Stephen Boccieri — the man who gave golf the “Heavy Putter” and “Heavy Irons” — has a new innovation for you: “The Secret Grip.” It’s no secret that Jack Nicklaus has endorsed the product … and the counter-balancing technology that he employed throughout his illustrious career.
Golf Conversations: We last spoke several years ago when you were selling “The Heavy Putter.” What’s going on now with Boccieri Golf?
Stephen Boccieri: The company has evolved tremendously in the past 4 years. I had introduced the Boccieri Golf swing clubs. We recognized that the “Heavy Putter” brand was pretty well established. We were doing fairly well in retail. But in order to grow the brand, we had to introduce more products.
So we came out with a full line of “Heavy Golf Clubs” that were counter balanced. People tried it but it was a matter of advertising dollars to sustain yourself in retail. As well as how many Tour players are using your product. And for a small company like us, it was almost impossible.
So expanding to a full line of golf clubs was a tremendous task for me from a development standpoint. But it was even a bigger task to think that I could produce a full line of clubs and sell them to the consumer … and break into a market with Ping and Callaway and TaylorMade and Titleist … they own it.
We were lucky enough to get into Golf Galaxy, Golf Town in Canada and Boston. We had pretty good success with that but couldn’t sustain it.
GC: It’s hard to compete when you don’t have deep pockets. So tell me about your latest innovation: the “Secret Grip.”
SB: The concept of the grip is, we added a tungsten weight to the back end of the grip. We made a heavier compound to counter balance the grip. We went to the PGA Show one year and we brought prototypes of the grip. Over 600 people tested the grip. We used Pings, TaylorMade, and Titleist 6-irons … one with the stock grip and one with the “Secret Grip.”
GC: These irons that you used, did you sneak over to their booths and lift them?
SB: No! We bought them from a used club trading center called Second Swing. They were demo clubs. We bought pairs of 6-irons.
GC: So you were at the show and a golf pro stops by. How’d you do the test?
SB: We asked them what club did they play. If they said Ping, we gave him a pair of Pings to hit. One had the stock grip, the other had the “Secret Grip.” We hooked him up to a launch monitor. We asked him which club he preferred. It turned out that 97% of the testers chose the club with the “Secret Grip.”
And then we showed them the results from the launch monitor. The average person picked up about 3 miles an hour in ball velocity. And a tighter dispersion which yields greater distance.
Without even looking at the launch monitor data, 97% selected the “Secret Grip” because the club starts to become more controllable. The counter balance technology raises the balance point and it lowers the swing weight, so the angle of retention is held very easily. So you don’t cast from the top. It’s more like you drop it into the slot.
I originally made the “Secret Grip” to give it away to customers who were going to buy our clubs. Then we circled the wagons with my investor. I said, “We got this tremendous response to this grip at the PGA Show. 97% of the people that tried it, liked it.”
Here I am, Boccieri Golf, selling “Heavy Putters” and “Heavy Clubs” and counter balancing for 11 years and I can’t crack the nut. So my partner scratches his head and says, “Gee, maybe we should sell the grip.”
GC: Eureka! Sell the grip and stop futzin’ around with selling irons!
SB: Stop selling irons and stop knocking your head against the wall. And better yet, maybe we should get Jack Nicklaus to endorse it.
GC: When in doubt, have the greatest golfer in history endorse your product. Makes sense to me.
What year did this PGA Show discovery occur and when did you and your investor decide to contact Nicklaus?
SB: It was two years ago that we were at the PGA Show. That’s when we tried to reach out to our network in the golf industry. Look, I’ve been around long enough where I know some people…
GC: Throw the net out…
SB: Throw the net out, can I get to Jack?
GC: Why didn’t you call me?
I would have hooked you up in a minute. I’ve got his fax number, his home phone number, the combination to the key pad on his garage door.
SB: I’ve got the combination to his garage, too.
We were finally able to get through to Jack.
GC: Who was your contact?
SB: A lot of help through Golf Digest and Jack’s business manager. We were guided to his club maker. Nicklaus used to produce golf clubs.
GC: Yeah, I remember that.
