One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.
Randy Bowman lives for a challenge. I guess that’s why he has gone into the golf business.
He spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, working administration and logistics. His dream job would’ve been something like trying to get supplies delivered for Gen. George Patton’s fast-moving tank column before the Battle of the Bulge. “Yeah, I’d enjoy that,” he said when I suggested the scenario.
Bowman was about to make master sergeant in 1995 when he decided not to re-up. He moved to Denver and got into the gas and oil business, which is heavy on logistics and problem-solving.
“It was tough leaving the Marines. You don’t find that camaraderie anywhere else,” Bowman said. “In oil and gas, we’d go out in the field and build compressor stations for a 24-mile pipeline. It was as close as you could get to that military feel. My father worked for a company for 28 years – same desk, same job. That would kill me. I’d rather have a three-month deal, go 100 miles an hour at it and move on to the next job.”
So, the former Marine has found a new battlefield: the golf industry. A little more than a year ago, Bowman, 61, left his sweet oil-and-gas gig in Denver to step into the dog-eat-dog arena of golf game-improvement gadgets.
His product, SqrdUp (Squared Up, once you buy a couple of vowels from Pat and Vanna), is a laser. SqrdUp is effectively a portable chalk line. It’s light, weighing only 1.5 pounds, and it shoots green laser lines in four directions.
SqrdUp (www.SqrdUp.com) is best for putting. It shows the target line (easily seen even in bright sunshine at high noon, when I tried it) and makes it immediately evident when you hit a putt that doesn’t start out down the greenlit path. It encourages the golfer to finish the stroke by keeping the putter moving along the target line.
SqrdUp is also a helpful tool for the full swing. The laser can be used for alignment purposes and making sure a golfer sets up the same way, ball-position-wise. Or, as with putting, it can aim a line past the ball to promote on-target follow-through.
Bowman likes to joke that his wife, Jennie, doesn’t like his product because she preferred the security of his previous steady job. Now they live in Atlanta (above a garage with their family) while Bowman tries to get SqrdUp up and running. She was his No. 1 test subject, having played only a handful of golf rounds in her life.
He set up the laser so it pointed down the line of her 8-foot putt and turned her loose. After a few minutes of practice, she got serious and Bowman says she made 11 of 28 putts from 8 feet.
“I always aimed the ball right in front of me, but that wasn’t helping,” his wife told me at a demo-day outing in Biloxi, Miss. “I see the benefit. People take the putter back, but they’re not swinging it straight coming forward; they go to the left. When I looked at where the green line was going, I had to follow through.”
Now she has taken up the game that hooked her husband and visualizes the green laser line in her mind on every putt.
Bowman tested his laser on his nephew last summer, who was 5 at the time.
“He’d never had a putter in his hand in his life,” Bowman said. “After three 8-foot putts, he asked, ‘Can we move it closer?’ We did, and inside of eight minutes he made five of the last six he tried. Now he’s asking every day after school, ‘Can we go golf? Can we go golf?’ You’ve got to make it fun.”
Golf is fun, but that’s not necessarily the case in the golf game-improvement business. A majority of training devices and assorted gizmos I see at the annual PGA Merchandise Show don’t make it back the next year because their founders go bust.
It’s not necessarily the best products that succeed; it’s often the best-marketed products. Without money to spend on advertising in some form, traditional or social media, it’s an uphill battle for creators like Bowman.
Step One is having a product that people want. SqrdUp, which is rechargeable, is a product that will interest some golfers. Do I want one? Yes. Do I absolutely have to have it? Maybe.
Step Two is pricing. Golfers have proved that they’re willing to spend a finite number of dollars on training aids. The lower the number, the better the chances. $19.95 is a slam dunk; $79.95 is a tougher sell. SqrdUp goes for $199.
“I’ve watched people practice who hit a bucket of balls on the range, then hit three putts, none from the same spot, and they’re done,” Bowman said. “I used to be one of them. But now I know the putting green is where you save strokes. That’s why I believe in this so much.”
Golfers should practice putting more. They just don’t. So Bowman is sailing into the headwind there, also. He has a nice endorsement from Jim Suttie, a former PGA national teacher of the year, who said, “Research has proven that 85 percent of golf-swing learning is visual. This being the case, SqrdUp does a better job giving feedback on your alignment than any tool I have used in my 40 years of teaching.”
Bowman’s wife is convinced that his laser works. She’s not so sure about him being in the golf business and all the time and money he has spent on his product. So, he isn’t just passionate about his laser. He’s also extremely motivated.
“She’s the boss now,” he said. “Here I am, 20 years in the Marines, and she’s 5-foot-2 and scares the dog out of me.” Laughing, he added, “But she is a black belt in taekwondo.”
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle