Every now and again we stumble upon people and companies in golf that you may not have yet heard of, but should.
And that's the basis for this introduction to Kenneth "Lump" Uselton, owner of a business based out of Nashville, Tenn., called, "Xenon Golf Company."
Xenon specializes in handcrafted putters. Like other boutique putter makers we've profiled in this space -- LaMont Mann's MannKrafted and Low Tide, among them -- Xenon's creations aren't merely putters. They're truly works of art.
"Currently I make mostly handmades," explained Uselton, a married father of three and a 17-year cancer survivor. "I do have some designs that I run blank heads at the CNC shop. I have about 10 unique designs that I would like to make available as CNC blanks and the customer can personalize them. There are many more stuck in my head too."
Those ideas stuck in Uselton's head are often brought to life in a 12'x20' portable building/shed he purchased in 2006. The small building resides in his back yard and has become affectionately known as, "The Old Puttershack."
"I set it up in my back yard to use as my workshop for refinishing old irons and building clubs," Uselton explained. "In 2007, I decided that I would start accumulating the equipment I needed to teach myself how to make putters from a block of material. I found a 40-year-old 1/3" hp Rusnok mini-milling machine in February 2008 from an inquiry on Ebay, a nice used tig welder and the accumulation started. If you walk into the 'Puttershack' today, you will see an encirclement of equipment for the entire process. In this shop I do the machine work, the welding, grinding, stamping, finishing -- everything is done by me. It's taken me almost 6 years to get to the point where I know that my work is now to the level I dreamt of when I started."
Before it became his career, Uselton started putting clubs together in 1986 at the age of 17, trying -- like many golfers -- to find something that would better suit his game.
During the early 1990s before golf really became "cool" for all ages, there was a vintage PING putter craze. Karsten Solheim, the late founder of PING, was a pioneer in putter design. Like many, Uselton wanted to get his hands on Solheim's designs.
"When the vintage Ping putter craze blew up in the early 1990s, I came obsessed with PING putters because Karsten was such a design genius and everything he did looked different," Uselton said. "While dragging around a set of old Northwestern blades growing up, I always drooled over the PING irons for sale in the pro shops around town."
What was once a hobby recently turned into an occupation that remains a passion for Uselton. You see Uselton worked in a plastic plant from 1991 until the plant closed its doors in February 2012. At that job, Uselton says he worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week every two weeks. He then spent many of his off days refinishing clubs and building sets.
He meddled for years with milled putters in the Puttershack, an art that was accelerated and skills that were honed in the mid-2000s when Uselton started to appreciate the creations of masters of the milling method -- names like Mills, Bettinardi and Cameron.
Beautiful as those works were then and are even today, it's the price point that was discouraging to Uselton.
"A normal guy like me had no desire to spend a huge amount on a milled putter," he said.
It's that "normal guy" mantra that separates Uselton from others. For less than $300 -- pretty much the starting point for most high-end putters you'll find in a golf store -- Uselton can make you a one-of-a-kind.
"The goal is to have my own functional designs, nothing radical looking but more traditional and offer them at a fair price with multiple metal choices and personalization choices," Uselton told us. "All I ask from customers is not to expect a copy of someone else's ideas. My putters start at $259 fully customized and personalized. My order forms state: 'Please do not ask for rude or offensive stampings or similar markings of other putter makers.'"
Uselton’s order form reads like an a la carte menu. The options seem endless. Customers can choose lie, length, loft, head weight, neck design and so much more. Xenon putters can be 100 percent personalized by the customer from the head design, the neck, the shaft and the grip to the stamping, the finish and the sightlines or dots. Seriously. Uselton will literally tell you, "Give it some thought and get back to me. Tell me exactly what you want."
And then, he brings your imagination – no matter how wild – to life.
Uselton's putters aren't the same, old, boring, cookie-cutter designs you find in the box stores. To the contrary, many of his shapes and designs are the kind you never even knew existed. The head shapes and neck designs are sure to be conversational pieces amongst your foursome.
Uselton also offers accessories. Things like guitar-pick shaped ball markers and guitar-shaped bag tags, almost as a nod to the city where he creates his designs – Nashville, “The Music City.”
