PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Sports

May 6, 2014

Hardin finds life with PING golden

PHOENIX —    Given his druthers, Matt Hardin would be playing the PGA Tour and endorsing PING equipment. Since his game coming out of Texas State was not of PGA Tour caliber, however, the 2002 Port Neches-Groves grad is more than content to be affiliated with PING in another way as a product merchandise manager.

   Working for Karsten Solheim’s hugely successful golf equipment manufacturing company is a dream job of sorts for a young guy who grew up playing in Chris Stroud’s shadow.

   In a little over six years with PING, he’s gotten the opportunity to travel, mingle with influential people, play numerous great courses, go to Europe to help launch PING’s G15 line, be an executive assistant to John Solheim and oversee the company’s headwear products.

  “I’ve been extremely blessed to have things go my way,” said Hardin. “It’s been a great ride. I’ve gotten to do a lot of really cool things. It’s pretty amazing how things have worked out for me.”

  Among other things, Hardin is living, breathing proof of being in the right place at the right time.

  Not so long ago, he was washing golf carts for Ed Campbell at Babe Zaharias in exchange for free rounds and to earn a little spending money on the side. After playing on three district championship teams at PN-G — two of them with Stroud — he enrolled at Lamar, then a couple of years later transferred to Texas State.

  Needing part-time work, he landed a job at Golfsmith in Austin, and while there got to know the PING sales rep. During his final semester at school, the PING rep asked about his plans for the future. Hardin told him he’d probably stick with Golfsmith until he figured out something better to do.

  The rep informed him of an opening at PING to travel the United States for demo days, and set him up with the customer service manager who ran the program. A week before graduation, Hardin flew to Phoenix to interview. Two weeks later he was on the PING payroll.

  “It all happened pretty fast,” he said.

  For the first couple of years, Hardin would spend two weeks on the road involved with demo days, then two weeks in Phoenix taking visitors on tours of the company’s facilities and working in the club-fitting shop. Later, there was a six-month assignment in Chicago running PING events, with side trips to golf meccas like San Diego, Palm Springs and Orlando.

   Once, while in Chicago, Hardin got a call from John Solheim about doing a personal fitting for a fellow named Jerry Rich. A self-made millionaire, Rich had gotten rich by inventing a method to incorporate five separate stock exchange software programs into one. He was so into golf he built his own championship course — Rich Harvest Farms about 50 miles out of Chicago — that would be host to the Solheim Cup in 2009 and will be hosting an NCAA regional next week.

  Matt did a fitting for Rich, his son and granddaughter. Afterward, he was invited to play what was truly a private course. “We were the only ones on it,” he said.

  Hardin has had numerous playing opportunities come his way out of fittings and demo days. His instructions from the company are to never go expecting anything free but if something is offered don’t hesitate to accept. Among the memorable playing opportunities were Killeen Castle, Portmarnock and the K Club while doing the G15 launch in Ireland.

  Whenever close friends from Southeast Texas drop by for a PING Tour, Hardin has a surefire way to get their attention. He takes them into what is known as the “Gold Putter Vault.” In the vault are over 2,400 gold-plated putters. Every time one of PING’s players wins on any tour, the company gold plates two models of the putter he/she was using. One goes to the player, the other is placed in the vault. If the win is in a major, the player is presented a solid golf putter.

  There is an occasional exception to the putter rule. When Bubba Watson won the Masters for the first time, PING gave him a solid golf wedge to commemorate his miracle wedge shot out of the woods on the 10th hole in his sudden death playoff against Louis Oosthuizen.  Mark Calcavecchia was given a gold 5-iron, after his remarkable shot from 201-yards set up the winning birdie in a playoff at the 1989 British Open.

  Meanwhile, among those friends from Southeast Texas who occasionally pay a visit to Hardin is Baylor-bound PN-G star Braden Bailey. Thanks to Hardin, PING is probably going to be the club of choice as Bailey continues what looks to be a promising career. Already PING has twice done club fittings for Braden, including using shafts that are PN-G purple.

  It’s all in a day’s work for a guy who started getting hooked on the game at age six while spending summer days with his grandfather on the course at Wildwood. For Matt Hardin, the golf dream didn’t turn out exactly like he envisioned during those carefree years, but the ending feels every bit as good as shooting a final round 66 to win a tournament.

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