major equipment companies are sadly cheapening the real definition and meaning of real custom clubfitting to complement their desire to still sell the greatest volume of clubs they possibly can. Real custom fitting is defined as having all 12 of the key fitting specs custom fit and custom built for every one of the 14 clubs in the bag, for one golfer at a time. Custom fitting to the big golf companies is trying to have 2-3 of the key specs fit for only a handful of the clubs so the clubs can still be purchased from a big box golf store. You cannot possibly sell the volume of clubs all the big companies have to sell to satisfy their shareholders or board of directors when you fit one golfer at a time for all 12 of the key fitting specs in all 14 of the clubs in the bag. It is utterly impossible. So what consumers are getting is fooled when they think they can walk into a big box golf store and end up being properly custom fit.
Do you see the USGA / R&A exercising sufficient oversight in their respective roles in equipment and golf ball usage? From what it appears they are doing extensive studying but just kicking the can down the road. What’s your assessment?
The USGA, with the R&A following along like the loyal puppy dog for fear of creating controversy, are overly obsessed with how far the pros and elite players are hitting the ball these days. Today’s average PGA Tour player has a driver clubhead speed 11 mph higher than what the average speed was on tour 25 years ago. Clubhead speed is the #1 source of shot distance, far more than modern clubhead or shaft design — far, far more. The reason tour players have such high clubhead speeds today is because they are far better athletes with far better training regimens than their predecessors. You cannot legislate athletic ability. You simply have to accept it and not focus on how far they hit the ball, but on enhancing good competition with as many players competing for each tournament as possible. If the USGA/R&A try to roll back the golf ball just to reduce distance, they will do irreparable harm to the game.
Do you see any possibility that the USGA / R&A will move towards bifurcation in the rules with balls created solely for tournament golf and those available for the masses?
I hope not. One of the greatest things about golf that no other sport/game has is the fact that all of us regular golfers will regularly hit a few to several shots during a round that no pro could hit better. Hole a 40′ putt? Maybe 2-3 pros out of 150 could duplicate your shot on one try. Chip in from 30 yards? Same thing? Hit an iron from 150 a foot from the hole? Same thing, a few pros could do it but not the majority. Sure they do things like this more often than we do, and they hit the ball 100 yards longer off the tee, but in no other sport will a regular player perform as well as the elite in that sport. You’ll never return a Roger Federer serve. No way. You’ll never ski the Birds of Prey downhill run at Beaver Creek like Aksel Svindal, not even within 2-3 minutes! You’ll never get a hit off a Justin Verlander fast ball, let alone a foul ball. But in golf, millions of regular golfers will hit one or more shots better than any pro could. If you make regular golfers play with different balls, it won’t be the same game and the game will lose something in the process.
There have been a few people suggesting that to bring back real shotmaking the 14-club limit should be lowered to a lesser number? Any possibility on that front?
Personally I haven’t heard of that being a topic of consideration for the rulemaking bodies of the game. In just thinking about that I would surmise that if something like that became a serious consideration, you’d see the major equipment companies spending tons of money lobbying against it for fear of losing revenue in overall club sales.
Is it fear of potential litigation from the equipment companies that’s holding back the USGA / R&A or is it some other reason?
There is no question that ever since the PING confrontation over the square groove scorelines in the late 80s, the USGA has worked to amass a significant sum of money to have in reserve should they find themselves in a serious legal challenge to a conformity ruling they may make. It is well known in golf industry circles that had Karsten Solheim chosen to sue the USGA in that matter, he would have won a judgment for restraint of trade which would have bankrupted the USGA. Of course Karsten had no interest in money, he only wanted a judgment of what he felt strongly was right. But there is no question that with the USGA in a position where they potentially could step over the line in a restraint of trade allegation, the USGA is now very careful when they review and rule on equipment conformity matters with the large golf equipment companies.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
In a Polyanna world I would ban the sale of standard made off the rack golf clubs. These days the standard specs on the big name clubs sold off the rack are so bad for average to less skilled players that the clubs truly are preventing a ton of regular golfers from ever being able to play to the best of their given ability. Of course something like that is never going to happen! But I will say that the new rule changes that go into effect in 2019 represent a huge, positive step forward by the USGA and R&A to make the game a little more friendly. As much as I have criticized them for other matters, I do applaud them tremendously for these changes in the rules. Very well done and very much needed in the game.
What’s your take on what new efforts like Topgolf are doing? From what the company is saying upwards of 70% of the people going there the first time had never picked up a club. There are also other alternative golf activities moving ahead like FootGolf and the like. Your take on this is what?
I think the people at Topgolf were brilliant to have thought up and executed that business model. From what I hear in the industry Topgolf has been the only growth entity in the game since the recession. But let’s not kid ourselves. Topgolf is not turning non-golfers into golfers and they don’t care either. They are simply and brilliantly using the golf as a way to offer a little different form of entertainment to people that dovetails into what is popular these days – a little high tech with a sport that they make to be competitively fun without taking too long to do with drinks and food. It’s entertainment first, golf a way, way distant second.
How does someone find a competent club fitter?
That’s easier said than done since there’s very little marketing on behalf of the best clubfitters in the country and world. First, search on line for either the AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals) or the ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild). Contact them and ask for a recommendation for a clubfitter nearest to you.These people do not grow on trees so there will be many areas that are just not served by a real professional clubfitter. Or you can head to wishongolf.com and look for the link at the top of the home page for find a clubfitter. Click on it, input your location and the best clubfitters that are closest to your location will be displayed for you to contact and ask about services and pricing.
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