Lifting The Golf Bag Burden

Scratch golfer T.J. Izzo nearly gave up the game when a bad back left him writhing in pain after lugging his clubs for 18 holes. Real golfers don't ride in carts, he says. Then, one night in 1988, Izzo awoke from a dream about a harness-like golf-bag strap. He jumped out of bed and made a mock-up from duct tape and towels.

Izzo's brainstorm was, he says, "a better mousetrap"--although the world didn't exactly beat a path to his door. The Izzo Dual Strap success story proceeds step by plodding step.

First, Izzo, a suburban Denver homebuilder, persuaded a friend to put up $15,000 to patent the strap in exchange for 10% of any future royalties. The patent was issued in 1991, and Izzo negotiated a licensing agreement with Wilson Sporting Goods Co., letting it manufacture the strap under its name in return for help in defending the patent against knockoffs.

Meanwhile, Izzo had produced 1,500 straps on his own with another $15,000 put up by a golfing buddy, a surgeon who "loved the idea, because he tells women not to carry purses on one shoulder," Izzo says.

Samples were sent to golf publications, which endorsed the $29.95 strap. Doctors recommended it, too. "It has real orthopedic benefits. It's a simple concept to distribute forces evenly across the shoulders and spine," says David A. Haaland, an orthopedic surgeon in La Mesa, Calif.

GALLERY SHOW. Still, sales languished. Izzo feels that's because golfers likened his strap to a backpack's, which can be awkward to put on and take off. The Izzo is different. One strap is lined with velour to grip the shoulder; the other has a nylon lining to slip off with ease.

To show professionals the strap in action, Izzo attended tournaments, standing in the gallery with his bag strapped on. Among the first to notice: J. Michael Carrick, Tom Kite's caddie and co-director of the Professional Tour Caddies Assn. Carrick wears the strap to ease a sore back and muscle spasms. But he takes some ribbing. "Tom calls it the `geek strap,"' says Carrick. The strap got a big boost when well-known caddie Fanny Sunesson told the London Daily Express she almost gave up caddying for Nick Faldo because of back pain. The strap saved her career, she told the newspaper. Izzo then signed her to promote his baby on the Professional Golfers Assn. European Tour.

In April, 1992, Izzo formed Izzo Systems Inc. He's president and chief executive. He raised $380,000 for operations by selling 10% of the company to a group of Wyoming investors. In addition, Izzo brought in Joseph Louis Barrow Jr., son of late heavyweight champ Joe Louis, as senior vice-president for marketing. Barrow signed up 24 independent reps in the U.S. and 8 foreign distributors. Barrow has also targeted college teams and top junior players because "they're trend-setters," he says.

Izzo predicts revenues of $1.7 million this year on the sale of 92,000 straps. Last year, he made his first profit: a net of $12,000 on revenues of $1 million from 75,000 straps. He's trying to raise $500,000 for an assembly plant in Wheat Ridge, Colo. There's just one divot in this venture so far: Now that Izzo's spending all his time on the strap, his golf handicap has gone from 0 to 7.

Sandra D. Atchison in Wheat Ridge

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