GN: Can you describe your usual day-to-day role as a Tour Rep with Taylormade?
Adrian Rietveld: There’s two different parts to the role, one would be “Off-Site”, the other would be “On-Site”.
Off-Site would be in the office at HQ. On-Site would be at a tournament working on the range, the week would start with me flying out to the event Sunday/Monday morning and arriving hopefully no later than Midday on Monday. The truck will already be there set up for the week and we get to work by setting the players up for the tournament week ahead factoring in the conditions and all their equipment requirements.
This would be the service aspect of what we do, catering for all our staff players for example Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson & Jason Day.
Taylormade holds the position of No1 Driver & Metalwood in Golf, and in order to maintain that position we have to ensure that at the top level we have more of our clubs in play than any other brand. That’s no easy feat; the products out here on tour are all good, weak products at this level will be found out very quickly.
I have to make sure my fitting ability, my service ability and our product is better than our competitors which gets our clubs in play.
At this level of golf there are full surveys carried to tell you what clubs the players are using, down to the finest detail. At the end of the year we hope that Taylormade holds the position of No1 Driver & Metalwood in Golf because of the work we do on the range fitting the best players in the world into our products so they choose us over a competitor.
GN: Do you have any involvement with the initial testing of a new prototype product, in terms of introducing it to a player for the first time and getting their feedback?
Adrian Rietveld: Yes, we would be the first point of contact a player has with a new product, obviously there’s a lot of R&D that goes into a new product, but when it comes to getting it into a players hands for the first time, getting the feedback from the player and carrying out initial testing with him on the range, that’s done through us as tour reps.
I was lucky enough to be involved with the initial testing of the M product (M1 & M2) last year at the 2015 WGC event at Firestone, which was very exciting. One thing that stood out was it’s never a one size fits all, we have the M1 460 head, the M1 430 head & the M2, which is a more forgiving option. It doesn’t mean one product is better than another it just means different players suit different products and in the fitting process it important to explore all the different avenues.
GN: When Taylormade launches a new product (for example a new driver), what’s the usual process for the staff on the truck to learn the required product knowledge so they can pass it on to the players?
Adrian Rietveld: We have a variety of conference calls and video conference calls with our head R&D engineers in the U.S. Purely from a tour standpoint we have a PGA Tour rep who’s very knowledgeable on product and linked to the R&D dept, who would also be our link. He would brief us extensively on exactly what the product does, what he’s seen with players and what he’s seen in R&D testing.
We as Taylormade Tour reps would also test the product ourselves with players we have very good relationships with and carry out a full in depth analysis, hitting different shots etc, to see how the product performs.
Then anything that’s a surprise to us won’t surprise to us when it comes to fitting a player, we would’ve worked most of it out.
GN: What’s the usual routine on tour for the reps/technicial staff on the truck when travelling from tournament to tournament? For example last week you were in France, this week you’re in Scotland, can you talk me through the logistics in moving the truck and staff around from one tournament to another?
Adrian Rietveld: The Truck attends nearly every event; the events the truck won’t attend are the events it physically cannot get to e.g. Asia. So last week we were in France, the truck was packed up on Wednesday evening and driven to the next event overnight. If there’s an opportunity for the truck to stop off at the Taylormade HQ in Basingstoke, England, it will do, to restock and fix any broken equipment etc, then it’ll carry on to the next event. The staff won’t get four days off; they will fly back to Taylormade HQ to work on other things behind the scenes prior to the next event.
Then we would fly out to the next event on Sunday/Monday morning to get set up and get to work on the range straight away. There’s a lot of orders that reach us (reps) that we would prepare before the players arrive to set the players up. We would then check-in at the hotel, have dinner, check some emails then get some sleep. Tuesday is always a busy day, it’s a day product can get put in play, the players have the opportunity to take the product to the golf course and carry out further testing on the range, then potentially use it in the pro-am on Wednesday, then away he goes.
GN: Does your job vary at a “major” compared to a regular tour event in terms of what the players request from you?
Adrian Rietveld: Yes, different tournaments vary for us in different ways, the field varies in certain ways, for example if I attend a tournament in South Africa there might be 35% of the field who are contracted players which leaves 65% of the field open to using the best equipment they believe they can use, which leads to more testing being done on the range. At the Masters for example you’ll find 90%+ of the players are contracted/endorsed/locked in with whatever brand they play. That becomes more of a service week, a lot of the players will be smart enough to get themselves ready and set up before they arrive and more work gets done away from the golf course. So they’re your main differences, at a major it seems slower in terms of the amount of work going on, but inside the circle every bit of work that goes on has that bit more importance.
