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  • EQUIPMENT

    Equipment Q&A: Ping designer Marty Jertson

    Talks making cut at the PGA, why a 5-handicap wouldn’t break 120 at Bethpage, how he gained 15 yards in the offseason, and much more

  • Marty Jertson is a PGA Professional who made the cut at last week's PGA Championship. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)Marty Jertson is a PGA Professional who made the cut at last week's PGA Championship. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Marty Jertson, a PGA Professional who made the cut at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, knew more about his golf equipment than any player in the field. Why? Well, because he designed it.

Jertson designed the Ping G410 Plus driver he used in competition, and he has been designing Ping products dating back to the Ping Rapture hybrid launched in 2006. While he’s now the Vice President of Fitting and Performance at Ping, Jertson has worked at Ping as the Director of Product Development and a Senior Design Engineer in recent years. That means he’s had a large role in developing and designing Ping products for the last 14 years.

Although Jertson is well known for his equipment designs, his playing resume is also quite impressive. He’s a two-time Southwest Section PGA Player of the Year, and he’s competed in the 2011, 2012 and 2018 PGA Championships. Now, he can add a made cut at the 2019 PGA Championship to that list.

How does a guy with a full-time job designing golf equipment have enough time to sharpen his game and beat some of the best players in the world? For that answer, PGATOUR.com caught up with Jertson following his performance at Bethpage Black. Also discussed was the difficulty of Bethpage Black on the weekend, Jertson’s 3-step process to gain distance, his favorite Ping designs, the future of golf equipment, his unique putter and putting style, blades versus cavity backs, the electric New York crowds, the importance of fitting, and so much more.

Enjoy the full Q&A with Jertson below!

PGATOUR.COM: You’ve played in a number of majors now, was Bethpage the most difficult course that you’ve played?

Jertson: Yeah, I think relative to par and with the rough, it definitely was. I would say Atlanta Athletic Club I was probably a little more scared because there was more water. There were more double bogeys and triple bogeys at Atlanta, but at Bethpage there were more binary results. There’s a few holes – well, nearly every hole – where if you didn’t hit the fairway, you were guaranteed you have to wedge out and lay up. It was fatiguing. So it was intimidating from that standpoint. The premium on hitting the fairway was very much like a U.S. Open.

Can you describe how tough the conditions were on the weekend, and put those weekend rounds into perspective? Like, what would say a 5-handicap shoot out there?

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Oh man. My caddie and I were talking about that a lot… ‘What would a scratch golfer shoot? What would a 5-handicap shoot out there?’ Let me put it this way: We had a hard time finding the golf balls in the rough with an army of spotters. So if you played by the real rules of golf where you had 3 minutes to look for your golf ball and you put a 5-handicapper out there, no joke I think they would shoot – if they followed the textbook rules – they would shoot 120 or more, because they would be losing so many golf balls in the rough and you only have 3 minutes to find it. Yeah, it was brutal. The ultimate test of precision and accuracy in terms of… you had to hit it both long and straight. You couldn’t do one or the other. You had to have both. That’s why I think some of the commentators and whatnot really like that style of golf.

Is that the kind of golf you like to play? Do you think that’s what major championship golf is all about, or what would you prefer?

I think every major has it’s own identity, right? With Bethpage, you didn’t really need to curve the ball. You didn’t need to shape the ball. You needed to be able to hit the ball long and straight. But not needing to hit the ball with a lot of curve was advantageous there, the way the layout of the course was. You had to be able to hit second shots very high; it was a really good test of your long game. You had a lot of approaches from 190-230 yards. That’s actually what I’m most proud of, of myself personally, was that I worked on that power portion of my game. That was my weakness in my previous showings in PGA Championships… I do well in Arizona golf, but you need so much more power out there [at Bethpage]. You need to elevate your long irons, you need to pack a little heat off the tee, and you need to be able to get the ball in the air in the danger zone. And I hung with the big boys for a few days; I outplayed them in those areas. That’s what I’m most proud of.

Bethpage has a unique identity to it. It wasn’t about shot-shaping as much. It was about getting it in the fairway, getting it down there, being patient and taking your medicine, and being able to persevere through the rigor and the rough.

How do you go about developing a power game? What were the steps you took, whether it’s technology or fitness or a certain swing technique?

I would say I took a three-fold approach. One was my equipment. So, better optimization of my driver. I went to a slightly lighter shaft. I tried to get as much curve out of my driver trajectory as possible. It’s one of those things that not a lot of people talk about. One of the components to hit it further is to not curve the golf ball. So I’m hitting the golf ball, as many drives as I can, with zero spin axis. That helped me get more distance. Obviously the G410 driver, I’ve just been crushing that; that’s helped me get more distance. And pairing that with the right golf ball. That’s one component.

Then I’ve done some training to get stronger in my legs. I’ve worked with one of our Ping research consultants, Sasho MacKenzie, who helped me with a deadlifting protocol that I did for the entire winter to really get ready for this one tournament, and try to get in the majors this year. So I got stronger, quite a bit stronger, this offseason.

And then I’ve been working on getting more power through technique. The big things I’m trying to do there -- I’ve worked a bit on force plates, like with Swing Catalyst -- is I’m trying to get more lateral movement; movement right-to-left, from my left foot to my right foot, back to my left foot and then back. And then more jumping, or what’s called more vertical. So after my lead arm is about parallel to the ground, I try to really kick in the vertical, or the jump, so the straightening of the left leg and the flexing of the left ankle and the pulling of the left arm, and the left shoulder kind of up and back.

I worked in all those three things and tried to synchronize them, and it added up to, in this offseason, I gained about 15 yards with the driver, which just got me back to the current TOUR average distance (laughs).

15 yards and still only at the average. That shows you where distance is at on the TOUR these days. Wow.

Well that’s because the TOUR is getting longer and I’m getting older. Once you get over 35, it gets tough. I’m 38 now. The TOUR is, on average, getting younger and longer, and I’m getting older. So I had to do a bunch of things just to try and maintain.

Father time. For those who may not be familiar with your backstory, do you mind going through a brief history of not only your playing career, but how you actually started designing golf clubs?

Absolutely, yeah. I played golf at a Division II college, Colorado School of Mines, which is fun now we have a TOUR player, “Jimmy Hard K,” Jim Knous who’s on the TOUR from our school. They have a really good golf program. I got my engineering degree, and at the time, candidly I had no idea I’d end up in the golf industry. I thought I was going to work for an oil and gas company or something. But I got a little bit better towards the end of my college career and I turned pro after college. Instead of taking an engineering job, I played the mini tours for about a year. I think my analytical background helped me realize that the probably of me making it out there was not good, so I took a job at Ping part-time, and worked under a couple really good mentors. I started around 2003/2004 working under good designers, learning the trade. Then I started designing clubs; my first one was the Rapture hybrid around 2006, somewhere in there. I just loved everything about golf equipment and combining my passion for playing the game, minimizing scores and optimizing equipment. I was just very curious and I think that’s been the key. I’ve worked on all kinds of engineering solutions at Ping; CAD design, wedge design, grooves, shafts, grips, fitting technology, iPing, the turbulators, up until our latest couple of drivers. It’s been really fun.

I went through the PGA program about 8 or 9 years ago, so around 2010, I became a Class A professional and went through the education program and graduated. That really opened the door for me to give me an outlet to be able to play a little bit more competitively and I feel like I’ve leveraged it and taken advantage of the opportunities. And the last 5 years I was the chief designer at Ping, so I led the whole design group and design team and the components that we came out with. At the end of last year, I took a new role where I’m now in charge of our custom-fitting tools and technologies and education to help try to get golfers the most of their games. It’s a fun new role for me here at Ping because I get to express my passion on the technical side of things to help pass along custom fitting solutions. In today’s age, to play your best golf, you need to have great designs and great fitting, and you need to combine them together; you can’t have one or the other, you have to have them both.

