Golf Buzz

Russ Ortiz
Contributed photo/Justin Silverstein
2nd Guy Golf executives Russ Ortiz, L.J. Richardson and Justin Silverstein pose with their product line.

When Russ Ortiz retired from major league baseball in 2010, he decided to follow his two passions in life: Golf and helping others. And by starting a golf apparel company called 2nd Guy Golf/2nd Girl Golf, Ortiz has the opportunity to do both at once.

His "passion" -- a word he used several times in conversation Thursday at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando -- didn't come to the forefront until his career as a pitcher began to wane. But Ortiz said he always loved playing golf, right from the time he learned as a kid growing up in Van Nuys, Calif.

"It really wasn't until I was in the major leagues that I began to really get serious about golf," Ortiz said. "So after I retired, I tried to golf as much as I could. It really became a passion of mine."

Some of that passion was fueled during his time with the Atlanta Braves -- since fellow starters John Smoltz and Greg Maddux were avid golfers.

"When I was with the Braves, John Smoltz took us to some unbelievable places," Ortiz said. "Pine Valley on multiple occasions and Aronimink, Butler National in Chicago, Whistling Straits, Galloway National in Atlantic City. In Houston, we played the Houstonian.

"It was incredible. I look at the top 100 courses in the country, and through the Braves and John Smoltz, I've hit at least 30 of those. It was definitely fun."

Related: Ten of the best Baseball Hall of Famers on the golf Course

So why does Ortiz think so many baseball players -- particularly pitchers -- are so good at the game?

"As pitchers, we have more time to play golf because we're not playing baseball every single day," he said. "That's one of the things. But it is true there is a correlation between pitching mechanics and golf swing mechanics.

"If I was having trouble locating my pitches, I always reverted back to my pitching mechanics. And it really does help. It helps me understand the mechanics of the swing better -- not only the balance, but the turn, the torque and the fluidity. I can always relate to the pitching mechanics when I had issues on the mound."

Interestingly enough, Ortiz feels his short game is his strength, although he can also drive the ball well.

"Anywhere from 120 yards in, I've gotten good at that," Ortiz said. "I need to work on my putting -- I need more one-putts.

"I've always known how important your wedges are because they give you a chance at birdie. But you have to get off the tee first. Now that I'm a better golfer -- and a wiser one -- I realize I need to work on putting more. But my wedges are my go-to."

Eventually, Ortiz became a scratch golfer through his frequent playing at Alta Mesa in Mesa and Superstition Mountain in Gold Canyon. But he still felt like something was missing -- and that's why he formed his golf apparel company.

"When I retired and decided I wanted to get my hands dirty with something after a couple of years, I wanted to make sure I did something I was passionate about, something that I could enjoy," Ortiz said. "I didn't want to start from scratch in business and work my way up, so I had the financial ability to start my own business if I wanted to.

"The idea of this came up during my playing years. I researched a bit on how to pull it off, I felt like I could do this and be great -- and it all started with my passion for golf and wanting to help others."

Related: Bubba Watson becomes part owner of baseball team

There are dozens of golf apparel companies represented at this year's PGA Merchandise Show, but Ortiz's may be unique in that 100 percent of the net proceeds goes to charity. Proceeds from the sales of men's apparel goes to Feed My Starving Children, which packs 50 million meals a year for distribution world-wide. And women's apparel sales help Josie's Angels, a rescue home in the Phillipines that serves more than 100 girls living in an impoverished community.

"If we sell a shirt online, it allows us to feed a child for two months," Ortiz added.

Ortiz said the company's No. 1 goal is making great quality products.

"We're very serious about making the best product we can," he said. "And right behind that is the giving-back aspect. We do it through golf apparel.

"That's the cool thing for me. We're a very young company but we're working on making a difference, and hoping to look back and see how many people we've impacted with our products."

Puma TitanTour golf shoes
PGA.com
How cool are Puma's TitanTour golf shoes? These are packed in ice at the Puma booth at the PGA Merchandise Show.
In recent years, golf shoe makers have seemingly have been trying as hard as they could to make shoes as lightweight as possible. Light is still right, but many of this year's footwear releases include more comfort and stability to create a more well-rounded shoe.
 
PUMA: With Rickie Fowler carrying its torch, Puma Golf has always exuded coolness as a brand. And to hammer home its point that its new TitanTour shoes are the "coolest shoes in golf," the shoes in its booth here at the PGA Show are packed in ice.   
 
