The story of Titleist, the No. 1 golf ball at the US Open, started with a wobbly putt

The story of Titleist, the No. 1 golf ball at the US Open, started with a wobbly putt

Young noticed that his ball was behaving strangely.

“He began to complain that there was something wrong with that damn golf ball,” his son Dick told a team Titleist staff member in 2019.

The match came down to the final putt on the 18th hole.

Young believed he stroked the ball perfectly but “the ball started to wobble and veered sharply away from the cup,” says his son.

“He was just very adamant that he hit the ball properly,” says Michael Gemaly, one of three generations in his family of Titleist workers. “And the other guys were razzing on him and he says, ‘I’m telling you, if we could see inside this golf ball, you’re going to see that there’s something wrong in that golf ball.’”

Phil Young, owner of the Acushnet Process Company, was so convinced that an unbalanced ball was to blame for a missed putt, he developed the Titleist golf ball. Here he is in a 1910 photo.Photo courtesy Titleist

Young convinced his friend to X-ray the ball at St. Luke’s Hospital.

“Sure enough it was cockeyed,” says Young, laughing.

Then they went back to the pro shop and got a variety of different balls and X-rayed them all.

Each had some sort of defect, some more than others.

Young skipped Sunday dinner and started working on making a golf ball that had quality and consistency. It launched him out of the Great Depression.

“He decided he could sell a few,” says his son, chuckling.

To this day they still X-ray all Titleist balls before they are approved.

The Titleist Ball Factory 3 is the heartbeat of the most famous brand name in golf.

Scott Romano loads golf balls into a hopper for the buffing process.

Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

It never stops. More than 565 employees work three shifts and produce more than 330,000 balls a day.

This will be the 74th year in a row that Titleist will be the leading golf ball at the US Open, being played at The Country Club just 53 miles north. They will have more than all the other brands combined.

Nearby, is the Manchester Lane Test Facility, hidden like a secret CIA location, in a modest Acushnet neighborhood. There, a robot tests the quality and performance of balls by hitting them up to 200 times 300 yards straight down the middle, much to the chagrin of mere golfing mortals.

In the late ’90s Titleist expanded the state-of-the-art facility because Tiger Woods was smacking balls into the woods.

A Titleist robot tests prototype golf balls at Titleist’s Manchester Lane Test Facility in Acushnet.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Lately, Titleist is coming out of the woods from COVID. In 2020 the factory was shut down for safety and the workers were furloughed. Demand increased and production ceased.

“I can live without toilet paper and hamburger meat but not my ProV1x’s,” wrote Dale V. of Escondido, Calif., on social media.

Now operating at full strength, Titleist has resumed giving free tours of Ball Factory 3 to the public. Here they are obsessed with accuracy. A golf ball with an uneven dimple depth of the width of a human hair can turn a good swing into a bad shot.

Visitors must don white gowns and hair net hats in some areas.

Associate Charlee Neuman (in white coat and hair net) loads sprayed golf balls into the pad print hopper to get stamped with a play number and the legendary Titleist script.

Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Many tour pros have made the pilgrimage here. Bubba Watson visited the plant after he won the Masters in 2014 and bought lunch for all three shifts.

Titleist claims that for every 10 million golf balls the company sends out, only one comes back because a golfer says it didn’t perform as expected. There are over 120 quality checks on the Pro V1x balls. You can see workers poring over magnifying glasses looking at the 388 dimples on their Pro V1′s.

Michael Gemaly, 57, is a core sprayer. The core is the engine of the golf ball.

“It’s where you get your power from,” he says.

He has been at Titleist for 39 years.

“Actually, I have more seniority than that,” he says.

His mom worked as a winder, when they used to use elastic thread inside the ball. His father, mother, and daughters have all worked at Titleist.

On the day of his birth, his mom was winding thread on the floor and Gemaly was unwinding rapidly out of her womb.

“She was about ready to have me right on the winding room floor. It was her fourth child, I was coming quick so they rushed her to the hospital.”

Gemaly went to work with his mom at a young age. Veteran secretaries used to remind him that they changed his diapers.

“I had a little basketball. . . So I think at that point I should have started getting paid because I was on the clock.”

Titleist even hired a teacher to help Gemaly get his high school equivalency degree.

He loves watching the reactions of golf fans to the making of a golf ball.

“People are surprised at the work involved. It’s not just you take goop, you put it in the machine, you press a button, out comes a golf ball.

Gemaly says the quality control checks are demanding.

Chris O’Rourke gets fitted for Titleist golf balls and clubs by Kyle Neumayer at Titleist’s Manchester Lane Test Facility.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

”It’s actually aggravating sometimes. But I mean, at the end of the day, all those things are necessary.”

On days off you won’t find him on the links despite employee golf ball discounts. He only went to a driving range once. He loved it, he says. He hit home runs.

“I grabbed a second bucket, and then a third.”

Exhausted, he went home to bed

“I woke up, two or three in the morning. I could not breathe, I actually got rushed to the hospital, got muscle relaxers and antiinflammatories. I missed a week of work. From that point on I said I’m taking up fishing.”

Nor will you find him watching the US Open on TV.

“Do you know something? I can’t watch golf on TV. When they zoom in on that Titleist ball, I get a little anxiety. It’s like, oh, I hope everything is good. I mean, we created this thing,” he says.

“It’s just so special.”

A mirror view of the Titleist Ball Factory.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at stanley.grossfeld@globe.com.

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