T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
MannKrafted Milled Putters: The ultimate in golf customization
Arguably the most special -- and certainly the most personal -- piece of equipment in every golfer's bag is the putter. It's the club you use to strike most of your shots (whether you're a hacker, or a professional) and -- at times – it can truly be a love-hate relationship.
The fact is you want your putter to be the club you're most comfortable with. Does it look right at address? Does it feel solid when it makes contact with the ball? Is it the right length? Is the grip standard, oversized, or something in between?
There are so any factors that go into a great putter.
And if you're looking for that "extra special" touch, we've found just the thing for you. Meet LaMont Mann, the founder of the putter-making boutique, MannKrafted Custom Milled Putters, which specializes in handmade, one-of-a-kind putters.
Mann, who makes his home in Arizona, estimates that he's been involved in the game of golf for most of his walking life. By the age of 10, Mann scored a summer job picking up range balls and was more excited about the free golf and free range balls that came with the employment than he was the actual money.
Even at that tender age, he was drawn to putters.
"My dad rolled an old Offset Bulls-eye and I wanted to be just like him," Mann said. "I played a similar putter for quite a while, then changed to a heel-shafted blade that stayed in the bag for at least 14 years. When that blade went cold, I went on a hunt for years that probably included over 300 different putters. I was a bit of a prima-donna when it came to the condition of my clubs, so when I would find one I liked, but it was in rough shape, I would take the time to bring it back to 'pretty,' game it for a while and move on."
Over the course of those many trial runs that started around 1997, Mann was learning from each putter -- the effects that different materials and shapes had on what he was able to do with the club; the look and feel that he liked in his own hands. Ideas were sticking in his mind. Mann wanted to show them off but wasn't sure where things would go. So, he put some pictures of his work on the Internet and suddenly people started contacting him wondering if Mann could bring their magic wands back to life.
And talk about a labor of love. For a while early on, Mann was refinishing putters for just shipping costs.
"I was a framing carpenter and trying to do much more," he said. "Spending 9-10 hours in the Arizona sun was not what I was looking for. The putter business grew steadily and over the next few years, I had worked on virtually every maker’s putter that you could think of. Some were basic tune-ups, others were total re-builds and no two were the same."
With his passion for putters running wild, two makers in the business were key to helping Mann create his own putter line.
"Byron Morgan has been like a long distance mentor and has given me tips, encouragement and even helped me to put a model into my line that I was unable to afford, at the time," Mann said. "He's one of the true 'good guys' in the game of golf, although you will be hard-pressed to get him to admit it. Tom Slighter also has been key in the encouragement department. Tom made my first custom putter when I was still a customer shopping around and when I was at a key point in my decision-making process, he allowed me to spend an entire day at his shop outside of Seattle and watch exactly what it was going to take to get to the next level. He showed me that what separated he and I was time in the craft and some tooling. The skill set was there, I just needed to develop it. I left his shop that day with the conviction of having my own name on a putter, within one year's time. It happened almost exactly in that time span."
In January of 2009, Mann met with the owner of a small, local machine shop called Karas Kustoms to discuss having some heads milled -- essentially, instead of fiddling with the works of other putter makers, Mann was ready to be his own full-fledged putter maker.
From there, Mann came up with a design he calls the, "Superstition," head by MannKrafted. He sold out of 25 in a month, ordered another 50 and those kept selling too.
As Karas Kustoms owner Bill Karas got to know Mann better, he allowed Mann access to more of the shops machines.
"I learned from doing and from asking questions how to mill my own heads, one at a time and in the shapes that I was seeing in my mind," Mann said. "Guys liked what they were seeing, loved the way the putters felt in their hands and I kept growing my craft. Today, there are a handful of guys that do what I do. We are the 'little guys' in a market that's dominated by Asian-made clubs that are produced by the thousands, with very little handwork applied to create any special look or feel. Being part of that small club is what drives me to be the best I can be and to create putters that are not just copies of what Karsten Solheim designed all those years ago. You can see the influence of his work in some of my putters, but my deepest goal is to craft putters that stand on their own merit and make the customer truly love the choice they have made to purchase a MannKrafted Custom Milled Putter."
