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Putter King When it comes to the club that comes first, Scotty Cameron is the final word

May 13, 2002
May 13, 2002

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May 13, 2002

Putter King When it comes to the club that comes first, Scotty Cameron is the final word

Scotty Cameron's oldest client was on the phone but could barely
be heard. That's because Cameron's most famous client was yelling
in the background.

This is an article from the May 13, 2002 issue Original Layout

"Scotty, we just finished playing a practice round," the caller,
Mark O'Meara, said while navigating the streets of Augusta
several weeks before the Masters. "Tiger was making
everything...."

"Remember, give him the new neck, not the old one!" shouted
Woods, who was riding shotgun.

Said O'Meara, "I want you to send me the same exact putter...."

"Don't make one with the flat hosel!" Woods cut in. "Make it with
the other hosel!"

"Mark, a half-inch longer?" Cameron asked. "Your usual D-6 swing
weight?"

"The new grip," Woods hollered, "not the old one!"

Eventually O'Meara gave up, trusting Cameron to create a hybrid
Mark O'Woods model based on O'Meara's specs, but not before
squeezing in the crucial question: "Scotty, can you turn it
around by next week?"

"Of course," said Cameron, before putting down the phone and
returning to the dozens of other emergency orders that he would
fill before this year's first major. "That's what this place is
for."

This place is the Scotty Cameron Putter Studio, the office,
workshop and manufacturing complex--built by Titleist, Cameron's
business partner since 1994--that he has occupied for 6 1/2 years.
Tucked into an industrial park in San Marcos, Calif., about two
miles east of Carlsbad, the 8,000-square-foot studio is where
Cameron creates hundreds of putters every year for demanding tour
pros. Says Cameron, "I can take a call from Sergio Garcia or
David Toms, mill heads for them and put together finished
products in 13 hours."

Being constantly on call has endeared Cameron to many on the PGA
Tour. He hasn't lost a Darrell Survey putter count in three
years, and at every Tour event almost half the players use one of
his models. Propelled by the endorsement of the world's most
discerning players, Cameron has transformed Titleist's putter
division: Annual sales have increased from less than $500,000 in
'94 to $38 million in 2001. Titleist ranks behind only Odyssey
and Ping in market share despite charging as much as three times
more (Cameron putters start at $250) than the competition.

Cameron, 39, has become a celebrity among the clubmaking
cognoscenti. At least two fan websites are devoted to his work.
When he appeared in the Titleist booth at this year's PGA
Merchandise Show, he signed more than 7,500 autographs. Last year
a commemorative putter he crafted in 1996 on the occasion of
Woods's first pro victory sold for $32,000 at a private auction.

The flip side to Cameron's success has been a chorus of criticism
from other putter makers. They say that because of his alliance
with Titleist, Cameron bought the putter count by overpaying
players to use his clubs. More damning are charges that his
designs are little more than rip-offs of some of the industry's
most distinguished putter makers, particularly T.P. Mills and
Karsten Solheim. Cameron has heard these whispers for years, and
he confronts the naysayers head-on. "My idea was to pick up where
Mills and Solheim left off, always keeping their standards of
craftsmanship and innovation," he says. "Have I borrowed from
them? You'd better believe it. My whole idea was to improve on
their work."

The Scotty Cameron of 2002--affluent, connected, a little cocky--is
a far cry from the gearhead of a decade ago who stalked the pros,
begging them to try one of his putters. "You should have seen him
back then," says Peter Jacobsen, launching into an impersonation
of Cameron circa 1990. Jacobsen scrunches up his nose like a
squirrel and says in a nasal voice, "Ex-ex-excuse me, M-m-mister
Jacobsen. Would you like to try one of my p-p-putters?"

Cameron started making putters when he was six, under the
watchful eye of his father, Don, an insurance investigator,
inveterate golf-club tinkerer and two handicapper, in the family
garage in Fountain Valley, Calif. Don died following a heart
attack seven years later, but Scotty continued to work on clubs
in the garage, where he felt a connection with his dad. He was 22
when he made his first pro-quality putters, for O'Meara and Jay
Don Blake, who were playing various mini-tours.

In 1986 Cameron was hired as a putter designer by Ray Cook, one
of the top putter makers at the time, and later worked as a
consultant for Mizuno, all the while continuing to produce his
own line of putters. By the time he left Mizuno, in 1993, the
year Bernhard Langer won the Masters using a Cameron putter,
Scotty Cameron was a well-known brand, selling almost 6,000
putters a year. Cameron was doing well enough to move with his
wife, Kathy, from a condo to a 7,300-square-foot house in
Carlsbad with Pacific views, although he was still making putters
in the garage. "I used to bang on the floor at eight o'clock to
make him stop working so the neighbors wouldn't complain," says
Kathy.

