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  1. There are people in this world that if you pay attention to them, you're guaranteed to learn something. If they're pedantic and professorial, listening to them is hard work. But when that person is the type you'd want to yack with over a beer or two, and who just happens to have a deep understanding of - and excitement over - what he's talking about? Well, then it's just plain fun, and 5 Questions can quickly turn into 6 Questions. This week MyGolfSpy's 5 Questions talks with Michael Vrksa, Global Director of Research and Development for Wilson Golf. Michael shares with us the goals for Wilson Staff, his take on changing brand perceptions and the Gold Medal winning D200 and FG Tour V4 line of clubs. If you pay attention, you'll learn what the "Right Light," and "Club MOI" really mean, and whether it's something you should look at for your own game. MyGolfSpy 5Q's: Hard numbers, in terms of market share, for Wilson Golf - what's your goal? How can you change the perceptions of Wilson Golf, and is there anything in Wilson's 2015 lineup that will help change that perception? Michael Vrksa: The goal is to, realistically, be the number 3 or number 4 iron out there. I think that's realistic. It's not going to happen next year. It'd be great if it does, but it's unrealistic to happen in one year. But that's where we want to be. We've been there in Europe. Some of the management issues that happened in the past, before Tim (Clarke, Wilson Golf GM) was on board and before others were on board – there were some bad decisions made in the US, period. In Europe we're still number 4 in irons share, because some of those same decisions weren't made over there. And the product is the same. It's not like we design different product and sell it in the UK – it's the exact same product. We're competing against the exact same TaylorMade irons, the exact same Mizuno irons, the exact same Callaway irons, and we're number 4 in market share over there. So it is a little bit of that perception. It's not a performance issue - I'm a firm believer in that. It's not a look, sound and feel issue. So if we can be number 4 market share in Europe with the same exact competitors and the same exact everything, why can't we be number 4 here? It's just changing that perception and it's going to take a little bit of time. We've had stores who do independent testing say our new D200 irons are the best irons they've ever tested for that category (game improvement-distance). The D200 driver is the 2nd best driver they've ever tested, period. That will come out eventually, they will publish that information – and that's independent. For the driver, we didn't even know they were testing it. They actually took the samples we had given them – they were just salesmen samples that were rattling around the back of the salesman's Buick Enclave or whatever they're driving around. So the D200 lineup, we are very excited about. Our V4 irons and Utility irons are really, really good, and our tour players have said that. Getting Brendan Steele and another player who's been playing them who we're trying to sign – he's been playing them for a month now, and we haven't paid him a penny, and he's playing our irons. He could play any irons he wants, but he chose ours. That's not because I told him to do it, I've never met the guy (As it turns out, that guy was Troy Merritt, who joined Wilson Staff in January - ed). But he did that because he looked at a bunch of irons and loved ours, and he knows Kevin Streelman and tried Kevin's and “wow, how good is this?” MGS 5Q's: You mentioned the new Wilson V4 Utility Irons, what's with the weight port and what makes them different from the Callaway, the TaylorMade or the Titleist? MV: Well, I mean the weight port is specifically for adjustability, that being a tour product. I think why it's different is that it's a Carpenter Custom 455 face, and we're thinner than anybody else. We've gotten really good data on our ball speeds, and we've take all the left bias out of that golf club. It is a true, straight club, truly for better players. That doesn't mean other people can't play it, but that's a little bit of a niche product, and we're okay with that. We did not design that product for every golfer on Earth. That's why we have the F, C, D (Feel, Control, Distance) product categories and why, when we design products, everything we do from design to marketing, focuses on “who is this product for? How does it make that player better? Who are we competing against in that field?” And we try to clearly differentiate, and I think the FG Tour Utility iron is a great example of that. We didn't design them to go sell 100,000 of them. If we do, great. That's unrealistic, but we designed that club specifically for some better players who wanted to have a little help in their long irons and want to be able to work the ball with their long irons and not worry about missing it left. It's a great product for that group. But it's not for everybody and we're okay with that. Is our utility iron vastly different from everybody else's? I think that's unrealistic, but I think it's every bit as good, if not better than everybody else's for a good majority of the players. But that doesn't mean everybody's going to hit ours better than the competition's – that' unrealistic. But we're getting great feedback form people who don't play Wilson and then tried ours and said “Wow, I gotta give this a chance and here's why.” The ball speeds and some of the things we've done with the face and the weighting I think make it a little unique, again not completely and totally different, but a little unique and gives a performance benefit. MGS 5Q's: What's the “Right Light?” MV: That's something we really believe in not just for the D players (Distance), but all players. It really all started when we were doing a bunch of research on tour players bags and specifically what head weights and shaft weights tour players had gone to. We found just how light a lot of the driver shafts on tour had become, and how much lighter the fairway wood weights have got, and how lighter the hybrid weights have got, and then talking to some of the shaft guys – shaft manufacturers - and we learned some of the things they were doing with tour players. And then we talk about wedges – well nothing's changed on wedges in 100 years, but the drivers haven't gotten 50, 60, 80, 100 grams lighter in some cases, when you went from steel to some of the lighter weight graphite of today. Obviously the heads have gotten a little bit lighter over the years as the clubs have gotten longer, so it's just this combination of stuff. We looked at what the tour players are doing, just because it performed better. We were looking over the 10-15 years to today – we just got some interesting data on how much lighter drivers have gotten and how much lighter fairway woods have gotten, and then hybrids just a little bit lighter, and irons pretty much the same but maybe little and wedges not at all and we started to think how that would benefit the average golfer? And what does that mean? We did a lot of testing with different weights and lengths and really feel that there is a sweet spot – and I hate that term, but it resonates with people since they understand what that means – we really feel like there's a sweet spot from a weighting perspective that allows players to swing the club faster. If I give you a Wilson club or a company X or company