The new TPT Red Range isn’t your run-of-the-mill shaft release. For TPT, it represents a second and, likely, final chance to deliver real innovation, get it right and change an industry. It’s not quite “phoenix from the ashes” kind of stuff but it’s not a stretch to say it’s either a new beginning or the end of the line. There’s not much room left in between.
Should TPT fully deliver on its promise, the upside is tremendous; the mythical game-changer. If it doesn’t, the downside is, well, obvious.
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. TPT is hoping for a mulligan. With the Red Range, TPT believes it can set a new standard in performance while erasing any questions about the quality of its product.
If that’s going to happen, the new shafts must be quantifiably better than what they’re replacing. That’s how innovation is supposed to work. At a minimum, they damned sure better not break.
TPT: A 30-Second Recap
TPT’s brief history as a shaft brand has been, in a word, volatile. Remarkable highs offset by ugly lows left it in a precarious position.
TPT’s first-generation shafts weren’t just played by some of the best players in the world; guys won with them. You’d be hard-pressed to name a dozen graphite shaft companies currently in businesses and I’d wager half of them haven’t sniffed the kind of success TPT had in its first year in business.
TPT’s rise wasn’t merely remarkable; it was almost spectacular. Unfortunately, the same is true about the fall.
The condensed version reads like this:
Behind the scenes, the LKP model failed manufacturer durability tests. The MyGolfSpy staff snapped two of them in routine testing. GolfWRX forum testers had issues; tour players broke a few, too. Most notably, TV cameras captured the moment the shaft in John Senden’s driver failed in spectacular fashion.
It wasn’t a good look. A black eye seldom is.
A $50 shaft that breaks is disappointing. But a $500 shaft? That’s shattering the bulletproof windows on Tesla’s Cybertruck territory.
Not Quite Politics As Usual
Still, there was something intriguing behind the TPT story.
To make it on tour, new shaft companies typically need some sort of inside track. Industry veterans bounce around from company to company, along the way accumulating a solid list of trusted partners, supply-chain knowledge and industry know-how. As one source told me several years ago, “It’s all a little incestuous.” That is to say, the golf biz is one large, dysfunctional family.
Even for guys who’ve been around the block, getting an unproven shaft in play on tour generally requires a strong reputation, timing and an act of God. It’s not impossible but neither is being dealt a royal flush.
TPT, however, was an exception. It arrived on the scene entirely as an outsider with no Rolodex, no chits to call in, no established footprint in golf. Within the greater context, it was nobody.
Against that backdrop, TPT somehow became the undrafted rookie free agent turned All-Pro. It’s not that TPT persuaded a handful of mini-tour journeymen to give it a try. Its shafts landed in the bags of Jason Day, Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau and Lydia Ko. Both Ko and Rose used TPT shafts while ranked No. 1 in the world. In fewer than 18 months, TPT notched double-digit wins on major tours worldwide. It caught lightning in a bottle in a place where it never storms. That was the good.
We’ve already covered the bad.
The Root of the Problem
TPT likely knew there was a problem well before any of us did. The company admits it was reticent to send shafts out for testing. That isn’t to suggest TPT did anything nefarious. In fact, TPT tried to mitigate exposure–pulling stock and doing it what it could to remove any potentially compromised shafts from the market. It was a temporary and imperfect solution.
To create a shaft, sections of composite materials (called flags) wrap around a steel mandrel a specific number of times at precise angles. If the layers do not lay perfectly flat, it can cause disruptions in the material. A good analogy would be a kink in a hose or wrinkle in a piece of tape. Once a single layer is imperfect, it creates a weak point. Under the stress of higher swing-speed players (and laboratory testing), some shafts failed. Without wading too deep, TPT chalks up the failures to a problem with the geometry of its mandrels.
By the numbers, the failures were limited to a small percentage of shafts. The relevant detail lost in a small number is that wee as it may be, the failure rate was orders of magnitude higher than any of its reputable competitors. Single-digit failure rates fail to impress when the industry leaders live to the right of the decimal point.
As word spread, players and fitters moved away from TPT. It’s impractical for tour players to put shafts on the equivalent of a pitch count, though that’s how some players reportedly moved forward. Fitters and retail outlets generally struggled to find enough reward to justify the risk.
As quickly as it arrived, TPT had all but disappeared.
