News & Opinion

10 years later, an overnight sensation

The success story of the TaylorMade Spider Tour putter should be a case study on the curriculum at Harvard Business School this fall. How did a putter, give or take a few minor modifications and a paint job, that has been around for nearly 10 years suddenly become one of the hottest products in golf?

It could be Exhibit A for why golf-equipment companies fork over millions of dollars in endorsement deals annually. Every once in a while, they hit one out of the park. And when TaylorMade ambassador Jason Day, who had used a Ghost Spider Itsy Bitsy prototype for the previous two years, suggested design tweaks and put the Spider Tour into play, he launched a sensation.   

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TaylorMade’s Spider Tour putter

TaylorMade’s Spider Tour putter

"He went to red, and it was like he turned the world upside down," said Bill Price, TaylorMade's senior director of product creation for putters, of the company's red-hot flatstick.

"It's a scramble just to keep it in stock," said Pete Line, general manager of Carl's Golfland in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "Thank goodness we pre-ordered a lot, because we can't get enough of them."

Day won the 2016 Players Championship in the second week that he used the red mallet putter en route to setting a record last season for strokes gained: putting. 

Day had TaylorMade's equipment reps radius the top line, giving it a more rounded look, and add a steel plate that extended over the top. He wanted 32 degrees of toe hang and a slightly softer insert. He also asked for the removal of the sightline, and a dark shade of red that company officials say resembles the red streak on the abdomen of the redback spider, which is indigenous to Day's native Australia. 

"It changed the look,” Price said, “but it's still the same MOI, big-tech story.”

Day's fellow tour pros took note quickly. The week after Day’s victory at the Players, Price fielded a slew of requests for "the Jason Day putter."

Day used the white version at the recent PGA Championship, tying for ninth. It’s unclear which version he will use in his next start, which is expected to be at next week’s Northern Trust Open, the first of four FedEx Cup playoff events.

Success with the Spider Tour model begat success. Dustin Johnson stuck a charcoal-black version that he borrowed from his brother and caddie, Austin, moments before teeing off at the 2016 BMW Championship in September and rolled his rock to victory. Earlier this year, Johnson won three straight tournaments wielding the Spider and supplanted Day as World No. 1. 

The Spider Tour has been the most-played model on Tour in 27 of the past 35 weeks, according to TaylorMade. Retail sales surged thanks to the success of Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm. Garcia, whose poor putting seemed to be the biggest culprit for his failure to win a major until this year, finally delivered at the Masters. The largest TV audience in golf watched Garcia stroke a distinctive red putter as he made key putts.

All of this momentum fueled consumer interest. Price said the company has exceeded its original sales forecast by tenfold, and he said the company hasn't been able to keep up with demand, leading to what had been a 2-3-month back order. 

Price recounted stories with a ring of holiday gift-season madness, such as a female customer who grabbed the last two Spiders at a PGA Tour Superstore, only to have a male customer offer to pay her an upcharge for the right to purchase one of them.

Jill Spiegel, senior vice president of merchandising for PGA Tour Superstore, confirmed the Spider's popularity and said she hasn't seen this type of pent-up demand for a putter in a long time. 

"It's quickly become the No. 1 putter in our stores," she said of the Spider Tour, which retails for $299. "The minute we would get an order in, we'd sell out."

"It's been a runaway train," said Price, though TaylorMade officials declined to provide Golf Datatech market-share figures to support this claim. "We're just catching up now, and it's the end of the season."

Just as Hollywood tries to produce a sequel of any hit movie, TaylorMade is expanding the line and adding six new versions of the Spider putter for 2018 (with some fall rollout), so consumers can choose from different hosels, toe hangs and sightlines. 

"We've opened up all the options," Price said. "We've heard loud and clear from a lot of consumers that they'd like a sightline, so we'll have that in all six models."

As the technology behind the high-MOI TaylorMade putter approaches the celebration of its 10th anniversary next year, one thing is clear: this Spider has legs.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak