I’d been noodling some design ideas for a new driver — racing stripes along the side, maybe, or little wings to accentuate the need for speed —because the last guy I spoke with about driver design called the experience a real life changer.
Not to mention the $250,000 prize that came with winning Golf Channel’s "Driver vs. Driver 2," a reality show presented by Wilson Golf. That kind of coin can change your life, too.
But timing is everything, as usual. When I called Golf Channel to see about the third season of "Driver vs. Driver," the very helpful woman who took my call said it wasn’t clear if there would be another contest. “It’s kind of up in the air,” she said, and maybe sensing my disappointment added, “but it’s possible.”
Which makes Racine native Evan Hoffman’s achievement even sweeter. If there is no third season, he’ll be the reigning driver design champion forever.
Hoffman, 27, who now lives in San Diego, was named winner of the contest late last year when his design, called the Cortex, was selected as the best by a panel of judges. Tim Clark, president of Wilson Golf, said at the time the winning club “tested better than any driver Wilson has ever produced.”
Hoffman, who studied at UW-Whitewater before finishing his degree at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, said he entered the contest at the urging of his brother Mike. It was an intriguing challenge, he said later, but he didn’t get into it empty-handed.
“I do know design,” said Hoffman, who now designs recreational equipment for SKLZ in Carlsbad, “and I do know a bit about golf.”
Still, the challenge was new in a number of key ways. While he had sketched a few golf club ideas in the past, he said, “I never designed the actual technology that goes into the golf club. So that was the first time I did that.”
His design, it should be noted, was a lot more involved that racing stripes or tiny wings. Hoffman’s Cortex was described as using Fast Cage Technology, which included a rigid titanium skeleton in which 44 percent of the head was replaced by lightweight carbon fiber, resulting in a club with weight taken out of the center and placed more in the skirt to maximize club head speed.
Or, as he put it, “I’d say that what we did was created a driver that put the weight where you need it.”
His win came more than a year after he submitted his first design ideas and came after repeated tweaks and revisions along the way. As the contest played out, 14 finalists were selected from the large field of design aspirants before Hoffman’s driver was selected over the second place finisher, Tim Slama and his Rozwell driver. For his efforts, Wilson surprised Slama by paying for his last year of college at Oregon State.
In addition to landing the nice check, Hoffman's win also meant that Wilson put his driver into production and made it for sale at nearly 1,000 golf outlets nationwide, often in displays featuring a near-life-size image of a smiling Hoffman. When we spoke in early January, Hoffman said that while he was certainly curious he had not seen any reports of how his club was selling, he was encouraged by positive reviews on some golf websites. But he noted the $500 price tag might be an issue for some potential buyers.
Hoffman said he would like to get more into golf club design and living near Carlsbad, the epicenter of golf equipment companies, might help make connections. Hoffman said he recently attended the PGA show in Orlando to represent the driver “where it seemed to be a pretty hot ticket item, lots of excitement from the show goers, wanting to test it out. Only heard positive feedback from the testers so it must perform as good as it looks.”
He added he wasn’t sure of the production plans going forward, but noted that Wilson has come out with a D7 driver for higher handicaps to pair with the Cortex for lower handicap players.
In the meantime, he is tinkering with a putter design and playing a little golf, which prompted a bit of product placement.
“I’m playing much better with my own club,” he said.