From start to finish, Uselton estimates it’s between 4-5 weeks before the putter you dreamed up is in your hands.
“I can't believe that I have gotten to this point to be able to take a raw piece of metal, machine it, shape it, stamp it, finish it, weld it, paint it and assemble it -- all without relying on anyone else,” Uselton said. “When people entrust you to create their ‘dream’ putter, I feel an obligation to them to get it dead on.”
If you’d like to view samples of Uselton’s impressive body of work, you can click here to visit the Xenon Golf Company Facebook page. You can also give him a follow on Twitter, @xenongolf, where he posts pictures of completed projects.
And if you’re interested in getting your very own Xenon Golf Company putter, email Uselton at email@example.com. He can answer any questions you have to get the process started.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
If you want to talk about a rough day at the office, don't go complaining to Spain's Pablo Larrazabal.
During the second round of the Maybank Malaysian Open Friday, Larrazabal was going about his business on the fifth fairway at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club when he was suddenly attacked by a swarm of hornets.
Here's video of the incident:
Here's Larrazabal talking about the incident after the round:
What initially looked somewhat amusing -- he was swinging a towel to try to avoid the hornets -- quickly turned scary. Larrazabal was stung more than 20 times and, to escape the wrath of the hornets, he jumped into the nearby lake.
"They were three times the size of bees," Larrazabal told EuropeanTour.com. "They were huge and like 30 or 40 of them started to attack me big time. I didn't know what to do. My caddie told me to run so I start running like a crazy guy, but the hornets were still there, so the other players told me to jump in the lake... It was the scariest moment of my career, for sure. I've never been so scared."
After the dip in the lake, Larrazabal continued to play and -- incredibly -- made birdie on that hole. He finished the round with a 4-under 68 and is tied for 25th through 36 holes at 2 under.
"The referees and a doctor took me aside and gave me a couple of injections and told me to relax," he said. "After the injections I felt a lot better and could continue. Without the help of the referees I couldn't have finished the round, because I was in no state to play golf."
Larrazabal sent out this tweet following the round:
In my room resting after a long and tough day out there... Head still in pain but i will be 100% and ready tomorrow to go for a low one...
— Pablo Larrazabal (@plarrazabal) April 18, 2014
It'll be interesting to see how he plays on the weekend. You almost get the feeling that this tournament owes the three-time European Tour winner one.
This story reminded us of another one from last year involving then LET (Ladies European Tour) rookie Daniela Holmqvist of Sweden. While playing a pre-qualifier for the LPGA's ISPS Handa Australian Open in Yarralumla, Holmqvist was bitten on her ankle by a black widow spider... and continued to play.
Who says golfers aren't tough?
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
It's no secret that TaylorMade has gone all in on its SLDR driver, and the latest evidence of that came Thursday as the company released a white-crowned version.
The white edition of this best-selling big stick follows other white clubs in the TaylorMade stable such as the R11, R1, Rocketballz and Rocketballz Stage 2 drivers. The full-size SLDR driver debuted last summer with a charcoal-gray crown, and was followed by a 14-degree version, a smaller 430cc version and, just recently, the SLDR Mini with a 260cc head.
"The white crown with black button-back delivers a remarkable appearance at address," said Brian Bazzel, the senior director of metalwood product creation. "Many golfers fell in love with white when it came out in 2011, and now we are delivering a limited edition white SLDR with low and forward CG for more distance when you loft up."
The white version is identical to the original dark-headed edition in every way but color – meaning it also includes a 20-gram weight that slides along a track on the front of the sole to let golfers to dial in their preferred trajectory by placing the weight at any one of 21 points along the track. The SLDR allows for six millimeters of movement – that's 50 percent more than on the R1 driver – promoting a shot-dispersion range of up to 30 yards.
It also includes the low and forward Center of Gravity that promotes low spin and faster ball speeds, as well as TaylorMade's Loft-sleeve Technology, which permits the loft to be easily adjusted. Golfers can choose from 12 positions within a range of plus-or-minus 1.5 degrees of loft change.
The SLDR White driver will be available on May 2, and carry a suggested retail price of $399.
Trick shots have been getting a lot of run around these parts lately, thanks largely to the Bryan Brothers.
Apparently they're not the only ones pulling off golf tricks that make you say, "Wow!"
