Clubmaker George Todd lightens the load for young golfers
He didn't need a new job, just a few sets of knee-high clubs.
George Todd never expected to revolutionize the golf equipment
market. He had plenty to do as the owner and CEO of StrutTech, a
Seattle firm that makes industrial parts from plastic
composites, but when his kids took up golf and Todd went
shopping for children's clubs, he found the cupboard bare.
"Adults' clubs were too long and too heavy, and most of the
clubs made for kids were toys--plastic drivers and putters," he
says. "It was as if kids under 16 didn't exist." So Todd began
moonlighting. Using some of the materials and machinery at
StrutTech, he built light, flexible clubs for his daughter,
Natalie, and his sons, Jarin and Janssen. Todd's kidsticks
worked so well that junior players all over town were soon
clamoring for them, and in 1997 he founded FirstTour, the first
golf equipment company to put first-graders first. "Now my wife
is going nuts," he jokes, "because my second job takes up so
In mid-May, while Callaway slashed prices and Spalding announced
a $13 million loss in the latest quarter, Todd found himself
delegating duties at StrutTech to make time for what began as a
hobby. FirstTour's lightweight, carefully balanced junior clubs
have made Todd's baby one of the hottest firms in golf's
fast-sprouting junior market.
Would you saw Mark McGwire's bat in half and hand it to a Little
Leaguer? That's what golf has done to kids since Young Tom
Morris was a pup. Until recently, equipment makers routinely
ignored young beginners, though there are 3.2 million golfers in
the U.S. ages five to 17. "With Tigermania, the top companies
finally began to see junior clubs as a lucrative market," says
Matt Adams, head of Triumph Golf, which got into the kids'
market before the giants and has seen its sales triple since
1996. "I love Tiger Woods. I root for him every week," says
Adams, who thinks each win by Woods sells thousands more junior
May 31, 1998
Traditional clubmonger Taylor Made has jumped on the bandwagon
this year. So has Wilson, which offers a line of Michael Jordan
junior clubs. Titleist just introduced a lighter Pinnacle ball
to complement its T-Rex junior clubs. Maxfli, too, has a junior
ball. "This is a trend that's good for the game," says Dave Van
Horn of U.S. Kids, another clubmaker hoping to succeed by
selling short. "Cutoff regulation clubs really hinder kids.
Unless they're very strong, kids can't swing cutoffs through the
ball, so they get discouraged."
Todd's daughter, Natalie, spends as much time swinging her
FirstTour clubs as other teens spend on the phone. "She's saving
her babysitting money to go to the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy,"
says Todd, "and when I took her to Palm Springs for her 13th
birthday, she told me, 'Dad, I don't want to shop, just play
golf.' For a golfing father, that's as good as it gets." --Gary
Jennifer Rosales of USC gagged at last week's NCAA women's
championship. Seeing her name atop the leader board during
Friday's third round, the 19-year-old freshman from the
Philippines "got pressured. I thought, 'Oh my god, I'm leading,'
and I choked," says Rosales. At the par-3 17th at University
Ridge Golf Course in Verona, Wis., she dunked her tee shot into
a pond and made a double bogey. Then, after a restless night,
she opened her final round bogey-bogey-bogey. "I thought it was
the end of the world," says Rosales, who had played four 54-hole
NCAA events without finishing higher than seventh. But while
Grace Park, Arizona State's freshman sensation, Duke's Jenny
Chuasiriporn and other stars huddled in University Ridge's tiny
clubhouse to wait out a thunderstorm, Rosales quieted her nerves
with a phone call to her mother in Manila, and in the calm after
the storm, carrying a statuette of the Virgin Mary in her
pocket, she performed a minor miracle. The jittery teenager USC
coach Andrea Gaston calls "our secret weapon" birdied numbers
11, 12 and 16 to atone for those early bogeys. At the 17th
Rosales gulped, took a deep breath and hit her tee ball safely
onto the green, sealing her victory over Park, Chuasiriporn and
runner-up Christina Kuld of Tulsa.
Arizona State romped to the team title, the school's sixth in
the 1990s. The Sun Devils' 18-shot victory was fueled by
Wednesday's composite score of 277, perhaps the best team
performance in women's NCAA history. "We came into this to bury
the field, and we did it," said Arizona State senior Kellee
Booth. She finished fourth, a shot behind Park, who wept after
following a record-setting 65-65 start with a 77-76 collapse.
"I'll keep the memory of the team championship, but as an
individual, I want to erase this from my memory," Park said.
For Rosales, memories of the miracle at Verona will be
indelible. She made her splash in college golf, survived the end
of the world and set up a glorious follow-up call to Manila.
THE SHAG BAG
Texas Tornado: Laura Davies (below) used a new driver and a
tailwind to drive the 368-yard par-4 4th hole at Stonebriar
Country Club during last week's LPGA Skins Game in Frisco,
Texas. She won the event with 10 skins worth $270,000, topping
Karrie Webb (four skins, $140,000), defending champ Annika
Sorenstam (three skins, $100,000) and Nancy Lopez (one skin,
$30,000), who shouted "You're the woman!" as Davies's bomb
rolled to a stop 30 feet from the cup. Davies said her
custom-made Maruman Conductor LX titanium driver had made "an
incredible difference. I'm consistently hitting my drives 300
yards." On Sunday, tour officials used a tape measure to
determine that her tee ball the previous day had actually gone
Rock 'n' Roll: A Michigan manufacturer of countertops has found
a use for its scrap. The Old World Stone Company reports strong
sales of Pro-Magma: The World's Only Granite Putter. The
hand-polished mallet of Norwegian granite comes with a $100
Air Sigel: During a first-round 74 at last week's Bell Atlantic
Classic, Jay Sigel, faced with a fluffy lie, slid his sand wedge
under the ball, which mocked him by remaining at his feet. Said
Sigel, "I was looking up, wondering, Where is it?" He rebounded
on Saturday, shooting a Senior record 27 on the front nine on
his way to a 62. ("Congratulations for shooting my age," said
Dale Douglass.) On Sunday, Sigel's drive at 15 found knee-deep
fescue, and again he whiffed. Yet he subdued Jose Maria
Canizares on the third playoff hole to earn $165,000. "That's
probably a record, two whiffs in one tournament," Sigel said.
