“When can I play them?”
Sean O’Hair smiled. The morning was Monday, September 24, the scene TaylorMade Golf’s top-secret 2013 photo shoot in which a number of Tour Staff professionals gathered for, amongst other things, new product testing. On a golf course landscape sprawling with production crews, make-up artists, wardrobe managers and extras, O’Hair found solace on the driving range. Waiting for him there was an arsenal of new, custom-built TaylorMade weaponry including three unique irons (a 4-iron, a 6-iron and a pitching wedge) he was whispered would blow him away. Game changers.
While a commercial shoot is cool, equipment is critical. Ask any Tour professional and you’ll get the rhetoric in a heartbeat. It’s fun to see yourself on TV in primetime; it pays to have others watch you on Sunday afternoon. In the case of the shoot, the excitement over new toys trumps the satisfaction of face time. Every. Single. Year.
Only moments earlier, this happened and when the cameras stopped rolling, the first words out of O’Hair’s mouth came quickly, if only with a breath of hesitation as if to suggest he might not love the answer.
“When can I play them? O’Hair looked around. After back-to-back PGA Tour seasons in which he toggled between TaylorMade iron models, he needed to know. When can I put the RocketBladez Tour irons in my bag?
Close observers on the range, it certainly wasn’t the first time TaylorMade Executive Vice President, Sean Toulon, and Product Creation Director, Brian Bazzel, had the pleasure of hearing the magic words – the same way a child might leverage the expression “pretty please” – but it was distinctive. The synergy between player (O’Hair) and product (RocketBladez Tour) was so immediately special, unique, rare even, it didn’t require their attention. It commanded it.
To the untrained, naked eye – a cameraman, a production manager, an audio assistant – O’Hair hit the irons, exchanged feedback was pleased. It was solid. To those who spend their careers obsessing over every detail to appease the most talented and discerning players In the world, it was euphoria. Goosebumps were given.
Back to the question. O’Hair turned to Toulon. Toulon turned to Bazzel. And it’s entirely possible in that instant of appreciation for what had transpired, the answer changed. As of that morning, the world was scheduled to learn about RocketBladez and RocketBladez Tour irons on October 23 and not a moment sooner.
Certainly, golfers would begin formulating hypothesis about what would make Sergio Garcia “Freakishly Longer” on October 8, when the campaign leading into the webcast would hit digital newsstands and social networks.
But letting a professional golfer put the irons in their bag and carry them to the first tee on Thursday morning at a PGA Tour event before the 23rd? It would be foolish and self-defeating for a product set to reveal in a month’s time.
Unless… Unless nobody knew they were the RocketBladez Tour irons. And with that thought, the concept for the set of prototype irons (pictured above) was born.
Although a full set of final cosmetic RocketBladez Tour components weren’t meant to be ready until mid-October at the earliest, O’Hair left the shoot on a handshake agreement with TaylorMade’s product experts: “As soon as possible.” Almost immediately, we targeted the Shriners Hospital Children’s Open – O’Hair already committed to the field – as the week where the irons, manufacturing timelines willing, would make their PGA Tour debut in prototype form.
The plan in place, it was time to tackle a crucial question. How would we protect the real identity of RocketBladez Tour, especially the name, once the irons hit the PGA Tour? The inspiration for the answer – some creatively drawn and hand-crafted camouflage badging – came from the automotive industry. For years, automotive manufacturers have been shielding prototypes from spying eyes by installing creative means to hide contours, shapes and unique designs so that they are not revealed, discovered, or at worst, replicated.
In the instance of the RocketBladez Tour irons and Sean O’Hair, the camouflage badging would protect the name and new colorful identity of the product’s badging, but it couldn’t hide the most dynamic visual characteristic on the golf clubs: the Speed Pocket in the 3- through 7-irons.
Given the performance benefits O’Hair experienced, the feedback he expressed and his overwhelming eagerness at the photo shoot to switch, we ultimately decided it was a risk worth taking. In the days that transpired, the components arrived as scheduled, the irons were assembled (3-PW) and hand-delivered to O’Hair with the understanding that he would arrive in Las Vegas with clearance to play the (unnamed) RocketBladez Tour prototypes.
That week, Bazzel left TaylorMade headquarters for Las Vegas to meet O’Hair and our PGA Tour team and ensure a smooth transition into the product at TPC Summerlin. A nine-hole walk with O’Hair, his coach and his caddy that Tuesday told him all we needed to know. The highlight of the round was a 238-yard 3-iron on the eighth hole that landed softly on the green. The shot served a short memo to his Rescue 3: You’ve been replaced.
And on Thursday, October 4, after two days of highly-publicized testing at TPC Summerlin, O’Hair played the camouflaged RocketBladez Tour prototype irons in the first round of the Shriners Hospital Children’s Open. He hit 89 percent of the greens, made five birdies and shot 67.
They’ve been in the bag ever since.