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In Their Own Words: Heavy Putter

| Golf Channel |

Founded three years ago, Heavy Putters' corporate headquarters are in Ridgefield, Connecticut just north of Westchester County in New York.

Stephen Boccieri is the founder of Heavy Putter. Formally a mechanical engineer for one of the world's largest petrochemical and nuclear industry engineering companies, Steve specialized in the design of piping systems for nuclear power plants.

A CONVERSATION WITH STEPHEN BOCCIERI.

Casey / Q:
Steve, what's your background in golf?

Steve / A:
I started playing when I was 8 years old and I'm 53 now. I was a scratch player for many years and probably the one thing that I focused on was the lack of knowledge that people had about golf equipment.

Casey / Q:
Did your initial interest in golf equipment stem from your engineering background?

Steve / A:
I'd say that's part of it. I worked for a company called Stone & Webster. They provided full-service engineering, design, construction and consulting services for power, process, environmental/infrastructure and industrial markets worldwide. I was in that business for 25 years. Personally, I specialized in designing the piping systems used in nuclear power plants. This industry started to dry up in 1994. I continued to serve as a consultant for Stone & Webster, but, my time in that industry was coming to an end.

Casey / Q:
Just because you're a scratch golfer doesn't necessarily mean that you are an equipment junkie.

Steve / A:
No, you're right. I think the engineer in me eventually necessitated that I understand how golf equipment works. I never really got good answers from people in the industry as to why heads and shafts reacted the way they did. At least not at the time I was asking the questions. When I asked the local pros they would kind of shrug their shoulders…they really just wanted to give lessons. Nothing wrong with that, but, I was looking for answers they couldn't give me. My hunger for knowledge was to the point where I said I'm just going to do it myself.

Casey / Q:
And so you started building golf equipment?

Steve / A:
No, not initially. Initially I tinkered around with my own golf equipment in terms of cutting, bending…I had my own lie and loft machine, things like that. And I would re-grip my own clubs. That's how it started. But, eventually I started to reverse-engineer golf clubs - the shafts and heads. I started to buy everything made in the golf industry and I was ripping this stuff apart. I was buying new golf clubs and destroying them so I could understand what made them different from one another and what made them work. Pulling the shafts, taking the heads to band saws and looking at the way they were constructed. I started to understand a little more about materials and face thicknesses and things like that.

Casey / Q
I've also been told your first scientifically based study of equipment was on shafts.

Steve / A:
Yes. When I got more seriously involved I did an expansive study on shaft technology. Way back when I was doing profiles on shafts - when people knew only about butt frequency in frequency matched shafts - I knew that there was more happening in the dynamic end of the shaft, which is the tip, than what people were reporting on. So I designed a profile system and tested every shaft that was made from 1995, 1996, 1997…all those years. And the more I learned about how shafts worked, the more I realized that if you could properly fit a golfer with the right shaft, a shaft that helps optimize a player's ability, that golfer would in fact hit more consistent drives. Of the three thousand shafts that I categorized they all fell in to one of five categories. It was really quite interesting. It got to the point that I could fit somebody simply by getting them to swing one out of five golf clubs of a particular shaft category. Then we'd dial in the other parameters - grip pressure, your angle of attack, the timing of your release, your tempo, etc. And I could determine what shaft in what club was perfect for your style of swing.

Casey / Q:
And this all came about strictly due to your quest for knowledge?

Steve / A:
It started off that way. But, then I thought I would start a custom club building business. However, I chose not to do that. But, as a result of all the testing, I had this tremendous database of information on shafts. Several OEMs and shaft companies offered to buy the database at the time. Considering all the years of effort that went in to collecting the data, I decided not to sell. The deal was never really good enough and I thought I could do something proprietary with that information at a later date.

Casey / Q:
OK. Let's move forward from shafts to putters. How did your work with putters evolve?

Steve / A:
The same objective of classifying all these shafts was the thought process that led to Heavy Putter. Because what I was doing was trying to find consistency in shaft response. Then I began to look at consistency in the putting stroke. I wanted to find out what factors in putting and putters led to inconsistency of distance and control. What could you do to a putter to make your stroke become more consistent? So I started playing around with adding weight to a putter which I had always done to my own putters. But, I never really equated significant weight to increased feel. I did know that a heavier putter made me more accurate and consistent on very short putts. I was almost automatic five feet and in when I didn't have to apply an external force for the ball to get to the hole. It was more of a pendulum motion; heavy mass at the end was great for short putts.

Casey / Q:
And for longer putts?

Steve / A:
There was a downside for longer putts. I started adding more and more weight and it got to the point where I added so much weight to the putter, again, it was very effective on short putts, but, when I had a sixty foot putt and I would accelerate the putter in to the impact area the mass at the end exacerbated my wrist release. This was due to such a low center of gravity. It was like a slingshot or like having a bowling ball at the end of string. I couldn't control this through the impact area. So at that point I said, well, this is a great thing - the weight is doing wonders for feel and stability on short putts but I can't control it on the long putts.

