People you should know in golf: Bob Vokey
Bob Vokey is one of the game’s great characters. He’s been around for a while but is still as enthusiastic as ever about helping people get the best out of their short games.
He has made wedges for and fitted some of the greatest-ever players including Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. He also fitted me for some wedges at Bearwood Lakes in 2015. A highlight of both of our careers, I’m sure…
I caught up with the great man at the PGA Show in Orlando…
Where did you grow up?
How did you first get into golf?
My dad. He was a very good golfer. But when I was growing up and was about 10 or 11, I mainly was playing little league baseball, football and hockey.
My dad wanted me to play but I didn’t find golf a competitive sort of sport at that particular time.
But little did I know, it would evolve to where it is now.
What was your first job in golf?
I opened up a little golf club shop in Fallbrook California then I moved to Vista and Gary Adams came into my golf shop in the early 1980s and wanted me to do the repair work for TaylorMade.
They had just moved to the west coast. I remember Gary walking into my shop saying to me can you have a look at these. They were metalwoods.
I said ‘these aren’t golf clubs they are driving range clubs – they will never, ever replace persimmon woods’. There’s no way that’ll ever, ever happen, I said.
That was one of my many predictions that went wrong.
A couple of years later Gary asked me to come over and work for TaylorMade, so I went – that was 1985.
At that time I was fortunate to be able to go out on tour and work with the metalwoods and irons and I had a brand of wedges I was trying to push at the time but I wasn’t specialising in wedges – I was a driver type of guy.
I was a great listener and a great note-taker. At that time I was fortunate enough to work with Lee Trevino, Mark O’Mera, Dave Stockton Snr who were all great wedge players. I did some work with Seve Ballesteros.
Then Gary left in 1990 and started a new company called Founders Club so I left with Gary and did all of the design work for drivers, irons, putters and wedges.
But I never really specialised in wedges until 1996.
When that project was over with, I said ‘what do you want to do now?’.
As it happened Mr Uihlein [Wally Uihlein, Acushnet CEO] wanted to talk to me about doing wedges. I said I’d love to do it – it had always been a passion.
I started worked on Prototypes for the 200 Series.
The design at the time wasn’t done by CAD [Computer aided design] – we made models out of aluminium. As the years went by we gravitated towards CAD – it took me a while to accept it but it was a great transformation.
I’ve got a great R&D department back in Carlsbad now but I’ve got the PGA Tour – that is one heck of an R&D department – I just pay attention to the best players in the world.
They may be after a certain grind or a certain look – I was always very good at grinding, very comfortable behind the wheel of a grinder.
I’d make a certain grind and take it on tour and someone would say ‘I want one like the one he’s got’ and it catches on. That’s how it all comes about.
What was the best decision you ever made?
Accepting the position at Titleist when I was asked to go into wedges.
What is one piece of advice that you’d give?
I’ll give the same advice that was given to me many, many years ago.
This older gentleman said to me: ‘Son, if you do not like what you are doing, quit, or you’ll never be a success.’
You have to have a passion and a love for what you do. And if you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
If you weren’t working in golf what do you think you might be doing?
I like coaching. Baseball, football, hockey.
And I like working with younger people. I like taking a lot of the things I have learned in life from the school of hard knocks that I went through. I come from the tenements of Montreal.
A few quick fire questions. What is your current handicap?
Right now, it’s six. I was always about a three but I don’t play much anymore. I’ve got to go like a son of a gun to play to six now. I can’t hit it out of my shoes any more. I have to chip and putt really well.
Have you ever had a hole-in-one?
Three on regulation size golf courses. On par-3 courses I’ve had five but I don’t count those.
Tiger or Jack?
I’ll go with Tiger. It was a big, strong co-ordinated athlete playing the game and it changed things.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
Air. Food. Alcohol.
That’s three things. Just take the last one…
What has been the single most significant innovation in golf equipment?
The thing you said would never take off?
Exactly. It unlocked so much more distance. A lot of people were hitting the ball a lot straighter. It helped the average weekend golfer a heck of a lot more than persimmon woods did at that particular time.
Innovations in the golf ball have been phenomenal too.
To find out more about Bob Vokey and Vokey wedges, visit his website.