Y, your swing won't change - you won't suddenly get on your left side better and all of a sudden start swinging like Rory or Padraig or Kevin Streelman. So how are we getting these 1, 2, 3 mile an hour increases in club head speed? There has to be something to do with the weighting of it. So the "right light" for us is a way for us to make clubs as light as possible, but still have the power, the sound, the feel, the launch and spin to maximize distance. We are the lightest adjustable driver on the market right now. We're not the lightest driver. We have some of the lightest fairways, but not the lightest – and that's one of the things that's critical – it's not a race to the bottom. We can make every club lighter tomorrow, but we've found that you can make golf clubs too light, to the point where you can swing it marginally faster but because you can't get the mass right inside the head, you lose performance. So it really is this – I hate this term but I don't know what else to call it right now – this "sweet spot" of getting it as light as possible, to let players swing it faster, but still have enough mass so it sounds great, it feels great and you can control the mass properties of the head, so it still has a big enough Moment Of Inertia, it still has the right center of gravity location to get the launch and spin you're going after, and we believe in that. We touted it on our D100 line, and the D100 line by any measure was a huge success. D200 - we're up over double-digits in percentage in pre-books in D200's. So people saw D100 and what it did and the sell through it had, and looking at what we've done with in D200 driver – adding adjustability – and to the Speed Sole technology on the D200 irons, which is really incredible with CT's in the 230's on irons, which is really something we're excited about. And yet they're the most forgiving irons we've ever done. So it's just this great combination of lightweight, but not being as light as possible – we really feel that there's a weight that lets players swing it faster, and we're going to continue to push that. MGS 5Q's: You've talked about something called “Club MOI?” Does club MOI = Light Club? MV: Well, yes and no. We have gone out of our way to not talk about club MOI a lot, because it confuses people and we understand that. We dabble in it a little bit, we put it on our website, we talk to some key people – if it's something like this when it's one-on-one or I'm doing a product demonstration to 30 or 40 people where you can stand up there and explain it, then it's a great time to do it. We believe in high MOI golf heads – that's resistance to twisting on off-center hits. We are always trying to maximize head MOI from a performance standpoint, but from a club MOI standpoint, we're actually trying to minimize that. The reason is very simple –when you talk about a club head, the higher the MOI to slower it turns. When you're talking about club MOI, the lower it is, the faster it can turn, the faster you can get it through the impact zone. One of the other nice things that we found is not only do people swing it faster; it's easier to release, if you will. We certainly haven't eliminated the slice – I'm not going say that – but it's amazing how many golfers swing their traditionally weighted driver or hybrid or fairway wood, and then we give them a D100 or a D200 with the Right Light technology, and their misses are not anywhere near as far right as they used to be, just because this is the first time they could actually release the club and it's not drafting through. So the main benefit is the ability to swing it faster – Club MOI is that same thing – we measure the MOI of the whole club. You grab it near the butt end, about where the center of a player's hands would be and we can see what the weight of that whole thing is, and weight is part of it. But it's also where that weight is placed. I could have one driver and take it to an extreme with a 30 gram shaft and a head weight, and another one with 120 gram shaft but a super lightweight head – and even thought the total weights might be the same, the club MOI's could be drastically different. It is trying to get the club MOI as low as possible, again within reason. There has to be club head feel, people have to know where the club head is at in their backswing so they can still control it. Club MOI is something we believe in, but it's really kind of behind the curtain in innovation and R&D rather than something we're going to go out screaming to the who world about, just because it's confusing unless you've got 5 minutes. MGS 5Q's: Low forward/low backward CG – is that in Wilson's future? MV: Yeah, we've actually done a number of prototypes, we've had a prototype on tour that's much more low and forward since January or February of last year. That's something we've been messing around with for a while. And it's not just about that. It's one of those things where if we feel we can make the best product with that then we'll do it. Right now with our D200 and the M3, we've gone a little different way. I just think people need to get fit – it's most important to see what's right for them. Do I think that every player on Earth needs the weight jammed up to the face? That, I think, is a little unrealistic. When we talk about what we do at Wilson Staff with F, C and D, we want to know what kind of player are you? How do you fit? Do you need more MOI, or do you need less MOI? Do you need the weight forward, do you need it in the back? Understanding that and getting fit within that is so critical. I think there's lots of places you can put the MOI in the head and can make a good performing product, it's just how does it all fit together with what you're trying to do overall for that particular golfer. MGS 5Q's Bonus Question: Is there a “must have” club in Wilson's future, something like the RBZ or original Big Bertha that is a game changer? Is that the holy grail of R&D and is there one in Wilson's future? MV: Well, I'd sure like to think there's one in Wilson's future because if there isn't they're going to find somebody who's gonna do that! Obviously we're trying that, but I think one of the things that people need to understand is there aren't too many products that really are going to fit a Zero handicap and a 20 handicap that's going to have the right launch and spin for both of those players. I know there have been products that a wide majority of players have purchased and have sold very well. I just wonder a year out how thrilled all of those players are with those same purchases. I think some of the iron technology we're working on, plus some that are even further off are very cool and revolutionary and certainly could be that “must have” product. But we're going to stay focused on our F-C-D categories and what would make me even more happy is if we had a driver in our F category that killed it for that 0 to 8 or 10 handicap player, and we had another driver that killed it for that 15 to 30 handicap group. That would make me way happier than selling a driver to a 36 handicap and then selling the same driver to a Plus-1 guy who walked in next. I know in that way each of those players would have a better fit for them and they're going to enjoy the game longer term than just walking in and seeing what their buddy was playing and therefore they want to buy it. Obviously that's what everybody wants but I'm not sure that's what's best for everybody.
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