Like many others on that April day, a couple of golfers named David Rocheleau and Todd Wilson watched Nick Faldo at work on the Augusta National putting green prior to the 2004 Masters. During the session, the six-time major champion placed a mirror on the ground, then took his stance.
“What’s he doing?” the perplexed Rocheleau asked.
“He’s checking to see if he eyes are directly over the line of the putt,” Wilson, the more accomplished golfer of the two, explained.
Rocheleau watched a few minutes and thought: Surely there must be an easier way.
To Rocheleau, a suggestion such as that — looking for an easier way — is like the matador waving his red cape at the bull. Action follows. He is a mechanical engineer. He designs, or invents, things.
Eight years later — after plenty of roadblocks on what Rocheleau calls “our night job” — the challenge of developing a putter to help a golfer with alignment came to fruition. “It’s a case of two friends with an idea that’s taking off,” Rocheleau said.
The partnership of Rocheleau, a professor at USC, and Wilson, who works in management for WalMart, produced the Dead Aim putter, which Rocheleau said provides instant visual feedback to get the golfer’s hands, eyes and club head aligned properly at address.
“We had 17 virtual prototypes and seven physical prototypes before we settled on the final putter,” said Rocheleau, whose other designs include single-dose packaging for a liquid medication. “If you look down and see a straight white line with the dots centered, you’re lined up correctly.”
The principle for using dots came from Rocheleau’s remembrance of shooting a .22 rifle with a peep sight during his youth in Vermont. The design evolved with the aid of a computer, and Rocheleau and Wilson launched the Dead Aim at the PGA Merchandising Show in Orlando earlier this year.
“We’re just getting into marketing it, and we see it taking off,” Rocheleau, 52, said.
Some short commercials have aired on the Golf Channel, and others are planned. Golf Magazine carried information on the Dead Aim in its July edition, and Wilson and Rocheleau hope to get on Golf Digest’s “Hot List” in 2012.
Perhaps the biggest encouragement came from Frank Nobilo, a former player and Golf Channel analyst. The developers asked Nobilo to be the product spokesman in commercials, and he liked the product so much that he bought into the company.
Alignment is only part of the putting puzzle, of course. Aim matters, too, and toward that end, a laser can be clipped on for training purposes.
“Our eyes can deceive us on greens; we’re not always lined up the way we think we are and we’re not always aiming where we think we are,” Rocheleau said. “This putter provides instant feedback.”
The name comes from the late Harvey Penick, the famed instructor who advocated “taking dead aim” on shots.
“I suppose his estate allowed the trademarks to expire,” Rocheleau said. “When Todd looked and saw them available, we knew ‘Dead Aim’ and ‘Take Dead Aim’ fit our putter perfectly.”
After failing to find a manufacturer to produce the putter in the United States, the developers found a company in Taiwan that had produced Callaway clubs.
About one-third of the 3,000 that have been built have been sold.
“We’re working to make the club available in more stores and pro shops,” Rocheleau said.
“Getting Nobilo on board has been a tremendous plus. He used the putter for a month (prior to shooting the commercials) and we asked him, ‘What do you think?’ Half an hour later, he stopped talking about how great it was.”
Several PGA Tour pros, including Robert Allenby, Jason Dufner and Tad Ridings, have the Dead Aim putter for training purposes and Rocheleau expects a boost after the club is used in tournament play.
According to Golf World magazine, five companies account for about 90 percent of the putters used on the PGA Tour, leaving smaller manufacturers with a tiny window of opportunity.
But the underdogs received a boost with a win by Ted Potter Jr. in the Greenbrier Classic using a Piretti putter.
“(Wins) help get products in golf shops,” Piretti’s Mike Johnson told the magazine. “... At most tour events, we’re hoping to get a putter in play. Now (with a win), guys will give us another look.”
Wilson and Rocheleau hope a similar story unfolds for their Dead Aim. There is, they are convinced, an easier way than Faldo’s for alignment and aim.