Road Warriors For the travel-weary men who operate the Tour vans, the love is in the trailer, not the tractor

June 27, 1999

It was sad, bordering on pathetic. As a technician for Taylor
Made, Eric Rogers will spend 40 weeks on the road this year. He
will log 35,000 miles hauling his 40,000-pound workshop on
wheels from Tour stop to Tour stop. He has a citizens-band radio
in his truck, but--can you believe this?--no handle.

Rogers sheepishly admitted as much on a recent Thursday
afternoon, 30 or so miles outside Irving, Texas, where the first
round of the Byron Nelson Classic was under way. He had spent
the previous three days in his trailer adjacent to the driving
range at the TPC at Las Colinas, grinding soles, bending hosels
and replacing shafts for a cross-section of golfers ranging from
Taylor Made staff players such as Lee Janzen and Mark O'Meara to
a couple of Tour caddies to Billy the epoxy rep.

Now Rogers was on his way to a trade show in Austin, 200 miles
due south. As the strip malls of the Metroplex gave way to
pastureland, he joined a caravan of big rigs doing a steady 65,
leaving his passenger no choice but to observe, "Looks like we
got ourselves a convoy."

Looks like we got ourselves a trucker who prefers his cell phone
to a CB. "I don't go for that CB talk much," said Rogers, who is
37. Yes, he is a 1997 graduate of the United States Truck
Driving School in San Diego, and, yes, he can parallel park this
gleaming, 48-foot Bubbleshaft-bedecked behemoth in a 48 1/2-foot
space while singing along to Pearl Jam. (We watched him do it.)
But Rogers prefers not to think of himself as a trucker.

It was when he was asked for his CB handle that his namelessness
came to light. "I don't really have one," Rogers confessed. The
next 20 miles were devoted to finding this man a suitable CB
sobriquet. The search came down to two finalists, with Bubbleboy
narrowly edging out the White Shaft.

Bubbleboy is a member of the select fraternity of 10 or so
trucker-slash-technicians who haunt the Tour. These nomads show
up at Tour sites on the Sunday before the event begins. They
park together, like the gypsies they are, creating a
truck-stop-in-paradise ambience that tends to chagrin club
members and tournament organizers. They are gone by Thursday
afternoon, en route to the next Tour stop. Removed though they
may be from the public view, the technicians are never far from
the thoughts of the players, who entrust these safety-goggled
club doctors with the tools of their trade.

The pros' gratitude, though, is often understood rather than
verbalized. After a surprise visit by a cranky John Daly
recently--he had changed his mind, as Daly often does, deciding
to go back to graphite shafts on some of his clubs--a member of
the Callaway team said, "I guess it was that time of the month."

The next day it was Callaway's notoriously high-maintenance
Jesper Parnevik cutting a swath of destruction through the
trailer. So often does Parnevik request extensive work on his
clubs that Callaway staffers have appropriated his name to
describe having a massive reshafting or regripping job dropped
on them: "We call it getting Jesperized," says one.

It wouldn't be so bad if the technicians worked solely for the
Tour pros, but many of the clubs they build are for the players'
family and friends. "The best players may not be using our
clubs," says one equipment rep, "but most of their kids are."
Making clubs for relatives and friends is fine, says the rep,
"but you have to draw the line. When a player's gardener is
calling me, maybe we've crossed it."

How does one get into this line of work? Rogers happens to have
been the Tiger Woods of club repair. "When I was 14, I sent out
a three-wood for repair," he says. "It was a classic club, and
they just ruined it. Ground the hell out of it. I said, 'I could
do a better job than this.'" He transformed his father's two-car
garage in the suburbs of San Diego into a club-repair
shop--"including a curing booth I built out of plywood," he
says. "My dad thought I was psychotic."

By age 16, Rogers had earned a local reputation as a club-fixing
wunderkind. John Schroeder, the NBC analyst who was then a Tour
player, sent him a three-wood that had broken into three pieces.
Rogers fixed it, and Schroeder has used the club ever since. Not
long after that remarkable repair, Rogers got a call from the
president of Cobra, who offered him a job.

He spent six years, after school and in the summers, handmaking
woods in Cobra's San Diego-area factories, worked briefly for
Aldila, a manufacturer of graphite shafts, then put in about 10
years as a golf instructor. Two years ago he was offered a job
driving the Tour van for True Temper, which makes the shafts
used by 80% of the players. First, he needed his commercial
driver's license.

Rogers admits he was a bit of a loner at truck-driving school.
"I wasn't there to make any lifelong friends," he says. The
truth is, Rogers has never felt quite at ease in the universe of
truck stops, CB confabs and arm-length tattoos. It doesn't help
that his gleaming, state-of-the-art rig stands out like a sore
thumb at truck stops, where his long-hauling peers frequently
ask him, "You got a race car in there?"

While barreling south on I-35 en route to Austin, he swung into
the left lane to pass a rig laden with Cyclone fencing. "Now
watch in your sideview mirror," he instructed. "When it's safe
for me to change lanes, he'll flash his lights."

But the other driver, a hatchet-faced man with
Elvis-impersonator sideburns--clearly a misanthrope--did not
flash his lights, causing Rogers to lament, "Man, where's the
love?"

For Tour van guys like Rogers, the love is in the trailer, not
the tractor. It is there--amidst the graphite dust and acetone,
the swingweight scale and the lie-and-loft machine, the cubicles
of shafts and drawers full of clubheads, the belt sander and the
buffer, the regripping station and the bending vice--that he can
be among people who care as much as he does about golf and golf
clubs.

On a typical Monday morning in the truck, those people include,
in addition to a player or three, a small posse from Taylor
Made: Tour rep George Willett, a Canadian from Atikokan, Ont.,
who tends to steer every conversation to hockey; club designer
Tom Olsavsky; and Duane Anderson, who is in charge of ball and
putter development for the company. (Like Rogers, these guys
will work 35 to 40 events a year. Unlike Rogers, they go home on
weekends.) Rogers opens the trailer at eight o'clock each
morning and shuts her down around 5:30 p.m., once the last dog
is off the driving range. On average Rogers builds 10 to 15
woods a day and regrips 15 to 20 clubs.

The motto for Morton's Salt applies to his workday: When it
rains it pours. "You can be having a slow morning, then all of a
sudden get buried," he says. When Steve Stricker dropped by on a
recent Monday to get his clubs regripped, who knew that he was
the leading edge of a storm front? Soon after, Olsavsky came in
from the range with a half dozen of Janzen's clubs, which also
needed new grips. Michael Bradley stopped by, mainly to listen
to his favorite Alice in Chains compact disc, but ended up in a
discussion of sand wedges with Stricker and Olsavsky. When
Bradley mentioned that his wedge had been grabbing, Willett took
it over to the belt sander, promising to "grind some bounce"
into it.

Bradley lingered, enjoying the give-and-take. "It's good to get
out of the hotel, blow off some steam," he said. Just as the
Tour van guys must wear two hats--trucker and technician--the
cramped space in which they toil must serve several functions:
workshop, rumpus room and refuge. The trailer is where they go
when they want surcease from autograph hounds, media, rain--you
name it. The trailer is where you might hear O'Meara telling
stories about his most famous neighbor: "So we're trying to
sneak in and out of this McDonald's, but the girl at the french
fry machine screams, 'It's Tiger Woods!' and there's complete
bedlam. When we get up to the counter, I say, 'I don't see what
the big deal is. I kick this guy's butt four times a week.'"

It's where you might see Bradley firing slap shots out the door
of the trailer (with a hockey stick and pucks left by Dino
Ciccarelli of the NHL's Florida Panthers as recompense for a
couple of clubs). It's where you can listen to Janzen recalling
how he waited in a downpour on the driving range a few years ago
just to meet Alex Lifeson, the lead guitarist for Rush. It's
where you can hear another player on the Taylor Made staff,
Kenny Perry, confiding that he has given his 15-year-old
daughter, Lesslye, permission to get her navel pierced. "The
whole thing with parenting is, you've got to pick your battles,"
he says.

Perry gets up to leave but stops in front of the boob tube.
Rogers has cued up Austin Powers on the VCR, and a
snaggletoothed Mike Myers is speculating about Elizabeth
Hurley's Agent Kensington: "I'll bet she shags like a minx."

"That's why this is the best truck," says Perry. "You think
you'd see this down in the Callaway trailer?"

