Follow Jonathan Wall on Twitter at @jonathanrwall
Fort Worth, Texas — It's Tuesday afternoon and TaylorMade's Tour Van is humming. The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial won't start for another couple of days, but for TaylorMade's two full-time club technicians, Wade Liles (the "face" of the van) and Henry Luna, the week is already in full swing.
PGA Tour winner Sean O'Hair stands off to the side, waiting for the loft and lie on his irons to be dialed in. About 15 minutes later Rory Sabbatini stops in for a minute (literally) to grind his wedges before heading back to the range. And within a couple minutes of his departure, Liles is discussing some tweaks to Brian Gay's 3-wood, before adjusting and re-gripping a RBZ driver for Y.E. Yang.
This isn't a busy time of the day for the TaylorMade Tour Van. Far from it. If anything, it's just another typical Tuesday on the road for Liles and Luna, who seem to fly around the van's three work stations, re-shafting at one, before moving on to the next to grind a wedge.
"We set this truck up on Sunday at the next tour stop to get everything ready for the start of the work week," Liles said. "Then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it's pretty much like NASCAR. We're tuning up everything for the week, adjusting it for the course, weather conditions ... anything that we believe will give our guys an edge out there."
For most golf fans who frequent PGA Tour events starting on Thursday, the tour van is a mythical figure. Most know it exists, but by the time you arrive, TaylorMade's Tour Van, like the rest of the club manufacturers, is long gone — headed down the road to the next stop.
"A lot of people don't even know these trailers exist out here," Liles said. "In NASCAR, the pit crews are highly visible in the industry, but in this industry it's not. We're almost kept a secret. We're in the ropes or under the trees where no one can see us."
While fans might not see the work being done behind the scenes each week, Liles and his crew are a critical part of the team. They work hand in hand on a weekly basis with all of TaylorMade's staffers, not only helping them tweak their clubs, if need be, but also acting as a sounding board if they're in between drivers or wedges.
But they don't just handle the clubs. If you take a peek inside some of the drawers in the van, you'll notice hats and other apparel items for each of the staffers in the field that week. It's their job to also make sure Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia have the correct hats in their particular color.
"We do it all," Liles said. "The van is big, but based on the number of guys we deal with on a weekly basis, we could easily use two trucks. But the one we have at the moment certainly does a great job. It's just a good thing this one is 10 feet longer."
Before Liles and TaylorMade approached the PGA Tour about lengthening the truck, rules stated all tour vans could be no larger than 15 feet wide by 32 feet wide. For some golf manufacturers, the maximum wasn't an issue. But it was for TaylorMade.
After talking to the Tour, TaylorMade was given the green light to extend, which in turn allowed others to extend as well. It's a good thing, too, because Liles and Luna need all the space they can get.
The current van setup is tricked out with flat screen TVs, a private break room/eating area, plus an additional sitting area next to the work stations. There are also drawers upon drawers with every shaft your could possible imagine; particular grips for staffers in the field; and every TaylorMade driver, iron and wedge head that's currently on the market.
From a casual golfer's perspective, the equipment might seem excessive when you're working with roughly 30-40 staffers per week. But as Liles said, he needs every bit of that equipment to make sure his guys have exactly what they need.
"A lot of these people think the players show up at TaylorMade in January, they get a new set and that's what they play all year. That couldn't be further from the case. I'll sometimes build a guy 100 drivers over the course of a year, or a guy 25 sets of irons because he's a tinkerer."
At the moment, the entire van costs about $700,000 dollars, which seems about right given the attention to detail that went into creating the entire setup.
Although the guys enjoy spending time in the van during the early part of the week, Liles admitted that his favorite part of the job is being able to drive the truck to each tournament site.
For him, going from stop to stop is old hat at this point. Liles is currently in his 13th year driving the van -- he spent 4 1/2 years driving it on a full-time basis, living out of hotel rooms and jet-setting to Florida or New York on off weeks -- but now splits time driving with Luna.
"With two full-time guys, it gives one of us the chance to head home for a couple of days and decompress while the other takes the van to the next tournament. So I get six days off per month, which is more than enough for me. Anything more than that and I'd go stir crazy."
Logging about 40,000 miles per year, Liles noted that another perk of driving the van is getting the chance to play some of the top courses in the country along the way, including Winged Foot and most of the current venues on the PGA Tour.
He even admitted that he's received two invited to play Augusta National in the past, but had to pass on both because, "I'd have to take a day off from work, and you don't take days off from work out here."
With the exception of November and December, the Tour Van crew is on the road almost 10 months out of the year. No doubt about it, TaylorMade's tour technicians take their job very seriously. There's no calling in sick out here (as evident by Liles' cough, which he's apparently been fighting for the past two weeks).
But even with the days where he feels like garbage and would rather take a break, Liles, like the rest of the guys on staff, always finds a way to pick himself up. Because at the end of the day, he's doing something he loves. And that makes it all worthwhile.
"This is a dream job. To be able to work the best players in golf each day is something I truly enjoy. I also work with a great group of guys, and that's one of the biggest reasons why everything runs as well as it does. I consider this to be the best run tour van in golf."