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Wilson Driver vs Driver – Behind the Scenes

Judges Brian Urlacher and Tim Clarke

Wilson Driver vs Driver, showing Tuesday evenings on Golf Channel, is certainly a one-of-a-kind reality show.

The show’s producers definitely go outside the box, featuring “non-golf industry” contestants vying for the chance to bring Wilson Staff’s next driver to market, and along with that, taking home a $500,000 first prize.

Recently we went behind the scenes, talking candidly with judges Tim Clarke and Frank Thomas and host Melanie Collins, to give us a little insight into some things the viewer won’t get to see.

Take a listen to our conversation on the SoundCloud link below, on our website, or subscribe free to the GolfBetter podcast on iTunes.

Tom Brassell: Welcome to GolfBetter at Worldwide Golf Shops. Hello, Tom Brassell here, thank so much for joining us. Whether you’re a first-time listener, long-time subscriber or maybe somewhere in the middle, it doesn’t matter. We’re glad you joined us. Especially today, as Wilson‘s Driver vs. Driver is out there on Golf Channel, a great reality show, where contestants are vying for a chance of putting a new driver in play in the marketplace and also the chance to win an half a million dollars.

We’ve got some of the players joining us today. Some of the cast members on that show that are an integral part of Driver vs. Driver. Tim Clark is joining us first. Tim, the President of Wilson Golf. Tim, you’ve been interviewed quite a bit on Golf Channel and other medium, but being the star, one of the stars of the show. Share with us a little bit about the experience of that. That’s got to be fascinating.

Tim Clarke:Well, Tom, I can start with being a judge was not really my plan. My plan was to do the show, and to have some more internal people do that, but Golf Channel Productions and my boss, CEO, Mike Dallas, felt that it would only make sense to have me on the panel, so hence, here I am. It has been an unbelievably unique experience. Something that I never expected. It’s been long hours. I learned more about television and how it’s produced than I ever imagined I would learn.

Tom Brassell:  These contestants that came forward, give some of the surprise levels of some of the abilities of these people, because these are your non-golf guys.

Tim Clarke: Yeah, it was interesting, and again, it’s been a journey. It’s been in planning for almost three years and some months. Then, obviously, to be at a point now where the project is real and airing, it’s pretty exciting to be a part of. When the submissions came in, the early submissions were definitely a little alarming because the very first ones were definitely not the best ideas. Most of the best ideas came in the last 48 hours. As the open call window was closing, that’s when the ideas really accelerated, very much towards the end. It was really exciting to see this initiative.

That’s what I was most surprised and excited about the amount of college teams and the youthful energy that came with that. A lot of times when you hear in golf, we’re not getting the best reputation in the world. That was really exciting to see the youthful movement and see those ideas. Clearly from the people that didn’t have a golf background, that was also encouraging because there were definitely people that were well aware of our sport and our game and had great insights into how to make a product, but actually had never really played the game. That was actually the two biggest surprises I dealt with.

Tom Brassell: Great segway to the next question. When you talked about the college kids, one of the things that we have been trying as an industry to do for a number of years now, is to get that next generation. The Generation X, now the Millennials, into the game. I think this has a great opportunity to do that. You as well, I assume?

Tim Clarke: Yeah, Tom, I think that was, again the excitement around, the energy that the college team brought to the show was really impressive. Again, we clearly are looking, I think you being a long-term industry guy, myself being a long-term industry guy. A lot of times, I think as an industry we think, this is a unique industry and all of the great ideas have to come from within. I will tell you that this show will clearly show the United States and Canada and the rest of the world that great ideas don’t always have to be from inside your own house.

The ideas that we had submitted by obviously all the teams, that made the TV show were quite interesting. Hopefully, it does kind of open up the curtain and shows young people that the game, although very technical, there’s a lot of cool things you can do and learn more about products are made. I think it’s going to be a great thing long term just for the industry of golf, to let consumers see golf equipment in the different spectrum.

Tom Brassell: Sitting to the right of Tim Clark is Frank Thomas. Frank, I’ll ask you the same question. First of all, about the experience of being on this show. This is really something cool for the viewer. How was it for you being a participant on the show?

Frank Thomas:  I’m fairly excited about it, but I don’t think as excited as the participants. I think what’s really surprising to me is how excited they are and the enthusiasm they have for not only being on the show but also in their product. I think this may have something to do with the $500,000 first prize. I think beyond that, I feel like I was watching a dream that they were following with basically nothing to lose. It was almost as exciting for me as it was for them, I’m sure.

Tom Brassell: Being in the business as long as you have, you must have really seen everything in your career. What surprised you most about the team in this. You already mentioned their enthusiasm, but what is it about you that surprised you the most being on the show?

Frank Thomas: I think the fact that they weren’t golfers, and yet they came up with some reasonable good looking designs to begin with and obviously there were about 300 of them initially, but I think the fact that they were able to come up with something based on the little research they had done, but also some of the ideas that they had about golf.

Tom Brassell: Without spilling any of the beans, Frank, were there some creative ways that they came up with for increasing things like ball speed, club head speed, MOI, outside of the old-fashioned ways, the ways that we’ve kind of always thought in the box.

Frank Thomas: I think that you’ve got to recognize that there are some restrictions on equipment. Obviously the USGA rules are restrictive. More than that, as mother nature is the one that’s got the major restrictions. I think as far as I’m concerned, mother nature has left some room for innovation. Not very much, but has left some room for innovation. I’m not going to spill the beans. I think the contestants may have found some of that space that mother nature has left, and still stayed within the rules. I think you’re going to have to wait till the final episode to find out.

Tom Brassell: Now we’ll turn to the host, Melanie Collins. Melanie, you’re used to being in front of the camera quite a bit. How about these two guys. How about Tim and Frank? How did they do?

Melanie Collins: You know what, Tom, I was impressed with them. I’ve has years of experience on camera, so for me, especially working with that same group of people. A lot of the producers, the people on staff were on the Big Break crew, as well. I have experience working with them, so super comfortable. When it came to Tim and Frank, I felt like in the very beginning, the first few episodes, they seemed very nervous, especially Tim. I don’t think he had had a lot of experience on TV before. He was so impressive with how on each episode he got more and more comfortable and better and better on air. He would kind of speak up when he needed to. With a little bit of coaching I thought that they both did a great job, and then Brian is just Brian. He doesn’t need much help. He has a lot of experience being on camera being a former Chicago Bear linebacker and dealing with media. He found it pretty easy, I think. With Tim and Frank, I was pleasantly surprised.

Tom Brassell: The first few shows, when all the contestants were coming up, part of your role was playing traffic cop as well. You had to keep the thing going and cut some of them off. Some of them a little uncomfortable. Can you share a little bit about that. Some of the things that may have not made the cut. I’m sure there were some funny things that happened.

Melanie Collins: Yes. The initial presentations were one of the funniest parts for me. A lot of mistakes were edited out of the show in those presentations, but as someone that speaks for a living, and majored in communicants, I couldn’t believe how difficult it was for some people to just get the words out. I had no idea that it was such a point of weakness for some people. I know there are people who are scared of public speaking, but it was also hard to watch. I got second-hand embarrassment for a few of the contestants during the presentations.

Team Long Beach had to restart a few different times. They were just freeze and couldn’t find their train of thought, couldn’t find the words. Then we would just kind of say, okay, take a breath, let’s pick back up. It was funny, but at the same time it kind of wasn’t because you were so embarrassed for them. Certainly, there were a lot of the presentations were more funny in the sense that they just couldn’t get the words out, but throughout the show there were so many other funny moments.

I think Team Long Beach was just overall quirky to be around. I found it really refreshing, the mix of their group, the ages, and the fact that none of them were even golfers. Sometimes in golf we forget that it’s supposed to be fun. They made it really fun. During a segment at Cantigny Golf Course, I think it was in episode three, one of the contestants, Eric Sillies, swung and missed a wedge shot and was absolutely mortified. This is a guy who golfs. He had the cameras on him, and we were all just dying laughing.

