First published on progolfnow.com
Kathy Bissell has more than 35 years experience as a golf writer and television producer.
Photos: Courtesy BigShots Golf
Did The Saw Unlock Morikawa's Putting Genius?
I wish I could remember which TV golf commentator said that they didn’t think Collin Morikawa would win a big tournament last fall, or even what the tournament was, possibly the Masters. But the upshot was that he didn’t think Morikawa was that good a putter and that he would need to be much better to contend in big tournaments going forward.
Looks like that announcer wasn’t the only one who thought Morikawa needed a putting assist. Morikawa thought so, and he went to an expert for some advice on “The Saw” grip. After winning the WGC Workday Championship, he explained how it all happened.
“I'm always concerned about my putting,” he admitted after his victory. “But that's because I've never felt comfortable.”
How a guy with any kind of putting problems had not heard about “The Saw” or “The Claw” or other variations of that grip until two or three weeks ago is a mystery, but according to Morikawa he hadn’t. He also didn’t know that Mark O’Meara used it.
Regardless of lack of knowledge, Morikawa decided to try The Saw it for 18 holes at TPC Summerlin. He was, by his own admission, awful.
“I made nothing. Like I made zero putts,” he explained about the experiment.
But The Saw kept him up that night. Only a golfer, right? He said he’d never thought about putting that much before, but the saw felt good. It felt right.
“It just felt so different on how I was putting that I knew I was heading down the right path,” he added.
Morikawa sought out O’Meara, who now lives near Las Vegas, and asked him for 10 minutes to discuss the somewhat unconventional putting grip. They met up at TPC Summerlin. The 10 minutes turned into an hour, and there was no instruction in the conversation, just an explanation of what O’Meara does and why he made the change.
Shortly after O’Meara made the switch, he beat his friend Tiger Woods as well as Ernie Els, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie in the Dubai tournament. That was a convincer.
Mark O’Meara, for those who don’t know, was the 1998 Masters and British Open champ. He was always known as a great putter. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach five times, and you have to have some talent to putt those greens. When he won the Masters, O’Meara was still going conventional. It wasn’t until he got to be 47 years old that he had run out of options. That’s when Hank Haney showed him The Claw, which he modified into The Saw. It was 2004. Seventeen years later, the grip lives on.
The Saw grip is a modification of The Claw grip that was promoted by Wisconsin native Skip Kendall, a PGA Tour player you probably don’t know. He shared the technique with Mark Calcavecchia and Chris DiMarco. But Kendall himself didn’t use it, at least not then.
The Claw, it seems, got passed along like a good story or great gossip. In the beginning was John Pfannerstill, a Wisconsin Judge, who is credited with inventing it in the 1970s because his putting was so bad. The Claw was shared with his golfing buddies in the Badger state, and eventually someone playing in a pro-am with Kendall was using it. Kendall remembered it when talking putting with Calcavecchia and DiMarco. They decided to give it a whirl. That’s when The Claw broke loose and became sort of, laughingly, mainstream.
However, it worked. Calcavecchia used it to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open when he was 47 years old, and in the process, he broke a 46-year-old PGA Tour scoring record by posting 28-under par. That’s when the laughter died down.
With Calc’s victory in 2001, The Claw got legs. Variations, like The Saw, sprung up over time. Pretty soon all kinds of people were trying The Claw. And now, thanks to Collin Morikawa, it’s making a second debut.
Typically, strange putting grips pop up because players develop what’s called The Yips, a word many golfers don’t even like to say. The Yips are actually caused by overuse of the small muscles golfers use for putting. Not everyone gets them. People used to think it was mental, but when the Mayo clinic looked at the problem, they decided it was not mental but actually a physical issue. It’s called a dystonia or a focal dystonia.
There are musicians that have similar problems and lose their ability to play certain instruments. Vocalists lose their ability to sign the way they did in their primes. It’s a neurological issue, not something that’s made up.
Whether Morikawa was subject to The Yips, only he and his coach know for sure. But bringing The Saw back to the spotlight made it worth remembering where it came from and why. Will it be the weapon that saves Morikawa’s career? We won’t know that unless he changes his putting grip again. For him, it was the secret to unlock his inner putting genius.
Morikawa thinks it has definitely helped him.
“Some weeks were really good and then some weeks were just awful,” he said about his pre Saw putting. “Now I feel confident I can take the stroke out of play, and I can just really focus on speed, I can focus on the line, how do I get that ball to fall in the hole where I want it.”
He knows he’s going to have some bad putting weeks, but with The Saw, he says he’s much more confident.
Let’s see, in less than two years as a pro, he won a PGA, The Barracuda and the Workday played at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village when he wasn’t confident. Now after a couple of weeks with The Saw, he’s won the WGC Workday and has confidence. If I were the rest of the PGA Tour players, I might be a little concerned!
Morikawa went on to win the British Open in 2021.
