Day in the life: Cobra Puma's Tom Olsavsky

Cobra Puma VP talks working with Rickie, going into space & 'obsolete' older drivers

Andy Roberts's picture
Mon, 29 Feb 2016

Day in the life: Cobra Puma's Tom Olsavsky

There are many perks that come with being vice president of R&D at Cobra Puma Golf, such as working with Rickie Fowler. There are also plenty of meetings, too! 

At Cobra Puma, we launch a number of products every year, so our meetings typically evolve around the new clubs on a project level to figure out exactly what is going on. 

My R&D team, based in Carlsbad, is made up of 30 people. In this group, we have a number of different disciplines ranging from engineers and designers to the actual testing people. 

NEW: COBRA KING WEDGES

I also have an innovation team that is looking at things that are maybe two to three years away - so I have lots of meetings with these guys, typically asking questions such as what are the limits, what can we do next, what new materials can we work with and how can we reinvent something. That can be a lot of fun as it's pretty wide open. 

Then we have operational meetings about the production of clubs and dealing with the vendors, on top of sales meetings, business meetings, people management meetings, finance and budgeting meetings, and sports marketing meetings.

All in all, I spend roughly six hours a day in meetings - but thankfully the rest of my day involves a little more play. 

We really do have a lot of fun at Cobra Puma, especially when working with the Tour players such as Rickie, who is just a great guy to work with.

When Rickie comes in to see us, we will typically spend a couple of hours with him, talking about our products, our new technologies, showing him what we are doing right now but also what we are going to do in the future. He gets it and gives us great feedback.

EQUIPMENT: RICKIE FOWLER - IN THE BAG

Rickie is not only very mature and competitive, but he's a great people person too, which I'm sure many GolfMagic readers will have seen either in person or on TV. He just fits what Cobra Puma is all about, and that's about having fun on the golf course. It's just a great marriage. 

We tend to have a relatively small staff on Tour but we have a very good staff in that respect, with Lexi Thompson on the ladies front. We're not a numbers company, we're about the perception of the Cobra Puma brand. 

The new Puma high-top shoes are probably the most recent bit of feedback Rickie's given us - and we acted accordingly. He told us that when he and his friends played basketball that high-tops gave him a little bit more support. He asked for them as a golf shoe and we delivered.

Rickie is very much a fashion and performance leader and a big draw in the game today. Just look at the stir the high tops have made recently, along with his jogging pants that broke out when he won in Abu Dhabi recently. 

He is a fan favourite, too, just like Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson and Seve Ballesteros. Whether he's rocking a flat bill cap or high top shoes, he's not afraid to wear something different, and thankfully his play backs it all up. I know I couldn't get away with some of the stuff he wears, though!

Rickie has been playing great golf for a while but the wins are starting to stack up more frequently now with four wins since May 2015 at The Players Championship.

His win at TPC Sawgrass last year was a massive boost for his confidence, as you could see from how he ended 2015 and started 2016. I believe it's just a matter of time now before he bags that elusive major title.

THE BUTCH EFFECT: RICKIE FOWLER SWING SEQUENCE

I think he's well prepared for that now having been in the hunt for majors a lot recently, none more so than top-five finishes in all of the majors in 2014. 

His partnership with Tiger Woods' former coach Butch Harmon is also going to hold him in good stead. Rickie and Butch are working well together on the practice range and that is showing on the course.

While we have a robot, I also get to help test the clubs, which is another fun part of the job. I'm an ok golfer but I'm a good demographic for the market. We have a hitting centre in our facility and use several local golf courses. 

Away from testing product with our staff players, I also spend a lot of time educating our customers, consumers and retailers.

READ: COBRA GOES INTO SPACE TO LAUNCH KING LTD

On a senior level, I will often present our new product and concepts to our big retailers around the world. That requires a lot of preparation, trying to package the product and give them the best education behind the clubs.

Within the last couple of years, we've started working with CASIS, which is the Centre for the Advancement of Science in Space. This has allowed us to carry out materials research projects on the International Space Station, and that has been a lot of fun.

CASIS sees a lot of benefit to being able to research technologies, processes and materials in space that would lead us to make better golf products.

Some of the science that they've done is to try and find out how things are processed in space.

As a result, we then think, 'oh that's how that works', and then we come back to earth and relate to how our products are being made, making them better in the process. 

In terms of my background, I've been in the industry some 25 years now. I played golf since I was five with all of my family. My father and I used to experiment with golf clubs and as my interest in the game and equipment intensified, we would break some of them up and refinish them.

