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Solheim Family Interview


Editor's Note: On the eve of the 2005 Solheim Cup matches, members of the Solheim family, for which this week's Solheim Cup is named, met with the media. The competition that pits the best American women golfers against their European counterparts began on Friday morning at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. While they discussed the Cup, the family mostly talked about their Ping equipment company. Following are excerpts from their interview session.

BOB CANTIN: Good morning. I don't want a two-stroke penalty for being late. It's 11:00 a.m., and this is the 2005 Solheim Cup Solheim family press conference here at Crooked Stick. I'm Bob Cantin, the Solheim Cup coordinator, and entering the room right now is Philippe Hermann, who ran the media center over at the European Swiss Master's golf tournament last week. Welcome, Philippe. Are you speaking English or French today?

Here we have the Solheim family, and I'm pleased to introduce to you, sitting right next to me here, Allan Solheim, who is the executive vice president of Karsten Manufacturing, Ping golf equipment.

On the far left is John Solheim, the chairman and CEO of Karsten Manufacturing, and in the center is the chairman emeritus of Ping, Karsten Manufacturing, Louise Solheim, who, as we all affectionately refer to her, as the first lady of Ping.

I should tell you, for those of you who are not aware and did not attend the gala dinner last night, that Louise Solheim became the 9th honorary member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. It was a surprise to her, and everyone in the room, and Commissioner Votaw earlier that day had a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors of the LPGA to make Louise Solheim the honorary member of the LPGA.

This is quite a very prestigious group of people who are honorary members of the LPGA, including Dinah Shore, Delores Hope. I can go on and on. I don't have their names in front of me. I'm sure you can get them from anyone in the LPGA.

With those opening remarks, I would like to begin the press conference with John Solheim, our chairman and CEO, who last month introduced the largest and most comprehensive introduction of Ping golf equipment in the history of the company, and his son, Andrew, is with us now. He is our brand manager for Ping golf equipment.

John, if you would begin the press conference with opening remarks, and I know all of you who are golfers are going to be very interested in the products he is unveiling here on stage today. John?

JOHN SOLHEIM: First off, we're very excited to be here at this 9th staging of the Solheim Cup. This is something that's very close to all of the Solheim family's hearts, and it's seeing what's happening out there in practice days today, the crowds and stuff, it's just a joy to us to be here and to see this growing the way it has, and also the -- seeing what happened with the juniors and seeing good size galleries, according to Mr. Hamblin, the head of the AJGA, the largest crowds he's seen in any junior event. That was wonderful.

It's a very special year for us in product, because since January, we have had the number one driver in the market. We've had the number one iron in the marketplace, and we are number one in golf bags as well.

So, Ping has had a few tough years a few years back, but we're back strong, and with that strength, this year, we just introduced a whole new line of clubs called the G5.

When you talk about the driver, taking the number one-selling driver and bringing out a new one right on top of it is something kind of a little different, plus we're sold out of the G2s. They're gone, so you won't see them in discount shops and things like that.

BOB CANTIN: That is the first I have even heard of that statement. I did not know we were sold out of the G2s.

JOHN SOLHEIM: There is a few of them, but not that many. They'll be gone shortly. The G5 driver is, shape-wise, identical to the G2. The work was done on the interior, and on the interior -- let me get a club.

BOB CANTIN: Just like his father, he always wants things in his hands so he can demonstrate.

JOHN SOLHEIM: Like the -- the outside is the same, but the interior, there is actually a series of pockets on the inside where the walls are about a third thicker than the rest of the top. What we've done is taken four or five grams of materials out of this top surface and been able to put that in the sole of the club so we can lower the spin rates.

We also took another 4 grams out of the face, and when I say we took a few grams out of the face, we did a lot more than that. We totally changed the machining process, and the way we do it is to make the face much stronger, even though it's thinner. The results of it are about 200 to 400 RPM reduction in spin rate, which allowed us to put a little bit more loft in and actually get a much harder shot, as compared to the G2, not that the G2 was lacking anything, but we're seeing on Tour players an average of 4 to 8 yards longer with the better trajectory and lower spin.

Besides having a complete line of regular drivers, we also added to that an offset. Not as an option. Okay, so the guy that has the tendency to hit it to the right, he's got a club that he can put in his hands and it's going to help him hit it straight. It works. But the big difference between other brands and what this -- the offset clubs is when you look at this, and I'll pass it around, at address it's very clean looking. It doesn't look like it's that offset. In reality, it's a quarter-inch difference between the standard club and the offset club. You want to hand that around maybe.

BOB CANTIN: I'm sorry, John, if you're going to pass this around, Stacey Pauwels, our vice president of the company, will be security at the door just to make sure nothing leaves the room. Thank you very much.

JOHN SOLHEIM: So, we're extremely happy with that. You know, the strength of our brand has been irons for so long, and in irons, coming off of the G2, leading the marketplace, we have added a new G5 iron.

Most of the work on this has been done in the field, so there's been changes in the cavity, and we still have the parallel to the sole cavity which lets you put more weight down low, but now the cavity of the weight is actually parallel to the face, so there is a little more going on in this club, a little more difficult to make. And through that, we get a much better feel out of the club. It also -- we've improved the inertia factors a little bit, too, and otherwise a very clean club and what we feel will just continue on the heals of the G2.

To that, we added an I5. An I5 is more similar in size to the I3, which -- or I3 Plus, which is used by quite a few of our Tour players and is quite a bit smaller head than the G5, and kind of in between the S59, which is a blade, and the G5. Again, the same type of weighting in it. One other thing, our HL irons and the G2 have proved very popular, and they are incorporated in the standard set, in the G5. All of that is done.

BOB CANTIN: By the way, in the interest of communication, if you have a question as we're going through the press conference, just raise your hand. John will be happy to answer it.

Q.: G2, G5, what does G stand for, and what why did you skip 3 and 4?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: How much time do we have?

JOHN SOLHEIM: Go ahead, Andy.

ANDREW SOLHEIM: The simple answer is we flipped the two upside down. There was issues with other products with other names out there that were close to G4 and G3, and G5 was the next progression, we felt, was that. The G, I don't know where the G came from.

JOHN SOLHEIM: The G2 was kind of second generation. This is a continuation of that. The I5, again, actually my father, Karsten, was planning to make an I5 actually jump from I2 to I5 years ago.

The fact is, I have got a set in my desk drawer, but he came out with another name that he thought was better right at that time, and the I5 really fits in that G2 -- or excuse me, I2 notch, club-wise. Along with the driver, we added a set of fairway woods. The fairway woods, we've grown quite a bit in the fairway market, but these are designed to complement the G5 driver, the shape of it is very similar. The performance of these are very good.

It's our highest COR off of fairway face that we have ever had, and just very good looks, very good performance, you know, a full line of them is available. And also, we added a hybrid to the line, which is quite a bit different than most of the marketplace, because if you look at the shape of it, it's got a rounded top coming down to a curved back, but it drops down quite low to keep the weight very low in the club.

On the sole, if you're in the rough, and you ever pull a club back and you have it hang up, you'll discover this one has a reverse ski edge in the heel of the club so it will help you get out of that difficult position. Weighting is very critical in this, and like the fairway wood, it is a steel 17-4, body with a 455 machine face, similar to the driver. Both very high performance clubs available in a number of lofts.

To complement the G5 line, we added a putter to the line. The putter is some of our most popular models, and I really like this B60 the best, and this is one of my mother's favorite clubs. It's just very clean. The thing we did to it, though, is we added the Craz-E alignment feature which has proven very popular in the marketplace, and what I like about the Craz-E alignment feature, as well as putting on the fairway woods and the driver, the crescent moon on there, it's easy to set up. You don't have to overly concentrate, and it tells you when you're mis-set up. That's what's most important.

The shape of this B60, my dad designed thinking about my mother. It's a shape of a heart. He finished the heart coming down this way into your line. What's different about this is we've added cavity through the sole, and actually some that aren't through the sole to remove weight so we can get more weight to the extreme. Same thing with this putter, which is a zinc version, but it operates very much the same way. There is an Anser version and a couple new putters as well.

That's it on clubs. To the golf bag line, we have added some very lightweight bags, one that's under 3 pounds, one that's under 4 pounds, lots of function to them. Just extremely -- and then there is a line of bags that are more for pull carts and for regular carts that really look at the needs of the golfers, and what they need in those types of bags and take care of those needs. I'm not going to go into detail on those, but it's really neat what we're doing with that. Any other comments? Andy?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: I think you did pretty good.

BOB CANTIN: I think Andy will think of a few things to say. I have to share with you one thing that the Solheim family is doing, and I'm looking at Laura Davies and her playing lessons. The Solheim family provides wonderful gifts to the players at every Solheim Cup. Jeff Heitt, who is the husband of Pat Hurst, Jeff got all the personal specifications of all the potential, the top 20 players on this Tour at the Weetabix championship. He e-mailed them to us and we made personalized putters for each of the players who eventually would make the team.

This is the latest we have ever named the teams for the Solheim Cup. With one week to go, Ping custom-crafted, custom-built these putters, etched their names on them, sent them here, and we have seen a couple of them in play, and one of the players on the European team wants some extra grips, because she plans to use it when she gets back to Europe. This is the extent that the family has gone to over the years to custom-fit and custom-build all clubs, not only for the professionals, but for any golfer, and several of you in this room know that that takes place even for you. John?

JOHN SOLHEIM: Yeah, custom-fitting is so important to the golfer to be able to play their best, and it's something my dad worked on for years, and we have had a lot of fun in recent years improving that system, but besides improving the system and doing quite a job at it, we've added very rapid delivery so that the golfers can get that custom-built set in a very short amount of time.

We do extremely well in the United States, very well in Europe, and we just put an operation in Japan so we can have that rapid delivery over there as well. So, we're looking to deliver custom-built sets very rapidly, and in the United States what we're doing right now is we ship in 48 hours, and none of the components are together at the start of that.

You know, and we're -- our goal is to improve on that, and we will. The -- but we want to do it world -- all around the world, because there is golfers that really want it, and when they decide on something, they want it now, and we want to have them have the right clubs now.

BOB CANTIN: Any questions?

Q.: A couple of things regarding hybrids. How many different lofts are you offering in the hybrids?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: I don't have it in front of me, but I think it's four.

Q.: What have you found as far as sales or marketing? What club are people replacing the most, and are you now selling a lot of sets minus a 3-iron, but with a hybrid in its place, or are they replacing 7-woods or things like that?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: It's really hard to say, because it's such an individual process what the person has in their bag and what will fit with them. We haven't even started shipping them yet. What we're trying to get people to do is work with the consumer to find out what's the best for them. You can't just say, replace your 3-wood, you'll hit this better; replace your 3-iron, you'll hit this better. It's an individual process.

JOHN SOLHEIM: What we've done with this introduction is we've made some charts for different swing speeds so people can look into their swing speed and decide which iron, or which fairway wood, or which hybrid they should have so they can work out the crossovers, so the distances will work right for them and they won't have duplicate distances.

Q.: Andy, I would like to ask you: You have another putter you haven't mentioned that I like. When I heard of it, I liked the name of it.

ANDREW SOLHEIM: The Ugly?

Q.: Absolutely.

BOB CANTIN: Good. I thought it was going to be called the Big Al.

ANDREW SOLHEIM: That one is available later on. People like different-looking putters nowadays. It's a high-moment inertia putter with a different look of the Craz-E, but still has the alignment features on it. We don't have it here today, but we're very excited about it coming out. My brother came up with the name. That's what we used to call my little brother, so --

BOB CANTIN: I forgot to mention, this is a family-owned corporation.

Q.: Even as you come out with a new line in your business you have to always be thinking ahead. What do you think in the next five years are we going to see, as the hybrids was probably the hottest train last year, what's going to be new in equipment down the road? Do you see any new trends emerging in the research department?

JOHN SOLHEIM: What you'll see is a lot of what we do is we don't have standard sets so you don't get stuck with that 3-iron if you don't need it. We'll make the set whatever. If you don't need a 5-iron, a 6-iron, you don't have to get it with us. Okay, we're not pulling it off the shelf, or someone is not ending up with it in their shop trying to figure out what to do with it. That's why we custom-build so we can build a set -- we're working right now on the logistics so that we can -- we have different departments building different clubs, the hybrids, the woods, and the fairway woods are built in one area, irons are built in another, and putters are built in another. Since we have a complete line, we need to ship together, and we're working on the logistics of that to make that work.

ALLAN SOLHEIM: I think technology really has a long ways to go, and we're just on the tip of the iceberg as far as I really see the next five, ten years really being excited because of everything we're discovering.

JOHN SOLHEIM: There is a new tool out there called a Trackman. I don't know how many of you are familiar with that. It's a radar device, it's replacing the launch monitors. It can only be used outdoors. It will track the ball and a driver all the way to the ground. Okay. It will get the spin rate for a long way out there, and if you put a dab of metallic paint on the ball, it will give you the spin rate all the way to the ground.

Now, what the Tour players are doing right now with this is working on their wedges, and they're hitting the wedge and being able to see the spin rate as it goes, and how it changes, read the trajectory on the downfall and the spin rate when it hits the ground, so they can tune their shot to the type of greens they're playing. So, a lot is happening. We're doing a lot of work with finite element. The results of that is in a lot of these clubs. We just ordered a new Cray Supercomputer so we don't have to wait 48 hours for the results on the finite element. We get it in about 15 minutes.

The only problem is, when you run through a test like that, it takes 6 to 8 hours to set up for that run. This way more of our guys can be feeding that. Andy just put together a putter lab. Why don't you describe the surface.

ANDREW SOLHEIM: What we were looking at doing is trying to figure out how to take as many of the variables out of testing a putter so we can find out exactly what the ball is doing off the face, taking out what the surface is doing on the ball. So what we made is a 45-foot surface and to get it as flat and smooth as possible, it's covered in granite. It's an extremely type tolerance. I think we got it within a thousandth of an inch.

BOB CANTIN: How long is that?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: 45 feet long.

BOB CANTIN: And wide?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: 6 feet wide.

BOB CANTIN: We had a question here in the back.

ANDREW SOLHEIM: In the testing right now, we're currently using high-speed cameras that will run up to 60,000 frames a second so we can see every minute detail of that ball.

JOHN SOLHEIM: How many players have you fitted?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: I don't know, a lot. The surface just got done in the past three weeks. We have been kind of working on a temporary basis, but now we've got full function starting to come on-line. We'll get more players through it and more testing going on.

JOHN SOLHEIM: An example of the success he had, they were going to colleges with the high-speed cameras setting up on the greens. Ryan Moore, just before he started his really strong season, Andy fit him and set him up with a new putter.

ANDREW SOLHEIM: I won't take that much credit for it, he switched everything.

Q.: To John, I was wondering which models you have in your bag and why?

BOB CANTIN: Good question.

JOHN SOLHEIM: Okay. I have the new G5 driver. I have the G5 fairway woods, and what's funny, I took a trip to Europe and I didn't have the stuff the first trip. I played four rounds over there. I left the clubs there, because I was thinking I would be playing, you know, over there again. Well, what I did was I boxed up a set of G5s, took them back, shipped back the G2s, and played those the next four rounds that I played when I went over for our sales meeting over there, but fairway woods, a 19-degree hybrid, 4-iron, through the L-wedge, and I just put in this B60 putter; I was using the Craz-EH.

ANDREW SOLHEIM: I can tell you why. Forgiveness. It's the most forgiving clubs we have. It's the same reason I'm playing them.

JOHN SOLHEIM: I was thinking of the I5 irons, but my best fitter that we have, a guy by the name of Lou Beebe, he said play the G5s, not the I5s, so that's what I'm doing.

BOB CANTIN: Speaking of fitting, if you have not visited our Ping fitting experience here at Crooked Stick, the Solheim family has brought a team of fitters, and there are eight of them in there hitting balls right next to the Pro Shop. If you would like to hit some of these clubs and feel them, do your own test and actually be fitted if you want to, he would encourage you to do it either early in the morning or before our 100,000 gallery start showing up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Q.: Do you agree with the USGA and the R & A's assertion that there are very few yards left to be uncovered in terms of distance?

JOHN SOLHEIM: On the G2, we actually experimented with a hot-faced model. We could pick up 5 yards with a hot face. In the center of the face, on a perfect hit, you move slightly off the center, it's the same distance as what the G2 is. You know, we're very close to that limit. One comment on the fitting, the juniors are going to be fit, I know the US team is at 12:00, and I think the European team is probably at 11:00, I believe, on the driving range here today, so we're doing some fittings so you can see how some of that works if you want to go visit and see some really good golfers get fit.

ANDREW SOLHEIM: One more comment about yards, picking up in the center of the face, it's pretty close to where you can go, but that's just on the center of the face. There is a lot of yards we can get on distance.

JOHN SOLHEIM: That's what our goal is is how much more distance can we get on the off-center hits, how much, you know, more performance. I mean, the change in weighting, up the moment of inertia on the new driver a little bit, but it's something we're going to inch up on. I really -- this new rule that the USGA and R&A have proposed, that scares me.

Q.: Can you elaborate a bit on that?

JOHN SOLHEIM: Well, they're trying to limit the moment of inertia in this plane of the driver, and what that -- you know, we're very close to that mark right now. The problem is it's self-governing, and they really don't need the rule, because they give us -- given us limits on depth and length and height, there is a balance there, and sure, you can go with other materials and things, but if you go totally for moment of inertia in this direction, you're not going to get the spin rate you want.

So, it just -- it's a rule there that's -- again, like the old COR rule that they did a great job replacing with the CT rule, it's a rule that you got to take the club apart to test, and, you know, nobody is going to be doing that. So, it's a pointless rule, in my view, but it also puts a lot more restrictions on how we've got to send everything in and get everything approved in that factory, and I think it's totally the wrong thing to do.

Q.: I'm curious, I know in the past Ping has been pretty innovative with different metallurgies, the coppers, nickels, and various things, and now it seems lightweight is what everybody is definitely leaning towards. How much more can you do with existing metals or are there new metals or materials that will come into play in the next, you know, half a dozen years?

JOHN SOLHEIM: You have to have the right combination, and that's what really works. Like the face of the G2, G5 driver, it's the 6-4 titanium. Those hot drivers we experimented with were beta titanium. If we took the beta titanium and made it so it would meet the CT test, it wouldn't be as hot as what the 6-4 is. Even though you go to something more exotic, you don't always get the most out of it. You've got to get the right balance. If you wanted that -- if the rule wasn't there, you could get a hair more out of the other one.

Q.: With many of the pros on the PGA Tour, some of them driving the par 4s and reaching the green, or with so much distance they just have a wedge into the green, what is your opinion of a restricted-flight golf ball and how would it impact club makers?

JOHN SOLHEIM: I'm not for restricted-flight golf balls, and really, I think a lot of the things that people are doing to courses right now are making the courses so they're favored to the long hitter, and taking some of the shorter hitters out of the game, which is the opposite of what they're saying they're trying to do. You know, and if the long hitters have to worry about getting into the rough, that will take care of that. To me, it's that simple.

ALLAN SOLHEIM: I'm not for restricted-flight golf balls either, but all they would have to do is make the ball lighter and it wouldn't go as far. It would also actually put the long hitter and the shorter hitter closer together. The reason I say that, let's just take a whiffle ball. An 8-year-old can hit a whiffle ball as far as you can, so to an extreme, you know, and it really -- I think the long hitter should have that advantage.

BOB CANTIN: We have time for two more questions. Just for the benefit of those who aren't aware, there are four Ping professionals playing in the Solheim Cup. As luck would have it, they're evenly balanced, because we're neutral. We're the sponsors so we can't cheer for either team. Pat Hurst and Wendy Ward are playing for the United States, and Carin Koch and Maria Hjorth are playing -- who do we have?

STACY PAUWELS: The two French girls are playing.

BOB CANTIN: I was not aware of that. We have six players playing with Ping equipment there. We have more players playing with our equipment, but not under contract with us.

Q.: I think one thing that is worth talking about, and I love to hear it because every time I ask this question every year or so I get an answer that is good. The research and development program at Ping, absolutely stunning every time I hear about it. Can you expostulate a little bit?

ALLAN SOLHEIM: Very definite. Let me go back a few years as far as -- we'll go back to when my father first designed the first driver. Could you hand me a driver? A fairway wood will work. You know, my father worked in the aerospace industry. My mother worked in the wind tunnel, and everything was a scientific world, but my father knew that a golf club got up to 100 miles an hour, however.

BOB CANTIN: Swing speed.

ALLAN SOLHEIM: Swing speed 100 miles an hour; however, he didn't have a wind tunnel or a Ping hitting machine to test it with, so what he would do is he would have me drive the car at exactly 100 miles an hour early in the morning on a calm day, and he would hold the club out the window, and he worked out a spring scale to where it would measure the force and the resistance as the air flowed across the face, and then he would change the shape of the club and we would go out and repeat the test. Now, how many kids get to drive their car 100 miles an hour with their father in it?

BOB CANTIN: This is on Interstate 17, Allan?

ALLAN SOLHEIM: I won't say where it's at. Bob will make sure I get a ticket if he found out what car and where it was at.

JOHN SOLHEIM: Andy, how fast have you driven with your dad in the car?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: 158 miles an hour.

ALLAN SOLHEIM: That had to be on the Autobahn.

BOB CANTIN: I was going to say, what country was that?

ANDREW SOLHEIM: It was legal. I didn't have a driver hanging out the window, though.

ALLAN SOLHEIM: The research and development has gotten so much more scientific and everything that developing our own Ping machine for hitting the ball, I might say that we had gone to True Temper and used their machine, the Iron Byron at the time to test the irons when we came out with investment cavity irons. It showed the club went shorter, but everyone hit it farther. That's why Karsten went into designing his own machine. He designed it with a free wrist because he felt the other machine was too rigid, and the club would be going back and forth while it was swinging.

We have had sound instruments in the ground, wind instruments, in the hitting and land area, you know, we know where that ball lands one and a half seconds later. You know, now, it's gone to microwave, where we're getting the backspin. It's possible to even get the sidespin of the ball. We get the trajectory of the ball. The Ping man will make it hit in the exact spot, you know, that we want on the face, which no human can hit that exact spot, so it's really exciting to see all of the things that we're doing there.

BOB CANTIN: I would like to invoke press coordinator for this press conference privilege and ask one last question, if you will. The first lady of Ping hasn't had an opportunity to say anything yet, and Louise, if you would just speak really close to the microphone and say whatever you would like this morning, as the newest member, honorary member of the LPGA.

LOUISE SOLHEIM: Well, I'm sitting here and thinking what a great job my two sons are doing and how they're scrambling the alphabet. I thought I knew it, but the way they're scrambling it, I'm not so sure.

BOB CANTIN: I'll ask you one more question. Your third son has come into the room, Karsten Louis Solheim, and his wife, Bonnie, and they just announced their 45th wedding anniversary last night, which was a wonderful milestone. You have three sons and a daughter, Louise. How many grandchildren do you have and how many great grandchildren do you have?

LOUISE SOLHEIM: I have -- I will say, I think, my proudest thing in my life is my family. I have a wonderful family, three sons, one daughter, 10 grandchildren. Right now there is 36 great grandchildren, and we get together as a family at least twice a year so, everybody can get to know each other and see how the children have grown and so on. I'm very, very honored and proud to have been selected as an honorary member of the LPGA. It's -- I was speechless. I didn't know what to say, and I am still getting accustomed to the idea.

You know, when Karsten started making golf clubs, I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it, but he gave me jobs to do. I was the gopher, pick up supplies, mail clubs, keep the books, and so on, and before long, I began to get really interested in it, and my work, I felt, was to help him do what he wanted. And it has made -- as Ty spoke, this all came in the last half of our lives, and it was completely different than the first half, and it's been a wonderful life, and the fact that we have been able to help in golf, help the ladies, and it's been a great experience, and -- well, as I said, I'm short of words, but I am very appreciative of the honor bestowed upon me.

BOB CANTIN: Thank you very much, Louise. Thank you all for attending our press conference today. They're obviously available after this. The European team, some of the players are due in here any minute. So this concludes our press conference today. Thank you very much for attending.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.