BigShots: The Next Big Thing in Golf
Enter The Big Boys: ClubCorp
BigShots Golf, a new golf experiential platform, is teeing it up to compete with Top Golf. And they have the backing of ClubCorp to get started.
There are several big differences between BigShots and Top Golf. The main one is that you can actually own a BigShots facility, whereas Top Golf facilities are all owned by Callaway.
So, if you like the idea of a Top Golf-like experience and would like to be in that kind of business, now you can. You can also add a BigShots “lounge” experience to an existing business at a golf course or restaurant or mall.
BigShots is the brainchild of software designer Jason Payne of Peoria, Illinois, who was looking for his next big thing.
“I’m a technology guy tried and true,” Payne said in an interview at the PGA Merchandise Show.
His degree is in computer science and not from Stanford or MIT so right away, he has successful underdog credentials. He graduated from Devry University in Chicago. After graduation, he worked in the Chicago area for three years but missed his family and returned to Peoria.
“I left my job and got lucky. I started a software company three months later, and five months later sold it to a public company,” Payne explained. He stayed with them for five years.
But Payne confesses to being a serial entrepreneur and so he started another company and then another, which he still owns.
“BigShots Golf, I created almost out of a personal quest to create golf entertainment kind of the way Top Golf was going about it, but more family driven and more graphically driven in software,” he said.
He likens playing BigShots to playing pinball in that you don’t have to be good to get a score. You can just be lucky. That means a six-year-old can have success just as easily as a 60-year-old.
Payne wanted the customer experience to be fast and efficient, but he also wanted it to be fun to play. The nuts and bolts of creating computer programs that focused on a smooth interaction with customers was easy for him.
At about the same time as Payne was working on perfecting Big Shots and starting to build his first facility in Peoria, ClubCorp was starting to look for experiential golf products because Top Golf got everybody’s attention.
“I joined ClubCorp in June, and since the Apollo acquisition, they had been looking at the golf entertainment category,” explained ClubCorp CEO David Pillsbury. “We actually put in place, at eight or nine of our clubs, various executions of different golf entertainment technologies.”
In addition, ClubCorp already had preliminary discussions with BigShots, but nothing was signed, sealed and agreed to.
“When we really evaluated the landscape, we determined that BigShots was the best solution out there, so we just actively started negotiating with Jason,” Pillsbury continued.
ClubCorp bought a controlling interest.
“We decided to deploy the franchise model for speed to market,” Pillsbury added. “It’s taken Top Golf 15 years to get to 50 facilities, so what this allows us to do is scale rapidly.”
In five years, they hope to have 100 facilities. Rather than going for the biggest markets, they are going to mid-market areas across the country. And instead of the product being company owned, individuals who have the funds can apply for a Big Shots franchise. It's like owning a Wendy's.
Not only that, there are two ways to own.
The outdoor version of BigShots includes a range and a clubhouse and computers and computer screens and a clubhouse/lounge area for food and beverage.
There’s also an indoor or “lounge only” version.
“We have a number of clubs where we will put BigShots lounges in indoors, and we have four or five that we think the outdoor product will work,” Pills bury added. “For example, we’re looking at Firestone CC, taking an existing range and retrofitting it and turning it into a BigShots.”
The franchise model opens BigShots up to all kinds of people across the U.S.
There is, according to Pillsbury, an initial franchise fee starting at $125,000, with the actual fee depending on the size of the franchise territory.
The cost to build a new facility from scratch –which includes a range and a clubhouse -- he estimates is $8 to $12 million. Then as a part of the full package, ClubCorp is hired to run the facility so there’s consistent and professional management.
“The franchise model engages entrepreneurs that love golf all over the country, and we can move much more quickly in expanding BigShots,” he said.
But many locations will not need to spend that $8-$12 million because the franchisee may want BigShots at an existing golf course or at a mall or some other kind of location. So long as it fits the BigShots parameters, which will be decided on by ClubCorp, the location can be in business.
“If you’re a retail location, and you want more stickiness, you want people to stay longer,” he added, “you get a lounge franchise and you put the lounge in and then you pay your royalty and franchise fee but you get the benefit of the business.”
As Pillsbury explained, for someone to build a facility from the ground up, after acquiring the land, it can be 18 to 24 months or longer to develop because of the permitting and construction process.
“The lounge will be different because the lounge will be available for franchise mid-summer,” he explained. “We might have 50 of these by the end of the year in sports bars and malls and restaurants.” And, one would think, existing golf courses.
According to Pillsbury, an investor could start with one in a retail establishment or have more than that, depending on the size of the business.
“You might want to do a whole row of bays,” he suggested.
BigShots will have selection criteria for retail franchisees as well as for the outdoor facilities.
“You have to have the financial wherewithal, and you have to be credible in your community and you have to have access to locations,” he explained.
The first facility was created in Vero Beach, Florida. It is 10-acres in size with a two-story hitting bay set-up. There are 30 climate-controlled tee boxes, two sports bars, an event space and a full-service restaurant. Spaces can be rented by the hour for private parties. And they sell individual, family and corporate memberships.