If you were to list the attributes of the most creative among us, you’d find a paradox of personality traits. The highly creative tend to be both extremely energetic and quiet and restful. They can be equally extravagant and reserved, smart and naïve, humble and proud, rebellious and conservative. And they have the rare ability to alternate seamlessly between rational, analytical left-brained thinking and intuitive, visionary right-brained thinking.
And the most creative can start down one path, innately recognize a changing landscape, and either alter their path or allow the path to get wider, if it leads to a better end result.
The creative mind is a very busy place.
Guerin Rife didn’t start out in life planning to create great putters. By training, he was the guy you’d hire to help you sell great putters. Or average putters. Or even bad putters.
Guerin Rife, the man who invented the cavity back mallet putter and putter grooves, was originally in creative advertising. He was an Ad Man – more Donald Draper than Scotty Cameron, and more Darren Stevens than Bobby Grace.
Rife’s path from the boardroom to the putting green was anything but a straight line, but for those blessed with a creative mind, most journeys never are.
Understanding that journey explains how 25 years of hard work, luck, success, and failure made Rife’s EvnRoll putter company the overnight success it has become.
Chicago to Disney to Leadbetter
“I started out as an art director at the Leo Burnett agency in Chicago,” says Rife in a rich baritone perfectly suited for a classical music radio station. “It was the mid-70’s; I was just a young kid in advertising as an art director. I eventually tried some writing and toed both sides of the creative line.”
Life’s circumstances intervened, however, and altered Rife’s career path.
“Both my parents passed away, so I moved from Chicago to Central Florida in the mid-80’s to help my brother settle the estate and be close to family,” says Guerin. “I started my own little advertising business and design firm, because that’s what I knew how to do.”
Being in the Orlando area helped Rife score some creative work for Disney, but a simple twist of fate hooked him up with David Leadbetter.
“When you’re not working in the big leagues of advertising you’re wearing all kinds of hats and doing all kinds of work. I got into helping a guy develop a product, a training aid, for Leadbetter, and that’s where it all got started. My entry to golf was the Leadbetter Putting System, and I just kind of got into putting from there.” – Guerin Rife
Once on the putting green the creative mind took over, and Rife gave the world something we all take for granted now: the cavity mallet.
“My initial thought was to make something you could use to scoop the ball up with,” says Rife. “But it turned out, as these things do, to have other benefits. It created bottom weighting and heel-toe weighting by getting rid of the top and the mass in the middle. I was doing it by hand and sand-casting Zinc, then sanding it down to make it look like a putter. I powder-coated it blue and called it True Blue. I look at it now, and it’s an ugly little beast.”
Rife freely admits he didn’t do a very good job writing the patent for his cavity mallet, specifically the heel-toe relationship to the front-back dimensions.
“I didn’t know any better,” he says. “I could have made the number smaller, and I’d have the cavity mallet patent. But I didn’t protect myself properly. Nowadays I’m a little wiser.”
Groovin’ Through the ‘90’s
Rife says continued experimentation with his cavity mallet putter eventually led to the idea to put grooves in the putter face.
“Getting rid of the top and the mass in the middle created lift,” he says. “That means you could reduce loft and bingo, that’s when I put grooves on the face. I wanted that lift, and I wanted something to grip it, so that’s how grooves came about.”
With lessons learned from his previous patent process, Rife patented putter grooves in 1996 and licensed it to Spalding/Top-Flite. Rife took the patent back when Top-Flite was sold to Callaway and then, in 2000, started his own company, Rife Putters.
“I was going out on Tour by myself - I was this kooky guy with grooves on his putters. That’s kind of the way it always is when you’re breaking the mold or doing something different. I didn’t know any better, I was just an individual and being from the advertising world and being a creative director and coming up with new ways to sell brands, I just knew I had to have something different. And it worked.” – Guerin Rife
What worked was roll. Rife’s groove technology combined with reduced loft to minimize bouncing right after impact and got the ball rolling as quickly and as smoothly as possible. And smoother rolls often lead to more putts hitting the bottom of the cup.
“I wasn’t a very good designer back then,” admits Rife. “But I did have some decent stuff and got a few guys on Tour to put it in play. Then around 2002 or 2003, when the 2-ball putter was the biggest thing in golf, that’s when I did the 2-bar putter.”
The Rife 2-bar putter was a mini-blockbuster in the mid-2000’s, especially on the Champion’s Tour. It took nearly ten years, but it eventually became Rife’s first “overnight sensation.”
“The 2-bar made sense from a stability standpoint, it was distinctive and visible on TV,” says Rife. “We eventually put together some investors and created an infomercial." That’s the way you had to skin a cat back then to build awareness.
“There are phases to starting a company – first you have to do the R&D, and then you have to build awareness. That builds sales, and then you have to get the Tour going to create a more enduring brand and more recognition. Then you get market share, and hopefully you try to get profitable.”
By 2005-2006, the Rife 2-bar was killing it. The Rife company spent roughly $200,000 on direct marketing with no print ads or endorsement deals (they did pay performance bonuses to pros using Rife putters), and in one two-month period from December of ’05 through January of ’06, Rife sold $1.5 million worth of 2-bars, at $200 a pop.
“I think at one point we had 30 or 40 guys on the Champions Tour using a 2-bar of some sort. In all fairness, there wasn’t a lot of competition from other OEM’s on the Champions Tour at the time, so it was a chance to gain some credibility. Tour players give you credibility, so we used that as our infomercial base and built a pretty good little brand.” – Guerin Rife
By 2008 Rife Putters was earning about $10 million in revenue and was one of the largest independent putter brands in golf at the time. But then things started going sideways.
The Perfect Storm
The economy crashed in October of ’08, and lots of “pretty good little brands” hit some pretty rough water.
“The economy fell through, but I also think it was bad planning on our part,” admits Rife. “We were in 17 countries and in 3,000 stores. We had lots of Tour presence – we were really cooking, but we were still spending lots of money on the infomercials, and we had lots of inventory.”
Rife says at the time he wanted to pull back on infomercial spending and focus more on profitability, but he had ultimately lost control of his company by giving up ownership pieces to investors to help fund growth.
“We weren’t making any money. To be honest, it was great for me in terms of recognition in the industry, but it wasn’t great for the investors. If you look at business, there’s top line, and there’s bottom line. Top line is building awareness and distribution – you’re not worried about profits, you’re just building awareness. At some point, though, you have to take advantage of that awareness and focus on profitability. That’s called the bottom line, and that’s the line that matters.” – Guerin Rife
Rife Putters as it was didn’t survive the Recession. Rife says he was very close to a deal to sell to COBRA-PUMA, but that fell through. In 2009, the company was sold to a Seattle-area concern called Innovex.
“That wasn’t an arrangement I wanted to be a part of, nor could they spend the money to make that interesting for me,” says Rife. “So I did my own gig again. I started the Guerin line, which eventually led to EvnRoll.”
Grooves, Part Two
To say EvnRoll is an overnight sensation 25 years in the making is no exaggeration. EvnRoll’s groove technology evolved from those first grooves from the mid’90’s, with an unexpected surprise along the way.
“I knew a grooved face doesn’t hit the ball as hard as a solid milled face putter,” says Rife. “I knew that because when I introduced my stuff years ago, there was always this comment that they’re not getting the ball to the hole.”
The reason that happens, according to Rife, is there’s less contact surface area on the face when you have a 45-thousandths of an inch wide groove and a 15-thousandths of an inch wide contact surface between those grooves.
“It just didn’t hit the ball as hard, but I also knew off-center hits didn’t go as far, either. If you mishit a ball slightly towards the toe, it’s not going to go as far, and it’s going to go slightly away from the center. On a higher speed club there’s a gearing effect, but on a putter, you have the center of mass in the middle. If you hit the ball toward the toe, the ball moves away from the target and doesn’t go as far because there’s not as much energy transfer behind the ball.” – Guerin Rife
So Rife challenged himself to figure out how to alter his putter grooves so that no matter where you hit it – heel, center or toe – the ball would go the same distance. Creative minds tackle problems in a myriad of ways, and to solve this particular riddle, Rife’s right-brained imagination and creativity joined forces with his left-brained analytics.
The result? Something Rife calls elongated parabolics.
“If I reduce the contact surface in the middle of the putter with wider grooves,” says Rife, “and I increase the contact surface towards the heel and toe with narrower grooves, then I progressively hit the ball harder as you go away from the center. Because most of the mass is right behind the center, the ball will go the same distance."
