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|Cobra Golf's tour van follows its players from city to city. (Courtesy of cobratourblog.com)|
PGA Tour pros like Camilo Villegas and Geoff Ogilvy never have to go far for new equipment. That's because companies like Cobra Golf provide tour vans to ensure golfers have the latest and best clubs.
HUMBLE, Texas - J.J. VanWezenbeeck not only builds and rebuilds golf clubs for Cobra Golf staff players, but he also drives, refuels and washes the truck.
Most Wednesdays, VanWezenbeeck's tour van is part of the caravan that leaves for the next PGA Tour stop. By Friday, the manufacturers' tour vans and trucks are at their next destination, trucks cleaned and set up, ready for their players to start showing up early in the week.
VanWezenbeeck is in his first year working for Cobra's small-but-potent playing staff. It's a group that includes Jason Gore, Camilo Villegas, Geoff Ogilvy, J.B. Holmes and Ian Poulter. It's up to Cobra PGA Tour Technician VanWezenbeeck and Bryan Parker, manager of Cobra Tour Promotions, to keep these guys in the right equipment.
Fortunately for VanWezenbeeck and Parker, Cobra's staff players aren't the type to come in every time they have an off round and demand an equipment change. They pretty much understand that it's most likely not the arrow.
On the other hand, different types of equipment work better for different courses and different conditions. So from tour event to tour event, VanWezenbeeck serves a role like "Q" serves to James Bond, always tinkering to figure out what secret weapon will work best in what situation.
In addition, players make swing changes from time to time. They have their own little quirks, like Ogilvy likes to have his irons without gaps in their numbers, while Villegas could care less if he puts in an extra wedge and takes out his 4-iron, leaving a 3-iron and 5-through wedges.
"You'd be surprised what these guys can do with one club," said VanWezenbeeck of the PGA Tour players' ability to improvise.
The Cobra tour van is armed with hundreds of shafts, dozens of grips and heads, and all the hardware to make just about any golf club imaginable.
Since the shafts and grips are supplied by the respective shaft and grip companies, if they don't have something on the Cobra van, they might go to Callaway or Ping for a component. The equipment vans are their own community on tour behind the driving range.
VanWezenbeeck also has the added benefit of Acushnet's other big-name equipment company, Titleist. Since both are in the same family, the tour staffs work together. The Titleist truck is much larger, of course, because it has 35 full-time staff players.
But there are times when the Titleist truck isn't at an event, like the week before the Masters at the Shell Houston Open, for example. In other cases, Cobra might not be there, and the Titleist folks would service the Cobra players.
Regardless, players need constant adjustments, and the tour trailer is there to take care of them. There is even a good supply of hats for each of the players - who all prefer different styles - in separate bins.
Some golf courses are set up where the fairway narrows the longer you hit it. When that's the case, players like Holmes can be in a quandary.
So VanWezenbeeck built him a 44 1/2-inch driver, which is a half-inch shorter than normal, and weakened the loft a little, so he could find a bigger part of the fairway.
"Our hope is that not only will it dial back distance but bring a control factor in as well," said VanWezenbeeck.
You also may be surprised to find out that Holmes actually likes a little softer shaft, both in his irons and driver.
"He likes to be able to feel the club head," said VanWezenbeeck.
In contrast, the young Villegas plays an S9-1 Pro S driver with a XX Matrix Ozik shaft that is tipped a half-inch.
Holmes, however, has gone to a stiffer iron recently. Since he's been working with teacher Matt Killen (who also works with Kenny Perry), Holmes is changing his ball flight to a draw and has subsequently changed his Pro CB iron shafts from X-100s to X-400s.
Major winner Geoff Ogilvy works a little differently.
"He hardly ever comes into the tour van," said VanWezenbeeck. "And he never tests clubs on the range. He always tests them on the course."
Often, Ogilvy tries out equipment under the watchful eye of Parker, who will walk the course with him, especially during practice rounds. Recently, in an effort to hit better long shots out of the rough, Ogilvy had the Cobra staff build him a 5-wood, but he hit it too far (around 260 yards), which created too much of a gap between his 5-wood and 3-iron.
So VanWezenbeeck added a little loft and shortened the shaft until they could eliminate the gap.
"They come to us and tell us what they're looking for," VanWezenbeeck said. "Our job is to find a solution."
April 22, 2009
Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.
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