I first met Sean Toulon when he was Executive VP at TaylorMade, but since leaving there in 2015 he has set up his own club business before becoming part of Callaway. Now we meet again at the 2017 PGA Merchandise show to discuss his latest venture into golf equipment.
Hi Sean. When we spoke before you were involved in all clubs, but now it is putters. Can you tell us why you decided to specialise in that?
When I retired from TaylorMade it was sort of my plan just to hang out for a little bit, but that only lasted 6 days until my kids came to me and said they thought we should start a putter company. So we started a little putter company about 18 months ago.
We actually launched Toulon Design here at the PGA Show in 2016, started shipping putters in April and by August we had entered into conversations with Callaway and it ended up with them buying our company. That brought me over here to do putters, but I am also involved in the other clubs as well, but primarily putters, and the reason for that is they are just so much fun.
There is a lot of science that goes into it. You know most people for putters think it is get the shape right, get the sound right, get the feel right, which is great, but we look at it from a more scientific approach too.
Golf balls come off the face of a putter the same way they do with a driver and you need to have certain launch conditions to maximise your performance and I think to an extent that has been under-served.
We can do the art, and we love doing the design and all of that, but I think we can bring real science to it and that is what we really focused on and it has been a gas. I am having so much fun.
So what is your design philosophy for putters?
Well, it comes from a performance standpoint. I think there are lots of people out there who do beautiful product, lots of them, but I think there is a way to make the golf ball roll better and ultimately the result of that is you make more putts.
Phil Kenyon is one of our staff professionals and has been a big help to us, so what we concentrate on is that we really look at a 20 foot putt and more specifically the first 2 feet of that putt, as the make or break for the putt.
Yes, you have to have it aligned right, you have to start it on the right line and all of that, but if the ball is not settling into a roll quickly it is basically out of control from the moment of impact to the point that it does begin to roll, and that is inefficient and we need to remove as much of that as we can.
As a result we have always been concentrating on developing ideas and technologies that would help a golf ball roll forward faster. Typically, there have been a couple of systems that have worked and the one that we have just launched for O-Works with Odyssey is a system where we use these little Microhinges on the front of the face that is backed by a soft polymer material and that creates a little bit of lift and really grips the ball to get it into a forward roll way faster.
When you see the first 2 feet on a 20 foot putt or the first foot on a 5 foot putt the roll is way better and as it is rolling faster it helps keep putts on line, control your distance, and you putt better.
Yes I have tried the O-Works and I think it works well. With Toulon Design were you doing a similar thing to the Microhinges and if so was there a meeting of minds with Odyssey?
We were going down a similar path. Odyssey is famous for inserts and the legendary soft feel that the putters have and I would say, at least on Tour, about 60% of the golfers putt with a putter that has an insert. 40% don’t and some want a little bit more feedback and a little bit crisper sound and we wanted at Toulon Design to attack all these milled putters.
There are a lot out there that are very beautiful, but there are very few or any with any real performance benefit, so we wanted to bring this with our face patterns so the way this works is similar in that it causes friction.
If you run your finger over it, you feel it and that is what the ball feels, and what it does is it stops the ball rolling up the face and means it comes off the centre earlier so you get more forward roll.
Against other milled putters, we wanted our milled putter to sound a little softer and feel a little quieter, so it works like pattern on a car tyre by taking the sound and dissipates it through the channels and if you hear less, it feels softer.
So it has a little bit softer sound, it feels softer and it has a little bit better roll. So we attacked the market in a little bit of a different way – all milled, no inserts, using the best materials where the cost is really no object, and these putters will start from $400.
Odyssey does really well with about 65% market share world wide with putters that sell for $300 or less. Above $300 Odyssey has had less success, which is where the Toulon putters will sit to attack the premium side of the market, all milled, beautiful and of the best quality.
This is just not a segment of the market that Odyssey has done that well with and we are going to take our time, we have got to build our brand and we have got to get the putters in play on tour.
We think there is about $150 million worth of business done above a $300, which is about half of the market, not in units but in value, so we are aiming to be a major player in that. I think that after this first year we will be number 2. Scotty Cameron does a really nice job with Titleist and he is going to be number 1, but we are going to do our best to compete as strongly as we can. The putters are available in the USA now and will probably be in Europe in the second half of 2017.
What other areas of the Callaway company are you working with?
I also run Industrial Design which is pretty much what I did at TaylorMade where I would work with Benoit Vincent who made them work and I would make them look sexy so people would buy them!
So at Callaway it is the same thing and I am working with another Doctor, Dr Alan Hocknell who works with his team to make the technology of the club really deliver and then we try to package them in a way that get golfers excited about it.
And is that across the whole range?
Yes, drivers, metals and irons through to the wedges. Golf balls tend to be white with little dimples on it, so I don’t have much I can do with that!
More from Callaway