Club builders on the Korn Ferry Tour keep pro golfers well-supplied

FALMOUTH — After two and a half busy days, Justin Smith finally had some time to relax. Sitting in a blue camp chair, Smith started to explain what he and his crew do for a living.

“It’s like a restaurant,” he said. “These guys take the order, bring it to me, and I cook it up.”

Smith, 40, of Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the guy behind the scenes in the equipment trailer on the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA’s top developmental level that is in Maine this week.

Justin Smith, a Korn Ferry Tour equipment technician, works on a golf club’s shaft that will later get a new head glued on during the Live and Work in Maine Open’s pro-am on Wednesday at Falmouth Country Club. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

Smith and his staff work on clubs so the tour’s professional golfers can play knowing their equipment is in tip-top shape.

Golfers on the Korn Ferry Tour seek spots on the PGA Tour.  This week, the Korn Ferry Tour is at Falmouth Country Club for the inaugural Live and Work in Maine Open. The tournament begins Thursday and runs through Sunday.

On Wednesday, the club hosted a pro-am tournament.

Smith and guys like Nathan Fritz, a 39-year old Titleist representative from Indianapolis, see themselves as pieces in the golfer’s development puzzle.

“I’m a fitting rep,” Fritz said, meaning he analyzes a golfer’s swing and performance to help the player choose the right clubs. “We have a putting rep here, a rep for shoes, a rep for balls. Our goal is to give the guys the best chance.”

If a Korn Ferry Tour player needs it, he can get it at the equipment trailer, from new clubs to new spikes for his shoes.

The trailer was parked behind the Falmouth Country Club pro shop for two and a half days this week. It was open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, as well as 7 a.m. to noon Wednesday. By the time the tournament begins Thursday morning, the trailer and all the golf company reps are gone, on to the tour’s next stop. If the trailer has a nickname, something groan-inducing like the Club Hub or simple like the Workshop, Smith wasn’t inclined to share it.

The trailer is adorned with images of golfers who graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour. Some are recent grads, including the 2017 Korn Ferry class of Sebastian Munoz and Abraham Ancer. Some are now veterans on the PGA Tour, like Brandt Snedeker (Class of 2006) and Tony Finau (Class of 2014). Getting on the trailer means you’re moving on and you’re not expected back.

It’s a mobile, air-conditioned golf club laboratory. There’s a sign on the door. “Notice. No Caddies-Players.”

Pro golfer Harry Hall of Cornwall, England, practices his swing on the driving range during a pro-am event Wednesday at Falmouth Country Club. Golfers are competing this week in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Live and Work in Maine Open. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

You tell your rep what you want, and you wait. It will come. What players want varies from course to course, tournament to tournament. With the tree line tight around the fairways at Falmouth Country Club, players want different clubs than they will in two weeks at the tour’s next stop, the TPC Colorado Championship, where the course will be more wide open.

“Here on hole No. 1, guys aren’t even hitting driver. They’re using driving irons,” Fritz said.

A popular task in the trailer is replacing wedge heads. The average tour player may go through three or four wedge heads in a season, although Smith said some will tear through six or seven. Often, players simply want to test something new during a practice round or pro-am.

“It could be as simple as, ‘I played with so-and-so and he has this (club) shaft I want to try,’” Smith said.

Smith discovered this career 16 years ago, when a buddy who worked in the business told him about an opening making clubs. In 2013, he took a job building clubs on the PGA Tour. In January 2020, Smith joined the Korn Ferry Tour. Working in golf has allowed Smith to visit 48 states, and the travel isn’t as frequent as one might think. He estimated he’s on the road 80 days a year.

Fritz played golf at the University of Texas-El Paso and gave it a shot as a professional player before realizing any career he built in golf was not going to result from playing. This is his third season working for Titleist on the Korn Ferry Tour.

“I just knew I wasn’t going to make it (as a player),” Fritz said. “I’ve been in golf my entire life, and I wanted to stay in the game.”

The dozens of players on the Korn Ferry Tour want the same thing. They want to stay in the game by playing well enough to advance in it. The crew in the equipment trailer are another resource on that journey.

“They’re very appreciative. They’re just happy to have somebody out there taking care of them,” Smith said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM







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