The M.Craft line is Mizuno’s first putter entry into the U.S. market since 2007. At the 2020 PGA Show, we spoke with Chris Voshall about how golfers have reacted so far, some of the philosophies behind the brand, and why he thinks Mizuno’s garnered such a cult following.
MIRANDA: Our readers were stoked to find out Mizuno was bringing putters to the U.S., we’ve had so much feedback on that. Have you seen that as you’re going through the PGA show, when people come to take a look at the putters, are they excited?
CHRIS: It’s funny; we started out… We’re very timid usually when we dip our toe into the water of a new category, or a relatively new category for us. So our early forecast was very, very conservative, we had x number that we thought we were going to bring in and they already pre-booked twice what we thought we were going to be able to sell, and we haven’t even shipped ONE yet. It just shows there was that pent up demand for it. Those Mizuno fans have obviously been out there.
CHRIS: So this is the M-Craft series. We actually have three different heads and three different finishes, all of them using some Mizuno technologies for feel. That’s one of the things we’re known for is making a golf club feels good. I don’t think there’s another forged putter on the market right now. Traditionally forged is more expensive. This is a $300 putter, which in the world of putters is really middle of the pack.
CHRIS: So, forged because that gives you a great feel, forged out of a 1025 material which is the same we use in our MP-20 irons, our musclebacks, the MMCs, all the better player irons that people know about. Start with a great process, start with a great material, and then we mill it from there. If you run your fingernail across the face, you can feel how aggressive that milling is.
MIRANDA: Yep, I was going to ask you to explain that.
CHRIS: So the idea behind the milling is it’s just minimizing the contact area. When you minimize contact area, it actually softens the sound of impact too. So materials, processes, all those things to make it feel like a Mizuno should. ‘Cause that’s almost like the number one thing we can’t mess up for our fans, it’s like Mizuno junkies, the second one feels bad it’s like “What did you do?” It’s the most offensive thing for a Mizuno person.
MIRANDA: Ok. Now you’re also bringing these putters to the U.S. for the first time since 2007?
CHRIS: I think that’s right, you know better than I do, that’s probably right. Our last putter venture was with Bettinardi. Ultimately in the day and age, when putters cost so much and golf clubs cost so much in general, the putter designers want to have their own version and then an OEM version that would essentially be a dumbed-down version. So I’m gonna buy a Bettinardi, I don’t want a Mizuno Bettinardi I want a Bettinardi.
CHRIS: So with that being said, we kind of went away from the range of paying somebody else to design our putters. We have good designers. We have good eyes. I consider myself to have a pretty good eye when it comes to the look and feel of everything. Putters too, I’m just as picky on those as I am with some of the irons. So it felt like we could design a putter and bring our technologies to it.
CHRIS: And it’s funny, we talked about going global with putters, we’re also going global with the woods which we haven’t done before. We’ve always had a Western world product for the U.S., for Europe, and then we had an Asian product, so Japan and Korea selling a different product. What that meant in terms of development and resources is we were divided. We had one team working on this one, one team working on this, a number of resources going here, and a number going here…
CHRIS: We decided to make the move to be global this year, the ST200, and that’s why we added the 200, the 200G and the 200X. And ultimately, I know you guys understand the industry and know how it works: when you’re buying drivers, if you go in with an order that’s twice as big to a factory than an order that’s half as big, you can get more value from that factory. That also means that if we have a head cost we want to hit, if we’re buying twice as many and the head cost comes down, we can shove more technology in it.
MIRANDA: Something you don’t have to sell is your irons. What keeps those so consistently good?
CHRIS: The history of Mizuno irons is a lot of what keeps it good, in that we keep pretty tight handcuffs on what we’ll do. The look has to check the box of a Mizuno iron. You look at some of these other booths where each iron each year looks more ridiculous than the last. All of ours look very clean, very simple, very sophisticated. Feel is huge for us, we use the same factories, the same foundry, and on top of that, we use a lot of engineering behind it. In terms of how we measure the feel, how we engineer the feel into it with the sound, the material, the processes, the actual geometry of the club, I feel like we know feel.
CHRIS: So we get the feel right, we get the look right, and then we’re engineers. We’re not marketers. You look around and we don’t have ads everywhere. We’re not on the Golf Channel. We’re not on the Sunday coverage of whatever tournament’s going on because we’d rather use that money to put into the product to make a better product. I think the results speak for themselves. On your testing this year, I think we swept the irons.
MIRANDA: You did, absolutely.
CHRIS: I mean that doesn’t happen by accident, that doesn’t happen by putting out a crummy product out and marketing the crap out of it because you guys are looking beyond the marketing. That stuff gets thrown out in testing. Ultimately we have a great engineering team, and we know what we’re trying to do, we have a focus on every product, and I think the results speak for themselves.
MIRANDA: Mizuno users, athletes, golfers, are very loyal. Do you recognize your own cult following?
CHRIS: [Laughs] I think so, and cult following is probably the exact way to phrase it.
MIRANDA: It’s the best way to put it, isn’t it?
CHRIS: What I like about Mizuno followers is, it’s almost like its a little anti-establishment. There’s so much of the golf world that’s very big on the Taylormades, the Callaways, the Titleists, the Pings…
MIRANDA: The Big Five.
CHRIS: Exactly. If you know Mizuno, you almost feel like you’re in on something.
MIRANDA: You take some ownership in it.
CHRIS: Exactly. So when people play it, and typically its been a better player for a long time even though we sell more game improvement irons than better player irons, people feel like if they play Mizuno, it’s like a badge of honor. It says something about them. It says, “I didn’t buy into the marketing hype. I went and tested. I did my research.”
It’s all about putting out the right product, and I think we continue to do that, which is why they become so loyal to us.
MIRANDA: How do you compete with the Big Five?
CHRIS: You know, the world of social media, the world of websites, there’s so much information out there that’s much more credible than paid information. You can only believe so much when somebody was paid X number of dollars to say it. Now that there’s places like MyGolfSpy, places like some of your competitors where you can actually read independent reviews, that has become so much more valuable than what you see on TV or on somebody’s hat.
You look at a lot of players on tour who have another company’s name on their hat and have our clubs in their bag. That says something. If you go back 8, 9 years ago, that was invisible to the consumer. All they saw was the hat. Now you see what’s in the bag posts, and people understand what’s in them. So the fact that they’re choosing it, they’re seeking us out, it shows that consumers are smart and ultimately they’re going to dig through to the truth.
Unless we’re being honest and delivering the truth, we’re going to get exposed, so that’s why we always try to do that.
For more information on M.Craft Putters and all of Mizuno’s product offerings, visit the Mizuno Golf website.