Like many of you, I am a big fan of the game of golf. I enjoy getting together with friends and family to play a round whenever I am back in the Iowa City area and the frost has not yet set on the pumpkin.
Golf is a great game to play with any three friends or strangers. But its always more fun when you are playing with fellow Hawkeye fans.
It's also good to know a fellow Hawkeye fan in the golf industry, especially if you are in the market for new golf clubs. And let me tell you, Hawkeye fans, I have found such an Iowa fan that is one of the foremost experts in swing analysis and club design in the Midwest. His name is Kevin Downey, and his company is Innovex Golf. More on Kevin and Innovex in a moment.
This spring, I decided it was time to go for a change of sticks. The set of irons I have in my bag were allegedly tailored to fit my swing and dimensions. I purchased them back in the spring of 1997, and they were King Cobra knock offs.
My friends call them the ‘axe handles', because they are several inches longer than standard clubs (I am 6-feet-5, 215-pounds), they are much heavier than standard clubs and the grips are double wrapped with tape and are more like that of a baseball bat handle than a golf club.
But they felt good in my hands when I was swinging them in the shop, and the ‘pro' that set me up told me that everything ‘looked good'.
Like many of you, I have more than a full time job and don't play nearly as much as I would like. But when I do play, I want to at least not be at a disadvantage with the equipment I am using.
When I met Kevin Downey of Innovex, he took a look at my clubs, then measured me, analyzed my swing on his Golf Achiever launch monitor and came to a few quick conclusions.
One, he said there was some game underneath my swing. Two, he said that the person who fitted me for my irons did me a disservice. Three, he noticed that my grip was much too strong, due to the angle the ball was coming off of my club head, the direction of flight, as well as the closed face of my club. He deduced all of these things in a matter of five minutes.
Downey, 33, graduated from Iowa in 1992 with a Bachelors of Arts degree. Originally from the south side of Chicago, he returned to the Windy City after graduation and was an assistant to the professional at a country club there. After later getting his masters, he worked for golf companies like Slazenger and Callaway and became an expert in the technological side of the game of golf.
Being a husband and the father of two children caused Downey to leave his position at Callaway to spend more time with his family, so he began working to start his own golf equipment company. After six months of testing and bending clubs, hiring a designer and all of the other details that go along with starting such a company, Downey launched Innovex in the spring of 2004.
His headquarters are in Overland Park, Kansas, but Downey can correctly fit golfers via his website, virtualtourvan.com.
After meeting with Kevin, he took me to a room where the real swing analysis takes place. There I saw a piece of equipment on the ground with laser beams shooting out of it in all directions.
"Technically it is a launch monitor. It is called the Golf Achiever II. It is laser based, and it measures everything you can possibly measure from a golf swing, from the golf ball, the head at impact and through impact." Downey said.
"It measures ball speed, the angle of the face (both horizontally and vertically) and it measures air distance, as well as a myriad of other details. "Depending on your swing path, we would alter the length of the club, the type of shaft, as each shaft has a different purpose, the tee height, loft on the driver, all kinds of things."
After a few swings, Downey's machine recreated my swing, showed the path of the ball flight, the angle of the ball off of the tee, the speed of the ball, the angle of my club face at impact, and more.
He quickly devised a club suggestion for me, all the way down to the grips.
It was a very, very enjoyable experience for this golf enthusiast, and I know that any fan of the game would share the same sentiments.
I am an average Joe golfer, and Downey caters to folks like me, rookies as well as the ultra serious golfer who wants the best equipment to help his game.
Here is what Downey does with each and every one of his clients.
"The first thing we do is sit down with them and find out what they are using right now. Preferably, I would like to see what they are hitting, or get an idea what they are hitting if I cannot see them. What kind of weight, shaft type, ball flight, all of that. I want to know where their misses go as well as their best shots. Is it a pull hook, is it a straight pull, is it a slice? I want to get an idea on the distances of each of their clubs, and find out their comfort distances and what their favorite clubs are to hit."
"Then I can get an idea as to what type of golfer I am dealing with. Some guys like their wedges, some like their middle irons. Most of the time, the 9 iron or wedge is their favorite."
"I will ask them what they want to get out of the experience of being custom fitted, and to a great extent its that they just want to get better clubs that fit them properly. Some want more distance, some more accuracy. Most want both."
