Midwest Golfing Personals On The Road Again – The Wade Liles Story

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Willie Nelson did not pen On The Road Again as a tribute to Wade Liles, but he could have. For the 30 year industry veteran averages over 40,000 miles traveled per year as TaylorMade Golf’s PGA TOUR Technician. Wade not only was the first to inhabit this position in 2000, but has been a driving force in how TOUR professionals are custom fit and experience products during tournament week.

Midwest Golfing Magazine had the great opportunity to sit down with Wade inside the 42 foot wide trailer that doubles at his office during the BMW Championship at Conway Farms last September.

While interviewing Wade I got confused as his assistant when a famous pro not on TaylorMade’s staff walked in and asked me to make up a driver with the same specs as Sergio Garcia’s winning Masters driver. This scenario happens multiple times a day over the 35 weeks a year Wade is set up on TOUR. Taking the one-on-one access Wade has into consideration, he might just have the coolest job in the industry!

Please tell us how you came to work at TaylorMade and how were hired to be the PGA Tour Technician?

I started as a TaylorMade employee in 1987. I wasn’t smart enough to realize I had to go to college after high school. A friend and I applied together – he got the job and I didn’t. I sent them another application for a different position, they hired me, and the rest they say is history.

My first job at TaylorMade was gripping 800 clubs per day, which I did for a year. Then I moved into shaft cutting for a little bit. I knew a little about golf so they brought me into the quality assurance department where I measured lie and loft angles of clubs.

We were doing more of the design at TaylorMade before it went overseas and a couple guys there taught me how to figure Center of Gravity and Moment of Inertia (MOI). For a while I was the only one working the custom department! Part of my job was going to retail shops, grabbing our product and the competitors, and testing it a wide variety of ways. Heck, I even painted clubs to look real for photo shoots if we didn’t have the new models done in time.

Then in 2000, TM really wanted to step up their game on tour. I remember at Torrey Pines we got beat by Porsche Design in the driver count – we only had like four drivers in play. Their goal was to get some people out here who knew what they were doing to –we came out here 18 years ago and haven’t looked back.

Discuss your early days on TOUR and a brief rundown of what goes on during a typical week?

At probably 70% of all tournaments I cannot park onsite until Sunday. We can only be on the premises Monday through Wednesday during tournament week since we are kind of an eyesore and take up a lot of space. On Sunday I spend four to five hours setting up the truck and then build any clubs I couldn’t do the previous week.

Monday and Tuesday are full days, sun up to sun down. This is when most of the work gets done, meeting with our staff pros and a few that aren’t. Maybe they want to hit our product because one of their buddies has had success with it. You just never know who will show up here!

On Wednesday we start packing up around 2 p.m. unless there are any emergencies. That way I have enough time to drive to the next stop and still have a couple days off. I am a professional truck driver so I have to have a certain amount of time off within a seven day stretch.

How many miles do you drive in a year and what are your longest drives during the season?

Most people think I drive a million miles a year, but in actuality I drive about 40,000 miles a year which isn’t too bad for a truck driver. For me it is such a great way to make a living.

The key is the schedule sets up where I don’t have to do a ton of driving in a short stretch. When you think about it, the TOUR sets up for four weeks on the west coast and then four weeks in Florida. There are only two coast-to-coast drives all year that are going from the west coast to Florida and then driving from Los Angeles to Atlanta and then back home after the TOUR Championship in September.

There were 41 events on TOUR in 2017, and I do on average 35 events a year. It’s a full time gig for sure, and right now I am on a nine week stretch where I have not been home.

What is one of your favorite stories on TOUR regarding how your work helped crown a champion?

My favorite success story is when John Daly was leading the Torrey Pines Event in 2004. He switched to a different ball on Saturday. It spun differently than the one he was previously playing so I had to make some drivers that had different lofts and he went on to win. It was very gratifying to see him with the trophy and know I played a role in his success.

One other quick story, Tiger Woods was in this van after he broke his 8-iron. He wasn’t even on our staff and I opened up the truck after hours, repaired it, and gave it back to his caddie Steve Williams for him to put back in play.

How has your office changed from 2000 until now?

