What were you doing when you were 17? I was a junior in high school and spent a good deal of my time trying to burp the alphabet and wondering why girls wouldn’t go out with me. By senior year I figured out there was a connection.
What about today’s 17-year-olds? Yeah, I know, the get-off-my-grass crowd thinks kids these days don’t want to work, expect everything handed to them, blah blah blah. It’s a popular narrative but is no more or less true today than it was when Roger Daltrey first sang about My G-G-Generation. That’s the problem with narratives: they’re lazy and often false.
Which bring us to Tony Tuber, who most definitely is neither.
In many ways, Tony is your basic 17-year old kid trying to balance school work, hanging with buddies and figuring out what he wants to do with his life, all while keeping a part-time job. But it’s that part-time job that makes Tony unique.
Tony is the founder, owner, designer, assembler and chief cook and bottle washer of his own company: T-Squared Putters.
Beats delivering pizzas, doesn’t it?
Kids These Days
I stumbled across the T-Squared booth at last month’s PGA Show quite by accident. While heading to the food court, I saw these interesting looking putters and stopped to roll a few. That’s when I learned T-Squared was started, owned and operated by this 17-old kid, Tony Tuber. T-Squared. Get it?
“I’ve always been fascinated with golf clubs,” Tony says. “I’ve always wanted new clubs, the newest TaylorMade or Titleist driver. It didn’t happen, but you can want things.”
What Tony really wanted was a custom-made Scotty Cameron Circle T, and the one he really really wanted had a price tag of about 3 grand.
“I told him ‘we are NOT buying you a $3,000 putter,’” says Tony’s dad, Michael Tuber. “I told him it’s the operator, not the putter.”
This was two years ago, so Tony – then only 15 – started down a path that would eventually lead to T-Squared.
“I became fascinated with putters and putter design,” says Tony. “Mallets, blades, mid-mallets, you name it. I really wanted a Custom Scotty, but a family friend said why would you want to buy one when we can make one. And I was like, really?”
Here’s where Tony’s dad enters the picture. Michael Tuber owns a precision machine shop outside of Buffalo, New York called A.Titan Instruments, which makes surgical and dental equipment. “I was never really interested in my dad’s business,” Tony admits.
But after spending months scouring the internet for anything and everything on putter design and manufacturing, and a few more months sketching different putters, he suddenly became very interested in dad’s business.
“I showed my designs to my dad, and he was like ‘I don’t know what you’re showing me this for,’” says Tony. “He just completely dismissed it.”
“I told him we don’t have time for this monkey business,” says Michael. “We’re in the medical and dental business, our business is growing, and we don’t have time to take on any new projects, never mind make a putter.”
So, what did Tony do? What any teenager would do when the old man says no: he did it anyway.
Edge of Seventeen
That family friend who told Tony he could make a putter? He also happened to be a manager at A. Titan. Together, they kinda-sorta side-doored their way into the putter business without telling the old man.
“I told him ‘you gotta help me make these putters,’” says Tony. “He said he didn’t have time, but that he’d mess around and see what he could do.”
About a month later, Tony had two prototypes in his hands. And his dad’s attention.
“They sat down with our engineer and came up with some ideas,” says Michael. “He wanted a face-balanced blade, so he laid it out in SolidWorks and was able to see all the weight and balance. They could do it all on the computer screen without even milling one.”
Tony put his prototype together and played with it for the rest of the summer. He also made putters for some friends and family and, most wisely, his dad.
“I’m not a big golfer, but it rolled nice, I liked it,” says Michael. “So he tells me he’s interested in taking it to the next level, to make a business out of it. I tell him I don’t understand how people sell these things for $3,000, but the best place to go to find out is the PGA Show.”
So Tony and Michael took a father-son trip to the 2018 PGA Show and did their due diligence. What they found was an opportunity to carve out a little niche for Tony’s putters.
“That’s when the tires hit the road,” says Tony. “I made a business plan and started spending countless hours in the office with my dad learning about business and how things work. It’s knowing how many putters are sold, how many you want to sell, knowing the numbers, knowing the facts, and knowing what business you’re in.”
All The Young Dudes
Michael’s business acumen may be guiding Tony, but make no mistake: T-Squared is very much Tony’s baby. And his responsibility.
“There’s a lot more than just saying this is my company’s name,” says Tony. “You gotta know the business.”
If you look at Tony’s putters, the designs aren’t necessarily ground-breaking (although the face-balanced blade is interesting) but there is enough face technology to keep them from being wall-hangers. Ultimately, Tony’s unique selling proposition is a putter custom-built to your own specifications, personalized to your own tastes and shipped in a hand-made, engraved wooden box for around $600 (or a stock version for $400 to $480) – all made by a kid who, five years ago, was a Webelo.
“I believe in the modern sleekness of putters, I don’t like bulky head designs,” says Tony. “We have a face-balanced blade; we look at longer necks, different hosel designs, different materials like 6061 aircraft aluminum backed by Teflon. My dad manufactures surgical and dental instruments to very high tolerances, so when we say it has a 4-degree face, it has a 4-degree face. It’s dead nuts on every single time.”
Once the putter comes off the milling machine, Tony takes it from there. He does everything from sand-blasting, buffing and finishing to assembly, adjustment and custom paint-fills.
“My dad’s employees taught me how to grey-wheel and red-wheel, how to buff and how to get the finishes I want,” says Tony. “Other stuff, like the torch finishes, that was just me messing around. I figured out how to do it by watching YouTube videos.”
Tony will make 10 to 15 putters a week, but he says if the business continues to grow, he’s going to need some help.
“For sure,” he says. “Each one’s hand-crafted by me, and that’s some brutal man-hours. I love it, but it’s a lot of work.”
Does dad ever have to crack the whip?
“I do have to kick him in the pants, he’s still 17,” says Michael. “But he’s so self-motivated and self-driven, he just knows what needs to be done. Even with chores around the house, of my three sons, he’s the first to give a hand.”
Michael says Tony often works till 11 or 12 at night making putters. Doesn’t he have a bedtime?
“According to his mother, yes. According to me, no,” he says. “He knows he has customers who’ve paid for a putter, so he’s gotta get it done.”
The Kids Are Alright
Tony’s in his junior year of high school, so on top of everything else, he’s looking at colleges.
“I want to go south for college,” he says. “I think I can sell some putters down there.”
He’d like to study business and engineering, but Tony admits engineering wasn’t even on his radar until he started designing and making putters.
“I’ve realized I’m very hands-on,” he says. “I love making things. When I’m done, I feel a sense of accomplishment. On a Saturday, if I’m not doing anything, I feel like I need to go to the office and tinker with putters. I need to be doing something.”
Don’t think Tony’s some teenage workaholic, though. He does play XBOX (although not as much since starting T-Squared), he loves to ski and hang with his friends. One thing Tony doesn’t do, says Michael, is get into much trouble.
“He’s been pretty conservative and boring when it comes to that,” says Michael. “The biggest thing is we have some property in the woods, and we have a Polaris Ranger 4-wheeler. He tends to take it out and get it stuck. He jumps it, and it’s not made for jumping. He’s rolled it over, smashed into trees, driven into ponds. We bought it for $18,000, and it’s had $18,000 in repairs. He’s been working since he was 14, so he’s paid for all of it.”
“My family is a bunch of hard workers,” says Tony. “I’ve worked every summer and during school about 20 hours a week. You need to work hard to be successful.”
Work and fun most definitely go together in the Tuber family, and Michael’s rule is once you hit 14, you go to work.
“My 11-year-old, I asked him if he wanted to come work for the dental business,” says Michael. “He says ‘Dad, you can’t meet girls at a dental business, I’m gonna work at the grocery store, you can meet girls there.’”
“If they don’t want work in my business, they can work in my cousin’s brewery and restaurant,” he says. “When you reach a certain age, you have to work.”
Tony has another year and a half of high school and then four years of college. The plan is to keep T-Squared going while Tony’s studying and, presumably, selling putters. But Michael wants to make sure his oldest son gets the full college experience.
“My hope is he has fun,” he says. “I’m encouraging him to go away, leave the area, see the world and do something and have fun. As long as he’s having fun, it’s not a job. And after college, if the putters are still there and he wants to make a go of it, he’ll be a 21- or 22-year-old guy with his own business.”
For his part, Tony would love to emulate another father-son putter company.
“I’d love to be like Bettinardi,” he says. “That’s my vision. Ultimately, I think I want to be a putter-maker, but I look forward to being a businessman in general. Maybe I can start something else, maybe help my dad with his business. We’ll see what happens.”
“But I love talking to people and sharing what I’ve been able to do,” says Tony. “I’m very proud.”