"Then we take them back and let them warm up. I then get an idea on what type of swing speed and ball speed, the launch angle they have in using the launch monitor. Then we have them hit our clubs. I usually start people with a six or seven iron for fitting purposes."
"We want to build them a set that they are going to hit better than anything they have ever hit, but also get the right clubs in their hands to get them the most options out on the golf course."
So what makes Downey's Innovex product unique and different from the myriad of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers, clubs like Calloway) producers?
"The Innovex products specifically use the RLS, which stands for Revolutionary Loft System. Basically, there is a four-degree gap between every club in the set. In the long irons, there is a five-degree gap between the four and five and the five and six irons."
"How that is different from today's market, and why I went that way, is because in your standard three iron through pitching wedge set, you see two or three degree gaps between the three and four, four and five and sometimes the five and six, and then there might be four degrees between the clubs through the rest of the set."
"The problem with that is that at that loft, the average golfer will not see any yardage difference between those clubs, and if they do, it will be minimal. That is just wasting space in the golf bag. We want every club in there to be of value. Most guys that have a normal set of three through pitch usually don't hit their three iron, and then they only hit one of either their four or five iron. They will hit one out of the first three, or two out of the first four. They don't understand why, but it's because the three and the four, or the five and the six go almost the same distance. There is no reason for all of those clubs to be there."
"We have tested and bent a lot of different clubs on the market and came up with our loft matrix over the course of about six months."
"The average golfer swings about 75 miles per hour with a six iron. You might see the five iron go 160, 165 yards and the six goes in the low 150's and then we see about a ten yard gap between every club until you get to the pitching wedge and the gap wedge, and then it might be about 12 to 13 yards between the clubs. The higher the loft, the gaps start to widen a bit more."
We manage about 12 yard gaps with those clubs. It is not manageable to cover a 25 or 30-yard gap, which is what people face with standard clubs. We have already had people call and tell us that their scoring averages have improved, because they have more clubs that they can take a full swing with, as opposed to just having a pitching wedge or sand wedge inside of 120 yards, now they have pitch, gap, sand, lob and ultra lob. So they have five clubs they use in those distances. They might have a club that they can hit full from 45 yards up to 120 yards, in some type of wedge."
And what about the golfer who lives in Iowa and cannot make it down to Overland Park to enjoy the customer fitting experience in person?
"The best thing we can do is a phone interview. We go through the same basic process as we do in personal appointments: what are they hitting, what do they want to see out of their game?"
"If we can find out those things, then we ask them to get a few measurements for us. Wrist to floor, hand and finger length, etc. If I can get that information, I have a great idea of where we need to be from a length and grip size standpoint. I will be very close all of the time."
"If I get all of that, and any idea of their swing speed, swing length and tempo, I can get very close to fitting them statically, without seeing them in person."
On our online fitting site, virtualtourvan.com, they can see all of the fitting instructions. Video tapes, if people can send them, would be great, in any type of file. Pictures are helpful. If we can get that, it makes our fitting process even better. We are looking to be able to do that via our website, where people can upload that information to us. That is coming down the road."
And Downey would like to help as many golfers as possible, especially Hawkeye fans, find the right clubs for them if they are in the market.
There are so many myths about equipment that people believe when they buy clubs. I will help any Iowa fan, at no charge, if they have any questions on golf equipment. So many retailers are just misinformed, then consumers are buying things that don't fit them, that don't help their game and they don't know why they are buying what they are buying and wasting money.
"Our industry has come so far, yet the small, premium companies have an uphill battle."
"You can look at the Long Drive Association. Go look at the last two years and see what brands they play, then count how many are tour played brands. The only ones you see on that list is Ping on a rare occasion or Cobra. Every other brand is a company that is not played on the tour. The small premium brands are there – Alpha, Ashton, Nakashima, etc."
"They are using them for a reason. That is proof of how far some smaller companies have taken the technology. Some would argue that they may even be better than the tour played brands. Ultimately, the fact is that our products perform."
Downey still makes a lot of time to follow the Iowa Hawkeyes, and he especially enjoyed Iowa's 34-9 win against Michigan in 2002.
"Ever since I graduated from Iowa, the Hawkeyes have become more important to me. Maybe it's because I miss that connection, and you take that for granted when you are a student."
So if you are a Hawkeye fan who loves the game of golf, be sure to check out Innovex and Kevin Downey (866-402-6097), and be sure to strike up a conversation about the Hawkeyes somewhere in the mix.