Ace Reporter: Sometime SI correspondent Derek Lawrenson holed a
175-yard three-iron for an ace during a pro-am in England last
week. His prize: a $326,000 Lamborghini.
Easy's Pickings: While Ernie Els was playing at the Byron Nelson
Classic in Texas two weeks ago, thieves broke through a security
gate at his home in George, South Africa, and made off with
valuables including clubs and trophies. The crooks didn't get
Els's U.S. Open trophies but did take his Range Rover, which
they soon totaled in a single-car crash that left one man dead.
"They flipped the car over on a straight road, so I don't know
if they were drinking or what," Els said last week at the Volvo
PGA Championship in England, where he tied for second behind
Right Hite: During a skills competition before last week's
Corning Classic, which Tammie Green won by seven shots, Kathy
Hite asked if other players would turn their backs while she
hit. "I don't want them to watch," said Hite, who won the '81
Corning but now sells real estate and feared she was so rusty
she might embarrass herself. She then stuck a 40-yard wedge shot
six inches from the cup.
Fender Bender: Last week at the 116-yard par-3 4th hole at
Beaver Brook Golf Course in Haydenville, Mass., sheet-metal
worker Todd Obuchowski hit his seven-wood tee shot over the
green. His ball sailed into highway traffic and struck a Toyota,
causing $150 in damage, then caromed back onto the green and
rolled into the cup.
CATCH A RISING RANGE RAT
Before they were famous, they were faces in the crowd, kids with
a pipe dream shared by thousands of junior golfers. They wanted
to be tour pros. Unlike the rest of the crowd, these six--two
Floridians, two Californians, a Texan and an Arizona Pee-Wee
superstar--had the power, touch and perseverance the job
requires. Can you identify them?
After skipping his Little League All-Star game to play golf,
this San Diegan won the American Junior Golf Association
Tournament of Champions in 1986, '87 and '88.
The son of the head pro at Florida's Timuquana Country Club
copped the '89 Rolex Tournament of Champions and U.S. Junior and
was AJGA player of the year.
A three-time Florida junior champ, she won the U.S. Girls'
Junior in '87. After graduating from Rosarian High in West Palm
Beach, she went straight to the LPGA.
A two-time Texas junior champ and AJGA All-America, he fell in
the quarterfinals of the '89 U.S. Junior but joined Trip Kuehne
to win the La Paloma Team Championship.
A three-time U.S. Junior champ, twice AJGA player of the year,
he shot 48 for nine holes at age three. At the '92 L.A. Open,
the 16-year-old missed the cut.
He won the Arizona Pee-Wee Open at seven and the Junior World
title at nine, but as a teen he lost in the third rounds of the
'83 and '84 U.S. Juniors.
Top to bottom: Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Michelle McGann,
Justin Leonard, Tiger Woods, Billy Mayfair.
Marching to a Different Drumstick
Tom Watson loves grilled mahimahi. Other Tour pros go gaga for
fresh fruit milk shakes. "What makes the Memorial different is
that we let players order off the menu," says chef John Philip
Souza. "They get cold-cut to death at the buffets other
tournaments serve up." Souza, 42, has made the Memorial
memorably delicious for 16 years. He's known around the
Captain's Grill at Muirfield Village as the man who "brings
music to our menus"--marching music, no doubt. The good grub is
a point of pride with tournament founder Jack Nicklaus. (Not
coincidentally, the International at Castle Pines, another
Nicklaus course, rivals the Memorial as the Tour's tastiest
venue.) Souza prepares broiled Lake Erie walleye for the Golden
Bear, but his biggest hit has been the mahimahi, which Watson
praised in his 1996 victory speech. "I've been a Tom Watson fan
ever since," says Souza.
At the 1978 LPGA Bankers Trust Classic, now called the Wegmans
Rochester International, Nancy Lopez came gunning for a record
fifth straight victory and shot down a dentist. In the first
round of the 54-hole event, Lopez's drive at Locust Hill's 10th
hole ricocheted off the head of Dr. Jerry Mesolella, who fell to
the turf as if he'd been shot. "She came running to me, knelt
down and held my hand," Mesolella said. "She was biting her
lips, and the tears started coming up in her eyes. She made me
want to cry." So popular was Lopez in 1978 that even her victims
adored her. After the Roswell, N.Mex., phenom birdied four of
the first nine holes on Sunday and came from five shots back to
edge Jane Blalock for the win, Mesolella wasn't the least bit
down in the mouth about his bruising encounter with Lopez. "It
was worth being skulled just to meet her," he said.
What do these players have in common?
--Se Ri Pak
They are the latest to win majors before turning 22. Pak, 20,
won this year's LPGA Championship. Woods and Lopez won the '97
Masters and '78 LPGA at 21.