By Jamison Cocklin
Anyone who plays golf knows the intricacies of playing the game are sometimes an excuse to quit playing altogether.
Slicing, hooking, even whiffing on the ball and picking up large chunks of turf can lead a golfer to fits, tantrums and hours spent correcting mechanics at the driving range. Hundreds, even thousands of dollars can be spent on some of golf’s finer points.
So, it’s no surprise that a niche industry has cropped up successfully alongside the sport.
An array of tools, manuals and other aids have been dedicated to the tempo of a swing, the short game, alignment and nearly anything else that might help players shave strokes off their game.
Ken Zuzik of Canfield and his son Matt, a graduate of Ohio State University who now works as a pharmacist in Florida, think they might have a place in that niche industry with a product that could impact golfers everywhere.
“I was taking lessons with a pro and, he told me to hit balls out to my target,” Zuzik, who has played the game since he was about 12, recently recalled.
Zuzik’s instructor asked him where he thought he was aiming. Zuzik naturally replied at the hole. But it turned out he was far left of his target. In this case, Zuzik’s swing was not at fault for landing the ball to the left of the green, but rather it was his alignment.
“He straightened me all out, and it felt really awkward,” Zuzik said. “I went home that night and I was looking at my kitchen floor, thinking if I lined up with these square tiles, I’d be all set — that’s how it all got started.”
It was about 31/2 years ago when Zuzik began tinkering around with an assortment of pipes, wood and dowels to mimic those squares on the kitchen floor, envisioning an alignment tool that might translate to a real course where golfers could easily pack it away in their bags as another convenient tool to help their game.
He began communicating with his son about his ideas. They soon began shipping various objects back and forth to hammer out a solid concept.
What began as a do-it-yourself project in the hands of Zuzik, a builder and developer by day, was slowly becoming a viable commercial product, as Zuzik and his son put their minds and passion into what they once called the “Golf Square.”
All at once though, the name was no longer an option. It already was trademarked under a very different product.
In January, when Zuzik and his son decided to display their square at the 2013 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., one of the largest events in the industry that featured more than 1,000 vendors.
The product won Most Innovative Concept, sending a wave of potential investors, distributors, manufacturers and merchandisers to Zuzik’s door.
“That’s when we decided this was for real,” Zuzik said. “We must have talked to 200 people at the expo. It’s one of the largest trade shows in the world. We’ve been approached by a guy from Ireland who lives in China and another guy from Germany. They want to be our distributors.”
Even if the square became an overnight success, designing, manufacturing and getting a product to market is no easy task.
Zuzik said the tool is about 80 percent complete, and he already has traveled to Canada to meet with a firm about mass-producing it for stores and pro shops.
Essentially, the alignment square is made of plastic. It measures 1 inch square, by 40 inches long. It includes four rods. The bottom one adjusts to accommodate a shorter stance for irons and a longer stance for drivers. The square is retractable as well so it can fit in a golfer’s bag.
The square quantifies a player’s alignment, which means a number is set to a golfer’s stance. Three measurements are visible on the rods to track how far away the player stands from the ball, the width of the player’s stance and where the ball is placed. The square is pointed at the target and the golfer is aligned.
“The most-common golf aids in the world are alignment rods,” Zuzik said. “If you go to a pro to get instruction, they’ll line you up with these alignment rods. Instead of two rods, we’ve made it into one apparatus and given you more features, rather than just fixing your aim.”
At the heart of the device, and Zuzik’s first monetary challenge in commercializing it, are its small specialty hinges.
“You can’t buy them anywhere. What I had in mind you couldn’t buy,” Zuzik said.
Along the way, Zuzik hooked up with Don Willis of Willis Design in Canton. He recommended additive manufacturing. Without it, Zuzik said his product would have never materialized. Additive manufacturing uses three-dimensional software that allows an individual or company to first design the unique dimensions of a product on a computer.
A blueprint is drawn up and sent to a specialized machine that interprets the drawing and prints the product layer by layer using plastics, resins or metals.
The process saves time, material and labor, meaning products can be tested faster at a lower cost.
The process allowed Zuzik to continually tweak his hinges. Traditional manufacturing would require a costly mould to build them, one Willis said could cost as much as $10,000 or more.
Instead, additive manufacturing cost Zuzik a few hundred dollars each time he wanted to make a batch of hinges.
“For about a year, we worked on the square,” Willis said. “Additive manufacturing allowed us to produce something [Zuzik] could actually see. He saved a ton of time and it cut his costs in half.”
A patent is pending on the square, and Zuzik will have to consider another name for the product.
He also will be busy designing logos, packaging and seeking out financing from interested investors.
At the moment, he thinks the product could sell for as much as $50, based on what those in the industry have told him.
He said if a larger company offers to buy the design, he’ll consider it.
Before anything happens, though, Zuzik will have to consult with his son Matt.
“It was a joint effort,” he said. “I did the meat and potatoes, and he put the sizzle in it.”