Steadily focused behind yellow-tinted safety glasses, Anthony Taranto, the visionary responsible for developing Callaway’s custom wedges, creates another work of art. If you want to admire one of his masterpieces, just take a peek inside any Callaway staff bag; there’s a good chance Taranto’s work is on full display. Even beyond the pro tours, an original Taranto is a highly coveted treasure for high-profile golfers from Steph Curry to Barack Obama.
On his unlikely path to becoming golf’s premier wedge customizer, Taranto, 47, nearly slept with the fishes. His father worked his way from deckhand to tuna boat captain, and a young Anthony had every intention of living a life at sea. On his second voyage as a deckhand himself, the boat wound up sinking off the coast of Panama. Taranto recalls thinking “this could be it” as their vessel slowly submerged into the ocean. Taranto would come away unscathed and, as anyone could appreciate, ready for a new line of work.
The search hit a serendipitous patch in 1999, when Taranto’s wife, Lori, stumbled upon a Callaway ad in the local newspaper for a ball machinist. Golf had long been one of Taranto’s favorite hobbies (he’s a 4.8 index) and he enjoys working with his hands, so he jumped at the opportunity. After a few years (by “dumb luck”), he shifted gears to become a club builder, without ever applying for the job.
Taranto showed an aptitude for the work and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming one of six Callaway Tour builders — on call 24/7 to ensure that staff players get their clubs made to exact specifications. It was a satisfying gig, but Taranto always thought golf clubs should be cooler, and he took it upon himself to add a touch of personality. He started by stamping clubs with players names and initials. That led to painting and sandblasting on the flat, broad backsides common to most modern wedge designs.
Two-time LPGA major winner Anna Nordqvist was the first pro to put one of Taranto’s custom clubs into play. From there, a game of telephone broke out on the LPGA Tour. The requests piled up, and eventually Taranto didn’t have time to build sets any more. He had found his calling.
Today, Taranto’s official title is Pro Tour Club Artist. If you see a custom Callaway wedge, it was designed and built by Taranto. It took him a while to accept that he is indeed an artist. After all, he can’t draw worth a lick. But spend two hours with Anthony in his Carlsbad, Calif.–based workshop (that’s all the time he needs to create a custom wedge from start to finish) and you’ll walk away astonished at the meticulous detail and craftsmanship that goes into every millimeter of his work. It’s reminiscent of watching a freehand painter transform a blank canvas into something that, at times, can literally take your breath away. If you ask about his methods, Taranto will tell you there’s nothing technical about his approach. “I figure it out as I go,” he says. “I don’t really ever have a plan.”
Taranto’s public notoriety grew as popular pop-culture websites such as the Chive and a small army of PGA and LPGA Tour disciples, via social channels, began posting pictures of his work. His own Instagram feed has become such a big part of his brand that he built a contraption that’s tucked under his workspace to help take glare-free photos for his 42,000 followers.
Michelle Wie is a card-carrying member of the Taranto fan club. She also has the designer’s ear. The former major champ gives him a broad idea of what she wants and trusts him to do his thing. “Not only does he create functional wedges,” she says, “but he also creates a story for each and every person he designs for.”
The adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery rings true where custom-wedge designs are concerned — one-off creations from all of the major manufacturers have flooded the market since Taranto started flexing his artistic muscle. While Taranto takes pride in being the custom-wedge OG, he’s not so much flattered as he is disgruntled by the lack of creativity he sees elsewhere. Originality is what drives him, and he’s constantly experimenting with new methods and designs to remain the leader in the field. One thing’s for sure: He never takes for granted the opportunities that working at Callaway afford him: “Other people are trying to do what I do, but they can’t do it for who I do it for.”
Unfortunately, who he’s not doing it for is you. Unless you’re a Tour player, ex-president or NBA MVP, you probably can forget about bagging an original Taranto. There’s a chance you might win one at auction, and Callaway Customs releases a Tour Limited creation from Taranto — with a design inspired by a new charity — every month. To date, more than $70,000 has been raised from Taranto’s wedges.
Taranto is quick to acknowledge that without the hard work of fellow Tour club builders, he wouldn’t have the time to work on custom projects. There’s even a bit of guilt in the attention that his creations receive when the hard work that goes on around him isn’t acknowledged. (Wayne Byrne, who operates Callaway’s LaserJet, is someone Taranto credits for helping to take his work and visions to the next level.) Guilt-ridden or not, he’s a star. And while art alone can’t hit a perfect flop for you, it’ll sure make you look cooler when you do.
The list of people sporting Taranto works is a who’s who of celebrity golfers. Presidents Bush and Obama each carry one (so perhaps there is something that both sides of the aisle can agree on). Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, Steven Tyler and Jimmy Buffet plug into Taranto designs when they’re not on stage, while Marc Leishman, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Danielle Kang and Morgan Pressel are just a few of the Callaway staffers with AT’s custom beauties in their bags.