Karsten Solheim revolutionized golf club design and manufacturing, thereby making the game easier and more enjoyable for hundreds of thousands of amateur golfers.
Elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the lifetime achievement category, Solheim is heralded as a golf innovator who changed the game by examining the mechanics and technology of the sport.
Born in Bergen, Norway, Solheim didn’t take up the game until he was 42 when his co-workers at General Electric invited him to fill out a foursome. He immediately became an enthusiast but found, much to his despair, that he shared a problem with millions of other golfers-he couldn’t putt. Like many of us, he blamed his equipment. However, he did something about it. Figuring out how to hit a ball straighter, farther and higher consumed most of his waking hours.
"I saw immediately that by using the simple laws of physics and mechanics it would be possible to make something more efficient than a blade, and thus avoid such off-line putts."
Solheim began tinkering in his garage with a blade putter. He assembled the working model for his first putter, the 1-A, with two popsicle sticks glued to two sugar cubes with a shaft in the middle, rather than attaching the shaft to the heel of the blade. The radical design transferred the weight to the perimeter of the club and the hollow center area created a distinctive “ping” when it struck the ball. Thus, a name for his company was born.
Before Solheim, few applied scientific principles to the design of golf equipment. “I saw immediately that by using the simple laws of physics and mechanics it would be possible to make something more efficient than a blade, and thus avoid such off-line putts,” Solheim explained.
Solheim’s homespun operation usually confined itself to the garage in its early years. When Solheim first toted around his unconventional looking putter to the practice greens of pro tournaments, he was not readily accepted. The breakthrough occurred when Julius Boros won the PGA TOUR’s Phoenix Open in 1967 using a PING putter.
Solheim sketched his “answer” to inconsistent putting on the sleeve of a 78-rpm record. His wife, Louise, suggested he remove the “w” so the name would fit on the club. Within a few years, Solheim’s putters were being used by pro golfers all over the world and the Anser putter remains one of the most popular and copied designs to this day.
In 1967, overwhelming demand for the Anser forced Solheim to resign his position at GE and incorporate Karsten Manufacturing and, thus, a part-time passion became a full-time pursuit.
Karsten Solheim founded the Solheim Cup.
In 1969, Solheim applied the concept of perimeter weighting to irons. His new design and method of manufacturing took the golf world into a new dimension. By taking the weight from behind the center of the head and redistributing it to the toe and heel, Solheim increased the size of the sweet spot. He was the first to use investment casting in order to improve the consistency of his irons. The Ping iron was a boon to the average golfer because of its playability. Even off-center hits could achieve results of decent direction and distance in comparison to the less-forgiving forged irons.
In only three years, Solheim captured about 40 percent of the market and his Ping Eye2 model remains the best-selling iron ever. It is said that Ping irons and putters have inspired more look-alikes and knockoffs than any other clubs.
Notably he was a pioneer in generating interest and sponsorship dollars in women’s professional golf. Solheim was also the driving force behind the Solheim Cup, the biennial matches patterned after the Ryder Cup, which gave women’s golf an international platform.