SB: Rick Gomes worked for Jack as his club maker. We explained the technology to Rick and Rick brought it to Jack. He said, “Jack, we have this product called the ‘Secret Grip’; it’s counter balancing. This is something you did your whole career.”
Jack looks at the grip and says, “Yeah, that’s ingenious. What’s the big deal? What’s new?”
Rick says, “What’s unique about it is that it’s a slip-on grip. What we used to do with your golf clubs, we’d put a cork in it, melt lead, drip lead into the shaft. It wasn’t a specific science to get it done. This is something as easy as slipping a grip on to your club.”
Jack is a very busy guy. He’s on that plane all the time … he’s designing golf courses. It took months for Jack to finally try it. He hit golf clubs that they made for him at the Memorial. After the Memorial, he said, “Yeah, this is pretty good.”
GC: I thought he wasn’t making golf clubs anymore. So which clubs was he using with the “Secret Grip”?
SB: He still has inventory of all the clubs that he’s used throughout his career.
GC: So you shipped him “Secret Grips”?
SB: We shipped him grips and they made up irons and drivers and he went out and hit them. He said, “This is a pretty cool product.”
By counter balancing the grip, we were changing the whole dynamics of the golf club. All the other grip manufacturers in the industry – Golf Pride, Lamkin, Winn – they all weigh about the same and they don’t really affect how a golf club operates. Until the “Secret Grip” came along. And Jack recognized this.
GC: Jack liked your grip at the Memorial. Two years ago?
GC: You know what this means, don’t you? It’s only a matter of time before he honors you at the Memorial.
Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Bobby Jones, this year it was Annika. Five years from now, it’s gonna be the Stefano Boccieri Memorial. All I ask is that you invite me.
Ok, so Mr. Nicklaus liked it. When did you meet him?
SB: Desert Mountain is where I live here in Scottsdale. Which Jack designed with Lyle Anderson. Jack came here for the club’s 25th anniversary to speak to the membership and I was introduced to Jack at that time. The day after that meeting, we did some filming of him talking about his career and counter balancing. The first thing he said to me was, “What in the world ever made you think of making that grip?”
Because we were able to get Jack involved in the project, we were able to get Dick’s Sporting Goods and Golf Galaxy to come on board and do an exclusive with us. That got it moving quite a bit. We developed a program where we gave away a free “Secret Grip” to anyone who logged on to SecretGrip.com. Over 100,000 people signed up for that free grip.
GC: Never underestimate the power of “free.”
SB: Out of that 100,000, maybe 60,000 were real golfers. We had people that hadn’t ever changed their grips. Their grips looked like they were varnished on!
GC: So Jack signed on to be an endorser. I guess he wanted to be reimbursed in some fashion. I’m not going to ask you what you paid him.
Is he in for a little taste of the company?
SB: No, he has a retainer and a percentage of sales.
GC: Right off the top, baby! That’s how “the boys” did it in Vegas.
Speaking of the boys, I’ve heard you referred to as the “Godfather” of the counter balancing movement. That’s quite a moniker.
SB: I’m quite excited that the industry has finally recognized a technology that I’ve been promoting for the last eleven years. It became very evident in the last year when the USGA decided to eliminate the belly and long putters. All of a sudden, all of the other OEMs said, “What are we gonna do if these guys don’t have the stability of the belly or the long putter?” So they started making these longer putters which Justin Rose used last year and won with. That was a product I was making in 2006 for the Japanese market; that exact same product.
It’s come full circle: every manufacturer today – including Scotty Cameron – is making a counter balanced putter.
GC: Why did you guys decide to call it “The Secret Grip”?
SB: We were sitting around discussing this product and I said, “We shouldn’t tell them anything; it’s a secret.”
Somebody said, “That was pretty good.”
I said, “What?”
“It’s the ‘Secret Grip.’”
It’s turned out to be an interesting name because when people come in, the first thing they ask us is, “Ok, what’s the secret?”
In retail, it’s phenomenal if you can get the consumer to come to the retailer and say, “What’s the deal with the secret? What’s the secret behind this grip?”
