Phillip Jaffe, a PGA Professional from the North Florida Section, emailed me over a year ago. I was remiss in responding as his email went into a spam folder. Spam it certainly was not! Phillip had some interesting news for me about his PalmBird putting grip. If you’re struggling with what is perhaps the most difficult part of golf — putting — the following golf conversation might be of great service to you.
Golf Conversations: I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. Can I send you $10 just to show you how sorry I am?
Phillip Jaffe: Save it. Buy yourself a couple of beers.
GC: I don’t drink beer anymore. Too many carbs. Now I drink vodka on the rocks. With a little lemon.
PJ: One of my favorites. Lots of lemon.
GC: Have you had Tito’s vodka?
PJ: I have not. I hear it’s the best.
GC: Well, that’s what they say. I like that it’s made in America. How many things can you buy today – besides your PalmBird putter grips – that are made in America?
PJ: Beautiful segue!
GC: Tell me how the PalmBird was hatched.
PJ: I was cutting down a Bird of Paradise after a winter’s freeze.
GC: This is a plant, not an actual bird?
PJ: The plant. I felt the stalk in my hand and started making a putting motion with it. I realized that the shape of it enabled my shoulders and the outer muscles my triceps to work in order. I wasn’t flipping at it with my hands. I wasn’t putting any pressure on the stalk with my thumbs.
Traditional putter grips have a flat side …when you put pressure on it with your thumbs, you create tension. The harder you squeeze, the more you’re going to put yourself under duress.
GC: Maybe one time I wore culottes … but never a duress.
PJ: Also, the thumbs control the rotator muscles in the forearms; the grips with the flat sides on them make you rotate your arms. Which is why a lot of golfers nowadays are using the claw grip or the cross-handed grip.
I was doing a demo a few weeks ago and I ran into the golfer Fulton Allem. Remember him?
GC: I’ve got a Fulton Allem story for you. I followed him when I attended my first PGA Tour event in 1993 at Westchester Country Club in New York. He hit the most amazing approach shot over a tree that landed on the green. I mentioned this to him at the Hickory Classic in NC a few years ago when I met him as a member of the “media.”
I was gushing about how excited I was to speak with him and asked him for an interview. He looked at me like I had four heads. Begrudgingly, he told me to wait until he had finished lunch. I cooled my heels for two hours and he never showed up. But I digress. What happened with Fulty?
PJ: He was saying, “Oh, my God, this is incredible! Beautiful grip! I love it!”
GC: Let’s get back to you cutting down that Bird of Paradise stalk.
PJ: I started making some putting strokes and my wife said, “Wow, you’re really using your shoulders and your stroke looks fantastic.” I remembered that quote from Sam Snead about holding the club in your palms like you would a bird. I thought “palm” … “bird” and came up with the name “PalmBird.”
GC: That Sam Snead quote ruined me for 10 years. Holding the club as if it were a live bird had the club flopping around in my hands like a wet noodle.
PJ: My interpretation of his quote was to hold the putter like you would a bird.
GC: A putter???? I thought he was taking about an iron or a driver!
PJ: No, you’ve got to hold those things with a death grip. They’re moving at 100 miles an hour.
GC: Holy cow, Phil! If I’d met you 20 years ago, my middle-age years would have been much happier!
PJ: And you would have saved at least 10 strokes!
GC: Alright, don’t rub it in.
Now Sneads’s maxim for a putting grip makes sense. And you ran with it. How did you go from the plant stalk to manufacturing the grip?
PJ: I went to a model shop and got some balsa wood and started carving it. It wasn’t so great so I contacted some art companies; they referred me to a guy who carved three-dimensional objects. I gave him a design and he made me a beautiful copy of it in basswood.
PJ: I got the patent first and then I sent the prototype to the USGA. They said it would work as a grip.
GC: What year did you cut down the Bird of Paradise plant and when was the basswood prototype made?
PJ: That was in 2000-2001. I got my first patent in 2004. We had one made but I wasn’t happy with it. Then I got an inspiration for a better design; we did that in 2010 and got another patent in 2012.
GC: I’ve heard that getting a patent is no easy task. Walk me through that process.
PJ: There’s a difference between a utility patent and a design patent. A design patent is basically as you see it. For example, a golf grip with any kind of ornamental design — that can be patented. A design patent lasts for 14 years. A utility patent for a grip, say, that can count all of your shots and have a laser beam in it … that would have a utilitarian use. Utility patents can be renewed every five years.
GC: You had a design patent on your grip?
PJ: Yes. I did it myself. I took my design idea to an artist and she gave me drawings. Then I went to the patent web site, got the forms, filled them out and submitted them. It was like 250 bucks.
GC: How long did it take to get the patent approved?
PJ: Probably eight months to a year.
GC: I thought you had to hire a patent attorney and they do a name search and it takes years.
PJ: That’s the grand illusion. Most people can do a lot of patent stuff on their own.
GC: No, Phil. The grand illusion is that I can play golf.
PJ: The Patent/Trademark office gives you all the instructions, all the forms. They do a patent search of anything that might be similar. As long as the patent has its own originality, it can be patented. As for patent attorneys, you’re paying them $300 an hour to look in the patent library and file the papers. You can do that yourself.
GC: What happened next?
PJ: Based on what the USGA said, I had the molds made. That was thousands of dollars. Then I had the grip cap made, which was another few thousand. We had a bunch of grips made, I sent them to the USGA, they approved it and we went into production.
GC: How does a golf pro like you learn about sourcing materials and getting a grip manufactured? That had to be quite a learning curve.
PJ: I was familiar with a lot of the materials from playing golf over the years. I researched many different golf grip companies, some foreign, some American. I found one in the U.S. called AM&E Grips. They make bicycle grips and Harley-Davidson grips. I called the guy and he said “Come on out, I’ll be happy to talk to you.”
In 2010, we figured out how to make the molds and grip caps. The manufacturer had a special thermoplastic rubber material that they use on motorcycle grips. It’ll last 10-20 years; the material never rots. All you have do to is wash it and it’ll return to its original tackiness.
GC: So you don’t get that slick feel of some grips that wear out after a year?
GC: When was the first manufacturing run? How many grips did you make?
PJ: The first run was the larger grip in black. I think I had 500 made. This was in 2012.
GC: You can have the greatest product in the world but if nobody knows about it … how did you get the word out? How did you market it?
PJ: That was the hard part. My wife and I had put a lot of money into this. I had a friend on the tour who drives a van…
GC: One of the equipment vans that follow the tour?
PJ: Yes. He liked it, some of the pros liked it. But SuperStroke was coming out and we got a little overshadowed. So my wife and I did a lot of demos at golf courses. We set up a tent and sold grips and we’ve been doing that ever since. We’ve been at the PGA Show.
We got the grip to a guy who was on the eGolf Tour. He finished third, shooting 16-under with the grip. Then we got it into the hands this year of a guy on the Web.com Tour. He won 20 grand with it. He got a special invitation to a tournament at Pebble Beach; he finished in 9th place and got 220 grand. That was pretty cool to see our grip on television. But you’re not allowed to mention names.
GC: I understand. Pros want to get paid for using/endorsing equipment. Obviously, that’s not in your budget. So I guess you decided to also sell your grips on the Internet.
PJ: Yes, we’ve had a website forever. That’s how we get a majority of our sales. We also sell through thegrommet.com. They’ve been very good to us. The grip is also being distributed by a company in Japan.
GC: What’s the difference between the PalmBird and other grips on the market?
PJ: The difference between mine and all the other grips is that mine doesn’t have a flat side on the front where you would normally place your thumbs. It’s also non-tapering so you’re going to get even pressure in both hands. That allows you to maintain a lighter grip pressure. And it will allow your palms to control the stroke; a lot of people squeeze with the fingers when they putt.
GC: The large grips that you see on tour, they don’t have that capability?
PJ: They don’t have a directional ability because they have the flat side. A lot of the grips have a non-tapering which is very admirable. But again, when you have that flat side … a lot of the guys are doing “the claw” with the other grips because they’re seeking the right way to feel it.
Our grip is also very heavy so it gives you a lot of counterbalance. Counterbalance is one of the biggest things that’s come out in the past few years. Even SuperStroke has added a counterbalance weight to make their grips the same way as our grips. If you think of it in terms of a heavy television camera … when they would carry them the camera’s picture would shake. Then they put a weight on the back with a bar and balanced it; that created steadiness. The weight of our grips gives you counterbalance and steadiness.
GC: What is the difference between your Jumbo and Regular grip?
PJ: The Jumbo is 1.07 inches wide and the Regular is .92 inches wide. It’s about a quarter-inch difference in the width and a half-inch in height.
GC: Where are you doing your demos?
PJ: All around central Florida.
GC: If you’d like, I can do a little video of me demo-ing your grip.
PJ: Sure, what color can I send you? I’ve got green, red, pink, blue, orange, and black.
GC: What, no chartreuse? What kind of joint are you running down there?
Let me think about the color and get back to you. I enjoyed chatting with you and I’m looking forward to taking the PalmBird for a spin.