Tom Stites has designed and made golf clubs for some of the greatest legends in the game, including Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Today he is head of product creation at Nike Golf in Fort Worth, Texas and has given his valuable time, exclusively to Golfmagic.com forum members, to answer their questions.
In this, the first in a series of 5 articles we are publishing, he reveals his dealings with Woods and how demanding the World No.1 is in his equipment specifications.
Each forum member whose question is answered - and Mr Stites has delved into great detail to give us positive feedback to even the stickiest of those you have fired at him - will receive a sleeve of the latest Nike Crush balls.
‘What is it like fitting Tiger Woods for his Nike clubs and what particular specifications does he demand?’ - Melvyn Davies
Tiger is extremely sensitive to the way the clubs look in the playing position, Melvyn. He’s very conscious of the leading edge of the club, how the leading edge comes into the offset, how the profile wraps around the toe and then, of course, of utmost importance, is how the ball flies. Can he hit the different trajectories and angles that he wants to be able to hit with all the talent that he possesses.
So, we’re constantly tweaking those particular things to fit his clubs but I will say that the blade irons in our Victory Red (VR) irons are exactly the way that we set them up for Tiger, so you can buy that particular product now. We have other pros that play that same model and we might grind their leading edge slightly different and we might change the toe a little bit differently from Tiger’s. But he sets the standard for the basic VR blade.
‘I’ve heard Tiger’s blades are actually Miura forged irons, is this correct?’ - Just Pured
I’ve heard that for a number of years now and I welcome the chance to respond to it. Never in the past, not now, not ever, will any of the Nike irons that Tiger plays be forged Miura products, that’s a fact. What has created some of this confusion is, prior to my joining Nike Golf, that I actually did consulting design work for Mr. Miura.
So he was one of my clients during my independent phase and he’s a wonderful gentleman. He makes an incredibly good product and we helped him develop some things for the North American market and developed that relationship. Some people have taken that and kind of embellished and exaggerated it to think that we might actually be using his product or his clubs for Tiger and any of our Tour professionals.
That’s just not the case. We built some base rough forgings at the Cornell Company in Chicago originally. From those blank forgings, we had a machine to build out Tiger’s prototypes and other clubs since the beginning of Nike Golf. Ever since then we’ve taken those to a production headquarters I worked with when I was back at the Hogan company and we’ve gone down a unique and individual path to market for all the Nike products that did not include Mr. Miura.
I wish him well but there’s just simply no truth to the fact that Nike products have been manufactured by or indeed been created in any part of Mr. Miura’s iron lab.
‘You have access to many great Tour players to test your products and Nike pays them to use the products, so how do you go about designing products for the ordinary golfer like me, so that they will wish to play Nike and use them? Is it important to you and Nike or are you able to rest on your products knowing there will always be the Tiger factor influencing sales?’ - Chris Curry
Chris, thank you for your question but you’re really off target on a lot of this. We don’t pay our golfers to play our products. We sponsor them but they play the product simply because they feel like they can play better and win with them. I think the wins that we’ve had on Tours all over the world over the last 10 years prove that.
With these guys, their profession is to play golf and to win tournaments, not play in order to get endorsement fees. I can tell you having done this now for many years, I’ve known very few pros who would prostitute themselves to the point to play products that they did not feel were beneficial to their game. And I assure you the Nike athletes in the stable that we have today are so far from that.
That said, we do like the Tiger factor. We know people will follow our product line but Tiger is No.1 and he says that if we don’t build a better product then he’s simply not even going to consider it, much less use it. And we take that as a challenge. We like to compete as much as he does, as much as Stewart Cink does, as much as Justin Leonard or Paul Casey or Charl Schwartzel or any of our trained professionals do. This is a competitive business and we like to compete and we’re going to make sure that our products are as good as anyone’s and better than most or everyone’s in order to do that.
‘When a player contracted to Nike still uses certain clubs from different manufacturers how does it motivate you to work harder on specific club designs to ensure players are comfortable putting Nike golf clubs in their bag?’ - HappyTab
It's always a challenge. We realise we’re not the only brand in the world and we probably never will be, but we’re completely motivated to have golfers all over the world playing only Nike golf clubs. We’ve got our work cut out for us!
So, it’s the same when we’re working with Tour players. We want to give them real reasons to prefer our products and it kind of goes back to the first time I started talking with Tiger Woods about his golf equipment.
He told me: ‘If you can give me products that truly perform better, not the same, but truly perform better and you can show it and prove it to me, then I’ll consider playing it.’ He said he would take them out and put them under fire. Eventually, we’ve been able to get him into all but one of our products in his bag.
So, we take it as a challenge and very seriously and it actually makes it a little more fun because we like to compete just as much as he does. If there weren’t other manufacturers in the world that were doing a good job, this job would be boring.
Read the other articles in this series...
You are currently viewing Tom Stites Special Part 1: Tiger's clubs
View Tom Stites Special Part 2: Hogan's secret here
View Tom Stites Special Part 3: Future of club design here
View Tom Stites Special Part 4: Rivals and rules here
View Tom Stites Special Part 5: Handling criticism here
Tiger Woods is very conscious of the leading edge of the club, how the leading edge comes into the offset, how the profile wraps around the toeTom Stites