The Open 2015: Tales from the Mizuno Tour truck

Mizuno's Alex Thorne on golf's 'travelling circus', blunt tees and wedge grinds

Charlie Lemay's picture
Fri, 17 Jul 2015

The Open 2015: Tales from the Mizuno Tour truck

Giant juggernauts bedecked with golf manufacturer's logos flank the practice range at most professional tournaments.

The Tour trucks shout their brands names to the watching fans and provide a vital service for the travelling pro.

Mizuno Tour Promotions manager Alex Thorne told GolfMagic about life in golf's "'travelling circus".

"No one who does this is going to be happy with a desk job. You never get up on Monday and think, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go to work’.

Instead, we’ll be heading for Heathrow’s Terminal 5 ready to fly out to the next European Tour event. The normal working week for the truck is Monday to Wednesday. A driver will have taken it to wherever the tournament is in mainland Europe and we’ll fly in on Monday lunchtime.

We are there to supply hats, gloves, towels and all our staff players' equipment needs. We’ve also got an official role as the European Tour’s mobile unit so we’ll be on hand to do repairs or club tweaks for anyone, regardless of their affiliation.

Day in the life: Luke Donald's caddie John McLaren

We fly back Thursday or Friday and the driver takes it on to the next spot. Then we do it all again. It is a bit of a travelling circus but it is good fun.

The truck goes west to Portugal, as far east as Prague and up to Stockholm. Then we have long haul trips when we’ll take a selection of shafts and heads out to places like South Africa, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, China, Hong Kong.

We probably travel anywhere from 19 to 26 weeks. Everyone has a passion for golf and has played to some kind of standard so it is nice to work in an industry you enjoy.

My job as Tour Promotions Manager means I’m in charge of all the operations, the logistics of getting the truck around Europe, contract negotiations, dealing with players’ managers, club fittings, relaying information back to the R&D department, giving feedback on new products and helping promote the product range. It’s all encompassing.

I also fly to our offices in Japan every year, and the US base. The airmiles are doing fairly well.

A few guys have a wife and kids at home - it must be pretty tough to manage that.

On our truck it is generally myself and Tour rep Simon Keeling, and then we usually have a masters craftsman, often Koji from Japan, who does all the grinds.

Major weeks are fairly quiet because guys don’t make many changes to their equipment. The odd one might put in a two iron and take out a five wood, or ask us to build a new low bounce wedge or grind some bounce out of an existing wedge.

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At St Andrews, we built two new wedges for one of our Japanese guys Taichi Teshima. We dropped him down from a 60 degree with 10 degrees of bounce to a 60 degree with six degrees of bounce. It means the sole will impact the turf a bit later and will get the bottom of the leading edge to the ball better on the softer ground.

But most of their kit is dialled in already. We’re here for emergencies. We are not looking to push them into new equipment as soon as it comes out.

We launched the new MP-5 irons this week and we’ll work to get them in bags by the end of the year. We work a lot on the range using Trackman and have lots of conversations about what flight they are looking for, what they are feeling with the club, how it reacts, how they would like it to perform.

Mizuno MP-5 irons: first look

We saw Luke Donald at the Irish Open and built him a two iron, but otherwise he is pretty set. They generally carry 16 clubs and use the practice days to decide what their bag make-up will be depending on the course, and what clubs will allow them to hit to their preferred yardage.

Ken Brown's keys to the Old Course

On tournament days we get to the truck about an hour-and-a-half before our first player is off. But it is largely a waiting game, and a chance to do some admin. Players might pop in for a cup of tea and a chat.

Chris Wood has been around a lot waiting to see if he made it into the tournament as first reserve. The truck is set up with all the tools we need for club building and repairs. We have a putter loft and lie bench, a shaft puller, a bending block to tweak loft and lie (although this is now redundant as we have quick-release sleeves), a swing weight scale to ensure a correct match through the set and a tool to inject hot glue into heads to re-position weight and affect the sound.

So if a player struggles with a left shot, say, we can load up the driver in the toe and make it more biased than it otherwise would be. Then there is a grinder for custom grinds, a shaft cutter and ruler to get the correct length according to everyone’s individual specs, drills to remove weight in the heads and a loft and lie bench for irons. We carry trays of all our club heads and about 1,000 shafts, plus grips.

Most will change grips about every five to six weeks, although some do it every week and some once a year.

You do get some bonkers requests. Once at Wentworth a caddie came in complaining our tees weren’t sharp enough and the player couldn’t get it in the ground. The response was that there is a regulation on tee sharpness because of health and safety.

‘Really?’ he said. ‘No, but don’t ask stupid questions,’ was the reply. We can get most things sorted. The problem comes when you’ve got a player in China who needs something by tomorrow.

Once Luke broke the zip on is bag in China and I was watching rugby in a pub in London. I had to frantically ring around Japan, Indonesia, our US office just to see if they had a bag with his Twitter handle on.

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Eventually, we had to get someone from our UK office to carry one out. We see the players week in, week out and bump into them during the day and at dinner or over a beer. There is always a fair bit of banter and mickey-taking.

We get along fine with the guys from the other companies, too. We work so closely you can’t afford not to. It’s certainly not like a scene from Anchorman with the Mizuno crew squaring up to the TaylorMade crew. Outside of Tuesdays and Wednesdays when everyone is heads-down we hang out a lot.

If we are in Dubai for two or three weeks we’ll play golf or go to Ferrari World or whatever. The first time I came out on Tour we were in East London in South Africa and a couple of us wanted to go surfing. Some locals told us there were too many sharks, so we had Thursday to Sunday to kill before flying to Cape Town.

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You try to keep busy but there is a lot of sitting around the hotel. I looked around at the players and they were doing the same. I remember thinking the life of a pro golfer is not as glamorous as it looks. It is the boredom. The public only see the 18 holes of a tournament day, but the players also do a few hours on the range, go to the gym, sit around the hotel, have some dinner, get an early night and do it all again.

It is hard to keep your mind from going mad with nothing to do, plus dealing with time zones. I wouldn’t fancy doing that week in, week out. You have to respect what the guys go through and give up. It is a huge sacrifice. They don’t live a normal life by any stretch of the imagination.

At least we fly out on a Thursday or Friday and can do some fun stuff while we are there. They are pretty restricted in what they can get up to.

Our busiest time of the year is from Wentworth until just after the Open, but in the winter we do a lot of our testing. We also get time to see our players on the Ladies European Tour, the Challenge Tour, the Europro Tour.

The R&D guys might fly to wherever Luke is and send his details to us. We gave him a prototype driver to try earlier this year. It was the only one, but he rang to ask if he could use it.

We built a few more and got the USGA and R&A to approve it and it is in the bag. It is the new version of the EZ driver but will not be out until February 2016. Luke has our MP-15 irons and is using 13 of our clubs, even though he is on an 11-club contract so that speaks volumes for the product.

TaylorMade tour truck: golf's 'pit men'

Some players are on a 10-club deal, some 12, some full bag. I’ve even heard contracts that are bag, headcover, wedge. We also get a lot of irons in bags where a player just has a driver, bag, shoe contract.

We like to think if there were no contracts players would use Mizuno. A lot grew up with them and the name and process is the benchmark really for a players’ iron.

The people in the office always talk about the 'off-season' but there is no such thing. The 2015 season ends in December and the 2016 season starts the following week. The travelling is tough and it can be hard work, but there are a lot of laughs.

Desk job? No thanks."