It was a great pleasure to chat with legendary designer, Tad Moore, who has been creating beautiful golf clubs since 1963. Still the hardest working man in golf, Tad has partnered with Orlimar to produce four timeless putters that go on sale March 1st.
Golf Conversations: Everybody in the golf industry is familiar with you. But there are young people who may never have heard of you.
Tad Moore: Of course.
GC: So can we do a quick synopsis of your time in the industry?
TM: Sure. My time of some meaning in the business started in the ‘70s when I developed the milled putter concept instead of using casting and other methods. T.P. Mills was one of the guys I looked up to and I wanted to make a putter that was a lot like his putters.
But I didn’t want to do it the way he did because it was a tremendous amount of hand grinding. The company I worked for had milling machines and lathes. So I learned how to run a milling machine and developed a method to do it.
GC: For folks who may not understand, please explain what the milling process is versus the cast process.
TM: The reason I wanted to go to milling was … well, let’s say I made one for you and you really liked it…
GC: And you’d comp me for that, right?
TM: … and a buddy of yours liked it and he wanted one and I’d make him one, and he’d say, “It’s not the same.” By doing it with a milling machine, I can control the dimensions, the weights, and duplicate one after another. I can make thousands that will be exactly like the one before it.
That gave me the ability to replicate my products. It was good because by the time I started working a lot with professionals … in the early days, guys like John Mahaffey and Bob Murphy, they’d actually pay me. 150 bucks apiece.
GC: Pay you? Pros paid you??? “This is the Big One, Elizabeth!”
GC: When was this again?
TM: The ‘70s. And all the way up into the ‘80s, guys would actually pay me for making them a putter.
GC: When did we lose that business model?
TM: In the mid-‘90s when they started paying guys to play equipment. I was asked about this yesterday and I honestly do believe that it’s a very bad thing. And I can’t imagine these big companies, like a TaylorMade or a Callaway …the Chief Financial Officer has got to look at what he spends on golf and golf promotion and tour players, and he’s gotta just scream. Because if there’s any way he could drop that to the bottom line, he’d be a lot happier, for sure.
I can remember working for Maxfli … worldwide, maybe even including Japan … they spent maybe $25 million. Today, it’s maybe ten times that.
GC: Just to pay players to endorse their products.
TM: Yeah, it’s amazing.
GC: And the Web.com guys, they get a couple of hundred a week just to play a driver.
TM: Yeah. And the putters. It started out, maybe 200 a week, then 500 a week. Now they get $50,000 and up to use a putter. It’s amazing.
GC: What I don’t understand is this: I’ve been reading all the golf magazines for over 20 years … I played 109 nine-hole rounds of golf in the last twelve months. A maniac, right? I would probably be considered to be the kind of golfer that an equipment manufacturer would want to reach with their advertising.
TM: That’s right.
GC: I hardly ever look at magazine ads. They don’t persuade me, they don’t influence me. I’ve been recording golf tournaments on TiVo for 14 years. I’ve never watched a TV commercial. And the touring pros jump from one company to the next year after year. So last year I should play Callaway because Ernie Els is a Callaway player. But this year he’s with Adams, so now I should play Adams?
I don’t understand why all the money is spent on these guys when – at least for me – it doesn’t influence me one iota.
TM: I think there’s a lot of truth to that. And I find that very strange for the same reason because I don’t get a lot out of looking at a print ad for a golf club. I may have more interest in a resort ad.
We talk about guys playing with equipment and the importance of it … well, they’re not playing the equipment that you and I can buy anyway, so why should I be influenced by it?
GC: Oh, my goodness gracious! We can’t buy the equipment the pros play? What a dirty, dark secret that is!
TM: A lot of people don’t understand that, though. It’s still amazing.
GC: If I may, Tad, just go back to the equipment manufacturers for a moment. I sincerely believe that they would get more bang for their advertising buck if they sponsored hard-working, patriotic golf enthusiasts like me whose web site has had negative cash flow for the last four years.
And if they want to run ads that nobody is going to look at, why not place them on my web site? Then many, many fewer people won’t look at their ads for a fraction of the cost of being in a large-circulation golf magazine.
