Currently in his 24th year working for Titleist, the 50-year-old Bostonian started out as a ‘Golf Club Tester’ and now works as the ‘Tour Consultant for Golf Ball Performance’.
Jealous yet? Just wait. You haven’t heard the half of it.
“There’s no greater satisfaction than seeing our players being successful” – Fordie Pitts
Pitts, whose father (also called Fordie) was one of Massachusetts’ best-known and best-loved amateur golfers, spends between 25 and 30 weeks per year on the road, covering the PGA, Web.com and Champions Tours, where he makes sure Titleist’s tour staff are playing the ball that, in his words, ‘they are comfortable with and the ones they can hit all the shots they want to hit’.
It’s a job he has been doing for the last decade – and one he absolutely loves.
“For me, there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing our players being successful with our products,” Pitts told bunkered.co.uk on the range in Abu Dhabi. “Tuesday and Wednesday, I’m hard at work.
“Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I’m leaderboard-tracking to see how the guys are doing. Just like them, I just try to get a little better at what I do every day.”
Pitts’ job sees him work as an effective liaison between Titleist’s product development teams and the company’s tour staff. It all harks back to the brand’s famous ‘Pyramid of Influence’, a barometer of validation which begins with tour pros and filters down through various levels – PGA professionals and leading national amateurs, for example – to the game’s grassroots.
Producing products that can be appreciated and enjoyed by every golfer is no mean feat but it’s a controlled and systematic process, which, more often than not, begins with Pitts and his team.
“When our product development teams produce a prototype, they give it to me and another guy – there are two of us who do this job – and we take it to the players to give it a hit and give us their feedback,” he explained.
“Sometimes, we know what a product is. Other times, we don’t. That’s what we call a ‘double blind’ test – the player doesn’t know what they’re using and neither do we.
“As an example, very early on in the development of a new ball, the product team might give us a ball that is completely blank. It will have no markings on it whatsoever.
“The product team might give us a ball that is completely blank” – Fordie Pitts
“They’ll give it to us, we’ll take it to the players and simply say, ‘Okay, tell us what you think. How does it feel? How does it fly? What are your thoughts?’
“It can be quite an effective test as there is no bias, no expectations, no preconceived notion as to how they should perform. In the case of the Pro V1 or Pro V1x, guys can sometimes work out which is which by the dimple pattern but, more often than not, they can’t.”
For the process to be effective, it’s vital that the players have total trust in Pitts, something that he says he has earned over time.
“I know what they want and what they like, as well as the shots they typically hit,” he said. “So, when we’re developing something, I always have in my head things like ‘How is Adam Scott or Henrik Stenson (above) going to like this golf ball?’
“Considerations like that are really important. That’s why, in Adam’s case, when we came out with these new balls, he was able to have complete trust that we were giving him a product that we felt could benefit him more than his existing ball.
“I won’t give them something that I don’t believe will benefit them” – Fordie Pitts
“He could say, ‘Okay, Fordie knows this will be good for me – I’ll give it a go.’
“These guys are treading such a fine line all the time that the slightest little thing could give their confidence a serious knock, so it’s important that I can give them that reassurance. I won’t give them something that I don’t believe will benefit them.”
According to Pitts, former Masters champion Scott (above) is ‘very particular’. “He knows what he likes,” he added.
“Historically, he has liked soft feel. He’s high speed but not necessarily high spin, so he’ll tend to gravitate towards something that has a little more spin, even though, in the case of the new balls, the Pro V1 he is playing spins a little less than the Pro V1x.
“Adam’s a Pro V1 guy through and through” – Fordie Pitts
“Coming from the ball he had been playing previously, it’s flying higher with a little more spin. We could give him even more if he wanted but we’re going to stay where we are right now.
“He experimented with the ‘X’ for a few months – he was chasing distance, believe it or not – and he played okay with it but, when all’s said and done, Adam’s a Pro V1 guy through and through.”
Whilst Scott is a ‘Pro V1 guy’, two-time major champion Jordan Spieth (above) is a long time advocate of the Pro V1x.
“Jordan doesn’t over-anlayse and doesn’t necessarily need to see a number to confirm what he’s seeing,” said Pitts. “He just goes out, plays and, if likes what he sees, he’ll move into it.
“He’s had immediate success when he’s changed balls, too. The 2015 ‘X’ and the 2017 ‘X’, he won the first events he played with them both.”
Of course, trying to persuade a top pro to consider changing their ball is by no means as straightforward as it might sound.
“Every one is a little different but that’s what makes it such a cool job” – Fordie Pitts
“Some of these guys, the last thing they want to do is change a piece of equipment and particularly their golf ball,” explained Pitts. “Once they get dialled in on something and they know what it does, they don’t necessarily want to change that, so it’s a process.
“Some guys will say, ‘Give it to me, I’ll play it’, whereas others are going to want to see numbers, spend a bit of time on the short game area, even take it out for a few rounds, so you could be talking weeks before they make a decision. Every one is a little different but that’s what makes it such a cool job.”
Read more about the launch of the new Titleist Pro V1 and Pro V1x balls here.
Originally published on bunkered on January 25, 2017.