The reason: The TitanTour features proactive Outlast cooling technology – which was created to help astronauts stay comfortable in their spacesuits – to regulate the temperature in the shoes and keep golfers cool throughout their rounds. 
 
To achieve this, Puma applies its Outlast coating to the shoe's insole, and the coating stores excess heat away from the foot. If the temperature inside the shoe cools off, the shoe releases the warmth. And if not, it keeps the heat away from the foot.
 
The TitanTour also features Puma's Shapelock memory foam – like that in beds – for comfort and stability, an ultra-thin "Power Frame" in the midsole for flexibility and stability, and low-profile cleats. It's available in seven color options: black/white, white/vibrant orange, white/strong blue, white/gray violet, brown/mustang, white/black, and "flash" (a reflective material). 
 
They'll be available at retail on Feb. 1, with a suggested retail price of $190.
 
FOOTJOY: One of the shoes that hits this new sweetspot of comfort and stability is the HyperFlex from FootJoy – which looks more progressive and less like a traditional FootJoy release than perhaps anything the company has ever created.
 
The HyperFlex's most distinctive feature is its FlexGrid 2.0 exoskeleton, which is made of a high-performance material that helps to control the foot during the swing. If the exoskeleton pattern looks familiar to Northeasterners, it's because it was inspired by the cable-like structure that supports the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston.
 
"Our designers have carried out research in civil engineering and construction to create the distinguishing aesthetics of HyperFlex that are also fundamental to its performance," said Doug Robinson, FootJoy's vice president of  design and development worldwide. This outer layer also incorporates a breathable membrane that's guaranteed waterproof for two years.
 
MORE FROM THE PGA SHOW: Complete coverage | PGA Show video | Photo galleries 
 
Stability comes from the bottom as well as the top of the HyperFlex. An Optimized Performance Stabilizer (O.P.S.), which you can see on the rear of the shoe, provides support and motion control to the heel during the swing, and the sole is outfitted with SoftSpikes' brand-new Tornado cleats that provide even more grip that standard SoftSpikes models.
 
The HyperFlex comes in four styles (Navy/Electric Green, White/Grey/Blue, Black and Grey/Orange) for $190, along with three styles (White/Grey/Blue, Grey/Orange and Black/Red) with the Boa Lacing System ($210). The standard model will be available Feb. 15 for $190 per air, while the Boa version will be available April 15 for $210 per pair.
 
ADIDAS: In its new adipower Boost golf shoes, adidas focuses on optimizing energy return – storing and releasing energy during the golf swing. The company is adapting this technology from its running and basketball shoes to golf for the first time.
 
In the Boost, thousands of TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) energy capsules are imbedded in the show via a high-pressure steam molding process. The integrity of the EVA foam used in many other shoes can get hard in cold weather and break down in the heat, adidas says, but its Boost material retains its cushioning and responsiveness in all weather conditions.
 
"During the swing, the energy return is noticeable – as if you can feel the technology in action," said PGA Tour player Jason Day. "They feel good, and look good, too."
 
Adidas rounded out the shoe by adding gripmore spikes of varying sizes, and placing them in strategic locations on the outsole for improved traction and stability.
 
The adipower Boost will be available Feb. 27 in four colorways, and will carry a suggested retail price of $190 per pair.
 
NIKE: The big news about Nike's new Lunar Control 3 shoe is that incorporates a lot of feedback from world No. 1 Rory McIlroy. His big suggestion – make the shoe more stable so he can swing more aggressively without having to worry about slipping.
 
The Nike designers listened. They widened the shoe's base to improve its stability and remain in contact with the ground longer through impact. They also added a lightweight carbon fiber midfoot shank to make the shoe stronger yet still flexible.
 
The Lunar Control comes in four colorways: Black/Pure Platinum, Pure Platinum/Bright Crimson, White/Pure Platinum and White/Volt. It is available now with a suggested retail price of $210 per pair. 
 
ECCO: Danish shoemaker Ecco Golf is out with its BIOM Hybrid 2, the next generation of its best-selling golf shoe. This new edition – worn by Fred Couples, Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell – is 15 percent lighter than the original model thanks to an extra-thin midsole that helps bring players closer to the ground.
 