But getting back to milling … correct me if I’m wrong … when you mill a putter, you’re basically taking a big hunk of metal and removing pieces of it to create the putter.
TM: Right. Creating a lot of chips, as they say.
GC: So milling is similar to what Michelangelo said he did when he was sculpting a piece: he would remove all the marble until all that remained was what he was trying to create. Not that I’m comparing you to Michelangelo. Although you both create a lot of naked works of art.
Hey, when I first started playing, I had one of your Maxfli putters.
TM: Probably so.
GC: Even back then, I three putted.
It’s not your fault, Tad.
TM: There’s no automatic putter.
GC: What’s the Seinfeld expression? “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Did you ever think you’d see a day where people are spending $300, $400 on putters?
TM: When we introduced those Maxfli putters, I think they were $115. And everybody thought that was outlandish. We couldn’t make ‘em fast enough.
TM: It is amazing. But, I will say this: I’d much rather see them buy the putter that I’m making today for the Orlimar people. I think they get a lot more value out of that than turning around and buying a new driver for $499 that isn’t going to make any difference in their golf game.
GC: And what’s particularly maddening about that $499 driver is that in nine months it will be $149 at The Golf Warehouse.
TM: That’s true.
GC: And now every three months, they’re coming out with another new driver.
TM: That’s right.
GC: They must know what they’re doing. But I don’t understand.
TM: I don’t either.
But the concept of milling the putter is really interesting. I really do think you can get a much better product that way. You get great face control. And in our case, we have what we call a “washboard face.” That gives better roll, better distance control, better speed control. And also helps with accuracy.
GC: Tad, when you’re milling a putter, is it being done by eye/hand or is a computer being used?
TM: The machines now are computer controlled. But after it comes out of there, you still have to do some hand work, but very little.
GC: Approximately what size is that hunk of metal that you use to mill the putter?
TM: You’re probably looking at a nominal size of 5” x 3” x 1 ½”. It’s a pretty good piece of metal. In the case of a forging, it’s relatively a similar shape and then you’re just removing material. In any case, you’re creating a lot of chips. Like Michelangelo.
GC: I think it was Michelangelo who said, “Let the chips fall where they may.”
TM: That’s right!
GC: Where do you get the metal from? And exactly what is the metal? Is it a piece of steel?
TM: On the Orlimar putters, three of the models are made out of carbon-steel. A soft carbon-steel. Based typically around what’s called a “1018.” And that controls the amount of carbon and everything that’s in the metal. But there are various materials that go around that.
We use a soft carbon-steel because I’ve always felt that that was the best putter head material. It gives you a good, crisp sound … good feel, good response.
Trying to create the best-playing mallet, we used aluminum. As it worked out, we actually don’t have to add any weight. We mill the putter and when it comes out, it’s right on weight.
GC: Why aluminum instead of carbon-steel?
TM: Because of the size of the head, we had to use aluminum. We can use carbon-steel but the head has to become smaller. I like the size of this Orlimar putter. I think it helps with alignment and for people who like a mallet, it’s a good size.
GC: What different models have you designed for Orlimar?
TM: We picked the basic Ping original Anser style — that’s one. The model we’re doing is one that I have a patent on. The second model is one that’s a little wider, front to back. We put a sound slot in it to change the sound. People think sound is feel. It has a thinner topline. The white T-line on the flange and the slot and the sole line up and make a “T,” so it’s good for aiming. The third one is the classic, fat 8802 style, heel-shafted putter.
GC: The Arnold Palmer Wilson putter.
TM: Yeah. We took the Arnold Palmer putter and made it big and fat; like the one Mickelson uses. And the one Nick Faldo made famous years ago. And the fourth model is the mallet: the TadPole Mallet.
GC: I like that idea of the sound slot.
TM: Yes, it is different.
GC: So Tad, are you still playing golf?
TM: Absolutely! Absolutely. I love golf.
GC: “You love golf?” That’s the right answer!
TM: And I live in an area where I can play year ’round: Selma, Alabama.
GC: I assume you play a Tad Moore putter?
TM: I do. I do. I use the TadPole Mallet.
GC: Ooooh. I hate to say this but that means … you play with yourself.
TM: You’re right! You’re right!
I never thought of it that way!
