The Golf Digest Article

Dave Tutelman  -  June 19, 2017

I appeared in a story in the July 2017 issue of Golf Digest. Of course, a lot of my friends were amazed and thrilled and full of congratulations. There were also a lot of questions. Most of them boiled down to either (1) how did this come about, or (2) what am I looking at in the picture. So here is the backstory, to answer those questions.

Click picture for full-size image
In late March of 2017,  Mike Stachura called me for information for a story he was doing. Mike is the Senior Equipment Editor for Golf Digest Magazine. In the past few years, I have answered technical questions for him from time to time. It started two and a half years ago, when Russ Ryden referred him to me to answer things about driving distance. This time, he came to me because Golf Digest was doing a feature on do-it-yourself golf, and Mike knew I had started my golf technology hobby with amateur clubmaking.

In the course of the interview, Mike found out that I have been doing my own clubmaking since the 1980s, and we spent an hour and a half talking about the "movement". Next thing I knew, Jennifer Aborn, the visuals editor for Conde Nast (the parent company of Golf Digest), was making an appointment for a photographer to visit my basement workshop for some pictures.

Toward the end of April, Nathaniel Welch and his assistant showed up on my doorstep with a coffin's worth of photograpic equipment. It took both of them more than one trip to get it down to the basement. I was impressed to see how a real, professional photographer works. (More on that below.)

By mid-May, Kathy Stachura -- who serves as Mike's fact-checker -- had called me to review the things about me that Mike was going to say in the article. They were just fine for accuracy, but two things came out that had me worried. The article would appear in the issue that comes out in early June (the July issue), and it would mention my Club Design Notes, my e-book tutorial for club fitters and custom clubmakers. Why did this worry me? Because almost half the pages in the e-book had not seen an update since 1998, almost 20 years ago. We have learned a lot since then, and if Golf Digest readers were about to receive a recommendation for it I did not want them to get obsolete information. I spent the next two weeks updating the old pages. Now it says what I would say if asked today -- except for the chapter on shaft flex, which needs a complete overhaul. Whew!

The issue and the article came out the second week of June, and Mike was kind enough to send me a couple of complimentary copies. (My sons thank you, Mike.) The article was part of a collection of Do-It-Yourself articles. In addition to DIY clubmaking, there were DIY practice greens, DIY swing instruction, and even DIY golf simulators! There were sidebars on how to make your own head cover, swing speed training aid, and Sunday carry bag. All in all, a most enjoyable series.

The one on DIY clubmaking was well done IMHO. There was a lot left unsaid -- but how much can you say in just one page of print? I thought Mike did a fine job of capturing the essence of what I had to say (and, presumably, the other three guys he talked to). Everything in the article rang true, even if it only scratched the surface.

The photo, and DIY clubmaking tools

I was amazed to find opposite the article a full-page picture of me in my workshop. For whatever reason, Nat (the photographer) or the editors chose a picture that had a lot going on. I suppose they wanted to show a bunch of tools that I use. It looks great -- unless you know enough about golf clubs to try to identify everything. Then it looks kind of cluttered. Bear in mind, I'm not just a DIY clubmaker, I'm a DIY toolmaker and instrument designer as well. And Nat managed to take pictures of me with many of my self-designed and -made clubmaking tools and instruments. The picture in the magazine includes four of those.

So, for those who might be interested, I have highlighted them in the photos below, and included links to my pages that tell more about them. In most cases, the linked page includes instructions to build and use it.
In this photo, my digital swingweight scale is highlighted. Here's a better picture of the scale, from my article on how you can build your own.
Nat took some pictures of me removing a head from a shaft with a torch using my DIY shaft puller. I was hoping the pictures would come out well, because they showed me doing something real in the shop. Why were they not used? Maybe it was the safety glasses. (Yes, I follow the safety rules, all the time. And Nat had no intention of taking pictures of me violating safety rules -- more power to him.) Anyway, I have complete plans for the shaft puller on my web site.
My primary shaft measurement instrument is the NeuFinder, which Dan Neubecker and I designed in 2004. The picture on the right is a model 4.0; the one Nat photographed in my workshop is the newer model 4.1. The difference is the digital scale readout, visible in both pictures as different. I don't have DIY details on the NeuFinder, because Dan and I are part of a small partnership that charges for the plans.
Though I use the NeuFinder for most of my shaft trimming and all my shaft profiling, many independent clubmakers still use frequency to measure the flex of a shaft. My own frequency meter dates back to 1996, when it was the latest and greatest, and not many shops had them yet. Being an electronics engineer (my Bachelors and Masters are both in EE), I designed all the electronics for it as well as the clamping arrangement and the sensors.
Wait! Isn't that an oscilloscope on the workbench shelf? It sure is. Remember, this workshop has to support all my hobbies, not just golf technology. As an EE, electronics is another of my hobbies, hence the o-scope. It was state-of-the-art in the 1980s, and still serves my purposes fine. Nat thought it was cool, and wanted it in the picture And I did refer to it in my article on shaft FLO.

