Next time you hit your driver; thank Evel Knievel!
Next time you pull out your driver and “let the big dog eat” (my favorite line from the movie Tin Cup), don’t think of Kevin Costner. Think of Evel Knievel. Without him, Gary Adams and Eddie Langert, metal woods would be but a footnote in golf history.
If you are over 50 years of age, you should remember Robert Craig Knievel, better known as Evel Knievel. He was the daredevil stunt motorcycle-jumper who claimed to have broken every bone in his body at least once by jumping over cars, trucks, buses and even the Grand Canyon (in a steam powered rocket sled).
However, chances are you have never heard of Gary Adams or Eddie Langert, but throw in Evel’s love of golf and those three changed the game forever.
Shortly before the winter of 1980, Adams and Langert invested every cent they could raise into manufacturing a truckload of metal drivers. It was reported that Adams had mortgaged his home to the hilt and maxed out his credit cards, while Langert had filed for bankruptcy - and that was the good news.
The bad news came at a PGA merchandise show, where no one wanted to buy the new metal-faced clubs, “because they made an offensive clank when they hit the ball.” Adams and Langert headed back to Illinois in desperate need of a big-name investor to keep the company afloat.
Whether it was fate, luck, the golf gods or prayer that changed their lives, Adams and Langert didn’t care when Langert answered the phone and Evel Knievel said, “I’ve seen your product and I’m a believer. I’d like to get involved with this.”
With only $100 between them, Adams and Langert arrived in Key Largo, Florida and accepted a round of golf with Knievel, who wanted to play a $25 Nassau with side bets. Knievel, who was a one handicap, was winning all bets when he teed off on the 15th hole and things were looking bad for Adams and Langert, who couldn’t afford to cover their losses at the end of the round.
Evel hit his drive out of bounds on the 15th, then threw his club, just missing Langert’s head. Langert became enraged with Knievel and grabbed his potential investor, threatening to beat him senseless. Knievel quickly apologized, but, embarrassed by his behavior, came unglued and ended up losing the match. When the dust settled, Adams had won $75 and Langert pocketed $250.
Knievel, who was not used to losing, offered the duo a free stay at their hotel and demanded a rematch the next day. He stipulated that if he lost again, he would promote their clubs at a local golf merchandise show with signed photos and no appearance fee.
Eighteen holes later, Langert took $1,400 from Knievel, while Adams pocketed $250. On the way back to the hotel, they ordered 1,000 chicken wings, beer and a sign that read, “Wing It On Taylor Made.”
At the show, Evel showed up in his motorcycle leathers and signed autographs while 228 golf pros placed orders for $375,000 worth of metal drivers to be sold in pro shops all over the country.
The Taylor Made brand of clubs soon took off, and in 1984 the company was sold to the Solomon Group, which continued to make Taylor Made the number one driver in America. In 1997, Adidas bought out the Solomon Group and currently markets drivers, fairway woods, irons, wedges and golf balls under the Taylor Made name.
In 1991, competitor Callaway Golf introduced their Big Bertha, which again changed the world of golf with the idea that bigger was better. Drivers soon took on all shapes and sizes, and in the late nineties, titanium was introduced with the idea that lighter was better and increased swing speed. Every year since, the golf club manufacturers have tried to outdo each other with size, speed, distance and weighted inserts.
19th Hole Trivia
• Evel Knievel made over 75 ramp to ramp jumps worldwide, suffering more than 473 bone fractures during his career
•Knievel was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1979
• He died on November 30, 2007
• In 1984, Gary Adams, known as the father of the metal wood, was named the National Golf Association Man of the Year