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Fore Right!

Ireland's leading golf writer meets the World Clubmaker Of The Year

Posted Mar 02, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

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About 25 miles west of Dublin, I met recently with Derek Murray. This is the 35-year-old Irishman who has achieved the distinction of becoming the first non-American to be elected World Clubmaker of the Year by the 6,000-strong Golf Clubmakers Association (GCA), based in Texas.

Murray runs the customising company, ForeGolf, with his mother Christine, father Don, sister Jill and associate David Williams, a fellow swing technician from Sunderland. And he owes his success to a determination to impress the judges, having been shortlisted 12 months ago. "I told Jill that we'd beef up my entry this time with a really strong presentation," he said.  "I wanted to show the Americans that mine was a serious business, not a cottage industry in some Irish backwater."  

His list of clients is as varied as it is impressive and on my visit, I happened to see the chart of Christy O'Connor Senior's clubs, done about five years ago. Noting that the shafts were an inch longer than standard, I thought of the endless hours of practice O'Connor had done at places like the Atlantic shore of Bundoran, in quest of golfing perfection. It seemed almost immoral to be circumventing this process, as Murray was doing.

Then I suddenly realised that players of O'Connor's generation were customising golf clubs long before it had become a specialised craft. A perfect illustration of this was the experience of English professional, Doug McClelland, who happened to be in a two-ball behind O'Connor in the Irish Open at Portmarnock about 30 years ago.

While waiting on the tee, McClelland, with a professional's curiosity, looked into O'Connor's bag. Horrified, he exclaimed: "Don't hit, Christy. You've got three seven-irons in there." Which was perfectly correct.  And if the former amateur international had looked more closely, he would also have noted the way certain grips were crudely fattened up with insulating tape. In the event, O'Connor ignored the well-intentioned interruption and sent a sweetly-struck tee-shot soaring towards the centre of the fairway about 260 yards distant.

The point was that despite their decidedly odd appearance, each one of those clubs was effectively customised by O'Connor to suit his needs. We are talking about the sort of feel which Lee Westwood clearly gets from the Ping clubs he uses and which prompted a struggling Bernhard Langer some years ago to stop using Pings and revert to his old Wilsons.

Professionals often change clubs at their peril, as the 1995 US Open champion, Corey Pavin, discovered. So, one can only speculate as to the difference the correct clubs would make to an amateur's game. It has become a truism of golf that the best driver on the market is the one you can hit, but how can you be sure of acquiring that particular implement?

Until recently, it was widely acknowledged that most golf manufacturers provided the average player with only five shaft flexes, using technology dating back to the 1920s.  But with clubs being swung at different speeds by individuals of varying proportions, individual requirements need to be a lot more precise.

Involvement in the golf industry started for Murray back in the mid-1990s, when he got a job working for Ernie Jones in the professional shop at The K Club. That was when he met Philip Walton who invited him to the Czech Open at Marianske Lazne in August 1995. "While there, I happened to meet the late Barry Willett, who was in charge of the Mizuno trailer," he recalled. "When he invited me to look at what he did, it was like you had switched on a light-bulb in my head. Seeing the job Barry was doing for the pros, it struck me how much more in need the general public were of such a service."

The next step was a self-financed trip to Carlsbad, the home of the US golf manufacturing industry in San Diego. There, at the Callaway test centre, the first person he met was a boffin in a white coat. On asking him about his golf handicap, Murray was told: "I used to work for NASA and I've never played golf in my life."  The boffin then added: "I don't need to play golf to tell you how to keep a ball in the air, son."

So it was that Murray and his Dad did the Golfsmith's clubmakers' training course in Cambridgeshire, where they became master craftsmen. And having spied a niche in the golf market, in customising, he was delighted to discover that there was also a market in the niche. And he now has an award to prove that he can satisfy that market better than most.

Find out more about ForeGolf.

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