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Welcome back to the second half of the coverage of our Mission To PING visit. When we left you yesterday, Tim and I had just finished watching PING Man blast balls out into the research/fitting range at PING HQ in Phoenix, AZ. Prior to that, we spent a full morning exploring PING’s manufacturing infrastructure and engineering philosophy.
After such an exciting morning, there was only one natural next step, lunch.
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: Lunch
It was a beautiful day in Phoenix (i.e. not hot), allowing Tim and myself to enjoy fine chef salads and exceptional cookies at a table outside near the fitting range and putting green. The lunch-time scenery really was fantastic. I know, only yours truly would find a putting green at a golf factory complex to be fantastic scenery, but it really was.
To be fair, it was not just the putting green itself, but also what was happening on that green. While Tim and I were shoveling salad, PING employees descended upon the green, putters in hand. I think that most of them were engineers and fitters since those were the nearby departments. What were they doing on their break? They were putting, naturally.
Though I didn’t get the whole skinny on the nature of the game they were playing, I did catch that this was an ongoing game or league of some sort, and that it is a regular occurrence. No surprise, they all were using PING putters.
It was a bit surprising to see people at work, continuing to do “work stuff” on break. For most of us, the last thing that we want to do on a break is continue doing work stuff that we did all morning. The guys on that green, most of them having spent the morning doing golf related business, were relaxing for a few minutes playing golf.
My simple take from this was that the people who work for PING, at least those out on that green, really are motivated by a love of the game. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I have the feeling that my assessment is spot on.
1:00 PM – 1:30 PM: ENSO
When I saw ENSO on our itinerary, to be totally honest, I had no clue about what ENSO was. At this point in the day, I wasn’t surprised to learn that ENSO was a data collection and analysis tool. ENSO is a swing capture system that tracks the movement at multiple positions along the club, and does so at an amazingly high rate of capture.
What you end up with is a complete 3D rendering of the golf swing, and with that rendering, lots of data about the performance of the club head and shaft during that swing. PING has recorded thousands of swings with ENSO, from all types of players, trying to catalog the scope of swing profiles, and how shafts behave during those swings.
The ENSO data allows PING engineers to identify the most common swing dynamics, and then to identify shaft profiles that fit those swings. This is the information that the engineers then access when designing the next generation of “stock” shafts. This is the reason that many people feel that the stock shafts in PING clubs perform as well as the aftermarket ones. Sure, there are players who don’t fit the “most common” swing profiles, and the others who must play a prestigious after-market shaft to feel emotionally whole, but the majority of us can probably play great golf with the stock PING offerings. Proper specs identified via a fitting, naturally. Knowledge drives products, again.
ENSO at Work: PING nFlight Motion Fitting Tool
PING’s new nFlight Motion fitting tool is a prime example of how engineering drives product creation at PING. With ENSO, PING was able to create a shaft database that holds hundreds of shaft profiles, generated by thousands of swings. As I just mentioned, PING engineers used this information to create the specs for their graphite shafts, but they also took that data and made a tool for the PING Authorized Fitters to use that information in the fitting environment.
As you can see from the photo, the nFlight Motion system uses a sensor that attaches to the club and an iPhone app to record swing profile data. After the sensor is attached, the golfer getting fitted takes five swings. That swing data is recorded and analyzed by the app, and then as you see from the big “Recommendation” button, the app will then recommend the appropriate shaft for that golfer.
I find this system similar to the putter recommendation feature found PING’s iPING putter app, and also Mizuno’s iron shaft optimizer system. nFlight Motion seems different though as unlike the Mizuno system, the sensor can attach to any club, and secondly, it is powered by ENSO.
I don’t know how Mizuno’s system works, I’ve never talked to their engineers or visited their HQ. I do know that the nFlight Motion system is, again, based upon all of the data generated with ENSO. That data came first, and then PING engineers figured out how to turn it into a tool for their fitters. Data and knowledge drives production.
Anyhow, Tim and I were both too swing self-conscious to record a swing with ENSO, so we looked at Hunter Mahan’s swing instead. Call us chicken if you need to, but neither one of us wanted our swings to be available for that kind of scrutiny.
It was interesting to look at the performance of the shaft at the different parts of his swing. You can easily see when and where the shaft loads, making for simple comparisons with players who don’t load as abruptly, or swing with the same tempo.
There is big time swing science going on with ENSO. The engineer even used the word algorithm, and that always scares me a bit. I may not have the engineering background to fully explain the workings of ENSO, but the guys at PING sure do, and they are using the knowledge generated from ENSO to design your next set of clubs.
1:30 PM – 3:00 PM: VIP Fitting (Driver, FW, Hybrid, Irons)
Speaking of new clubs, after being mentally impressed by ENSO, Tim and I headed back to the range for a fitting session. When we got back to our shoes, we had PING hats and visors waiting for us, along with samples of the new PING Sensor gloves. Unsolicited side notes; the gloves are worth checking out, and Tim wears a visor so his hair keeps on looking good.
Once PING chapeau’d, Tim and I were escorted out to the fitting range. We were going to hit balls just like the PING pros! Well, maybe not quite like their pros, but definitely at the same place.
We heard stories about how they had to add more netting to the back of the range after Bubba hit balls over the old netting. For some reason the bus yard behind the range was not feeling love from golf ball barrages.
While walking out to the range, my fitter asked me about my current set and game, allowing me to blather on about what I like and dislike about my current bag of sticks. Arriving at our fitting bay, I was handed an i25 9i to warm up with, subsequently producing pinpoint shots to all parts of the range. This would have been great, if I had been aiming at those spots.
Right away, I remembered my normal feeling about getting fitted for new clubs: I hate getting fitted for clubs.
One of the guys that I play with always comments on how my game is better than my mental state lets it be. Basically, my swing folds a little, or sometimes a lot, under pressure.
So here I am, getting fit at PING HQ by a professional club fitter. It’s likely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m swinging like it’s the first time that I touched a club.
“Golf you say? Why yes, I have played that on my XBOX before.”
It’s not that the i25 was too much horse for me either. Having found out that Tim and I were going to PING a few weeks prior, I had been demoing all of the PING stuff at the local shop. Going into the fitting, I knew that I could hit that set well.
At this point my calming internal meditative mantra of Do you want to build a snowman? was just not working.
So, my fitter and I embarked upon the exciting quest for my usual golf swing. It was there, just hiding under my slowly increasing canopy of nerves. During the iron fitting, we did uncover my usual swing truths, like I need a heavy shaft to improve my tempo. Things got better when the shaft got heavier.
I hit other irons as well, actually hitting the new Karsten iron quite well. It just looks too big to me. The greatest surprise came when my fitter handed me a S55 iron to hit. I hadn’t even hit these at the local shop, as I know that they are too much horse for this kid. I’ll be damned if I didn’t hit three solid shots in a row with them. Now I’m not foolish enough to think that the S55 goes with my game, but I will say that they were WAY more forgiving than I expected.
Anyway, after my fitter demonstrated the patience of Job with my swing, we agreed on the following configuration:
Irons: i25, 5-PW, PING CFS Shaft, Cushin insert, X-Flex, Soft stepped once
The X-flex and the Cushin insert were really mainly about getting the weight up to where it works for me. The Cushin insert does change the feel, and I really look forward to seeing how the feel is on the course. As a non-PING shaft reference, the other shaft that worked well for me was the stiff KBS Tour C-taper, as well as old familiar DG S300.
Having peppered the entire range with the irons, I was ever so pumped to start hitting my historical nemesis, the driver.
We started with a 9.5° i25 driver, shafted with a stiff PWR 75. Nervous as I was, we basically finished the fitting after three piped balls. We tweaked the shaft to the Tour Stiff version and shut the door on driver.
I really like the i25, and I know that the alignment graphics on the top really work for me. While I knew that the stripes mimicked those of old muscle cars, I didn’t know that those stripes on the cars actually helped drivers steer through turns. Turns out the i25 graphics have a purpose beyond looks.
For the metal woods, I hit the i25 and the G25 fairways, finding slightly better numbers with the G25. I like the alignment on the i25, but I like better numbers even more.