Casey / Q:
And that's when you started working with back weight?

Steve / A:
Yes. It's been a practice in the golf industry to control the balance point of a golf club or to adjust the swing weight. That's by no means a new thing. But, I hadn't previously equated it to what I was doing with building heavy putters. Now, I had just gotten a delivery of a 430 gram belly putter head. In fact, I remember I was on the phone with someone when the head was delivered. I happened to have a regular length putter shaft leaning against my desk. No grip on it. So I stuck it in the head of the putter - this was an extra heavy head designed for use with a long belly putter shaft - but I put a regular length putter shaft in. At 430 grams it felt like a ton of weight at the end of the shaft.
Casey / Q:
And you're still on the phone?

Steve / A:
Yes. I'm still on the phone and I start stroking putts with my left hand only while holding the phone in my right hand. Once that heavy head got to the end of the arch of the putting stroke the wrist broke down. There was no way you were going to be able to control it. Now, there was no grip on shaft so the end of the shaft was open. What I haven't told you yet is that simultaneous to working with the putters, I was building long drivers for the professional long drive competitors. And in doing this for a while I had learned to counterbalance drivers with weight in the butt section to give these guys better feel because the shafts were so lone. I made weight cylinders that would fit in the open end of the shaft. So, I'm still on the phone and I take one of these counter-balance weight cylinders and I put it in the opening of the butt end of the shaft. Then I pick the putter back up - the phone was still in my right hand - and I start hitting putts with my left hand. It was instantly amazing. The putter became connected to my arm and the wrist breakdown was gone. It was totally gone.

Casey / Q:
And you're like, wow, this is great?

Steve / A:
I'm telling you, that little light bulb that you're lucky to get once in your life went off in my head. I stroked one handed putts in total control, like fifteen putts in a row, and I made fifteen putts in row; this was from twelve feet. And this was with one hand. So I told the guy on the phone, hey, I've got to go. I just came up with something. I got off the phone and I'm just standing there looking at the putter and that was the eureka moment. That was basically the day of the birth of the technology behind the Heavy Putter.

Casey / Q:
How did you go from that point to where you zeroed in on specific parameters?

Steve / A:
Well, at that point I knew I had increased head mass and I had the back weight but I didn't know how much weight is too much and how much is too little. So I made more of these back weight cylinders. I must have had fifteen different categories of weight cylinders starting at fifty grams and going all the way up to like 400 grams in twenty five gram increments. I had no idea at that point what was going happen to the feel and performance of the putter. I was like a mad scientist. It's like you come up with this concoction and then you have to make it better. So I experimented adding all these back weights and then I came up with the head design that was like a sled. And what I was able to do was add fifteen different weights to the head to be able to change the head weight.

Casey / Q:
But you were also dealing with the back weight part of the equation.

Steve / A:
That's right. If you can visualize this matrix - it's like fifteen different head weights and fifteen different back weights and to find the right combination would have taken a hundred years. Every time you changed a head weight you'd have to change every one of the back weights to come up with the proper analysis. It was a very long, drawn-out process…hours and hours of testing…to finally come up with a weight combination necessary to really engage the upper body muscles and negate the wrist muscles. There was a total weight combination that I had to achieve that was heavy enough for me to start to really feel it in my biceps when I picked the putter up. Once I got the total weight, then I focused on establishing dispersion of the weight; how much would be in the head versus how much would be in the butt end of the golf club to achieve the balance point that would allow me to control my wrist release. And that was the key to how it all evolved.

Casey / Q:
Let's talk a little bit about the process of getting the original putters made to spec.

Steve / A:
I had milling shops that I worked with for the last ten years leading up to Heavy Putter from when I was doing a lot of other golf related type studies. I had people that I was able to work with and they'd mill the putter heads for me. The raw skid that we came up with to do all the weight testing in the beginning was nothing close to the design of the putter that we ended up taking to the PGA Tour for testing. That putter was originally created from clay models that I baked right in my oven at home and then from the clay model…once I had something aesthetically pleasing to my eye - I took that to a 3-D modeling studio and using a CAD system the putter was carefully designed. Then I sent those files to very high quality CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) millers - a company out in San Diego actually - and the first prototypes were cut.

Casey / Q:
Now that you are a production model putter maker selling to the consumer, versus just the tour, how has the process changed?

Steve / A:
The original putter that was out on the PGA TOUR was a one hundred percent CNC milled putter from a solid billet of steel. The amount of time the original heads took to mill was about 120 minutes of milling time per putter head. We made a limited edition run that we took to the PGA TOUR and we used these putters the first year. The cost of the putter was so high that we had to come up with different methods of manufacturing if we were going to be successful at the consumer level. However, once we got acceptance from the TOUR, and we thought, wow, maybe we've got something here, I then started to investigate going off-shore to have the putters made.

