12.01.10 | RL Magazine | Michael SlenskeGrowing up in the north Phoenix enclave of Moon Valley, its almost heresy to play with anything but Ping golf clubs. In fact, the formerly Karsten Solheimowned Moon Valley Country Club, where my friends and I practically lived as kids, was nothing short of a testament to the Ping empire, which was launched in the mid-1960s shortly after Solheim, then a forty-two-year-old General Electric engineer, was invited to play his first round of golf and soon discovered he couldnt putt. Blaming the equipment for his failings, he returned to his garage and emerged in 1967 with the first perimeter-weighted putter which created a ping when the ball hit the sweet spot. More than two thousand Tours wins later, it stands as the first time David truly triumphed over the Goliaths in the wrench race.
Fast-forward four decades, and Im standing on a putting green in north Scottsdale, an hours drive east of Moon Valley, with the man who may be the new Davidor Solheimian mad scientistof golf, Steve Boccieri. With one long, smooth stroke of his inimitable Heavy Putter (forced by the four-hundred-gram head and two-hundred-gram steel weight plugged into the butt of the shaft), I sink a winding fifteen-footer from the fringe. Its my first putt of the day.
I couldnt have replicated that better if I tried, says Boccieri, a nasally Brooklyn-born nuclear engineer, who grew up on the links as an eight-year-old trunk slammer, waking up at four in the morning to score a tee time at Bethpage with his father.
It was the kiss of death, he says jokingly about his childhood hobby that later became an obsession. In the nineties, he tells me, he fell in with a traveling foursome that was like a marriage. What began with trips to Pebble Beach and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail evolved into Boccieris converting the twenty-five-hundred-square-foot basement of his Westchester home into a workshop that looked like Ping Labs.
The most erratic thing in golf is the swing, says Boccieri, who was working as a pipe-stress analyst (which, he notes, was great for understanding shafts) at the Indian Point Energy Center at the time. The reason [golfers] are inconsistent is not that they dont play a lot, he explains. Its that theyre ill fit. In order to eradicate those inconsistencies in his own game, he spent $50,000 on shafts and $100,000 on machining equipment and club-building apparatuses, and he dismantled every new item that came on the market.
It was completely selfish, he admits. I was looking for the magic bullet. He thought he could find the answer to elevate his one-two handicap game onto the Senior Tour. While that pipe dream didnt pan out, he was determined at the very least to do something with all the clubs hed purchased. In 1994 Engineered Golf was born, and Boccieri converted his solarium into a driving range.
My wife went crazy, he says of his custom-fitting studio, where he continued his obsessive testing of center of gravity, moment of inertia, head weights, and balance points, which he soon learned were the key to making a swing consistent. When you have a low balance point, says Boccieri, teetering one of my Ping Eye 2s on his index finger to demonstrate the principle, you cant take a long stroke because you cant control it. With a higher balance point, you take a longer, smoother stroke.
Sure enough, his engineered clubs attracted word-of-mouth clients, including the animals of the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship who enlisted Boccieri to back-weight their drivers. Figuring the principle could work for his own putting game, the nuclear engineer started wrapping his Ping Zing putter with lead tape. The aha! moment didnt happen, however, until 2004 when he bought a 430-gram belly putter from a friend, shortened it to the standard length, and dropped a steel weight into the shaft. At first I thought, This is going to be way too heavy, he recalls, before his first stroke. I couldnt believe a 430-gram putter could feel that light. The following year he launched the Heavy Putter to great fanfare at the PGA Merchandise Show, quickly signing endorsement deals with Mark Lye of the Golf Channel and PGA up-and-comer Troy Matteson.
My own aha! moment continues apace on the putting green, as I go on to tap in dozens of three-, five-, and ten-footers, while my father, a lifelong Ping man himself, quickly follows suit. This thing is like a fencing sword, Boccieri says jokingly, swinging my fathers battle-worn Bulls Eye putter. Try this, he says, handing over the 750-gram mid-weight putter that resembles Pings best-selling Anser, but with a much higher center of gravity to reduce wrist play. My father goes on to sink three twenty-footers in a row, then hits one in, two long and two wide, with his own. Thats the perfect example of inconsistency, says Boccieri.