It turned out to be a good name. We’ve patented this around the world. But in Japan and Korea, “secret” is owned by Yamaha. So the name we’re going to use in Japan and Korea is “The Counter Grip.”
GC: That’s pretty good.
SB: Counter balancing, I call it the new frontier in the golf industry.
GC: Are the club manufacturers going to make their own counter balanced grips or are you going to be their supplier? And if it’s the latter and if you haven’t thought of this yet, can I get a 10% finder’s fee?
SB: Will you sign a disclaimer?
GC: I’ll sign anything at this point!
SB: We were approached a while back by TaylorMade.
GC: Godfather: TaylorMade has the backing of the Tattaglia Family. And Sollozzo the Turk says they’ll guarantee your investment.
Did TaylorMade really approach you? Or was it Barzini?
SB: We came out with one product at first. Now we’ve added colors, cords, a mid-size grip, and we’ve introduced the technology into putter grips. So now Boccieri Golf is growing as a grip company. The grip industry is a $100 million industry. It could be the thing that’s going to float the boat for Boccieri Golf and keep me going as an innovator.
GC: $100 million!!! Godfather: you must let me wet my beak. You must let me draw water from the well. Ok, I promise that’s the last “Godfather” reference.
Here’s a question for you: how important is it to have a Tour player endorse your product?
SB: It’s high on the list. It’s very big in the minds of retailers. Retailers are hung up very much with what’s happening on Tour. Because when something happens on Sunday, they see customers on Monday.
The consumer sees something on TV and runs into the store and says, “I want the grip that Phil Mickelson is using.” It plays a tremendous role. I can’t deny it. We’re working on getting one of the Top Ten players to maybe endorse the “Secret Grip.”
GC: Obviously you can’t mention this player’s name but I’m going to throw out a name. I think it’s Julius Boros.
SB: I loved Julius Boros!
GC: Me, too.
SB: He was so great. How could a guy who looked that way be so good?
GC: He had the cardigan sweater going, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, easy-peesy.
SB: He was the Freddie Couples of that era.
GC: I’m in the minority when it comes to emulating guys on Tour. The fact that X Tour guy plays X club doesn’t mean crap to me. To compare yourself to a Tour player … it’s like someone who can play “Chopsticks” on the piano comparing himself to Vladimir Horowitz. It’s night and day. But if you tell me that retailers see a cause and effect, I guess you can’t deny reality.
SB: I think it’s also about awareness. You’re right: do we use the same equipment the Tour player uses? The answer is no. I have equipment here that the Tour players use that is not available in commercial use.
GC: You hear that out there, dummies??? Sorry, go ahead.
SB: But when 5 million are watching a Tour event, that’s awareness. And as much money as I can spend for advertising on the Golf Channel or a full-page ad in Golf Digest, I don’t have enough to get to that many people. So that Tour presence is important.
GC: How many “Secret Grips” have you sold?
SB: Certainly in the hundreds of thousands.
GC: Are people swapping out the grips for all of their clubs?
SB: We have a strong promotion: if you buy 6 or more “Secret Grips,” you can use them for 30 days. If you don’t like them, I’ll replace them with the grips of your choice.
GC: That’s a pretty strong promotion.
SB: That’s done quite well. They’re available at PGA Super Stores, Dick’s, Golf Galaxy, Golfsmith online. We’re in catalogs, in Europe, and next year we’ll be in Japan, Korea and China.
GC: Can people purchase the “Secret Grip” directly from you?
SB: Yes, they can buy direct from our website: Boccierigolf.com. The corporate facility here in Scottsdale is open to the public. People come in and do club comparisons all day. We do gripping right here. We take them to the launch monitors and 9 out of 10 guys who come in here switch out to the “Secret Grip.”
GC: Do you have groupies who come here looking specifically for you, Steve?
SB: Yes, believe it or not, we do have people who come here and ask for my autograph on a hat.
GC: I’m not surprised. Because you are a man of respect, Steve. A man of honor in the golf industry. And I wish you all the best with the “Secret Grip” and your future golf innovations. And may your first child be a masculine child.
Sorry, Steve. I couldn’t help myself. Thanks for your time. Good luck with Boccieri Golf.
SB: Thanks, Robert.