I got my education as a mechanical engineer in the Mid West of the US, before starting out work in the automotive industry. I then got my break as a golf club engineer for Titleist in 1990, before going on to work at TaylorMade six years later as senior director of product creation for 17 years, before becoming vice president of Cobra Puma Golf in October 2013.

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I have worked with some great people along the way, including lots of Tour players and amateurs and have seen my fair share of technological advancements in the game.

Golf is my life. I have always been a golfer and always will be. I used to play off scratch, but I have a young boy now who is taking up a lot of my time and so I now play off 7. Outside the job, watching my boy learn and enjoy the game gives me a big thrill - as I'm sure many fathers out there will agree. 

The biggest thrill for me in the job, however, is a golfer's positive reaction to hitting one of the clubs I've designed. There is no greater feeling that that.

Aside from having children and marriage and the amazing things we do with our family, hearing someone say 'I love that golf club you made' is just incredible. It's that sort of reaction that gets me up for work every morning. 

To choose one particular club that means more to me than others is a little like me trying to choose my favourite child, as all the clubs I've designed kind of feel like family.

But in terms of performance, the new Cobra KING Ltd driver and Ltd fairway wood provide the best performance I have ever seen from a golf club before. 

We've had great success with our new Cobra KING family. Rickie made an instant switch to the KING Ltd driver and won with it straight away, while early reaction to the new KING F6 range has been positive. 

READ: COBRA KING LTD DRIVER REVIEW

With the KING Ltd driver, we have a zero CG driver with a 4700 inertia. Nothing has ever been created with that much inertia and with that low a centre of gravity before. This is a great performance club, it's long, forgiving and very easy to hit.

Work actually started on the KING Ltd driver a year and half before I joined Cobra, and I joined the company more than two years ago. On first inspection of this product, we were not sure it was really going to work and so we changed direction to a different construction.

A lot of the time we will produce multiple versions of a product. In the early stages of the process, we will test a safe one, a target one and an aggressive one - this allows us a bit of flexibility in terms of when we finally have to make a commitment and therefore gives us a back up. 

With the KING Ltd, we took our time with it and made sure it had the best possible performance behind it, as well as also being cost effective as a business. In reality, it took a little longer than we had planned, but boy, what a product we now have on our hands.

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The KING Ltd fairway wood is in the same platform, with the lowest CG in the game for a fairway wood, featuring all our new high tech materials.

With Cobra now providing golfers with the best CG there has ever been in the golf industry, a lot of people now say to me that I can't do any better now with a big rule limit on speed and size. My answer to that is that there are no rules as to how low I can make the CG or how I combine the CG with the inertia. It's my job to work with the laws of physics, processing and materials to get it there.

That is where we still see opportunity in the future. I have been working with drivers for so long now and I understand how they work and perform that I guarantee you, if you're playing a driver that is more than two years old, it's obsolete in performance. 

With the irons, Rickie is playing a forged set of KING irons in a black finish that does not wear off. I have been playing them for the past four months and if you looked in my bag right now you would honestly think they were brand new. 

READ: COBRA KING FORGED MB IRON REVIEW

The KING F6 is a new launch for us in 2016, and it's taking off where we were with the Fly-Z products. We are using similar design technology with carbon fibre in one of the drivers and we've got moveable weights in the line of the metals once again.

READ: COBRA KING F6+ DRIVER REVIEW

We've also got a new lightweight track design in the F6+ driver that provides even more adjustable launch, spin and forgiveness in five different front to back settings. We're providing a lot of change for our consumers in terms of spin, adjustment, fitting capabilities and colours. 

READ: COBRA KING F6 DRIVER REVIEW

And last but not least, we also have the new KING F6 iron family featuring a completely new set configuration with four different constructions. We have hollow long irons, half hollow mid irons, cavity back short irons and a muscleback gap wedge - the best club for each of those purposes for that game-improvement player. 

READ: COBRA KING F6 IRON REVIEW

As for the state of the golf equipment industry right now, I think we're starting to turn a corner following a tricky few years.

There were a few inventory issues, a few product challenges in the sense products weren't quite as good as maybe they were initially marketed, there were economic issues and then there was poor weather.

It's all been one big business cycle, but I firmly believe the industry has done a better job at managing inventory, retail, and expectations and performance of late. 

All of these issues have challenged us here at Cobra Puma to become better. My goal at Cobra Puma is to now grow this business and make us much more successful.

When I was part of TaylorMade, it was a smaller company than where it is today and it grew fairly well over the 17 years I was there.

I would love to be able to repeat that success, make some better products and make golfers happier every day. 

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