When Mann puts together his custom creations from scratch, the process takes place at several different locations in Arizona -- the machine shop, a golf shop and his garage at home in Apache Junction, which was converted to a finish shop years ago.
"My wife has sacrificed her shady spot to park her car, until further notice," Mann joked. "I do most of my shipping from home, as well as some assembly and all paint fill on putters. The trio of locations makes the back seat of my car look a little odd most of the time; full of putters, shafts and boxes, but for now, it has to work. I'm the 'little guy' with a budget to match, so I do what it takes to keep moving forward."
From start to finish, Mann estimates it takes 8-20 hours total to build a new putter. The time is dependent on materials, shapes and details.
Being a boutique putter maker, Mann's business is reliant almost 100 percent on referrals. That fact isn't lost on Mann, who works relentlessly to insure that his putters live up to the hype.
"As little as 1 percent of my customers have ever held or putted with a handmade putter from my shop, yet they are willing to place their trust in me to build them a putter that will exceed their expectations and in some cases, be the most expensive golf purchase they have made to this day blows me away," he said. "When I get a phone call that thanks me for creating a putter for them that they have been seeing in their mind's eye for years, but had no one willing to do the work, that also hits my heart. The past few years have been an amazing testament to the quality of people in the game of golf, for me."
Mann is so confident in his work that he offers a money-back guarantee on every putter he sells.
"There's fine print on that guarantee, but it is nothing sneaky," said Mann -- after all, we all know it's not always the putter that's causing you to miss those 3 footers. "My goal is for every customer to have what they pictured in their mind's eye when they ordered their putter. If I miss that target, I don't want them stuck with a putter that they don't intend to use."
Prices for a handmade MannKrafted putter start at $249 and can go up significantly.
"Some of the upgrades or options that would add cost to that base price would include using 303 SS, fancy necks like a Twisted 'N' Sick or Rebar-Styled neck," Mann explained. "Reasonable amounts of stamping are included."
One of Mann's works -- his favorite to date, which he calls the "Esperanza" -- sold for $1,650 at a silent auction for a charity event.
"The benefit was the Cardons Childrens Medical Center, part of the Banner Hospital site, here in Mesa, Ariz.," Mann said. "I used one of my base CNC'd heads and crafted a neck that reminded me of a gorgeous lady's leg in the way it flowed from the head and had lines as smooth as silk. The shaping took a little extra time and when it was done, I decided to go with a clean, Raw Torch'd finish that brought out blues, purples and golds that made for an incredible look."
That putter now resides in the bag of a lead singer for a prominent current rock band, who Mann, said, "treats it like a piece of art."
So what's the end game for Mann? To be the next Karsten Solheim or Scotty Cameron?
Not at all.
"I would be misspeaking if I said that having a putter in the hands of someone when they win a major would not be part of my dream," he said. "It would be a mistake to aim low and just hit those goals. If you are going to do something, heck anything, I believe that you should strive to be the absolute best at it, or you will flounder in your own struggles and slowly fade away. I want to be the guy that the pros come to for the putter that nobody else can seem to create -- the guy that makes magic happen when they pull out their flagstick and the putts just start to drop.
"Do I want to be huge? Not really. My motivation has never been to get rich from making putters, never at all. When I asked a good friend, a few years ago, 'Who is Byron Morgan?' His answer was, 'He's a guy who lives at the beach and makes putters. Loves what he does and isn't in it to get rich.' That is what I want people to say about me someday. I'm a guy who lives in Arizona, loves his family more than they know, and can flat-out make the best putter you will find, anywhere."
If you'd like to learn more about MannKrafted, visit, www.MannKrafted.com and view a photo album of Mann's hand-milled work here.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.