Q&A with TaylorMade Head Club Builder & Tour Truck Driver, Wade Liles
The PGA TOUR is in full swing in 2018. This week, the #TMTourTruck makes a pit stop at the home of The King at Bay Hill Club & Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
TaylorMade Tour Truck driver and Head Club Builder, Wade Liles, has one of the most coveted jobs in the golf industry—he gets to drive the Tour Truck across the US and build clubs for the world’s top golfers on a weekly basis. At Bay Hill, we caught up with Wade to discuss a variety of topics (some golf related, some not) and find out about life on the road, how much pressure he feels building clubs for the best players in the world, his favorite place to eat during the PGA TOUR season, and much, much more.
I started off when I was 18 years old and was looking for a job since I opted not to go to college. My mother showed me a job she found in the newspaper from a golf company that was hiring production workers. I had to apply to the job twice to get a call back and ultimately hired onto the team. The rest is history.
Yeah, I mean the thing is that the players that I’ve dealt with for many years I know exactly what they want and how they want a club to be built to fit their eye. With the new TaylorMade guys, like Tiger and Rory, I’m not as familiar with their preferences, so it definitely puts a little pressure on me because I want to make sure the final product is exactly what they’re looking for. I’ve made a lot of clubs for Tiger, so I am pretty comfortable with building clubs for him now and knowing what he wants, but I’m still getting acclimated to Rory because I just haven’t built as many clubs for him yet.
Since I’ve been with TaylorMade for 30 years, I know just about everyone that works at headquarters. The really cool thing is that almost everyone that works out on Tour lives in Carlsbad, so it’s very easy to come back after a week on the road and give them the information and feedback we’re getting from players to improve our products. To me, that’s a huge advantage compared to other companies because a lot of the guys don’t live near their headquarters.
You know, a lot of people don’t know this, but me and one of my former co-workers Larry Bishman were out here in my first year pushing some different products, and we wanted to design something different. So, I worked back at HQ for about 6 months and was just messing with different CGs and grinding heads, etc. Within about 3 months, we came up with the original 320-Series head, which was the ultimate head at the time. It was really cool because we helped design it, then I came back out here once it was final and was able to build and get that product into these guys hands. It was awesome. That’s definitely my biggest claim to fame with being able to contribute to the design of a product at TaylorMade, and a lot of people don’t really know about that.
To me, it was the Rescue. We created a Rescue back in the 90s, but no one knew what it was. So, when we came back out with it in the early 2000s, it was great because all the guys were lining up to test one and put one in their bags to replace their long irons. Also, just the invention of Loft Sleeve. That was such a great invention because 95% of the clubs I built in this trailer prior to the Loft Sleeve being introduced, I had to physically bend to make it flatter or more upright based on players specs. I would break heads all of the time and the process was extremely difficult. Its cool too because now every single company does that and has “their version” of Loft Sleeves in their products… that is the greatest invention I think we’ve ever done.
I had to fix Mike Weir’s shoelaces once. The shoelaces were too fat or something, so I had to fix them for him. We get all sorts of weird requests. Players will come in here and say, “I’ve gained some weight… can you punch some holes in my belt.” Just really random stuff like that happens pretty regularly. In regards to golf clubs, I had a player come up to me in one of my first years on Tour and he wanted to make his putter heavier. He told me to go to the bunker on the practice range and grab a bunch of sand, pour sand down the shaft, plug it, and grip it. I literally thought he was joking, but that was the way they did it back then.
I carry about 500 metalwoods on here at all times. I carry 25 of every single driver loft (440cc/460cc), then add in all the fairway woods and rescues. On a busy week, we probably build up about 100 woods. I stock the truck every single week and probably order roughly 50 heads per week to get sent out here before I take off to the next event.
For years, I wasn’t satisfied with how clubs were being measured in the industry. Every ruler on every truck was different and you’d go from one ruler to the next and none would be the same. So what we did was mill out rulers from blocks of aluminum. Every ruler is CNC milled, making them the exact same, then used the 60-degree angle from USGA to put up against it. So, our rulers may measure a little different than others, but at least I know that every club being built on our truck is the exact same.
One of my jobs working in-house early in my career was testing how hot and how long to do constant heat with epoxy to see how long it would take to bond together. We had a pull test machine where I would cook a club, I’d cure a club, then cut the shaft off and stick it in a device that would tell you how many pounds per pressure it took to break the shaft. When I started breaking the shafts before the epoxy bond broke, I knew it was the actual right temperature and time. Once we got the process finalized in-house, I knew we needed to get these on the truck because the process was taking way too long. Luckily, they took my advice and we got some curing cell machines out here and we couldn’t do our jobs without it.
Pappadeaux’s Seafood Kitchen.
Driving by far is the favorite part of my job. I don’t play a lot of golf on the road… I like to fish. I am in here Sunday through Wednesday and talking to a lot of people, so just hopping in the truck, turning on the radio, and enjoying the scenery to unwind is by far my favorite part of the job.
I built 100 drivers one time at a demo day, so that’s easy. The first week the 300 Series came out on Tour, we tied or won the driver count that week and my co-worker and I built 343 metalwoods. Remember, this was in the 90s, so every club had to be bent, hot melted, etc.
Pebble Beach by far. Driving this truck up to pebble along the coast, the cliental, the people you get to meet, and every meal is great. It’s a no-brainer.
If you want to enjoy the game, you have to get fitted. That is your number one priority you must get fitted properly. Also, amateurs always struggle with a slice, even I still slice the ball. So, what I recommend is to loft down and crank the loft up 1 or 2 degrees higher, which not only add loft, but also shuts the face to help with making the face more square or closed at impact.
Drive about 35,000 miles a year. The longest I’ve stayed away from home is when I started this job I lived at a hotel for 4 ½ years, so I didn’t have a home or a car. Generally speaking, I’m gone for about 8-10 weeks at a time then go home for a few weeks to recharge, then I get right back at it.
If you get the chance to go to a Tour event, make a quick stop in and see Wade to get a Tour of the TaylorMade trailer. Pop in and see all that goes into making the best players in the world the greatest products in the game and if you get lucky, maybe Wade will give you a free hat.
Here's an inside look at Wade building up Rory a fresh 60° HI TOE this week:
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