This is a sensitive area. In the caste system of Tour vans,
Callaway and Taylor Made are the superpowers lording it over the
rest. The companies are intense rivals and have the only two
trailers featuring pop-outs for added width. Callaway has two
pop-outs to Taylor Made's one, and boasts a breakfast nook and a
tiny office, complete with sliding door, to ensure privacy.

A telling contrast in use of space: Where Callaway has its
office, Taylor Made has its fridge and, above it, a cabinet
containing the TV, VCR and CD player. The ambience fairly
shouts, Come on in. My folks are out of town. The Callaway truck
is more forbidding and formal.

If the Callaway people seem to keep themselves at a certain
remove--"They're far more standoffish than the rest of us," says
the driver of one of the smaller vans--that may be because
they're following orders. Word around the trailers is that
Callaway has a corporate policy discouraging fraternization with
competitors. That said, Rogers remembers that when his generator
crapped out at a Tour stop in Florida earlier this season, Joey
Sprayberry, Callaway's tour technician, and Evan Byers, the
company's Tour operations manager, got down on all fours under
his truck to help him fix it.

Camaraderie usually overwhelms competitiveness in the Tour van
cosmos. "It's like a big extended family out here," says Jameson
Blake, technician for Penley shafts. Jamison travels with pounds
of Starbucks beans and every morning makes coffee for not just
his peers but for anyone in need of a jolt. "We all help each
other out," says Top-Flite technician Allen (the Skipper) Haley,
who borrows his nickname from his Gilligan's Island namesake.
"I'll help you out because there's going to come a time when I
need your help."

They work together and play together. While sipping malt
beverages in an Irving watering hole one evening, Rogers and
Haley could not help noticing that the bar was jammed with
attractive young women. "A lot of 'em are here to find a Tour
player to fall in love with," said Rogers, who witnesses scenes
like this on a near weekly basis. Some of the women he meets
lack the manners to mask their disappointment upon discovering
that while he follows the Tour, he does not play on it. Rogers
admits, "Sometimes I feel like saying, 'Hey, at least I get a
regular paycheck. See that guy? He hasn't made a cut in eight
weeks.'"

Rogers is divorced, and, yes, he gets lonely. No, he is not
looking to find a woman in a saloon. "I've been married, and
I'll be married again," he says. "I'm looking forward to a time
when I'm not on the road, when I can meet someone, take some
time and build a substantial relationship. That's not going to
happen with someone I meet in a bar."

Willett did it right. In 1992 he married Amy Bazley and brought
her on the road with him. (So personable and competent is Amy
that she has been hired by the company as its LPGA and NCAA
rep.) From 1992 to '97 they spent all but 30 days a year on the
road. For the last four years they didn't bother keeping an
apartment. "When we got our own place," says Amy, "we put a
peephole in our bedroom door so it would feel like home."

"Most people last two, three years driving the truck, max," says
George, who did it for nine. "They become a Tour rep or move up
some other way or fall off the face of the earth because they
can't take life on the road anymore."

All that sole grinding, in other words, tends to grind on the
soul. So far Rogers, after seven months on the job, is showing
no signs of going stir-crazy. "I'm homeless, but I live well,"
he says. "I'm making clubs for some of the best golfers in the
world. It doesn't get much better than that."

He is busting his tail to earn the trust of the men whose clubs
he works on. So far, so good. As Tom Lehman left the van on a
recent Wednesday, Rogers bid him adieu with what is becoming his
signature send-off: "Have fun out there."

Lehman turned around, flashed a smile and said, "I like your
attitude."

The following day, upon spying a road sign to Pflugerville,
Texas, on the outskirts of Austin, Rogers says, "Pflugerville
already? Well, pfluggin' A."

He is following his own advice. He's having fun in there.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK Big wheel Rogers jumped at the chance to be in charge of one of the top rigs on Tour. COLOR PHOTO: MANUELLO PAGANELLI Clubhouse Rogers builds 10 to 15 woods a day in his road home. COLOR PHOTO: MANUELLO PAGANELLI Truck stop For Jim Furyk (left) and the other Tour pros, the van serves as a workshop, a rumpus room and a refuge.

"Most people last two, three years driving the truck, max," says
Willett, the Taylor Made Tour rep.

"Parnevik requests work on his clubs so often that "we call it
getting Jesperized," says a Callaway staffer.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)