The shoe also has a dual-density TPU outsole, which is harder in areas that need the most stability and softer in the key comfort zones around the foot.
 
Like all Ecco golf shoes, BIOM Hybrid 2 is created using a direct-injection process that bonds the upper and outsole unit to make a one-piece shoe without glue or stitching. This, the company says, gives it an exceptionally water-tight seal as well as comfort and flexibility without the need for a break-in period.
 
The shoes contain soft and breathable uppers made of yak leather and treated to resist both staining and water. The bottom is outfitted with molded bars that offer hundreds of traction angles for superb grip.
 
They're available now at a suggested retail price of $195 per pair.
 
SuperStroke + Plus Series putter grips
PGA.com
The SuperStroke + Plus Series grip allows golfers to unscrew the cap and easily screw a 50-gram core (shown) to provide a counterbalancing weight to the top of the putter shaft.
Few golf products have broken out more visibly in recent years than the oversized putter grips from SuperStroke. Jordan Spieth won multiple events with a Flatso Ultra grip on his Scotty Cameron putter last year, and an ever-growing legion of converts is discovering that the big grip can improve their performance on the green.
 
What can SuperStroke do for an encore? Well, two things. First, the company is debuting its + Plus Series grips, which let golfers add weight to the top of the putter shaft to provide counterbalancing. And second, it has begun making grips for clubs other than putters.
 
"Backweighting, when combined with a SuperStroke grip, can quickly promote a more repeatable, pendulum stroke, leading to less putts and lower scores," said SuperStroke Vice President of Marketing Greg Sabella. 
 
The new + Plus Series putter grip has what SuperStroke calls CounterCore Technology. Essentially, it's a threaded cap design that lets golfers easily unscrew the cap and screw in a 50-gram weight to provide counterbalancing. Adding weight to the top end of the shaft helps balance out the weight of the putter's head, and helps golfers make smoother, less wristy strokes.
 
The + Plus Series grips come in two diameters in the Legacy Profile (2.0, 3.0) along with a 2.0 Flatso version. Each grip is 13.75 inches long and retails for $29.99. The CounterCore weight is an additional $9.99. 
 
 
Along with the new putter grips, SuperStroke is expanding into grips for other clubs with the debut of its TX1 Tour Extreme Club Grips.
 
"We are extremely excited to bring a club grip to the consumers," said Sabella. "We've been working on this for a few years using feedback straight from the tours."
 
The new grips contain a proprietary blend of two rubber compounds. The top portion is made of a soft, tacky, cord-infused rubber that SuperStroke says provides excellent control, while the bottom portion is a softer, non-cord rubber for better feel and feedback, especially on shots around the green. 
 
And unlike the putter grips, these aren't oversized – they're much closer to the size of a standard club grip, though there is a slightly larger mid-sized model.
 
They come in five colors (Black/White, Red/White, Blue/White Grey/White, Green/White), and the mid-sized version is available in Black/White. They retail for $10.99 per grip, while the mid-size version retails for $11.49 per grip. All the new SuperStroke grips will be available online and at leading retailers this spring. 
 
Inspire Greatness
Montana Pritchard/PGA of America
Wednesday's "Inspire Greatness" panel included Suzy Whaley, Molly Solomon, Donna Orender, Lynne Doughtie and Paige Mackenzie.

In order to grow the game for females, golfers of both sexes have to break down the barriers that intimidate women and keep them from enjoying the sport to its fullest extent. That was the unanimous opinion of the "Inspiring Greatness" panel Wednesday at the PGA Merchandise Show.

PGA Secretary Suzy Whaley, Golf Channel executive producer Molly Solomon, former WNBA President Donna Orender, KPMG vice-chair Lynne Doughtie and LPGA member Paige Mackenzie discussed Wednesday what is keeping women from taking up golf, and what can be done to level the playing field so that more female executives can take advantage of the networking and business relationships formed from playing golf.

Orender said one of the reasons why women have a hard time feeling comfortable is because it's a sport created by men and remains very male-centric.

"Men were there first, and so therefore the culture around the game of golf is very male-oriented," Orender said. "No blame, no judgment. It is what it is.

"But (the sport didn't evolve) with the kind of things that women find enjoyable. We're much more about comradery than necessarily winning. Women find a barrier there."

So what happens, according to Orender, is that women feel somewhat "out of the loop" when it comes to understanding and talking about golf.

