The Stamped Act
It’s a canvas of steel, with pros asking equipment reps to turn their wedges into works of art
October 18, 2016
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM
It’s a canvas of steel, with pros asking equipment reps to turn their wedges into works of art
On most Wednesdays during the PGA TOUR season, Titleist Tour representative Aaron Dill has a packed to-do list, fulfilling all the wedge requests from players before the equipment trucks depart. On this particular day – 24 hours before the start of this summer’s Travelers Championship – Dill must deal with a few stragglers who’ve yet to provide final instructions.
“I’m on ice right now,” he says with a grin. “But when that moment comes, I'm going to go down to them and say, 'OK, did we decide on something?' From there, we'll figure out what we're going to create."
Dill handles players' day-to-day Vokey wedge needs, from loft and lie angle adjustments to specific grinds and regrips. He’s been working on TOUR full-time for nine years. Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Jimmy Walker and Justin Thomas are just a few of the high-profile names who rely on Dill's wedge expertise and insight.
But the requests Dill is patiently waiting for this morning has nothing to do with a fresh set of grooves or grinds.
This is about the stamp design on the back of the wedge head — and it's serious business for Dill.
While he doesn't consider himself a budding Picasso, Dill has become a household name over the last few years for his stamp work that goes above and beyond simply adding a player's initials to the wedge.
"I try and encourage the guys to do something out of their comfort zone," Dill says. "It's easy to just have a guy say, 'Just throw my initials on there, I don't really care.' I always tell them they should care. This is fun and we should have a good time with this."
The scoring clubs are personal, like a broken-in baseball cap or well-worn pair of jeans: You want them to fit your game and personality.
That's part of the reason why so many have gotten creative with the stamping process in recent years, taking time out of their busy schedules to sit down with Dill and other reps on TOUR, including Cobra-Puma's Ben Schomin and Callaway's Anthony Taranto, to discuss the "art" on their wedges.
The days of simple stamp jobs have been replaced by song lyrics and one-of-a-kind creations that are dreamt up and executed by a handful of creative minds thinking outside the box.
"We're playing a game we love," says Rickie Fowler. "We might as well have some fun and get crazy with the stamping on the clubs. It's a great way to show your personality and what you're like off the course."
When trying to pinpoint the provenance of the wedge stamp craze, it's best to start with Carly Rae Jepsen's song "Call Me Maybe." In 2012, Dill and Fowler were kicking around their favorite songs and movies when the idea came up to add the name of Jepsen's popular tune to Fowler's lob wedge.
The "Call Me Maybe" wedge was born and a TOUR trend commenced.
From that point on, Dill made it his personal goal to spend more time creating custom-stamped wedges. These days he admits he's constantly thinking about the next creation when he's not on the course, snapping photos of designs that strike his fancy in airports, and sketching when he's at home.
"After the 'Call Me Maybe' wedge it was like, 'OK, I know I can make a wedge, but what can I do to step it up and take it to the next level?" Dill says. "Even though I might not have a lot of time to do it outside of the normal work that I do each week, it's always running through my head."
Before Fowler's wedge took the TOUR by storm, wedge stamping had a more practical purpose. Tour representatives would stamp the exact loft or date the wedge was created on the head so player and builder knew when it was time for fresh grooves.
There was also the more common practice of adding initials, giving the wedge a custom touch that for years was found mostly on TOUR. Simply put, the stamping options a decade ago were limited to a few basic ideas.
Practicality will always have a place on TOUR, but in recent years, players have shifted away from the bland to more humorous expressions, like Andrew "Beef" Johnston's "meat wedge" that's covered with names of different cuts of meat, and the "cactus wedge" that was made for Victor Dubuisson to commemorate his incredible recovery shots from the desert during the 2014 World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play.
There's also the wedge Dill made for John Peterson when his went "missing" in the water that had "In case of a water landing this wedge is equipped with a flotation device" stamped on it.
While humor abounds, others prefer to keep the designs to themselves, with some adding the names of their children or the latitude and longitude coordinates of life-changing moments (weddings, births, etc.) to the head.
When Jesper Parnevik wiped out on a Segway last fall, Cobra-Puma Tour representative Ben Schomin knew exactly what was going on the Swede's next wedge: Segway Assassin.
"He was smiling -- but not smiling when I gave it to him," Schomin says with a chuckle.
Working with Parnevik, Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau has allowed Schomin to push the creativity limits.
Granted free reign to stamp whatever he wants, Schomin has churned out wedges for Fowler with the outline of the state of Oklahoma — a show of support for his alma mater Oklahoma State University — handlebar mustaches, and a Heinz ketchup bottle with "57" stamped in the middle to represent actual wedge loft.
For DeChambeau, he's played to his love of science with wedges that include the equation for work.
"You want these guys to get a laugh out of it, so I always try and bring my A-game," says Schomin. "This is a job for them but I feel like it's my job to bring some fun to the wedges. It's really the only club in the bag that you can customize."
Schomin and Dill aren't sure of the exact numbers, but they both know a large number of players they work with on TOUR have some sort of stamping on their wedges. Now more than ever before, players are embracing the chance to reveal a lighter side or personal design.
"I'm just amazed how it's taken off," Schomin says. "I'm not the only out here stamping wedges at this point, which is fun. I really enjoy seeing how creative everyone gets with the process."