Boccieris putters helped Matteson win his first PGA tournament and are now carried in three thousand stores. It improves your speed, and any time you can improve your speed, you're going to make more putts, Matteson said at the time, though hes now contractually obligated to use Titleist and Scotty Cameron clubs. While that might seem like a slight, its sort of a double endorsement (i.e., the Heavy Putter worked so well that Matteson doesnt need it anymore). Besides, Boccieri isnt focusing his business on Tour pros. What hes really after are the high handicappers like me, or Mark Wahlberg and Penny Hardaway (both are reportedly Boccieri fans), or Jeremy Frost, an amateur duffer who manages a high-end hair salon in West Hollywood. Like Matteson, Frost found the club worked best as a training device, the way a fungo bat helps a baseball players swing. Last year, Frost says, a friend gave him a Heavy Putter and it had a dramatic effect on his sixteen-handicap game. So dramatic, in fact, that Boccieri and Golf Digest put him in their recent Control Freaks promotion. Because its heavier, it forces you to slow down your putting stroke, says Frost, who wasnt paid for the ad and doesnt even use the putter anymore, though he now boasts a handicap of ten. I was always rushing the stroke and snapping it through. I think what its great for is fixing a broken putting stroke. People go out and spend $300 on a Scotty Cameron putter, and it doesnt mean [expletive], because they cant putt right if theyre jerky and rushing their stroke.
While getting the feel for distance and speed takes time with Heavy Putters, in its ClubTest 2010, Golf Digest rated the Boccieri Mid-Weight Q2-M blade head as among the top putters tested and said the Mid-Weight D1-M mallet head was a top performer on short putts. Boccieri also has a Lite-Weight Heavy Putter for those looking to transition from standard to back-weighted.
But conquering the green isnt enough for Boccieri. At this years PGA show he introduced his Heavy Wedge range, and at a moment when all the big manufacturers are moving aggressively toward ultralight clubs, Boccieri is heading in the opposite direction, with a full set of irons and woods that will debut at next years exhibition. The retail challenge is whether I can prove this will improve your swing, says Boccieri. To prove it to us, we take a demo set onto the driving range. For comparison, I use my Ping irons, Adams Tight Lies hybrid wood, and Cobra drivers alongside each of Boccieris clubs. My father does the same, only with Ping i3 irons and TaylorMade Burner drivers.
When I hit my sticks just right, they send the ball (mostly) where I want them; but when I pick up Boccieris clubs, I notice a distinct difference. My distance isnt as great, but my accuracy is much greaterwith fewer scattered shotsand my swing is much more fluid. Where I generally tend to overswing with my clubs, the heavier Boccieri clubs resist such an effort, and my swing plane is markedly prettier and not as whiplike. While my Ping heads feel heavier in comparison, theyre actually much lighter. The swing weight is just thrown off by the low balance point that is compensated for in the extra fifty grams sunk into the Boccieri shaft. Boccieris driver wasnt ready, but the hybrid, three-wood, and five-wood in his bag are nothing short of amazing. I havent hit a fairway wood this good in more than a decade, and neither has my father, who also enjoys Boccieris three-ironand he stopped carrying one in his own bag years ago.
All the manufacturers sell distance, and its unfortunate theyre playing the distance game, because golf is not about distanceits about consistency, says Boccieri, noting that the best-selling irons in most stores right now are the TaylorMade Burners, because they give your average duffer an extra twenty yards. Irons are made for accuracy. Theyre not there to hit infinity. Just after a mini-monsoon soaks us off the course, Boccieri adds one last point before zooming away in his convertible.
More than 50 percent of the time I get [one of] my clubs in someones hands, they tell me [their swing] is better, but I have to get it in their hands, he says. I think were onto something. I dont know if well get there, but thats what makes it interesting.
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