"There's the physical aspect of it -- these very dark, very male-oriented environments -- the game itself and the language of it," she said. "We don't understand it, so we feel very intimidated by it. But male pros may feel a little intimidated by taking care of women who walk into their pro shops, too. So there's all these things where people don't know how to approach each other, but when they do, it's fantastic."

Tremendous progress has been made, Whaley said, but there's still more ground to be made up.

"Certainly when it comes to welcoming women into the game and speaking a different language," Whaley said. "I think we're more aware of the things we're saying that perhaps might turn them off or intimidate them."

When women overcome that initial reluctance, they usually learn to love it, Mackenzie said. Golf is challenging on so many levels, which makes it so addictive.

"There's nothing about golf that can ever be perfected and I think that's probably way it's filled with perfectionists," Mackenzie said. "You can't bowl a 300 in golf.

"When you introduce the game to somebody, there needs to be an emphasis on the process, and that there are stepping stones. And celebrate each of those stepping stones, and not try to be the very best the first time out. Enjoy the process and the game of golf."

Whaley agreed.

"You may be really comfortable at a level where you are and that's OK," she said. "It's OK to stay there. But it's also OK to want to get better."

If there's one thing Mackenzie would like to see is more business women involved in golf. The PGA of America's partnership deal with KPMG, kicking off with the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Westchester Country Club in June, is a key first step in the process.

"I play in pro-ams every single week and I can count on one hand the number of women executives I play with," Mackenzie said. "The most elite companies, their CEOs, the top clients are there -- and it's such a great opportunity to network and build relationships in business. And it's something I think there's a ton of room for growth on the women's side. So I'm really happy we're bringing business to golf as well."

 

Jordan Spieth
Chris Trotman/The PGA of America
Jordan Spieth says he usually needs to hit a club 2,000 or 3,000 times before he really trusts it.
The beginning of the new calendar year means that many PGA Tour players have switched to new clubs. Among those is fast-rising American star Jordan Spieth.
 
Updating his bag for 2015 proved to be a multi-month process, he revealed on Wednesday at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida, where he helped to introduce Titleist's new line of clubs and balls.
 
Speith switched to the 915F 3-wood and 915H.d hybrid last August, a few weeks after Titleist introduced them to their staff players. However, he held off on moving to a new driver and a new ball until near the end of the year – after the PGA Tour playoffs and the Ryder Cup (he upgraded his irons to the 2014 edition of the Titleist AP2 a year ago).
 
"I'm very picky with my driver and my putter," he explained. "They have to look and feel right, so that when I'm in a big tournament and everything is on the line, all I have to do is hit the shot.
 
"It is rare for me to trust anything right away," he added. "I usually need to hit 2,000 or 3,000 balls" to get comfortable with a new club.
 
For his driver switch – to the new 915D2 – Spieth and swing coach Cameron McCormick traveled out to the Titleist Performance Institute in Oceanside, California. On the range there, Spieth focused on remaining very "feel-based" in his swing, he explained, while McCormick focused on the numbers generated by a TrackMan swing analyzer so that together they could hone in on his preferred ball-flight characteristics.
 
 
While he was changing out his driver, he moved to the 2015 edition of the Titleist ProV1x ball at the same time. The biggest change wasn't stepping up to the brand-new generation of his previous driver or balls, he said, but to a new shaft.
 
"I had played the same shafts for six or seven years," he revealed. "Finally, now, I have switched to an Aldila Rogue [Black 60], which a lot of the tour players are going to."
 
Spieth also spent time at Oceanside updating his wedges, moving to the new SM5 wedges from Titleist's Vokey Designs. He spent an hour and a half, he said, testing them and "getting the grinds and the spin down" like he wanted. 
 
Updating his putter was the easiest task of all – because he's sticking with the Scotty Cameron 009 model he has used for seven years. "The 009 was my favorite putter" as a young junior golfer, he said, even though he didn't actually have one at that time.
 
"Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy, two of my favorite golfers, used it, and that got me," he said. "I've been using it since I was 15, and I won't be changing anytime soon. 
 
"I realize technology changes," he noted, "but it feels right for me."
 