This is the essence of the EvnRoll putter. Take a look at the face, and you’ll see grooves that are wider in the center with less surface area to impact the ball. As you move toward the heel and toe the grooves taper down and get narrower. There’s more contact surface area toward the heel and toe and less in the middle, which, as MyGolfSpy’s testing has shown, promotes remarkably consistent distance control.
“We really dialed it in,” says Rife. “In an early version I had the grooves too wide in the middle, and they tapered too quickly toward the heel and toe so the balls hit on the outside actually went further than the balls hit in the middle.”
And as is often the case with inventors, Rife had a “what the hell was that?” moment during development. In testing the early versions, Rife found that balls hit toward the toe were actually crossing the centerline and coming back towards the hole, sort of like hitting a draw with a putter. And conversely, heel hits were actually fading back towards the centerline.
“I’m just going ‘oh, wow.’ I did not foresee that, but it sure as heck got my attention. I did a lot of testing after that and realized there was a kind of redirecting going on – I call it ‘gearing’ just for a marketing term – but there was a redirecting of the ball toward the inside because of that V-shape of the tapering groove.” – Guerin Rife
If you’ve ever pushed or pulled a put, Rife says it’s likely that you simply mishit the putt with impact slightly towards the toe for a push or the heel for a pull. Rife eventually perfected the grooves to even out distance and keep the ball on line, even on mishits.
“It turns out this gearing effect is probably more important than the ball going to same distance,” says Rife. “No one hits the sweet spot all the time; Pro’s mishit all the time. The capsule message we have going with this technology is that we eliminate the mishit. I jokingly say ‘it’s not my fault anymore.’”
Rife, along with partner Steven Riley, whom Rife calls the strategic and business smarts of the organization ("I could not have done this without him. He's the business and organizational guy, I'm the creative, design guy. One does not survive without the other"), finally launched EvnRoll at the 2016 PGA show. Not long after that some EvnRoll putters wound up at MyGolfSpy for a showdown with the winners of 2016’s Most Wanted putter testing.
“I said to my partner that this is either gonna be really bad or really good,” says Rife. “And goodness, the results came in, and all four of our putters outperformed the winners. And sure enough, after the results were announced our website crashed within the first five minutes. We’ve been playing catch-up ever since.”
EvnRoll copped top honors in MyGolfspy’s 2017 Most Wanted Blade and Most Wanted Mallet competition. For further validation, Rife is going back to his roots and setting up shop at various Tour stops to show pros the EvnRoll technology.
“We started with the Champions Tour in Tuscon a few weeks ago and then did a LPGA even here in Carlsbad. We don’t want to use their names because we don’t pay them, but we had our first Tour win on the LPGA. So the Tour validation thing is starting.” – Guerin Rife
The custodian of this creative mind was in his early 40’s when the idea of adding grooves to a cavity mallet first emerged. Rife is 65 now (he says with a grin "experience is not a young man's game"), and wisdom has joined conservative extravagance, intelligent naïveté, humble pride and conservative rebelliousness. And when you add those paradoxical traits to left-brained analytics and right-brained vision?
“I think there’s an opportunity for something special to happen,” says Rife. “There have been a lot of gimmicks over the years, but you can’t make a putter that just has good alignment. You can’t make a putter that’s just milled, and you can’t make a putter that’s just heavy or is a different color. You have to take a more sophisticated and thoughtful approach if you want to do something that’s real and that’s lasting.”
“People are finally understanding the value of putter fitting. If we get the right look, the right lie angle, the right length, the right launch angle, along with the right feel and the right comfort in your hands – then you have this little piece of magic that just feels perfect.” – Guerin Rife
Rife and the new EvnRoll certainly have momentum, and the ball is, pardon the pun, rolling in the right direction.
“And it’s our goal not to screw that up,” laughs Rife. “This is a moment in time, and it’s a gift. It’s my goal to steer this product line in a way that I don’t get goofy and start doing things that don’t make sense for the sake of marketing instead of doing what’s right and what makes bottom line sense.
“Our goal is modest – we want every foursome in America using EvnRolls. World domination is not overreaching; I don’t think.”
Rife laughed when he said that, so the left-brain was clearly kidding. The right-brain, however, is probably already laying the groundwork.