The i25 hybrid was almost another automatic fit. I really like the look and feel of that hybrid, and I actually again put some good swings on the ball. Bending it 1° strong filled in the gap nicely between the irons and the fairways. The 7W is a curiosity for me. I’ve never gamed one, usually going the 3H route instead. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how that 7W plays on the course.
Fairways: G25 3W & 7W, PING TFC 189F stiff shafts Hybrid: i25, 22° (1° Strong) PING PWR 80 stiff
For the wedges, I ended up choosing the i25 wedges over the Tour wedges. I felt like I hit the Tour wedges OK, but I also know that not changing club models when I grab a wedge helps me to remain focused. In my current bag, there’s internal dialogue of “oh, these wedges are made by Cleveland, not Callaway”. Now it will be all i25, and hopefully mentally quieter.
It isworth pointing out that the new i25 wedges are not just and afterthought to extend the set to U, S, & L engravings. These wedges have been engineered to be playable. Hosel lengths are different, center of gravities are different, and material has even been removed from the heel to make them easy to open and hit. Watch this video HERE for more information.
I even actually hit three flop shots with the open i25 LW while my fitter watched. Nerves of steel there. Don’t worry, I shanked some immediately after so the balance in the universe is maintained.
Wedges: U (50°), S (54°), L (58°), PING CFS Shaft, Cushin insert, X-Flex, Soft stepped once
In spite of myself, I left the range feeling like I had been dialed into a set that will help me go low this summer golf season. If I can get the numbers with the i25 driver on the course that I had in the fitting, golf is going to be very fun indeed. I also truly applaud the professionalism and perhaps optimism of my fitter. Throughout my flailing, he never once walked away or threw something at me. As far as I know, no tears were shed or clubs broken as a result of our time together. At least not in my presence…
What about Tim?
After reading about my fitting adventure, some of you are wondering what happened with Tim. What clubs did he hit? What did he get fit into? Can we see a close-up of that PING visor?
Don’t worry, we will have Tim’s fitting report as well as play reports from both Tim and myself after we have had some time to play the clubs. To read about Tim’s fitting and our ongoing PING-scapade, just head on over to the MyGolfSpy forum.
If you are not yet a member of the forum, now is a great time to take care of that. Just follow this LINK.
VIP Fitting Room
So we were out on the PING range, getting fit for clubs via Trackman data and the expert eye of the (very patient) PING fitter. As cool as that is, there is actually a level up fitting-wise at PING HQ. You see, there is a room right next to PING Man where you can hit off of real grass, while staying indoors.
Grass indoors? Are you mad?
Oh, it gets better. Not only are you hitting off grass, but also the grass is modular and can be replaced with different types of grass! You have a 6’x6’ patch to hit from that can be adjusted to match your home course grass variety. You are right at the edge of an indoor room, firing balls out into the range. I’m not sure if this truly avoids the not insignificant summer heat in Phoenix, but it definitely will be better than the outdoor range.
How much is the VIP fitting treatment? No clue. I don’t imagine it’s in the if you have to ask price range, but it may well be. As cool as that VIP fitting room is, I was even more impressed with another fitting program offered at PING HQ.
Fitting the Phoenix Golfers
Over near the original building that Karsten purchased to start this now two-block PING leviathan, you will find a building that houses a fitting facility for the people who live in the Phoenix area. Actually, I don’t think that you even need to live around there. You just need to walk in the building.
In this building, trained PING club fitters will take visitors through a full indoor club fitting, using Trackman I assume, telling the golfer what clubs are best for him or her at the end.
Why is this more impressive than the VIP fitting in my opinion? For one, it’s totally free. PING has a commitment to its community, and these free public fittings are one way to give a little back. That and the multitudes of jobs PING provides to the community… “A free fitting, that’s not a big deal. They are going to make money by selling them clubs.”, you say.
Well, you, let me tell you something. PING does not sell clubs out of their HQ. They do the fitting and then send the person to a PING account to buy the clubs. Does PING still make money from that sale? Of course. Would they make more if they hosed the golf retailer and sold direct? Yes they would. But they don’t. Based upon what I saw and heard while I was at PING, the notion of family is paramount to them.
