Oversees the Global Marketing organization at Golf Pride® Grips, the #1 Grip Played on Tour. Leads the organization’s global product and brand strategy, integrated marketing plans, and global Tour development. Prior to joining Golf Pride, worked as an accomplished executive in the consumer goods industry with experience from 3M, P&G, PepsiCo, and Electrolux. In this newly established role, responsible for leading the brand to continue to build it’s preeminent position as the industry leader in grip technology & innovation across the industry’s green grass, golf specialty and Sporting Goods retail, and OEM channels.
The Neal Story
As a kid, my mother worked next to a golf course in Virginia. Nearly every morning on her way to work, she would drop me and a friend or two off at the course. We would play 18 holes in the morning, grab lunch at the clubhouse, and then play another 18 in the afternoon. Looking back on my childhood, those are some of my fondest memories and I’m certainly grateful I was able to play the game and grow from the many great life lessons the game teaches you.
After graduating from Georgetown University with my MBA, I had the opportunity to go work with and for some phenomenal companies including 3M, P&G, PepsiCo and most recently I was recruited to Electrolux by the former North American CEO to re-launch the Electrolux brand in North America.
While each of the positions provided me with exceptional opportunities, when I got the opportunity about a year and half ago to join Golf Pride and lead the marketing organization at an industry leading brand that I’ve personally used since playing golf, I knew it was an opportunity to connect a passion with my profession alongside a phenomenal team. When you wake up every day feeling engaged and excited about your job, loving the opportunity and the people that you work with, you never feel like you’re going to work. I feel fortunate to be in this position and that I was provided the opportunity to serve such a great marketing team.
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MATT WARD: What was the genesis for the new Align Technology Grips?
JONATHAN NEAL: Over 80% of Tour Players choose Golf Pride® grips. Of those 80%, approximately 1 in 3 players trust grip technology with a reminder because they know the importance of getting your hands on the grip the same way every time. However, universally they told us that they wanted the reminder to feel more pronounced.
The USGA has a rule for how large we can make the reminder, as such we had to completely re-engineer the technology to ensure that it feels more pronounced yet still conforms to the rules of golf. As a result, we designed ALIGN Technology that is built from the outside-in rather than the inside-out like a traditional reminder. This enabled us to create a more pronounced raised ridge by giving it additional technology features, such as a micro-diamond texture, flex channels, and we developed the reminder to be 50% firmer than the surrounding area of the grip all so that it would feel more pronounced, yet allow golfers consistent hand placement and consistent results.
MW: How long did it take from initial idea to actual production?
JN: We’ve been receiving feedback from professional golfers for several years now. Over the past 2 years, we have had a more dedicated focus in making the raised ridge more pronounced while conforming to the rules of golf. We conducted several rounds of consumer and TOUR testing with hundreds of people from prototype stage to the finished product. This helped us optimize the final product but takes time to execute. It is a critical part of our product development process. The consumer response to ALIGN Technology from the beginning was extremely positive, so we knew we had a potential winner on our hands. Thus far, we could not be more excited by ALIGN Technology and the benefits it can deliver not only to professional golfers, but we genuinely believe is a technology benefiting all golfers.
MW: What separates Golf Pride from others in the grip category?
JN: For 70 years, Golf Pride has had an unrelenting focus on developing innovation and technology that helps golfers enjoy the game more. From the first slip-on rubber grip that redefined the industry, to the Victory grip that has won more majors than any other product, to the first hybrid grip in MCC, and now with ALIGN technology. We continue to reinvent grip performance and the benefits they can deliver to golfers that love the game as much as we do. It is due to this continual innovation that allows Golf Pride the unique position of 80% usage on the PGA Tour. The best players in the world trust their games to Golf Pride.
MW: Why is it so little is actually mentioned in publications or actual teaching concerning the importance in having quality grips for one’s clubs?
JN: One of the first fundamentals of golf is starting with a good grip, as Ben Hogan famously pointed out. We couldn’t agree more with his assessment. From speaking with many PGA Professionals that this is fundamental to their instruction — the only connection golfers have with the club. If that connection is compromised by worn grips, ball-striking is adversely affected and scores go up. Nearly 80% of Tour Players playing our product, yet not one is paid to do so — something we’re incredibly proud of and which also speaks to the importance of having quality grips on one’s clubs.
MW: How often should golfers change their grips?
JN: Golf Pride recommends grip replacement once per year as part of a player’s pre-season equipment preparation. Because temperature, sunlight, oils, dirt and other elements deteriorate the grip materials, your grips could look shiny, feel hard to the touch, or lack their performance characteristics. A worn grip can cause tension in a player’s swing, which can result in more mishits and higher scores.
MW: Why do you think many golfers don’t change their grips more frequently?
JN: For professional and avid golfers they know the importance of grips in their overall performance, so they frequently change their grips. Due to the material slowly deteriorating over time, many amateur golfers don’t recognize that their grips are as worn down as they are. I’ve personally experienced many golfers getting a new, fresh set of grips and being amazed at how different they feel than the grips they kept on for too long, which ultimately gives the golfer increased confidence — not to mention overall superior performance of having a product perform as intended.
MW: Describe your core customer?
JN: A golfer with a passion for the game — looking to improve their performance with grip technology — helping them accomplish better results.
MW: Customer service is a term companies are quick to say is important in what they do. Define the term and how Golf Pride puts that into motion?
JN: Customer service is about continuously innovating around each touch point a golfer has with our brand — always delivering a memorable personal experience. Our goal is not to just to get golfers to purchase our grips, but creating evangelists for the brand. You can only do that by focusing on each and every golfer using our product. We actively participate in conversations with golfers on social media, forums — ensuring any interaction with Golf Pride gets issues resolved they may be experiencing. It literally starts with having an unrelenting focus on each golfer. We believe this has allowed us to be a leader in the industry for 70 years.
MW: If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
JN: One of the constant complaints of the game is the amount of time it takes to play. While I love playing 18 holes as much as any avid golfer, I would love for courses to explore offering 5-hole options allowing players to squeeze in a quick “round” as people are leading busier and busier lives. This would allow me, and I’m sure others, the opportunity to play the game more frequently.
MW: Best advice received — what was it and who from?
JN: While I was at 3M, a mentor of mine emphasized to always challenge the status quo. While always may be a slight overstatement, I’ve found the intent of the statement to be spot on. I feel like the game of golf is a perfect parallel and life lesson in this – you’re always searching for improvements in your game regardless if you are a +20 handicap or one of the world’s best players. I’ve found the same true in business — even when things are going well keep challenging the status quo and to keep improving. A perfect example of that is ALIGN Technology, which is a recent concrete example of continuously improving by redefining the shape of a grip. While this is only one recent example, I’ve found Golf Pride’s values align well with this advice and with my overall values making the transition to the team so seamless.