Critics rightfully wondered if the bad press would be enough to sink the TPT ship. Had it decided to close up shop and fade away, I don’t think too many would have noticed or bothered even to post a Tweet. Returning to the market with an improved version of the Blue Line may have been the safe option but TPT didn’t see much value in a lateral move. Safe doesn’t get you very far in the world of $500 shafts.
And so, TPT quietly faded into the shadows.
We met with TPT at the 2019 PGA Show. At the time, the company planned to launch a selection of new products, including a tour-grade 115-gram graphite iron shaft, by mid-year. Instead, and to its credit, TPT decided to take a step back to retool and reinvent. There was no doubt a realization that the next product would ultimately define the brand as an innovator in a largely static segment or relegate it to punchline status. There won’t be a strike three. In this case, it’s two and out.
The hiatus lasted nearly another 18 months.
Last month, TPT finally reemerged with a new product. Fairway shafts are coming. Hybrid shafts, too. The iron shafts that piqued our interest…those are on hold for the foreseeable future.
There’s plenty to look forward to, so there’s a case for leaving the past in the past. Without the Blue series, its ground-breaking approach, its successes and its failures, there would be no driving force behind the Red Range.
The lessons learned over the short but checkered story of the Blue Line have everything do with why TPT believes its new Red Range is the next big thing.
TPT Red Range
Let’s knock this out first. Why red?
“It means something to be Swiss-made,” says TPT co-founder Francois Mordasini. Timepieces. Knives. Chocolate. If a Swiss company is going to associate itself with the color red, the product has to be able to hang with Toblerone, Patek Philippe and Rolex. TPT believes the Red Range is worthy of the designation. TPT takes pride in what it means to be a Swiss company and the Red Range is emblematic of this. “It represents the Swissness of our product. We want to fight for precision.”
To be clear, the shafts aren’t manufactured in Switzerland. That happens several hundred miles away in Poland. But all of the thinking, designing and engineering are 100-per-cent Swiss.
TPT Red Range Upgrades
In general, lighter-weight, higher-torque shafts tend to feel softer. That’s the upside. The downside is often increased dispersion (less accuracy) for faster swingers. TPT believes the Red Range helps eliminate some of these typical opportunity costs. The assertion is the Red Range will allow players of all swing types to hit it a bit farther without sacrificing accuracy.
The first series of TPT shafts utilized a proprietary thin-ply technology. This version – Thin Ply 2.0 – is conceptually the same, though with theoretically better execution. The heart of Thin Ply 2.0 is Continuous Fiber, TPT’s patent-pending automated shaft manufacturing process that continuously winds its carbon-fiber pre-preg from tip to handle around the shaft. This isn’t doing the process the justice it deserves but it’s a bit like a one-person game of tetherball.
Most shaft companies receive composite materials that have previously been impregnated (hence the term pre-preg) with a specific amount of resin (glue) to hold the sheets together. Like the industry leaders, TPT sources raw materials from the industry bona fides like Mitsubishi and Toray but here is where TPT’s path diverges from the rest of the shaft industry. TPT handles the impregnation of the fiber itself and weaves those fibers into thin sheets (it’s a bit like turning spaghetti into lasagna) before leveraging its proprietary winding/assembly process.
The Red Range’s Continuous Fiber technology is twice as strong as the original thin-ply approach used in the Blue Line while remaining three to five times thinner than competitors. Thinner materials allow for more precise tolerances and replication from part to part. Given a run of 500 shafts, TPT says the variation between shaft No. 1 and No. 500 is going to be much smaller than other premium shafts on the market. In this case, TPT states its tolerances are 66-per-cent tighter than the industry leaders.
To achieve this degree of precision, TPT’s process is fully automated. From beginning to end, the primary role of the humans is to press the buttons that instruct the machines to do the heavy lifting.
How Other Shafts Are Made
The rest of the shaft industry uses the decades-old approach of table-rolling shafts. Whether you know it or not, handcrafted is the industry standard process for creating a shaft. Given the success of Fujikura, Mitsubishi, Graphite Design and Project X, it’s tough to argue with the results.
So why take a different approach?
TPT’s Mordasini estimates that standard table rolling has allowed engineers to explore roughly 95 per cent of the available possibilities. At some point, humans can’t work with the precision necessary to handle exceptionally thin materials and apply them consistently time after time. With some tasks, the machines win.
Depending on how a shaft is oriented during installation, the flex will vary. With the layering of graphite sheets required by the standard manufacturing processes, there’s no such thing as a perfectly concentric shaft. According to TPT’s internal testing, the most consistent shafts on the market exhibited variation of +/- 3 CPM, which is roughly one-third of a flex category. TPT asserts its tolerances to be +/- 1 CPM. A difference of two CPM might not sound like much and, nominally, it probably isn’t. But stricter tolerances are disproportionately expensive the closer you get to zero. So, going from one-third of a flex to 1/10th of a flex is a pretty big deal, statistically speaking.
TPT Red Range Starting Lineup
The Red Range features two models (Hi and Lo) in six different weight and flex combinations. That makes for 12 shafts in total. As the names suggest, the “Lo” models will produce a lower launch (+/- 1°) with less spin (100-400 RPM). As always, your mileage may vary and, if you’re willing to drop $500 on a new shaft, for the love of everything good and holy, take the time to get fitted by a professional. TPT doesn’t use traditional flex codes and given that the company believes the stability of its products allows golfers to leverage lighter and softer shafts to create more speed, it’s arguably more important than usual to get fitted for a TPT shaft. The weight, flex and profile combination you typically play may not translate.
Some of what remains to be seen is whether any particular type of player gravitates toward the Hi or Lo model. When players like Day and Rose moved on from TPT, both found some success with Mitsubishi’s Tensei CK Pro Orange, a tip-stiff, counter-balanced design best suited to high swing-speed golfers wanting more feel in the handle (softer butt section).
If we start to see any meaningful number of players switch to the Red Range, it will be worth noting which shafts get sent to the bench.
The Hi series is particularly interesting. While it’s far from impossible that it could find its way into the bag of elite players, the design addresses a hole in the market. Among the offerings are weight, flex and launch profiles designed explicitly for slower swing-speed players. It’s a group for which the premium aftermarket typically doesn’t offer much in the way of products that leverage the same materials and construction used for higher swing-speed players. There are some legitimate reasons for that but TPT’s thinking is that lower swing-speed players shouldn’t be excluded from true premium offerings, especially when those offerings have the potential to provide demonstrably better performance.
Durability Issues Resolved?
In no uncertain terms, TPT told us that with the mandrel geometry issues resolved, its Red Range is the most durable shaft on the market.
While it’s too soon to say if that’s true, even with the PGA TOUR on hiatus, the Red Range has scored its first win. It made it through Titleist’s qualification process.
Shaft and grip suppliers will tell you that Titleist has the most rigorous process in the industry for testing the third-party components it uses in its clubs. Paint, general wear and tear, durability and longevity: Titleist tests all of it and if a product doesn’t pass, it won’t attach it to one of its clubs. We’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: if there’s a popular shaft or grip option that isn’t in the Titleist catalog, there’s likely a good reason for it and that’s likely reason enough not to want it.
We bring it up because, except for some MKP models, TPT’s first range of shafts didn’t make it through the Titleist qualifying process – not even close. That the Red Range passed the test doesn’t guarantee that Titleist will offer it but, at a minimum, it suggests that TPT’s durability issues are behind it.
TPT Red Range – The New Future of Shaft Design?
There’s a lot of sameness in the shaft industry. Realistically, there are only so many ways a shaft can bend. For whatever differences exist in materials, processes and technology, the resulting performance is arguably minute for most golfers. That isn’t to suggest shafts aren’t important or can’t significantly impact performance, because that’s patently false. But absent the discovery of new materials or an entirely different manufacturing paradigm, most gains will come through more individualized fitting frameworks.
Possibly the greatest point of differentiation is that TPT uses the same materials and proprietary manufacturing technology in every shaft it makes. This is true whether you swing a driver at 120 miles per hour or 70.
If TPT can establish a new standard for tolerances and durability while at the same time giving golfers more distance and tighter dispersion, it might be the slap upside the head the shaft industry desperately needs. Granted, that’s a lot of ifs, and all of them exist within the greater reality that it’s the same promise TPT made the last time around, and a $500 per shaft, regardless of how it’s made, isn’t going to dominate the consumer market any time soon.
Is the TPT Red Range a step forward in shaft design in performance? Time will tell as it always does but given the price point, TPT can’t realistically hope to change the entire shaft industry. Without a significant price drop – the kind of cost-cutting that gets you into stock lineups at the risk of devaluing your brand – its best (and only) opportunity is to succeed by changing the landscape in the premium space where custom fitting is common and performance matters most.
I suspect that’s exactly the plan.
TPT Red Range shafts are available through select fitters and retail outlets. For more information, visit TPTGolf.com.