The facilities out here have changed greatly. When I first started the biggest truck out here was 26 feet. TaylorMade then pushed the envelope as we had the most staff players and therefore needed more work space. That brought on a 32 foot truck which we of course outgrew in a few years, so we asked the TOUR if we could make a 42 foot trailer and now everyone has a 42 foot trailer. That’s the biggest the TOUR will allow, 42 feet long and 15 feet wide when fully opened up.

We can have anywhere from three to five guys working non-stop here plus we have a curing epoxy cell which is a big thing as we are the only truck who has it. We have the top of the line Mitchell equipment for measuring; whatever the top instruments are we have it. Back when we started it was more homemade – like say a vice with a rubber clamp to hold the club. We even now have recyclable solvent so we don’t have to worry about using a spray bottle.

Do you ever get to leave the truck and view the action on the course?

I am the only one who drives the trailer – my job is to be here. I have probably only been in five clubhouses all year. For some reason, I usually get lost when I am out of the trailer on tournament week. {Editor’s Note- Wade’s dry sense of humor was on display throughout the interview, but never more than that line.}

How much specializing does your staff do or is everyone on your team a jack of all trades?

We have four guys that work out of the truck on a given week. We all know how to do everything; we just have some that specialize in certain aspects like putters and wedges. Since all of us can do it all, our staffers never get passed from one to another so we form relationships quicker. Woods and irons we are all a team – if Dustin Johnson wants something we will build it and then walk five or six holes to make sure everything is perfect. If not, we can make suggestions on the set-up of the club or build him a new one. In my humble opinion, we are the best staff on Tour.

I still believe TaylorMade is two years ahead of anybody else technology wise. They let me build this van and I want to show a great presence. People are allowed in the van – some other ones you can’t even go up the stairs. I try to treat everyone the same from Rory McIlroy to someone who isn’t on our staff. It’s the way it should be, we want people to embrace golf so I don’t want to shut doors on people.

Please discuss what your off-season is like, if you have one that is?

Normally our off-season is November and December. We have both those months off with the exception of a few local events. Two months off with pay is pretty cool to make up for the time I am away from home. I live near the headquarters in Carlsbad, CA which is a great advantage because I can get product feedback faster and I can service any players that stop by The Kingdom (TaylorMade Headquarters) instead of handing them off to someone else.

Are PGA Tour players more knowledgeable when it comes to fitting and technology than say from 10 years ago?

The players that are fit better are going to hit the ball further and straighter and score better. Thanks to our FTC technology and moveable weights we have the ability to customize a club better than ever before. A few years ago we just cared about launch angle when we put a golfer on Trackman. Now we care about angle of descent, meaning what degree the ball is falling out of the air. We are now able to fine tune all the mechanisms to fit the player the best and get as much as you can out of the clubs. That’s why you see these kids hitting their drivers 350 yards and their 8-irons 210 yards. It’s just like NASCAR for golf – you have to spruce it up to dominate! Today’s professional golfer knows more of the numbers side of things than ever before!

Do you love coming up to the Midwest and if so what you do love about it?

My boss says it’s God’s Country. It’s beautiful here and the people are so nice I wish we came up to the Midwest more often. This is where people want to play golf and see golf. There are so many good golf courses up here and golf fitting centers.  Guys on TOUR can go there and get taken care of even if there is snow on the ground!

Final question, do you have a cool behind the scenes story our readers would enjoy?

Before Jason Day was the number one player in the world he used to play PlayStation here all the time. Now he spends more time on the range since he is a world class player.

Special thanks to Wade and TaylorMade Golf. To learn more about their entire 2018 product line, visit www.taylormadegolf.com

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About Author

Glen Turk is a Wisconsin native who has been the Senior Writer/Editor of Midwest Golfing Magazine since 2006. Besides being an avid golfer, Glen enjoys traveling, music, and cheering on the finest professional sports team of all-time, the Green Bay Packers. Glen’s ultimate golf goal is to play in all fifty states and currently he is more than half way there. His other dream, albeit far-fetched, it to record an ace in all seven states of our distribution area. Thanks to an ace in Illinois in 2015, and one in Michigan in 2016, he has three down, four to go!

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