Here's a Vine from a guy named David Cramblitt, who expertly marries a golf and baseball.
Check it out:
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
Back in December, while playing in the PNC Father-Son Challenge, Jack Nicklaus was asked a simple question: Over the years, did he have a favorite club or set of clubs?
Without missing a beat, the world's greatest golfer and winner of 18 major championships gave the kind of answer that made you understand what made him so good.
"People ask me what my favorite club is, and I always said the shot I was playing at the time," Nicklaus said. "I always wanted it to be that way. I can't say it's exactly that way anymore. But if I had a 1-iron in my hand it was my favorite club. If I had a sand wedge in my hand it was my favorite club. You know, driver, putter, didn't make any difference. I wanted to be equally competent with all of them and not have something I didn't like. I've always tried to feel that way. I didn't have a favorite club."
Can you imagine being able to play this difficult game like that? Yeah, neither can we!
Phil Mickelson, one of the greatest player's today, has also spoken about having no fear on the course. And does he ever practice what he preaches -- remember that needle-threaded of shot he hit through the trees on the 13th hole at Augusta National on his way to winning the 2010 Masters?
"I never felt comfortable flying, so I went and got my pilot's license," Mickelson once said. "I never felt comfortable with being in an awkward situation, so I took up martial arts. I just always wanted to take on my fears head-on. That's kind of the way I approach golf. If there's a shot that I don't feel comfortable with, I'll go on the range and work on it until I do, until I turn that weakness into strength.
"Where I see a lot of mistakes being made out here is people practice their strengths, and they don't take their weaknesses and turn them into strengths," he added. "It feels better to practice things you're good at, not the things you struggle at, and I've always tried to do the opposite."
We could all become better players if we followed that logic.
This week, we pitched this question to our friends in PGA.com Facebook Nation: We all have that one club (maybe all of them for some of us) that we really struggle with. Which club scares you the most and why?
We received loads of great answers -- some of them even gave us a good laugh. If you'd like to join the discussion, click here. And as you read these answers and reflect on your own weaknesses, remember how Nicklaus and Mickelson approach the same situations you're dealing with. Will it make you as good as them? We'd love to tell you the sky's the limit, but we're all adults here so let's be honest -- that's an unlikely expectation. But it will make you a better, stronger golfer.
Here are some of your best answers:
"Right now, the 56-degree wedge. Nice and easy, my head will say. And then it hits a nice and easy 23-degree line drive, usually leaving me the same shot on the other side." -- Mike Benzie
"My 60-degree wedge. When I'm on it's a beautiful thing. But when I'm not it's blade city." -- Kevin White
"My 4-iron. I have the worst hook you would ever want to see." -- Mark Church
"It's the 6-iron. All my other irons are fine besides this one." -- Joe Ferreri
"My 2-iron. Took it and the 3-iron out of my bag and have hybrids now. Wish I did this a decade ago." -- John Davis
"The 60-degree wedge. I'm having a hard time getting used to so much loft. I seem to blade it a lot. I played only with a 51-degree for decades. I have a 56-degree in bag now. I'm much more comfortable with that. I'm not giving up on the 60 though. I've had enough quality shots with it to overlook the bad ones." -- Michael Hook
"My wedge. I had a bad case of the shanks for a round and a half and now I can't get that image out of my mind when I have my wedge in my hands." -- Ryan Cameron
"Every club in the bag. Maybe I will go back to fishing. Nah. I love golf." -- David Taylor
"Putter, putter, putter. Can't putt." -- Danny Driver
"Hybrid out of the rough. I don't bother anymore." -- Dick Purdue
"Driver and 3-wood off the tee-box. It's either a duck hook or an extreme slice. I never know what's coming." -- Phillip Allred
"Woods. All of them. Don't even carry them anymore. My game is better for it." -- Kevin O'Rourke
"Any Hybrid, tried every one, every brand. Just can't hit them!" -- Andrew Carpenter
"I'm a 6-handicap and can't hit a 6-iron. Never have and never will." -- Jason Ciolino
There you have it, folks. If you struggle with a particular club or clubs, as you can see, you're not alone. Take Mickelson's approach. Get to the range and turn that weakness into a strength.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.