What does it take to whip up a custom creation? If you ask Ben Schomin, there's more to it than conjuring up a witty stamp design. The real work begins with the wedge head that, depending on the player and his short game preferences, can require significant work on the grinding wheel that can last upwards of an hour.
"Everyone thinks the process is easy," Schomin says. "It takes a lot of time and practice to get to the point where you're confident in knowing that you just spent 45 minutes or an hour grinding a wedge and getting it exactly perfect, and if you mess up one of those stamps, it's not going to look good. It's a lot of trial and error, messing it up and getting mad. It can definitely be tedious."
The tool of choice for a majority of TOUR representatives is a three-pound mallet and a myriad of metal stamps that vary in size, with some as small as one-sixteenth of an inch.
For something as simple as lyrics to a song or the name of a child, the project can take as little as 10 minutes to execute, even when a paint fill color is added to make the stamp stand out.
"The one thing I stress when you stamp is that you make a confident strike," Schomin says. "Unless you want to have the letters look out of focus like you're seeing double, the key is to give it your best strike and hope you hit your target. It's a lot like hitting a golf ball, in some regards."
There are times when additional effort is needed to make a masterpiece — like the replica of the 17th hole island green at TPC Sawgrass that Dill made for Robert Streb on the eve of last year's THE PLAYERS Championship that came complete with a tee box, flag, greenside bunker and walkway going to the green stamped on the head.
"It was one of those designs where I was showing it to guys during the week because I couldn't believe how good it looked," Streb says. "I've seen Aaron make some pretty cool wedges over the years but that exceeded any expectations I had."
To make the design a reality, Dill mapped out the hole on the back of the wedge with a marker to ensure he had a place for every detail. It's a practice he's puts in place for larger projects, including the "cactus wedge” he created for Dubuisson that required him to outline the giant cactus in advance of using a metal pin stamp that left small, circular indentions in the back of the head.
"It can sometimes take an hour or longer for the bigger projects, but it's worth it to see the player's reaction when I hand it to them," Dill says.
Of course, using a mallet and metal stamps isn't the only one way to create a wedge.
For Callaway Pro Tour builder Anthony Taranto, he has additional pressure that comes from taking a box full of wedge heads that were hand-ground by master wedge craftsman Roger Cleveland and turning them into something special.
Taranto, who works out of Callaway Golf's headquarters in Carlsbad, California, will sometimes use a sand blaster and a sticker or outline to add a logo or design to a wedge. Once the sticker is in place, the sand blaster roughens up one part of the metal, and whatever is underneath remains smooth, giving it an ultra-clean look that pops against the wedge finish.
Using the sand-blasting technique, Taranto has created kangaroo wedges for Australian Marc Leishman and bullseye scoring clubs for Wesley Bryan.
"Anthony's work looks so good," Bryan says. "Some of them look like they were done by a machine, but I know he's in there doing everything himself. For me, there's nothing better than having some custom wedges with my name on them or something different that looks good on the course."
Having the best-looking wedges on TOUR won't win you a major championship or get you to No. 1 in the world. Players understand that. But there's nothing that says a certain stamp can't offer a boost when confidence is waning.
For the longest time, dating back to his junior golf days, Justin Thomas had at least one wedge in his bag with "Radar" etched on the head, a nickname that was given to him for his ability to find the target with regularity.
Wanting to mix it up, Thomas temporarily put "Radar” on the sidelines last season when he debuted a fresh set of wedges that had lyrics from some of his favorite rappers, including Drake and Lil Wayne.
The change in wedge stamps just happened to coincide with a decline in his short game that sent Thomas back to "Radar" in a hurry. It was an easy decision for Thomas, who freely admits he's superstitious, especially when it comes to what's stamped on his wedges.
"I told them I wanted 'Radar' back on there because that one seemed to work for me," Thomas recalls.
Kevin Na embraces the luck theme with his wedges as well, to the point that when he wanted a wedge made recently, he asked for his last name to be stamped seven times all over the head.
Dill did him one better, stamping his last name seven times — in the shape of the number seven.
"I'll admit that I'm superstitious about some stuff," Na says. "I love that Aaron embraces that and has fun with it. It's such a cool wedge and I feel like when I stand over a shot, it gives me good vibes."
For every obvious superstition that exists on TOUR, there are others that fly completely under the radar, like Billy Horschel's "Zach" PXG 0311 Milled wedge that he started using earlier this year at the Masters.
Prior to finding a home in the former FedExCup champion's bag, the wedge belonged to two-time major winner Zach Johnson. Johnson gave Horschel the green light to practice with the wedge in the run-up to the Masters, and it didn't take long for Horschel to realize the grind was perfect for Augusta.
Horschel recorded his best Masters finish (T17) and the wedge hung around for another week ... and another week. Before Horschel knew it, the wedge had become a bag staple.
It got to the point that Horschel started joking around with Johnson that he wanted other items stamped with "Zach" on it, due to the success he was having with the wedge.
"[PXG Tour representatives] asked me what I wanted on [my next wedge]," Horschel says. "I said, 'I don't want my name on it because it may not work.' And I don't think Zach really likes having his name on it"
After receiving enough push back, Horschel eventually went with an alternative option: Question marks.
"The wedge works just great," Horschel says. "When you have a good thing, you don't want to change. That wedge definitely worked, but this new one is really good as well. Hopefully it can be as good as the 'Zach’ wedge.'"
A slideshow of some of the most interesting stamped wedges on the PGA TOUR