How the Toulons ended their dad’s retirement — and altered the putter industry forever
It was Summer 2015, and Sean Toulon was enjoying the perks of retirement. At 57, he had just called it a career making putters for TaylorMade for three decades. He was out playing his first weekend round with an old industry pal in Southern California. Life had rarely been simpler.
It was about to get complex again. His sons, Tony and Joe, waited patiently at home with a business proposal. They wanted to get Dad back into putter making, this time with the Toulon name at the front of it all. But they had no idea who Dad was playing with that day.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s interesting. What would you do?’” Sean recalls. “They said, ‘We would do an all-milled putter company and go right up against the one competitor,’ which was Scotty Cameron. I said, ‘You know, I just played golf with him. That’s kind of weird.’”
Keep your friends close and your frenemies closer. “They did a bunch of homework on it, presented some stuff within the next week, and we started.”
Six years later, that fledgling company, Toulon Design, is now a major piece of the putter portfolio at Odyssey, which Sean oversees as general manager. And his sons couldn’t be more involved. Joe has risen in the ranks to become the lead Tour rep, road-tripping across the country to tweak the wands of the best in the world. Tony is the brain behind Odyssey’s digital marketing and social media efforts. From the top down, every flatstick Odyssey brings to market has been influenced by the Toulons.
Understandably, as Sean says with a laugh, the relationship with Cameron has been “politely strained.” The Toulons are extremely complimentary of their main competitor, but there was clearly room for another company in the high-end putter market. And creating a brand with the Toulon name was “like starting between first and second base,” Sean says. Then Odyssey arrived with its resources to hit one over the fence.
Under Toulon leadership, Odyssey has increased its industry-leading share of putters on the PGA Tour and doubled down on the rise of mallets for all skill levels. They’ve brought back the White Hot face insert, one of the most successful innovations of Odyssey’s history. They’ve focused on putter shaft development, so it’s not just a putter head affixed to a putter shaft covered with a grip. Rather, it’s a grip weighted perfectly for the shaft, precisely positioned into the proper head with unique weighting of its own. Is all of that necessary? Yes, it is.
“The law is people buy with emotion and justify with logic,” Sean says. It’s one of many truisms he leans on in conversation. And he’d be the first to tell you that selling putters isn’t easy. No club is more cherished than the one that brings home the bacon. Golfers will snap a driver over their knee, but they’ll keep an “Old Faithful” flatstick laying around in the garage for decades. Figuring out what consumers (especially PGA Tour players) want from their putter is the challenge that has kept Sean a gimme away from true retirement. But that’s where Joe and the rest of the team at Odyssey come in handy.
Joe is a former D1 golfer and self-described putter freak. “I’ve gone through phases where I switched putters three or four times a week,” he says. “And I’ve gone through the stage where I’ve used the same putter for five years. So I kind of know both ends of that spectrum.”
His ability to relate to elite players — if only “on a very small scale” he’s quick to point out — has led to an outsize presence in Odyssey’s Tour-facing efforts. Take this spring, for example, and his work with the best player in the world: Tiny habits had seeped into Jon Rahm’s stroke in May, leading to the first missed cut of his previous 12 months. Joe sent him dozens of models to try at home, and by the time he arrived at the Memorial tournament, Rahm was close. He was vibing with a Rossie prototype — a mid-mallet that Joe dialed in to 2.5 degrees of loft with a Stroke Lab shaft. After another grind session early in the week in Columbus, it has quickly led to some of the best putting performances of Rahm’s career.
“I gave them a headache,” Rahm said on Golf Channel two weeks later. “I don’t know how many putters they built for me to find the one I needed, but I’m pretty sure I found the one I need. This one’s working really well, so Joe, thank you for all the hard work.”
A shout-out on cable television! Rahm delivered that line with a thumbs-up to the camera and a genuine ear-to-ear smile. His most recent prize, the U.S. Open trophy, was cradled in his right arm. “At the end of the day, I don’t get any more joy out of my job than seeing that happen,” Joe says. Another win for Odyssey and another win for the Toulons. They might be the most successful family the putting world has ever seen. A retirement gift that keeps on giving.