What are some of the notable designs, or some of your favorite designs that you’ve had a huge part of in Ping’s history?

I try not to bring in the recency bias because it’s new, but two of my favorites are the drivers, because the drivers mean so much in scoring. They’re what people love to hit, you can measure the performance gain and people can realize them on the golf course or a launch monitor, so they’re easier to measure. The two that I worked on that I’m extremely proud of – they were fun project and rewarding – were the G30 driver – it did really well in the marketplace and were the first to have the turbulators, and had a few different models within that one family – and then the G410. I was the chief designer on the G410 Plus, SFT and now the LST that we just launched publicly. That one (the G410) was the hardest project for me, the most blood, sweat and tears. Following up the 400 was not an easy task, and we followed our motto here at Ping; we would not come out with another one unless we could beat it. Candidly, that’s why the LST took a little bit longer for us to get out to the marketplace, because we were trying to eek every ounce of ball speed and heat out of the 410 to make sure it was better than the 400.

So, the drivers were most memorable, but I’ve also worked on a few things that don’t get as much notoriety, like our ascending weight iron shaft technology (AWT), and then our iPing putter fitting app was a fun one for me, because it wasn’t a project that got handed to anyone in engineering. It was more of an entrepreneurial idea. Around here there’s these really cool accelerometers and gyros, so it was like, ‘let’s see if we can put this thing on a putter and get some data off it and make it into a fitting tool that the masses can have.’ We’re about to re-launch iPing in a new, upgraded version with more of a focus on custom fitting, called ‘iPing 2.0’ into the market in the next month or two.

For people who may think they can design a golf club, or think that it’s not that hard, what’s the biggest challenge in club design that you’ve experienced over the years that the average consumer may not know about?

I would say it’s staying focused on the problem that you’re trying to solve. I think one of the hardest things is to make sure you don’t get caught up in what most of the industry is doing and you need to stay authentic to yourself. At Ping -- and I feel like the market knows this – we do a really good job of staying authentic to ourselves. We stay very focused on what’s going to move the needle that will help the golfer score better and enjoy the experience of playing the game. Those are some of the biggest challenges: making sure you stay totally independent of what the rest of the market is doing, and staying focused on those two things.

In terms of guys thinking they can design some product, the complexity and precision that goes into both the design and manufacturing of an iron is off the charts. Some of the tolerances that we have, for example on our groove spec, are beyond aerospace tolerances. That’s something people don’t even realize. We have a groove spec where the edge radius needs to be 7 thousandths of an inch, +/- 1 one-thousandth. So we’re talking a scale that is well beyond what you can see with the naked eye. So the manufacturing precision is one of the big things, and how much research that goes into that; what you can actually make and manufacture and do it repeatedly is an area that the common scratch golfer out there, or the dabbler, would just have no way to relate to.

As a great golfer and designer yourself, are you at all worried about the future of golf equipment making great golf course obsolete?

Not really. What golf is faced with is a minority-rule issue. There’s an extremely small tier of golfers that are hitting it outrageous distances; you know, the Brooks Koepka’s and the Cameron Champ’s and the Dustin Johnson’s. And that’s all we think of and remember. But the common golfer is not faced with those problems. So that’s one of the challenges that the USGA and our industry is faced with, is how do you create reasonable rules and regulations that literally apply to 100% of the golfing population? That’s very hard to do. I think in our minds we all think of the mega-bombers, but really it’s the masses that we should be focused on in the industry, and that’s who we try to service. We need to service and optimize for both.

So no, I’m not worried about it at all. I’m actually candidly excited about a lot of the research that we have in the design and R&D world that will be coming down the road. No fear or anxiety about the future from a club or equipment standpoint. The evolution of what’s happening with golf equipment in the past will keep happening in the future. If anything, it will happen at a more accelerated rate, which will only help golfers. The masses of golfers will enjoy the game more, play better golf, and enjoy the experience of the game. That will be healthy for the entire industry.

Getting into your bag a little bit with the irons… when the Blueprint irons hit retail, they came with a warning that they’re for only highly skilled players. I think there are a lot of people out there who want to play them, but how do you instruct golfers into what zone of forgiveness they need from an iron, whether it’s forged blades or something with a little more forgiveness?

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Yeah so forged blades, our Blueprint irons, that’s why we put the warning on there. This iron was designed for Louis Oosthuizen and the most pure ball strikers in the world. These are guys that literally, with an iron, do not miss the center of the face. Candidly, I am not one of those players. I want and need a little bit of mishit protection. I need a little bit of that insurance. That’s why this past week you saw me using iBlades, which iBlades have a moment of inertia (MOI) that exceeds Eye2 irons. So in a tiny, pretty compact blade, you get even more forgiveness than you would with an old Eye2, which is pretty incredible, through the multi-material design and the geometry we put in there. So yeah, I really like that we put that warning on the Blueprint irons because it’s true, you have to be a true flusher to be able to play those irons.

This is a hard thing to do, but when you’re evaluating and hitting irons, you need to drop your ego for one second and candidly assess how much mishit protection you need. Do you need to manipulate and work the golf ball? Or are you better off just trying to hit your irons pretty straight as you work on your technique and try to score? That would be the big deciding factor between the Blueprint and the iBlade, or an i210. Those are the offerings in our portfolio for the better player out there. And then how much height you need on the golf ball, and if you need any ball speed. Then there’s the sole fitting; do you need a bit more for the turf interaction or not? That’s something that never gets talked about in irons, but we design that into our irons. The difference between the i210 and an iBlade and a Blueprint, one of the big factors that our TOUR players experience is how they go through the ground. The sole designs and how much bounce and the leading edge, and the heel-toe camber, all those irons have a different turf interaction. That’s one of the deciding factors that our TOUR players use on which one of those irons to use and fit into.

As someone who has a very intensive job, you were able to get yourself ready to beat the best players in the world. Do you have some advice for people that have a job and want to improve, but don’t feel like they have the time to put into improving their game?

Yeah, it’s all about compound interest. All the great things in life come from compound interest. My mindset going into this tournament – and I’m 38 years old and I started playing golf when I was 7 – was that I’ve been training for 31 years. That was my mindset. Small amounts of practice everyday, or every week, is cumulative. You don’t need to play a ton of golf going into a tournament to play great. You need to be in a good mindset, you need to be confident.

Then one of the big things I do, and I think the working golfer can do, is try to get a few things you can do at home. Get a little putting mat, and hit 50 putts a night. Hit 50 5-10 footers a night. There’s cheap ones you can buy, you don’t need something exotic. Just small amounts of practice often will add up to a lot. Get a little hitting net at your house and work on some mechanical things at home at night after your kids go to bed. These are the little things I do. Those small amounts of practice have added up to a lot over time. And find the right coach. Get the right equipment, obviously. I can’t overemphasize that enough. Even for me, I feel like I have an equipment advantage – except over other Ping guys – with how optimized my equipment is. So small improvements in a lot of areas will add up to a lot. Try to do things that will give you compound interest and keep making investments into those areas overtime.

Great advice. Can you talk a little about your putter and the putting style that you use?

Obviously with the anchoring ban… the first year after the ban I did not putt very well. Part of it was that I was self-conscious about people thinking I’m anchoring, so I was a little frazzled in my head. I wasn’t free and confident. And then adjusting to the technique was a little off. I fooled around a little bit with other styles, but decided to stick with the long putter. What I do in my routine now to help me be comfortable so that no one thinks I’m anchoring, is I’ll actually start -- with my practice stroke -- with my left thumb against my chest and then I’ll take it off. That gave me the relief from anyone thinking I’m anchoring. That solved that problem.

Then I trimmed my putter down a half-inch shorter, so I think my putter is at 47.5 inches. I use the Cadence Ketsch, but the model is the important part. We make the Ketsch in the Model 2.0, and it has the TR face technology. I have mine with a custom sole plate to get the weight up to about to about 490 grams. I think a pretty good head weight for a long putter is 475-500 grams depending on your tempo, the balance, and the CG placement of the putter. I’ve always loved that Ketsch. The Ketsch has been a sleeper model for us that’s been amazing on the TOUR, and it’s really good alignment when you have that long, single, uninterrupted line from the front to the back, and then the two lines that frame the ball.

I’m a type of player – and we allow for this in our fitting logic, we don’t necessarily require someone to aim perfectly; we’re OK if they aim 2 or 3 degrees off as long as they repeat it -- but I like to aim square. That’s my own personal preference. And then I use the long putter technique, just kind of float it off my chest a couple inches with my left hand. I try to keep my grip pressure really light. One of the big things with the long putter that I think is for everybody, for your amateur golfer out there, is not to be static with the putter. If you watch me up close putting, I kind of tap my putter on the ground, and then before I take it back, I’ll hover it. That’s something I think that’s not really taught in putting a lot, but I think it’s really important to do is to keep moving. You want to move to relax in putting. So either it’s tap your putter or hover it, and use that to start your putting stroke. That’s what I do with the long putter. After the anchoring ban I’ve worked on a few things with my technique and the path to get a little loop out of the stroke, and it’s been wonderful. Having the TR face helps me with my lag putting and that’s super important, too, in a major.

At Bethpage, a lot of times you’re hitting a 4-iron and you’re just trying to hit the middle of the green and two-putt from 40-60 feet. You’re not going to hit all those perfect. Having that mishit protection on the speed is extremely helpful. To help you two putt and lag putt, that’s a really important skill in the TOUR events and major championships… for a TOUR player’s skill, you have an equal probability to one-putt and three-putt from 30 feet. So one way to look at it is when I get to 30 feet or over, I actually have more of a mindset to two-putt. That’s what the statistics say, from Every Shot Counts and Mark Broadie’s work and things like that.

The Bethpage fans have been… well, they’ve been newsworthy. Did you have any interesting experiences with the New York/Bethpage fans?

Yeah, it was fun (laughs). Nothing that bothered me or impacted my play at all: before, or when I was hitting a shot. That’s why I have no angst against the fans. They were extremely positive to me. The volunteers that were working out there and the security folks were unbelievably nice. They all said, ‘Good luck.’ I loved smiling at the volunteers, and even the fans were all rooting for me very hard. That being said, the weekend got a little different atmosphere out there. It was fun. After I finished a putt, they’d be like, ‘He’s anchoring! Check the tape! Rewind the tape!’ And things like that, which didn’t bother me at all, because all those comments happened after I finished my putt. So nothing ever affected me before or while I was hitting a shot. I had no problems with it. I loved the atmosphere.

I played two groups behind Tiger Woods and Molinari and Koepka the first two rounds, and the roar and electricity that was out there was something I’ll never forget. Tiger made eagle on No. 4 the second round; it was the coolest roar going through those trees that I’ve ever heard. It was like we were in a movie. Overall, it was very electric. But yeah, there were some funny comments from the crowd but nothing that ever bothered me, or my score.

Does it make you nervous at all for the Ryder Cup there?

Maybe. Hopefully everyone will keep it clean. As long as the fans -- which my experience was the fans were on the most part extremely positive and they did not do anything in my pre-shot routine or while I was hitting the ball -- as long as there’s no funny business there, I think we’ll have a very exciting and electric Ryder Cup. That’s my expectation.