This is a private company, whose head honcho still has the last name of Solheim. PING would not hose the retailers to make a few extra dollars, because they view retailers as part of the extended PING family. Be cynical if you wish, but I was there. I saw the culture at PING HQ. That sense of family is as important as their bottom-line; perhaps even more so. PING fits the public for free, not to make new customers, but because the people of Phoenix are also part of the PING family.
3:00 PM – 3:45 PM: Putter Lab (Fitting & Discussion)
Woohoo putters!!! Out of all of the things on the itinerary, getting fit for a putter at PING was probably the thing I was looking forward to the most. Whereas I had nothing but nerves about my full-swing fitting, I was all Me First! when it came to putters.
As impressive as the fitting range was, I think that the putter fitting (and testing) room was probably more impressive. We were indoors, putting on artificial turf, but don’t for a second think that this was a green that you roll up and toss in the closet when you are done. This green was different. First of all, it is 40’ long. Maybe that works in your house, but the 9-footer in my garage is about the max size for me. Not only is this green 40’ long, but also totally flat.
Seriously, totally flat.
This green rests on top of a monolithic slab of concrete that was poured separate from the rest of the building’s foundation. The base is huge and solid, and likely to confuse archeologists from the year 3705. Don’t worry, it’ll still be there.
The flatness though comes from the slab of marble that rests on the concrete. The marble in your kitchen may be nice, but it cowers in the shadow of this marble’s length and mass. The marble top was then polished to be completely smooth and level. The putter guys showed us some dimple-less golf balls that could be used on the marble surface, achieving putts at about stimp infinity. It’s on this surface that the turf rests.
Short story, there’s no break. If you miss, it’s on you.
For the fitting, I expected some ENSO-esq fancy tech. Instead, I got the iPING app on a iPhone in the cradle attached to the putter. iPING? Still? I guess I had dismissed the app back with the rise and fall of the Anser Milled putter line (love that line btw).
My loss. The iPING app has been updated and is now the key component to the fitting process. The process with iPING is still as simple as it was. You take five putts and it tells you the data. The data has been expanded though since I used it last. My tempo was slow, but consistent. The fitters said that I probably liked a heavier putter (365g is nice).
They also noticed that I press a bit at address, but I don’t return to that same angle with the stroke. Basically, I take loft off at address, but de-loft during the stroke. If we just looked at address, you would think that I need a putter with more loft, but the dynamic data from iPING said that standard loft was OK. BTW, since the fitting, I have been working on starting my hands more neutral, and then returning to the same position with the stroke. So far, it is making a huge difference. In a good way.
The iPING app doesn’t take care of every aspect of the fitting though. While putting with the Scottsdale TR Anser 2, the fitter noticed that I leave the toe of the putter up at address and during the stroke. His call was to go 2.5° flat. This blew my mind. In my garage right now, I have and Anser Milled 5 that is green dot, or 2° up. That means that when I play that putter, my lie angle is off by almost 5°. I was stunned. Please feel free to tell me how getting fit does not make a difference.
Putter: Ketsch, slight arc, 2.5 Flat, 34” (adjustable)
The Ketsch, not the Scottsdale TR Anser 2? That’s right, I went with the Ketsch. You see, although the Ketsch was our 2014 Most Wanted Mallet, I felt like I had to force it a bit to make putts. After the fitting, it makes sense. The Most-Wanted-winning Ketsch is a straight arc, black dot putter. That’s not really my bag. Putting with the slight arc, brown dot Ketsch should be spectacular.
3:45 PM – 4:15 PM: Gold Putter Vault
Many of you know the story behind the gold PING putters. For those who don’t here’s the deal. When a pro, on any professional tour, wins an event with a PING putter, even if the pro is not on staff with PING, PING makes two gold-plated replicas of that winning putter. One is sent to the pro, and another is placed in the Gold Putter Vault at PING HQ.
Should you win a major, that earns you a solid gold putter. Head only, mounted on a tasteful wooden base. Well done Bubba!
Rumor has it that the original Gold Putter Vault was in the closet in Karsten Solheim’s office, nothing like the fancy vault of today. This modern vault is fancy, and it is a vault too. The vault has a real vault door, including a keypad lock. You turn the large dial to release the bolts and the door smoothly slides open to golden goodness.