Then, Brian Urlacher, I just find to be such a funny guy. He is such a golf nerd that we’d go on lunch breaks and during the lunch breaks, he’d go down to this room in Wilson headquarters, and all of the contestants would kind of sit together and the judges would come and mix in and whatever, but Brian would sit with the contestants during all the breaks and lunches and try to pick up on anything that he thought might bring his game to the next level. Anytime you looked over, Urlacher was talking to one of the contestants just trying to dig for some more information. I found him to be so funny as well.

Tom Brassell:  Yeah, team Long Beach seemed like they would make a good singing group. They’re not all the same age, but they kind of blend together, even though they couldn’t get the words out in the first few episodes.

Melanie Collins: Yep, they were a really cool group.

Tom Brassell: Part of the first few episodes that I thought was cool, I’ll call it the Big Short effect, when Frank would bring up something like co-efficient of restitution. I know it was probably done in post production, where they would just stop and talk about what co-efficient of restitution was or drag effect, or moment of inertia. Did you guys know that was going to happen? I thought that was outstanding.

Melanie Collins:I thought it was outstanding too. Honestly, we did it, and you know what was really impressive to me was we never did have to stop down and explain to people what that was. There were a few different groups that I think he had to be like, “Do you know what that is?” They were like, “Yeah, kind of.” For the most part, these contestants, a lot of them are so smart. A lot of them are engineering majors and have a lot of experience with moment of inertia and things like Frank talked about.

For me, he would say things and I would be, “What the heck is that?” I mean, I’m a broadcaster, a communications major, I don’t have any idea what half those things are. I think that most of the contestants knew exactly what he was talking about and I thought that was so impressive. I couldn’t believe the overall IQ in the room. It was really amazing how smart some for these people really were.

Tom Brassell:  Well, Tim, the show is just starting, it’s got a lot of momentum. It’s hard to look way, way ahead, but do you see this going maybe in another direction down the road, maybe with irons or putters or wedges or something like that?

Tim Clarke: Yeah, Tom. That’s a great question. We actually were down in Orlando for the premier doing obviously a lot of PR around the show. The exciting thing, the ratings have exceeded expectations on Golf Channel side, which is always an important component. Yes, do I see this show having the opportunity to continue on? We’ve actually had some conversations about an extension. I do think that now that the show is a reality, and it’s on TV, and people can actually see it and watch it and learn about it, I do think if there is a second generation. It seems like it would only make sense to Driver vs Driver Two, just because the ideas and submissions, now that somebody is going to walk away with a half million dollar prize and people are going to see that happen.

I think they’re going to get a tremendous more amount of submissions. Absolutely, there’s no doubt you can do this show on irons, you could do this show on wedges, you could do this show on putters, you could do it pretty much everywhere. Golf balls might be the hardest one just because there’s not a lot of visible technology, but I do think this concept of reality TV and crowd sourcing is definitely something that had some legs and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a generation two or three.

Tom Brassell: Thanks so much for the time, man. It’s fun watching it, it will be fun binge watching it even after we know what’s happened. Thanks so much for doing this.

Tim Clarke: Thanks so much for having me. Again, when this show finishes airing, make sure you race out to your Worldwide Golf Shops, your Edwin Watts, your Van’s, your Roger Dunn and get this thing in your hands and demo it. I can tell you we’ve got a commitment that it will be a driver that’s played on tour by Kevin Streelman, now only is it going to be a great TV show, but you’re going to see a world-class product in your shops here shortly that consumers really got to get out and try.

Tom Brassell:Well, there we go, a little bit back stage. A little bit behind the curtain with some of the key players on Wilson Driver vs. Driver. Tim Clarke, Frank Thomas and Melanie Collins. Thanks so much for taking the time with us, and if you haven’t seen the show, go back and look at the episodes because this thing is fantastic. Wilson Driver vs. Driver on Golf Channel.

Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll do it again next time we have another episode of GolfBetter at So long everyone.