Clearly, all of his new equipment feels right. After making his change, he won the Australian Open by six shots at the end of November, then returned to the United States and immediately captured the Hero World Challenge with a record-setting, wire-to-wire performance. He begins his 2015 campaign next week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
 
Here's Spieth's bag:
Driver: Titleist 915D2 (9.5 degrees of loft, Aldila Rogue Black 60 X shaft)
3-Wood: Titleist 915F (15 degrees, Graphite Design Tour AD DI-7 X shaft)
Hybrid: Titleist 915H.d (20.5 degrees, Graphite Design Tour AD DI-95 X shaft)
3-Iron: Titleist 712U (True Temper Project X 6.0 shaft)
4-9 Irons: Titleist AP2 714 (True Temper Project X 6.0 shaft)
46-Degree Wedge: Titleist Vokey Design SM5 (True Temper Project X 6.0 shaft)
52-Degree Wedge: Titleist Vokey Design SM5 (True Temper Project X 6.0 shaft)
56-Degree Wedge: Titleist Vokey Design SM5 (True Temper Project X 6.0 shaft)
60-Degree Wedge: Titleist Vokey Design SM5 (True Temper Project X 6.0 shaft)
Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron 009
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
 
Kevin Harvick
Chris Trotman/PGA of America
NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick poses for a photo with a fan Tuesday at the PGA Merchandise Show.

It doesn't seem like turning laps at Daytona and Talladega at close to 200 mph would have much in common with a leisurely round of golf. But based on the number of people in the NASCAR garage area who play golf on a routine basis, that contradiction is more commonplace than expected.

Count 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick among the golf devotees, although with the birth of his son Keelan, he hasn't had the time to get in 18 holes as often as he'd like.

Harvick started playing golf in earnest eight years ago and became a member at Greensboro's Sedgefield Country Club in 2009, where he also hosts an annual pro-am charity tournament. He also frequents Kiawah Island during his all-too-short offseasons.

"I just started playing golf on a regular basis, just as a relief valve," Harvick said Tuesday at the PGA Merchandise Show. "For me, it's the exact opposite of what I do on the weekends. I needed to get my mind off of racing 24-7 and figured I'd learn to try to be at least somewhat acceptable on the golf course.

"I'm not sure I've accomplished that yet, but I love to play golf. My son has cut into my golf time, more than anything. But hopefully I can back into a routine. They have some great junior programs and he loves hitting the golf ball. That'll give he and I an excuse to go to the golf course and Mom not get mad."

Photos: Day 1 from the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show

Why golf? For Harvick, it's an escape from the hustle-and-bustle of a normal Sprint Cup race weekend.

"For me, the four hours of going out on the course and having that quiet peace of mind that you normally wouldn't give yourself," Harvick said. "But you still have that same competition with yourself to try to get better as you play each round. But the more I play, the worse I get."

Harvick said he probably only played 10-12 rounds last year, due to circumstances that were somewhat out of his control. One, he switched jobs. Two, he and wife DeLana moved. And three, racing for -- and then winning -- the Sprint Cup championship required more of his time than usual.

But his clubs are on the hauler every week, and if he gets the time, he definitely tries to get a round in. Usually, that's somewhere like Pocono -- and with other guys on his team.

"I like to play when we're up there, because when they're in season, they're unique and the mountain courses are fun to play," Harvick said. "When it's warm enough to play and it's not hectic in the garage, there'll be a group of guys who will go out and play pretty much every week."

Harvick said he's never had time to post a handicap, but he normally shoots "in the low-to-mid 90s" and putting is usually the best part of his game. He's the not the only NASCAR champion to list golf as a passion -- Dale Jarrett played on his high school team and was offered a scholarship to South Carolina. And there are a number of single-digit handicappers in the garage area.

But Harvick said there was a time when he really concentrated on the game.

"For me, before my son was born, there was an addiction of trying to get continuously get better," Harvick said. "For me, the hard part is getting the time to be as good as you want to be at it."

More: Bubba Watson kicks off PGA Merchandise Show

So what's the real story behind the 2009 video in which Harvick falls for the tried-and-true "exploding golf ball" routine from then-teammate Clint Bowyer, which wound up on YouTube?

"We were in Sonoma and usually play out there every year, because there's a lot of downtime," Harvick said. "We had a small wager of something like $100 a hole and I think I had beaten him 11 out of the first 12 holes. And for some reason, there was a diversion created to take my attention away from what we were doing."

Watch it for yourself here: