The equipment portion of the golf industry is an often over-caffeinated, hype-filled cacophony blended with some real news, some fake news, and opinion-based facts masquerading as fact-based opinions.
Certain segments of the market are shadier than others, and there’s an argument to be made that graphite composite shafts is among the most dubious categories.
That’s all to say, it can be a real mess, and without a roadmap to navigate it all, consumers play right into the hands of OEMs pedaling new and improved product which plays on a consumer ego long been convinced that new and improved invariably leads to longer and straighter – or at the very least, somehow better.
Within this context, shaft newcomer TPT (Thin Ply Technology) merits a deeper dive as it presents a viable argument its offerings are legitimately different than every other shaft on the market. While the company line is that those differences make for a superior performing product, there are plenty of questions surrounding the durability of its $500 shafts.
During testing, the MyGolfSpy staff broke two TPT shafts (one in play and one during routine profiling), multiple failures were reported during forum testing at GolfWRX, and over the summer, there were frequent reports of tour players snapping TPT shafts.
The most notorious example happened during the first round of the Australian PGA Championship last week, John Senden’s prototype TPT shaft snapped during his swing on the par-5 9th hole. The video shows the shaft break toward the butt section of the shaft, which is where it seems a majority of the failures in TPT’s LKP model occur. It’s one thing when a shaft snaps on the range, but when it costs a professional strokes and ultimately money, it becomes a much larger issue.
Senden is far from alone. In the rare convergence of golf and baseball, Jason Day reportedly keeps his TPT shafts on a pitch count whereby he replaces it after a certain number of swings. I believe that might be an industry first. Rod Pampling, Patrick Reed, and others have had TPT shafts break on them at one time or another.
Listen to the sound as Senden’s shaft snaps and he hits the ground with the club. Ugh. pic.twitter.com/Wwqjc5EVRD
— Ryan Ballengee (@RyanBallengee) November 29, 2018
That said, with Vijay Singh’s victory at the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship this November, TPT has a baker’s dozen of worldwide wins. Moreover, TPT’s technology is just as viable at the consumer level where players of all swing speeds are finding surprising amounts of increased distance while also decreasing dispersion, according to former tour player and current instructor, Jon Sinclair, who sits on TPT’s advisory staff.
So, is TPT the next coming of high-performance shafts or is the product simply structurally unsound? It might not be an either-or proposition.
At the 2017 PGA Show, I met with Sebastian Sebayang (Director of TPT Golf) and Francois Mordasini (Chairman and Co-founder) at a small table on the concourse outside the main exhibit hall. It’s likely we could have pooled the entirety of our Twitter followership and not cracked triple digits. Literally and figuratively, TPT’s presence sat beyond the periphery of the market and other than its co-branding efforts with David Ledbetter, it was just another new company with a semi-interesting story – not unlike dozens of other companies looking to gain some traction at the industry’s annual meat market and hob knob.
Chiefly, what TPT claimed to offer was a technologically superior production process which could create the most consistent shafts in existence – a bold position for a company which stuck a $700 price tag on a shaft without a typical PGA Tour profile. TPT’s first shaft – which Lydia Ko bagged in 2016 before signing her equipment deal with PXG – offered a mid-launch/mid-spin profile geared toward players with moderate swing speeds. At the time, TPT promised it would deliver a beefier shaft in late 2017.
It was a faith-based business plan, built around a proprietary process a decade in the making. TPT’s cutting-edge robotic technology worked in Formula 1 racing and was a dominant force in the competitive sailing market. Success led TPT to look for opportunities in other areas. “I wanted to see if I could make a golf shaft,” Francois told me.
At a fundamental level, the only necessary question to ask of any new product is, “Is it better? Does it offer some segment of players a performance benefit which doesn’t exist without it?”
There’s plenty of redundancy in the shaft market, which is illustrated by the reminder one industry veteran offered me…” There are only so many bend profiles (in shafts)” The salient point being while OEMs like to highlight what are often minute differences in specs, design or material usage, shafts invariably fall into one of several bend profiles, and shafts with similar profiles offer largely similar performance.
Other than LA Golf Shafts impending fractional ownership model, players aren’t compensated for shaft usage, so if there’s an opportunity for a new company to make inroads without fronting a bunch of cash to gain tour exposure, this is it. That said, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s likely. There is also the primary challenge of gaining validation in a retail fitting environment because giving away product to tour pros doesn’t pay the bills. It’s a delicate balance – one which requires a product to win on both the launch monitor and on the course – and even then, there has to be a coherent marketing approach which gets the product into players hands and on a fitter’s wall.
It’s an uphill battle in all directions, but it can’t account for the serendipity of current world #1, Justin Rose bagging a TPT shaft en route to three worldwide wins in late 2017, including WGC-HSBC Champions in China and Turkish Airlines Open in back-to-back weeks. Several months later, Jason Day picked up a win at the Farmers Insurance Open with TPT shafts in both his driver and 3-wood. Most recently, wins #11 and #12 came courtesy of Bryson DeChambeau at the Shriners Hospital for Children’s Open and Hyowon Park at the KPGA A+ Life Hyodam Jeju Open. Including Singh’s aforementioned win in early November, that’s 13 professional wins and counting in less than two years.
That’s a hell of a tagline for an infant company which jumped head-first into the deep end of the pool dominated by Fujikura, Mitsubishi-Chemical and Project X.
Equally impressive is TPT’s quick ascent into the premium custom fitting segment of the market. In 2018, TPT increased its number of authorized U.S fitters from 24 to 75, 39 of which came via an agreement between TPT and Club Champion to carry TPT’s full line of shafts in each of its retail locations.
Internationally, Sebayang reported a 400%+ increase in the number of authorized fitters, from 25 to 136. In total, TPT started 2018 with 49 authorized fitters and will finish with 211, a figure which will continue to increase incrementally based on TPT’s growth estimates.
TPT’s rapid surge into the premium shaft market is remarkable by any metric, and if there’s a single message, it’s that TPT can give players like Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day and Patrick Reed something which they may not get from any other OEM.
NOT ALL RAINBOWS & UNICORNS:
Growing pains are inevitable. It’s the reason hindsight has perfect vision, and final papers are preceded by rough drafts. That said, at a certain point pain can become indicative of a larger problem, one which merits further investigation.
Depending on who you ask, TPT’s first generation of shafts either break at a rate high enough to justify steering clear of the brand entirely or symbolize the kind of bumps in an otherwise smooth road that invariably arises when a fresh brand tries to disrupt the status quo. As usual, the truth is likely somewhere in between.
For its part, TPT claims its 2018 failure rate is .06%, the vast majority occurring with lower torque models aimed at higher swing-speed players. At face value, the number shouldn’t raise concern, however; the context always matters. When a tour pro snaps a shaft in front of a range full of fellow pros, it becomes less about the single shaft and more about how many others saw it happen.
At least one major club manufacturer declined to move forward with adding TPT to its upgrade catalog after the shaft reportedly failed its quality control checks, while a tour rep for another company told MyGolfSpy that he won’t let his players near TPT product.
While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest TPT shafts can offer performance benefits, many are taking a more cautious, wait and see approach while acknowledging the uniqueness of TPT’s process and what it could mean for the industry as a whole.
Hoyt McGarity, CEO of TrueSpec Golf, has some experience with the brand and has decided that until the durability issues are addressed, he’s sitting this one out. “We just broke so many of them,” McGarity told MyGolfSpy.
In this case “so many” is 9 or so shafts over several months, which again may not seem like a lot, but considering typical failure rates, the clientele with which McGarity tested TPT’s shafts and the environment in which the breakages occurred, it was a deal-breaker. Additionally, McGarity felt the ultimatum to carry all of TPT’s 16 different SKU’s was too big of an ask given the spotty track record.
That said, McGarity remains optimistic on TPT’s future because he sees what the product could become and by hiring credible industry veterans like Jeff Meyer as its Technical Director (30 years with Aldila and G Loomis) it’s clear TPT is working to find solutions.
At roughly the same time, TPT named Jon Sinclair as its US-based Technical Advisor. Sinclair and his team work with dozens of PGA Tour and Web.com Tour professionals, utilizing a variety of cutting-edge technologies (e.g. GEARS, AMM 3D, 4D Motion) to study how player’s motion patterns are impacted by different shaft parameters (weight, torque, balance point, profile). Sinclair believes TPT’s technology could permanently alter the shaft landscape.
“The consistency is a game-changer,” Sinclair told me, though he notes it’s far from a finished product. “If there’s a problem, I’m very straight with them.” Part of Sinclair’s role as an advisor is to provide objective feedback even when it means confronting some brutal facts. While he’s all about optimizing performance for elite players, he understands consistent performance only matters if players trust the product.
Durability is often a sacrifice made when pushing the limits of performance, and if there’s a fatal flaw in TPT’s first generation of shafts, it’s that the company didn’t accurately assess how its shafts would hold up under a wide range of conditions and higher than typical swing speeds.
To its credit, Sebayang reports TPT has made changes both in material structure (improved resin and a new nearly weightless layer of material) and its automated processes, which should improve the durability of its shafts.
“What’s most important at the moment are our quality control tolerances (increased by 200%), which involves both the continued refinement of our automated shaft manufacturing software and our proprietary machinery. We’re also working with an engineering school in Switzerland to develop a new machine to improve quality control. It’s something we’re creating from the ground up to allow us to “see inside” each of the shafts we create after production to ensure that they are perfectly concentric and homogenous.” – Sebastian Sebayang
Nick Sherburne, co-founder of Club Champion, admits there are some advantages to being the only major premium club fitter currently offering TPT’s full slate of shafts, though the durability issues haven’t gone unnoticed. Because of the current price point ($500) it’s not a high-volume item, and Sherburne was reluctant to give TPT any particular praise beyond its status as “another one of our high-end vendors.” He also suggested TPT would be wise to find a more cohesive approach in educating potential consumers on its proprietary and unique in the golf industry manufacturing process.
REASON FOR INTRIGUE & SKEPTICISM
TPT is a proxy for the argument that, in spite of the tight boundaries within which the USGA requires OEMs to operate, opportunities for performance improvements still exist through materials and processes which weren’t originally intentioned for the golf space. With new possible answers, however, comes a new set of unknowns.
TPT’s proprietary Thin-Ply Technology is a prime example. Unlike the standard table rolling method, TPT’s automated process can independently control every shaft parameter and hold it to exacting tolerances. Theoretically, TPT could produce custom fit, one-off shafts for individual players based on specific swing characteristics. Because other OEMs don’t have the same technology, the product is difficult to reverse engineer which creates a quandary for competitors. In the short term, it’s convenient to pick the low hanging fruit of early breakages as evidence the technology is unproven and thus far, unreliable. After all, it’s unlikely Justin Rose would swap his TPT shaft for Mitsubishi’s Tensei Orange after three wins at the end of 2017 unless there were a serious problem.
It’s not unusual for new technology to be less than perfect out of the gate. The industry consensus, even among some of its competitors, is that TPT will eventually crack the durability problem.
If that happens sooner rather than later and more top players like DeChambeau put the shafts in play and start winning with them, then what? If that becomes more the norm and if TPT follows through on its guarantee of added distance, improved accuracy and unrivaled consistency for any significant percentage of golfers, the story becomes far more compelling.
Until then we’re stuck in this equipment purgatory where product failures are a bit like Regan’s differentiation between a recession and a depression which paints the former as “where your neighbor loses his job” and the later as “when you lose yours.”
It’s a problem, the magnitude of which depends on how close the individual is to the source – that is, if it’s a problem at all.
So where does TPT sit with consumers? Give us your thoughts.
A Response from TPT
After this story published, the team at TPT reached out and asked if we’d be willing to publish an Official Statment from the company. The request seemed reasonable enough as we actively encourage brands to engage with our readers. And so, here it is.
We would like to thank MyGolfSpy for its recent in-depth article on TPT Golf. Certain elements of the story are not what we’d like to see; however, the article highlights MyGolfSpy’s commitment to fair and detailed reporting of the golf equipment industry. We fully support their efforts.
While we can’t individually respond to the points of the article and the mounting article comments, we would like to take the opportunity to address questions related to the durability of our shafts.
Our company has never been more convinced of the merits of our patented shaft manufacturing technology. We believe that our automated, robot-driven process is the future of golf shaft manufacturing, and we say this because of the measurable improvement golfers across the world are seeing with our shafts.
It’s true that a small number of our shafts have broken over the last year. This issue has not been related to our technology, but rather our execution as we’ve scaled to meet growing demand. We know that any shaft breakage is unacceptable, and we’ve investigated each incident thoroughly. We’ll always keep evolving, improving, and responding with the necessary changes to improve our shafts just like we’ve done over the last two decades in other industries.
As the article mentions, very few people were aware of TPT Golf two years ago and how we had adapted our parent company’s technology to golf shafts after its success in other high-performance industries. We know what we’ve achieved since is incredibly rare and comes with both notoriety and scrutiny. We embrace all of it.
We also want our customers to know that we stand behind every golf shaft we make, and we will always replace a customer’s shaft should there ever be an issue.
Going forward, we’re going to continue to improve our current shaft lineup and bring innovation to new shaft categories. Our Authorized Fitters (retailers) are sticking with us because they know the power of our technology, and our products will be available to test on their walls.
Finally, we would also like to invite MyGolfSpy to become a part of our internal shaft testing program as we evaluate new prototypes. We know its team can help provide us with the deep, accurate feedback we need to ensure we’re creating the best performing shafts for all golfers and every club in their bag.
In our experience, golfers will never turn their back on something that can help them save a few strokes. We promise to continue to deliver golf shafts that allow them to do exactly that.
TPT Golf Director