Launch of a legend
Fifteen years ago in Las Vegas, TOUR pros first put the Pro V1 in play -- and golf hasn't been the same
October 20, 2015
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM Equipment Insider
LAS VEGAS — Professional golfers will tell you there's no such thing as a magic pill when it comes to equipment. No club will hit every fairway. No ball will go into the hole on command.
However, when you're struggling to retain your PGA TOUR card, the addition of a new piece of equipment can completely improve the outlook of a season – or a career.
Just ask Billy Andrade.
Fifteen years ago, Andrade arrived in Las Vegas for the then-Invensys Classic (now the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open) with just $187,027 in winnings. That left him 159th on the season-long money list, well off the pace needed to keep his playing privileges for the next season.
During one of the practice rounds that week, Andrade was approached by Fred Couples, who asked how his year was going.
"I told him I was playing so bad that I had already mailed in my check for [PGA TOUR Qualifying School],” Andrade recalled in a recent interview with PGATOUR.COM. “It had gotten to the point that I was already looking ahead. I had no idea my luck would change in one week."
In the days leading up to the first round, Andrade had the opportunity to test a new golf ball in a nondescript white box. The ball, known as the "Pro V1," was unlike anything Titleist had ever introduced in the past — a solid core (taken from the distance balls), surrounded by a surlyn casing (taken from the performance balls), with a 392-dimple icosahedral design urethane cover that gave the ball a veneer look and provided more spin.
It didn't take Andrade long to notice a significant uptick in distance off the tee with the Pro V1, close to 20 yards when compared to Titleist’s Tour Prestige ball, which he had been playing for most of the 2000 season.
At first, he wondered it the Las Vegas altitude – approximately 2,000 feet above sea level – might have something to do with his added length. But he quickly realized it wasn’t the thin air, but the new ball.
"I didn't consider myself in the same distance category as Davis Love III or Ernie Els,” Andrade said. “So for me to get some extra distance and not lose anything around the green made it a great fit.
"It was like nothing I had ever played before. Going from the Tour Balata to Tour Prestige allowed me to gain distance, but it was still a softer ball so you didn't gain a lot of distance. But going from Prestige to Pro V1, it was like, oh my gosh, this is unbelievable."
Andrade wasn't the only player in the field who saw immediate improvements the first week Pro V1 was made available on TOUR after it was added to the USGA Conforming Golf Ball list in the fall of 2000. A total of 47 players – more than half of the Titleist players in the field -- switched to Pro V1 in Las Vegas, making it the largest pluralistic shift of equipment at one event in golf history.
"I could tell you we were all visionaries and knew we were going to have 47 players put the ball in play, but the truth is we thought it would be a gradual process," said Mary Lou Bohn, Titleist's VP of communications and golf ball marketing. "We knew we had a great product because the testing leading up to the launch during the summer was great. But to have 47 players tee it up after a handful of practice rounds was really unprecedented."
Titleist had an idea that Pro V1 could be a game-changer in the months leading up to the launch.
In June of 2000, Titleist started "The 100 Man March" that saw more than 100 Titleist players on TOUR sample the new ball and offer feedback on the prototype. The company's R&D team worked the driving range and walked the fairways and greens during practice rounds, gathering input on the new ball.
"It was unlike any product launch we ever had," Bohn said. "Whenever we bring a new golf ball to market, it's always well-received and the players anticipate it and are very involved in the testing process.
"This was so unique because 'The 100 Man March' leading up to the launch in Las Vegas was unlike anything we had ever done before. Not only that, every player we talked to wanted to know how soon they could play the ball and when it would be on the conforming ball list. They just couldn't wait to play it."
Bill Morgan, Titleist’s senior vice president for golf ball research and development, said the company knew it had made an improvement but “didn’t have a clue what we really had at the time.”
The feedback Titleist officials received during the prototype testing process was reinforced in Las Vegas as players started walking off the course following practice rounds.
"I remember players coming off the course raving about the ball and even going up to other players on the range and course," Bohn said. "It became this buzz that started with the players and eventually trickled down to the media. We were getting so many requests to shed light on the product that we had to send our leadership team to Las Vegas for the launch."
Andrade added to the buzz surrounding Pro V1 when he opened with a pair of 67s, followed by a 63 and 67 over the next two days — the tournament was played on three courses over five days — to earn a spot in the last pairing during the final round.
"You never know how a new ball is going to perform until you're under the gun," Andrade said. "I knew how it performed on the range and during practice rounds, but it wasn't until I opened with 67 and then shot 63 a few rounds later that I started to realize the ball was working. The fact that it performed on three difference courses that week proved to me that it could handle a bunch of difference conditions."