I remember spending 2 days with Rosey (Justin Rose) at Hoylake for the Open Championship getting his 2-iron dialed in perfectly because it was a very important club that week. I can imagine how much preparation Dustin Johnson would’ve done with his driver for the US Open this year at Oakmont. Watching it on TV you could see on shot-tracker the exact type of shot he would’ve been working on. These things don’t just happen, it’s the fine-tuning of the engine that goes into the car (the player) and there’s a lot involved.
GN: What are usually the main requests from the players during the week of a tournament?
Adrian Rietveld: There’s so many players that use our products, the variety of requests are vast. People would think that every week was monotonous for us doing the same thing, but every week is completely different and every player has different requests and sees things a slightly different way to suit them.
You get players playing well, who see that as an opportunity to spend time really dialing in there equipment. You get players wanting specific clubs for specific shots applicable to that week. You get players who might be out of form, working with their team of people who might suggest certain adjustments to their equipment set up.
The shaft options available to the players on tour are bottomless, so there’s a lot of testing that goes on. A shaft manufacturer might bring a new shaft out and ask me for some feedback from our players because they want help to develop the product.
GN: Can the players take as much new equipment as they want off the truck? Or are there limits to the number of drivers, irons and wedges they can have per year?
Adrian Rietveld: That’s a good question, at this level, the highest level in Golf, if a player can validate what he’s trying to do, and then we’ll help him achieve that. If there’s a player that come’s in to get his clubs re-gripped every week because that’s what he like to do then so be it, our job is to offer a premium service to all our players, so they believe in our product and what we do.
There is a process of validation; none of our staff would give out equipment for no reason. Once a player explains to me what he’s trying to do, I will look at what he has already and look at how to improve things from there.
But remember there’s 14 pieces of equipment and a golf ball, so there’s always a player working on trying to improve something, that’s normal. Some players tweak and search for performance more than others, but I’d say the number of golf clubs we build in a week would be pretty constant throughout the year.
GN: Is it easy to get players into new equipment? Do they look forward to using new equipment or do they need persuading to make changes?
Adrian Rietveld: New equipment is the hardest part of our job, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into fitting a player and dialling their equipment in to their exact requirements. But in 6yrs on tour I’ve never had a player that’s tested a new product and put it in play that performs worse than what they were using previously. Whether it’s 1mph ball speed or any marginal gains, no player has ever chosen inferior equipment just because it’s new, regardless of how much money is on the table!
My job is to make sure any new equipment is performing better for that particular player, then you see the mindset of the player switch so quickly, any uncertainties they have about a new product disappears instantly because they’re constantly searching for improvement and trying to get better.
I’d love to write a book and call it “the first shot” when I’m fitting a player into new equipment the level of detail/tolerance and perfection that goes into the fitting has so much meaning behind it because that first shot will dictate how the player feels about the product, then away you go.
I’m not just pulling a club out of a demo bag and saying to him “hit that’.
When Taylormade launches a new driver for example and that new driver goes to No1 driver on tour that week, it’s a testament to the product and also a testament to the guys fitting it. It’s the purest form of product validation, when the best players in the world choose to use it….and that’s what sells it.
GN: Do the players spend a lot of time testing new shafts on the range? Do they like to change shafts when new shafts become available or do they tend to stick with what they’ve got? Do you have any involvement with advising a player on new shafts?
Adrian Rietveld: You have shaft reps on the range that’ll encourage players to test their new products. Purely from my point of view, my job is to make sure my players are using the right shafts for them. If one of our players wanted to carry out shaft testing, I would look at the array of shafts available and pick 3 options I think would suit that particular player then narrow it down as testing progresses. I don’t think it’s healthy giving a player 20 different shafts to try. You definitely see more experimenting with shafts in woods than you do in irons.
GN: Do you always carry a set amount of everything on the truck in terms of stock? Or does that change from week to week depending on the event for example, specialist clubs for certain tournaments/ground conditions etc?
Adrian Rietveld: We normally carrying sufficient numbers of everything on the truck, however if we were going to a tournament (for example) that’s a links style golf course, we would adjust our stock levels accordingly. At the Open Championship we would stock up on 2 iron heads and our UDI Driving Irons because most players will want one. Also we would stock up on wedge options to accommodate the firm ground/bunker conditions so we don’t have to spend time on custom grinding.
GN: You hear the term “tour head” mentioned a lot in equipment circles. Do the metal woods, irons and wedges you have on the truck vary in head shape/spec from what you would buy at retail?
Adrian Rietveld: Not as much as they used to do….by miles!!!! I remember when we built a specific driver head for Darren Clarke, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer. All these heads looked very similar but had different CG locations and had different geometry profiling. The reason we did that was because we had to, you didn’t have all the options available you have now with adjustability. Nowadays you can do so much with the moveable weights and the loft sleeve, you also have the 430 & 460 heads in drivers. In terms of tour only stock on the truck, we have one product, I’m not allowed to say what it is but it’s not a driver. The products are that good nowadays that the club heads on the truck are essentially the same as what you get at retail.
GN: There are so many different shafts on offer nowadays, how do you keep track of the latest products and how do you decide what shafts to stock on the truck?
Adrian Rietveld: We have relationships with all the shaft manufacturers and they have a tour strategy as well, so we work together. You can get all the technical information from the manufacturers about EI curves and frequencies etc. But for us the only real way of testing a shaft is to put it into a players hands, then another players hands, then another players hands, and see how different players react to it. Performance will jump out at you, if its good you’ll see it straight away, if it’s not good it’ll disappear very quickly.
We also test shafts ourselves, if a manufacturers tells us this shaft is a certain weight we would weigh it and check the ‘exact’ weight ourselves and check the tolerances. A 70g shaft might have a tolerance of 2g so it could be a 68g or a 72g, that’s a 4g variance so we have to make sure. The shaft manufacturers we work with have the highest quality products and you see it when you test the tightness of the tolerances. The shafts can also be tipped and altered so testing them takes up a lot of time.
GN: From fitting a player on the range, what’s the usual turnaround time on building a driver, a fairway wood, a set of irons or a wedge?
Adrian Rietveld: In terms of iron fitting, we would build a long iron, medium iron and short iron for a player to test on the range, usually takes 30mins. Once we’ve dialed them in we would build the rest of the set in 40mins, but the player isn’t going to use them that week. We could also send a request to the workshop at our head office to build the set up there instead and ship them out to the players house to cut the work load on the truck, (if he wasn’t in any rush to put them in play).
GN: When Taylormade signs a new player, what’s the usual process you go through when fitting him into Taylormade equipment for the first time?
Adrian Rietveld: If a player moves from another brand to Taylormade, he would’ve already carried out initial testing, he’s not going to switch club manufacturers then decide if he likes the product or not. The spec of the clubs for initial testing would be very close to what he was using previously to begin with so he’d be comparing the old technology to the new technology. Variables at this stage will be kept to a minimum, if an obvious performance enhancement jumps out at me I’ll let the player know about that. I’d want the initial test to be Apples vs Apples!
Once a player has built the relationship with you and decided he wants to move, it’s usually because the performance characteristics in the clubs have encouraged the player, so you might want to explore that with him. Then I’d probably do a good 2-3 days testing with the player, looking at the look, weight and feel of the clubs and see if you can find performance, this normally happens in the off-season (if there is one these days).
When fitting a player I usually say 1 club at a time, let’s look at your 9-iron and when we get that right we’ll move on to the next one. If a player has decided to switch to your brand he won’t do it until the end of the year, so if I fit 1 club a month for him, by the time he makes the switch at the end of the year he’s got a set of clubs he feels like he’s played with for a year.
GN: What’s the usual process you go through with a player when testing a new ball?
Adrian Rietveld: The process is pretty simple, you would send a player the new prototype golf ball and let him play with it at home in his own environment. You don’t want to be testing balls in different altitudes and atmospheres, which might not necessarily be the true golf ball performance.
The player would test it out in his day-to-day practice at home, he would give you some initial feedback, I would ask him the right questions to get all the necessary feedback, then you get the players impression of the ball, look/feel etc. Then I’d look at dialing it in to suit the rest of his equipment, he might say its great with a driver or a metalwood, it goes a bit further, it launches a bit higher, but it doesn’t spin as much with my wedges. Then you start looking at that aspect of his golf bag to get that part performing the same as or better than the old ball did.
Once I see a player shoot -3/-4 using a new product the settling in period is over and the equipment can’t be blamed for a bad result.
GN: Final question, who’s your pick for the Gold Medal at the Olympics in Rio?
Adrian Rietveld: Justin Rose…definitely!!!
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