Nat couldn't fit all my DIY clubmaking tools in the photo. Good thing, too; it would have been even more cluttered. So not shown is my instrument to measure shaft EI (a more precise but specialized way to profile a shaft) nor my hosel reaming fixture. But if you look closely, you will see a couple of tools not of my manufacture; a butane mini-torch for pulling shafts and even a corner of a Scotland loft/lie machine are peeking out from behind me.

Watching a pro photographer at work

I have been into photography since about 1951, when I was ten. By the time I was in high school, I was using a Rolleiflex camera and Weston Master II exposure meter. No automatic focus or exposure back then; it was manual everything. I also developed my own film and printed/enlarged my own photos. I have grown through 35mm SLRs and into digital photography. I'm still a serious hobbyist. I do most of the photography and all the post-camera image processing for this web site.

So it was fascinating to watch a pro at work. As in most things, an advanced amateur may think he knows everything (no, I'm not that headstrong, but it is hard not to be), but a real pro will put him in the shade. Here are a few of the things I noticed that set Nat apart from the best amateur photographers I know:
  • He worked from a plan. Please understand that this was a challenge for a non-clubmaker. How would he know what pictures he wanted, given that he knew nothing about clubmaking. So he spent the first 20-30 minutes getting a demo of things a clubmaker does, and asking enough questions to understand some of the considerations. He saw the loft/lie machine and bending bar, with a club in it. He watched me check a shaft's flex on the frequency meter, on the NeuFinder, and on the EI machine. He watched me pull a clubhead off a shaft, measure the swingweight of a club, and even ream a hosel. (Well, I didn't actually remove steel; the hosel was already the right size; but I mounted everything and ran the drill press.) Only after all this did he come up with a set of shots he wanted to take, and then the plan -- lighting and angles -- to get them.
  • The right equipment. Amateurs, at least those who think budget is the measure of how advanced you are, want the "best" equipment. Nat had the right equipment for the job. I'm not saying what he had was not expensive. The lighting he brought probably cost as much as all the cameras I've owned over my lifetime. But it was less a matter of snob appeal and more a matter of "this will do the job reliably and well." I found it interesting that he did not bring a tripod, if you don't count the light stands. He knew it would be cramped quarters in the basement workshop, and he had enough light so hand-holding would not be a problem.
  • Complete control over light. Not just a sense of lighting, which any good photographer must possess, but the wherewithal -- equipment and knowledge -- to change the lighting to make it what he wanted. He had two remote strobes, one with a radio trigger from the camera and the other a slave flash. (At least that was my understanding; it's possible they were both radio triggered.) For each, he had umbrella reflectors, filters (density and tone), and other stuff I can't remember or wouldn't understand. Each had a modeling light, and he used it for a preview. But he didn't just trust the modeling light. He took the picture with camera and flash, and viewed the lighting on the camera's screen; these pictures were intended to be deleted. This is in opposition to the amateur taking lots of pictures hoping one will turn out. Nat took intentional throw-aways before he even started to pose me, just to see what the light and the angles looked like. Only then did he take the expected bunches of pictures.
  • He didn't just have the right equipment; he knew how to use it. This is not as trite as it sounds. I have a Nikon bridge camera that I use for most of my photography. The user's manual is 260 pages. I probably use only 30% of its features. But even that isn't the big difference. Except for the bare minimum features that I use all the time, I have to think about what to do next; it's not instinctive. For many of them, I even have to look them up in the manual to refresh my memory. If I'm going on a shoot where I expect to use a feature I don't often use, I may even practice before the shoot. Nat just knows his camera and lights. He doesn't have to think about what he is doing; his fingers know where to go and what to do. As someone who used to play semi-pro piano, I think of what Nat does in the same way. My own fingers only know a small part of my complicated camera. Nat's fingers know every feature he uses, so his mind can focus on the composition of the picture he wants.
I'm sure there is more, but those were the lessons I learned from watching him. And an impressive lesson it was.

So now go read the article yourself. Golf Digest, July 2017, pp. 64-65. It's also (a month after the magazine was distributed in paper) available online.

Last modified 7/7/2017