HOW THE PRO V1 GOT ITS NAME
As the deadline approached in 2000 for getting its new ball on the USGA's Conforming List, Titleist officials spent many hours brainstorming an appropriate and catchy name. But there was no consensus. So Titleist defaulted to the temporary lab name that senior vice president Bill Morgan had given the ball -- Pro V1.
The "Pro" stood for Professional. The "V" stood for Veneer Project, which was how the research and development team referenced it. The "1" was because it was the first model.
Titleist had every intention to change the name to something more permanent.
"We gave it to the pros and told them it was just a lab name and that we were going to change it," Morgan said. "But they said they liked it, so we kept it for that year. We discussed changing it again, but by that point, players loved Pro V1."
Andrade not only had to execute countless shots on three different courses, he also had to fend off a certain swashbuckling left-hander during the final round. After making the turn in even par, Andrade reeled off three birdies in four holes to get within one shot of the lead.
That's when he noticed the name "Phil Mickelson" right below his on the leaderboard. Until that moment, Andrade had no idea Mickelson was even in the field that week.
“I never saw him that week,” Andrade said, “but I guess that's what happens when you play three courses in five days."
With Mickelson adding some additional pressure down the stretch, Andrade never wavered — even when he knocked his tee shot on the 18th into a desert canyon. Andrade managed to hit his approach shot on the green and two-putt for the win with Mickelson watching on from the scorer's tent.
"I still remember seeing [Mickelson] up in the tent behind the 18th green and it was like impending danger hanging over the edge looking down on me, wondering if I was going to blow it,” Andrade said. “I had about a five-footer for the win and there was no way in hell I was going to miss, because I felt like it was my time."
Andrade wasn’t the only one who thrived with the new ball. Of the top 11 finishers that week, six played with the Pro V1 – Andrade, Mickelson (2), Jonathan Kaye (T3), Chris DiMarco (T5), Tom Byrum (T9) and Joe Durant (T9). Kaye shot a closing-round 62, low round of the week. The top two players in driving distance that week also played the Pro V1.
Morgan aptly called it the “eureka” moment. Riding the wave of publicity, Titleist quickly moved up its Pro V1 market launch schedule from March 2001 to December 2000.
Less than a month after Andrade's win, Mickelson used the Pro V1 to claim the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. Afterward, he essentially warned players that they were "at a distinct disadvantage" if they weren't using the ball. (To be fair, Mickelson would eventually switch to Callaway, his ball of choice for his last four major wins after winning the 2004 Masters with a Pro V1).
Four months after Andrade's win, at the then-Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, Durant posted a five-round total of 36 under, the lowest score (relative to par) that has ever been posted on the PGA TOUR. In his next start two weeks later at Doral, Durant won again.
With the new Pro V1, Durant had added 13 yards off the tee and was reaching par-5 holes in two that he had previously never been able to reach. “For me, it has made a big difference,” Durant said back then.
In the first Masters after the launch of the Pro V1, 42 of the 45 Titleist players in the field used the new ball.
On the Champions Tour, Tom Kite was hitting it farther than he ever did on the PGA TOUR.
On the LPGA Tour, Juli Inkster was one of the early converts, putting the ball in her bag in 2001. “I can’t get a grasp on how far I am hitting it,” she said.
That was how most of the 47 players in the field that October week in Las Vegas felt 15 years ago.
Since then? The Pro V1 and Pro V1x have become the best-selling golf balls in the world, with two out of every three players across all professional tours putting it into play. The Pro V1 franchise has been the winning ball for 406 PGA TOUR events and the ball of choice 56,811 times for players teeing it up each week on TOUR.
Since 2001, 28 majors have been won using a Pro V1 or Pro V1x, including the two by Jordan Spieth and The Open Championship by Zach Johnson in 2015.
And according to data released by Titleist, the Pro V1 has been the best-selling golf ball for 175 consecutive months based on Golf Datatech research.
"Did we expect Pro V1 to be this successful? You always hope," Morgan said. "Anytime you're working on a product, you always hope this is going to be the product that replaces all the ones before it.
"For whatever reason, the particular design we came up with really resonated with TOUR players. It was finally the one that did move the needle, so to speak.”
With the win, Andrade instantly became a golf trivia answer as the first player to ever win a TOUR event with a Pro V1. Almost 15 years to the day after his victory, he still has an original Pro V1 from that week in Vegas sitting in a case in his home.
The thought of being the first to win a TOUR event with a particular piece of equipment is something many players might forget more than a decade later. But when it happens to be the most successful ball in golf history … well, Andrade said it's something he'll always remember.
"To be honest, I'm honored to have been the first to win with Pro V1," Andrade said. "I had no idea at the time when I put it in play that I'd win that first week. Golf is a funny game like that. I still believe I had to hit the shots that week to win, but there's no question that ball played a big part in the victory."