Inside the nomadic existence of LPGA Tour equipment repsThe Blade, Toledo, Ohio — Kyle Rowland The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
July 10--Chances are there will be a traffic jam outside Highland Meadows Golf Club this week.
Not cars trying to access Erie Street outside the course's entrance. The commotion will be LPGA Tour players and representatives from equipment companies attempting to get inside the lone tour van at the Marathon Classic.
Players on the PGA Tour are spoiled with dozens of vans at tournaments to regrip clubs, tweak a driver loft, or change spikes on their shoes. Life is different on the LPGA Tour.
"The other tours are very taken care of," said Tom Kalinowski, a tour rep for KBS Golf Shafts. "We want to make sure the LPGA Tour girls have whatever they want at their disposal to help them win."
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Stand near the putting green or driving range and you're bound to see an armada of tour reps hawking the latest clubs from Callaway, Ping, PXG, and TaylorMade. It's an entire Dick's Sporting Goods store and Golf Galaxy stuffed into a few golf bags.
Promoting their products, furthering relationships with already-signed players, and nudging others toward their company's offerings is all in a day's work for tour reps. Socializing is paramount, and practice areas are prime locations for small talk. Players always are tinkering with equipment, or interested in what's out there, so it's wise to stay in contact.
"Ultimately, it's networking," said Jeff Ryan, a co-founder of Cure Putters. "We have something that's outside the box in terms of the geometry of traditional golf, so we have more of a story to tell. I'm out here diligently telling that story and making it become relevant. People who are putting our putters in play are understanding that, and that helps tell the story. We're having success with it. It's definitely a grind, though. We're Sunday to Wednesday in a different city every week."
This is Kalinowski's first year on tour and he still plays professionally, Ryan has been traveling on the LPGA, PGA, and Champions Tour for five years, and Barry Lyda is in the midst of his 22nd year with Callaway
"You want them to be happy because they aren't going to play your clubs if they aren't happy," Lyda said. "There are other manufacturers who will take them if they aren't happy with Callaway. I do my best to fit them and make sure we get the right thing in their bag so they don't have to worry about their golf clubs. They can just worry about playing golf."
See the field for this year's Marathon Classic with The Blade's interactive map
KBS shafts are used by Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and Justin Rose. Lydia Ko switched this season and won her first tournament in almost two years. Toledo-born Stacy Lewis also uses the company's line of graphite shafts.
This week is the first time the product is available at a tour event for players to test. The red and black color of the shaft is distinctive -- and not by accident -- making it recognizable to patrons watching in person and television viewers.
"When people see a player like [Ko] using it, they want to know what she's using," Kalinowski said. "It's strategic for everyone to have something recognizable."
If a player wins with a new or easily distinguishable product, it can start a sales boom.
"It's huge," Kalinowski said. "Everyone knows [Jack] Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters with a [MacGregor] Response putter. They sold so many that they couldn't make enough of them. At this level, every player is looking for whatever it is to get that much better, whether it's putting or iron shafts. They're all trying to gravitate."
Cure Putters launched in 2013 and immediately became an intriguing brand because of the size of the putter heads, best described as huge. The larger face (lightweight aircraft aluminum) allows for a dramatically higher moment of inertia, which promotes increased stability, forgiveness, and distance control.
The putters are especially popular on the LPGA and Champions tours. Lexi Thompson has used the company's putters and Jerry Kelly has won multiple times on the Champions Tour. In all, Cure counts eight worldwide wins to its name.
"You have to have something with that 'wow' factor to really stand the chance," Ryan said. "And to do that, you have to have conviction. When you see it in play and they do well with it, it's like watching your kid play golf. It's your baby out there."
Lyda had an Odyssey staff bag filled Monday with Odyssey and Toulon putters and a Callaway bag filled with the company's latest Rogue products. There also were boxes of recently built clubs for players to test.
"I will occasionally modify them -- cut a putter down and put a new grip on," Lyda said. "But I don't do much of the maintenance work. Most of our clubs are tested brand new right out of the box and either taken or given back."
The nomadic lifestyle is a labor of love, as Ryan described it. Out on tour, in endless hotel rooms and chain restaurants, the season can be a slog, filled with 14-hour days. The months run together and sometimes you forget which city -- or country -- you're in. But tour reps are in a people business where forming bonds make the job a leisure activity.
"It's a lot of fun to develop relationships with the players," Lyda said. "It's nice to be inside that circle. Most people don't get to go there. You know the players and they know you."
Contact Kyle Rowland at: email@example.com, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @KyleRowland.
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