GC: How many years have you been in this business? You’ve never heard that?
GC: See? And you thought this interview was going to be a complete waste of your time.
TM: But I do use a Tad Moore.
GC: Of course you do!
If someone saw you putting with a Scotty Cameron…
TM: Heaven forbid!
GC: Speaking of Scotty Cameron – and no disrespect to Mr. Cameron – do you have Tad Moore head covers that sell on eBay for $2000?
TM: Mmmm. No.
GC: What the hell is that???
TM: I have no idea.
GC: I can see how maybe you’d spend a lot of money for one of his putters … but a head cover?
TM: That is called the ultimate marketing machine.
GC: But why would a person want that? It doesn’t make sense. People are spending hundreds of dollars for Scotty Cameron divot tools. Orlimar needs to get into that – never mind selling putters!
Sell a ball marker with your face on it. I’d pay five bucks for that. Well, maybe not five.
TM: I’ve got one; I’ll send it to you!
GC: Tad, when did you hook up with Orlimar?
TM: About a year ago. We talked here at the PGA Show and I was pretty much convinced by John…
GC: Who’s John?
TM: John Runyon, the owner of the company. We worked on it and off we went.
GC: I remember Orlimar from many years ago with the maraging trimetal yada-yada. Jesse Ortiz was designing the clubs. Then they had financial problems. When did they get resurrected?
[At this point, Alex Resnik, a product marketing specialist with the King Par Company who had been sitting in on the interview, joined the conversation]
Alex Resnik: Orlimar was purchased by King Par in the early 2000s. It’s a retail store in Michigan. About 30,000 square feet of retail space. We had been building our own clubs before we bought Orlimar. We bought the brand out of bankruptcy.
GC: Speaking of bankruptcy, how’d you like to buy my web site?
We can work out a payment plan. Never mind. Please continue.
AR: Then in 2008 or 2009, John Runyon bought King Par and with it, Orlimar. It’s always been his vision to resurrect the Orlimar brand. Like Tad said, a year ago we met Tad here at the PGA Show; he showed us some samples. It was John’s vision to say, “We need to sign this guy.”
It’s been a fairly amazing thing to come out with four brand-new putters in 365 days and get them to the PGA Show ready to launch. And yesterday at the first day of the Show, it was just gangbusters.
GC: Of course it was! This man is a legend!
AR: He is.
GC: Tad, you must have a lot of groupies following you … women hanging around the booth?
TM: Well, people – namely my wife – used to say that years ago I was like Elvis. But I think there’s a lot of people who do follow my work.
TM: And they have all of my putters from various years. But I think the marrying of the two brands together was a good thing. But like I said, in my mind, I had to be comfortable with the marriage. And I am. The staff at Orlimar are gonna make it all work and I’m glad to be with them and helping them.
GC: Are you making the putters?
TM: We have a firm that makes the heads and the shafts are from True Temper. The grips are from a company here in the US called Pure. And the clubs are being assembled in Flushing, Michigan. It’s a lot more of a US product than a lot of people think.
GC: But the heads are made somewhere else?
TM: The heads are made offshore. But they’re from a vendor that I’ve been working with for almost twenty years.
GC: This is in China?
TM: No. Not in China. It’s very high quality.
GC: Can’t reveal the name of the country? I understand. Otherwise you’ll have to kill me.
So you’re designing the putters. You’re not standing over the machine milling.
GC: Got it.
AR: He made the first samples.
GC: Sure. The prototypes.
AR: His handmades were the first samples that we sent to the factory to make. So it’s definitely off of all his specs.
GC: Of course.
TM: I’ve always … whether it was a putter, a wedge, a set of irons or a wood … I always make the piece and I try it and use it. Whereas today, most people are doing it all on the computer. I’ve always believed that the best way to do it is to make one and try it. These putters were handmade, they were good, and that’s what we used to have them manufactured.
GC: If people want to purchase a Tad Moore-designed Orlimar putter, how can they get one?
AR: The putters will be available at www.Orlimar.com on March 1st. Custom ordering options are available. Customers can pick the size, the grip, and the head size.
GC: This has been a lot of fun. Thank you for your time, Tad.
TM: I enjoyed it.