Casey / Q:
And you are able to maintain the quality of the putter? In other words, you didn't have to give anything up while you were bringing the cost down?

Steve / A:
Not at all. In fact, the quality has gotten better over time. We kept the process the same but we figured out better ways to do things. We were able to speed things up by starting with a raw forging of the head - already in the shape of the putter head - instead of starting with the billet. Then we 100% CNC'd the forging. There was still a ton of metal we had to remove, but by doing that, we saved three pounds that no longer had to be removed in the milling process. The original billet weighed five pounds, the forging weighed two pounds. And we netted out of that a one pound putter head. We were able to drive down the cost drastically. This took us in to the marketplace at about $235 retail which was about what a Scotty Cameron was going for. Now, how could I charge as much or more than a Scotty Cameron when I didn't have the name or that kind of a proven track record? But we did enter the market at that $229 plus price range and still found some success.

Casey / Q:
But you weren't really comfortable at that price point?

Steve / A:
No. I felt we were still too high to get the kind of market penetration I believe the putter deserves. So I made three trips to Taiwan last year and the last month there we started developing a casting of the product that was going to be almost 100% CNC milled but it got us to the point where we started out only fifty grams over the net weight of the finished product. And, obviously, casting is a lot less expensive than the forging process. So, we cut down the material cost and we cut down milling time. By doing that we were able to cast a putter out of the 304 stainless steel and create the same feel, the same weight ratios…everything is the same as the forged product we originally went to the Tour with but we brought the price range of the putter down now to the consumer at $199 including the tungsten weight kits.

Casey / Q:
I think people get so wrapped up in the technology sometimes that they forget about trying to run a successful business.

Steve / A:
There's no question about that. You can have a great idea; you can even make a great prototype that performs, however, if you can't figure out how to produce your product while controlling costs and making a fair profit you aren't going to be around very long. This new process gave us the necessary margins we needed for the company to make sense. And because we brought the putter in line with a reasonable price point, we were able to go market with the putter by way of an infomercial that would really explain the technology. It's hard to do that in a one page add in a magazine or a newspaper. The infomercial we have is exciting the consumer. It's also exciting the retailers and they are now giving us the opportunities we were looking for. You know, we're in Dick's now, and Edwin Watts was one of the first major golf retailers to give us a shot. And they're very excited because we explain the technology fully in our infomercial and then we're driving those interested buyers in to their stores to buy the product.

Casey / Q:
Now, your putter is not a one-putter-fits-all deal. The putter is adjustable?

Steve / A:
The interesting thing about the evolution of the head itself and the fact that we have tip weights is that what I found when we did our testing was the weight combination that worked best for me might not be the weight combination that worked best for you. We did a lot of testing out at Hank Haney's Ranch with the Science in Motion people. We found a common weight that worked for 99% of the golfers. From that point we narrowed the band of adjustability to a range that makes sense for people to customize the putter. We have five different weights that can be put in to the heads which affects the balance point and affects the release of the putter. So, for example, if I have very soft hands on the putter and you held it more firmly, you and I would not stroke the putt the same way and we wouldn't release it at the same time. In my case I would probably lighten the head and raise the balance point. And in the case of someone who held on firmly you would probably increase the head weight and lower the balance point to create more release.

Casey / Q:
So it really is different strokes for different folks?

Steve / A:
We all putt differently and there isn't necessarily a right way to putt or a wrong way to putt. Just look at all the great professional golfers and how many different putting strokes there have been through the ages. If you looked at Bobby Locke's stroke by today's standards you would say he must be a horrible putter. But he may, in fact, be the greatest putter ever. He putted completely different than Crenshaw. But they got similar results. Was one right and one wrong? No. They were just different. And putting is probably the one area of the game that amateurs have at least a shot of reaching the kind of success that pros have. You don't have to have perfect mechanics to putt well. You just have to find a way to putt that works for you. And I believe Heavy Putter can help people do that.

Casey / Q:
Before I let you go, let's talk about the success that Troy Matteson has had using your putter.

Steve / A:
Yes, what a great story. Troy went from 110 in putting to number eight and became the leading money winner on the Nationwide Tour last year. He's had the putter in his bag for almost two-and-a-half years. He was actually one of the first guys - when I brought the prototypes out to the Nationwide Tour stop in Pennsylvania in '04 - he was the first player to take it and put in play that week. And it has never left his bag. And this year, '06, we formally sponsor Troy who is now playing on the PGA Tour as a fully exempt player. It's such a thrill for us to see the putter used successfully at the highest levels of golf. So here we are, just a young company, and we have a sponsored player on the PGA Tour.