The main workshop may now be in San Marcos, but the house still
brims with pop-culture artifacts that reflect Cameron's quirky
sensibilities. On one wall a shelf made out of a water ski holds
his collection of grass-skirted hula dolls. Wooden surfboards
and vintage Schwinn bicycles are scattered about. The big
attention grabber is the view of the ocean and, in the
foreground, La Costa Resort and Spa. Cameron recently took his
six-year-old daughter, Summer Lynne, to the club to test a new
ball-mark repair tool. Following dad's instructions, she ran
around one of the greens slamming the heel of a cut-down putter
into the turf, and he followed on hands and knees fixing the
damage. La Costa is also the place where, seven years ago, on
Thursday of Masters week, he sat with Wally Uihlein, the CEO of
the Acushnet Company, to discuss terms of the deal that would
bring him to Titleist: a 10-year contract worth about $300,000
annually, plus royalties that could add more than $1 million a
year, making Cameron one of the few multimillionaires who can
operate a MAC-V2 milling machine.

These days Cameron says he spends half his time designing,
budgeting for and batch-checking putters that are manufactured at
three small plants by 90 employees within a mile of the studio
and sold to golf shops all over the world. The rest of his time
is devoted to making putters for touring pros.

The thing Cameron does better than anyone else, most players say,
is take sometimes vague specifications and transform them into a
club that a player senses is correct for him. "It's very hard to
describe feel to someone," says Brad Faxon, "and there are so
many other issues: the right look and the right sound. He works
hard to understand what you want and then makes it for you."

What a player wants, however, is not necessarily what works best
for him, so before he makes a putter, Cameron will ask a client
to go through a video analysis. The session takes place in a back
room at the studio, where three cameras are mounted on a
15-foot-tall metal frame and two more are positioned at ground
level. All of the cameras are connected to one monitor.

Recently Jacobsen stepped in front of the videocams and began
striking 20-foot putts. The first few rolled neatly into a
felt-and-rubber cup, but when he started to miss, Cameron had to
decide if Jacobsen needed work on his stroke or if his putter
needed to be tweaked to compensate for his swing flaws. "A couple
of years ago Peter had this habit of resting the putter on its
heel, tipping up the toe because the toe didn't look right to
him," Cameron said, "so I built up the toe of his putter until
the optics seemed right."

This time the cameras revealed a swing flaw: a slight hook caused
by a closed putter face and an inside-out swing path. Because
Jacobsen had been missing putts to the left during tournaments,
he was not surprised by the diagnosis. He was amazed, though,
that the video system revealed the nature of his problem so
vividly. As he watched a replay of his putter head crawling
across the screen from five different angles at a speed of .0005
of a second, he shook his head and said, "This is some X-Files
s---."

That's sort of what Cameron's competitors say, except they leave
out X-Files. Cameron and Titleist, they say, bought instant
credibility in the early years of their alliance by offering Tour
players more money than any other manufacturer to use a Cameron
putter. Cameron counters by saying that even the small
manufacturers pay players to use their equipment and that he now
offers half as much as his nearest competitor.

Cameron's rivals also openly question the originality of his
work. "In the industry his nickname is Scoppy," says Bobby Grace,
a former putter maker for Cobra, "because he copied everything
that Ping made." Says David Mills, T.P.'s son, "The Titleist
designs are basically copies of the Ping putters and my dad's
putters."

Cameron responds to that criticism by producing a bag stuffed
with 30- and 40-year-old putters. "Putter designers have always
borrowed ideas from one another--look at that slot," he says,
pointing to the underside of a T.P. Mills model. "That's the old
vibra-groove slot from Ray Cook, and you see it in some of the
Ping putters, too. So, did T.P. Mills and Karsten borrow from Ray
Cook?"

Cameron's defense is stoked by his feeling that rival putter
makers are indebted to him. After his success at Titleist,
competing manufacturers began paying top dollar to other
independent designers. Such was the case for the putter makers at
Odyssey. In 1995 U.S. Industries, then the parent of Tommy
Armour, bought Odyssey for a reported $14 million. Two years
later Callaway purchased the company from U.S. Industries for
$130 million. The talk of the industry these days is Nike's foray
into clubmaking. "Now, for the first time in five or 10 years,
there's a new major player in the club market," says Kevin Burns,
an independent designer who made the putter that Jose Maria
Olazabal used while winning the 1999 Masters. Anyone who can bend
a hosel has been sending prototypes to Beaverton, Ore. "There are
probably 200 people lifting up their skirts right now for Nike,"
says Guerin Rife, another independent putter maker whose models
have been popping up of late on the Darrell Survey.

If someone does find a pot of gold marked by a swoosh, he can
thank Cameron. "What would be nice," he says, "would be for some
credit to come my way. I've paved the way. It would be nice for
them to say, like I'm saying about T.P. Mills and Karsten
Solheim, 'Thanks for opening the doors for other putter
makers.'"

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOEY TERRILL Beat this Every week almost half the Tour pros use a putter made by Cameron, who hasn't lost a Darrell Survey count in three years.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Number 1 customer Woods won all his majors, including this year's Masters, with a Cameron putter.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOEY TERRILL If the walls could talk Tour players such as Phil Mickelson have left their marks on the Wall of Fame in Cameron's studio.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOEY TERRILL Testing, testing Cameron videos a player's stroke from five angles at super-slow speed to find the flaw that leads to the fix.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOEY TERRILL Hands on The putters sold in golf shops are put together by Cameron's staff. He personally prepares the ones used by pros.
"My idea was to pick up where Mills and Solheim left off," says
Cameron. "Have I borrowed from them? You'd better believe it."