The first impression is that pros have won a ton of tournaments using PING putters. Some of the win leaders are Seve Ballesteros and Lee Westwood. Lee just added another in Malaysia. It was cool to compare the two since Lee has used seemingly every model available in the PING catalog to win, while Seve’s 50+ gold putters are all Anser 2’s.
Rumor has it that Seve actually took one of his golf putters out and played with it. I guess if you have fifty of them, then one can be a gamer.
Other cool notables for me were the Nome that Hunter Mahan used to win the 2012 Accenture Matchplay event after first rolling the putter on the Tuesday before the tournament, and the Tiger Woods’ putters that he used to win two US Amateur titles.
The scope of the room was more than a bit overwhelming. The amount of golf history represented in those putters was truly amazing. Kudos to whomever convinced Karsten to move them out of the office closet. By the way, there are some gold not-putter clubs in there as well. You can see those and more golden goodness in the gallery at the end of the article.
4:15 AM – 5:00 AM: Innovation Shop Tour
As you can tell, the Innovation shop was uninhabited when we rolled through. It reminded me a bit of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The Wilder version; not the Depp one. I half expected this scene to play out:
Though lacking in Oompa Loompas, the Innovation Shop was loaded with Innovation, naturally. While PING engineers may put the generation of knowledge at the forefront of their game plan, the need to build and tinker still plays a big role. Here clubs can be customized for engineering runs, the results adding to the ever-expanding PING knowledge pool. Need tungsten plugs in the putter, we got those for you on the table below.
You may also be familiar with this thing called professional golf. While I feel very confident in the quality of the clubs that are made for the masses at PING, tour professionals club needs can be a little more demanding. I’m not going to go to the extreme and talk about the specs for Bubba’s PING gear.
OK, maybe I will, as he did just win the Masters and all. Here is a LINK to Bubba’s bag-o-sticks. As you can see, Bubba has some very specific (and unique) gear needs. This shop is where PING can take care of those needs, not just for Bubba, but for all of their tour pros on all of the pro tours.
5:00 PM: Wrap-up
By the time we rolled into the conference room to wrap up, my brain was more than a little fried. Remember, the information that you are reading here over a couple of days came to Tim and I in one day.
After all was said and done, our hosts asked if we enjoyed our visit, and if we had any questions. For a few moments, Tim and I just sat there, our mouths probably open, exhaustedly stunned. Thankfully, I had some questions from our forum members to fall back upon. I will share the answers to more of these at a future date, but there was one that seemed appropriate at that point.
“Where does PING see itself in the golf marketplace? Is it important to be the top dog like a TaylorMade? Are you in a #fiveyearwar to be #1 like Callaway?”
The reply was something along the line of we want to make the best custom fit products that we can for our customers.
Now that may seem like a cop-out, company-line answer to you, but I believe it 100%.
So What is PING Golf All About?
That was the main questions I had hoped to answer. I think that PING is all about staying true to the core values that have been central to their operation since PING’s inception. They want to make the best products that they can for their customers. Period.
I don’t think that PING really cares about what the other companies are doing. Their engineers expand the knowledge base of club design, using that knowledge to make a better product that meets the needs of their customers.
If we think of the tortoise and the hare fable, PING is definitely the tortoise. I’m not saying that they are slow, but instead, deliberate. PING moves forward at the pace dictated by their science and engineering, not at the sometimes erratic pace of their hare competitors. The other golf companies are likely on PING’s radar, but they are not first on their concern list. Maybe not even top two. Those two spots are held by you, the PING customer, and second, the very extended PING family.
Maybe I’m reading more into my experience with PING than what I actually saw. Maybe other golf companies operate along these same principles, with customers and family coming before profit margins. For some reason, I get the feeling that PING is unique, or a member of a small sub-set of the golf industry.
Regardless, our visit to PING HQ was amazing, informative, entertaining, and just a touch exhausting. Tim and I are grateful that we were invited to be PING’s guests, and that we could take you along for the ride.
Win a PING Driver
Are you a G-Man, or and i-Guy? Answer that simple question in the comment section below and you are eligible to win a new custom PING driver. Be sure to include your specs (loft, length, and choice of PING shaft). Winner will be picked at random from the commenters and selected at random on Friday, May 16th. Good Luck!