Orange-Whipping golfers into form: ND native’s product is a hot commodity in golf circlesGRAND FORKS — Jim Hackenberg fell short in his goal of becoming a touring pro on the PGA. But the Grand Forks Central High School graduate is making his niche in the sport — as an inventor rather than a player.
By: Greg DeVillers, Forum Communications
GRAND FORKS — Jim Hackenberg fell short in his goal of becoming a touring pro on the PGA. But the Grand Forks Central High School graduate is making his niche in the sport — as an inventor rather than a player.
Hackenberg is the creator of the Orange Whip, a training device to smooth the swing of golfers. Since it went on the market in 2008, Hackenberg said, more than 90,000 Orange Whips have been sold. He said more than 200 players on the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours use it.
“Somebody just told me here that they were watching the practice round at the British Open and they saw two players swinging the Orange Whip,’’ said the 44-year-old Hackenberg, who is in Grand Forks visiting friends and relatives. “I love to see that. It tells me that an idea I had is being trusted by some of the best players in the world.
“If somebody had said to me five years ago that I’d have products like this, I wouldn’t have believed it. I was probably anti-training aides when I was teaching. I thought a lot of them were foolish or just didn’t help golfers.’’
The whip consists of an ultra-flexible golf shaft, with an orange ball, approximately the size of a baseball, attached in place of the golf head, and a counter-weighted golf ball on the grip end. It is designed to help golfers develop a smooth, balanced swing plane.
Becoming an inventor was never on Hackenberg’s agenda when he graduated from Central High School in 1986. He was a top-six placer at the state meet three times in high school. “I won the regional as a senior and thought I’d win state,’’ he said. “I wound up sixth. That was a deflating moment.’’
From there, it was on to a year of golf at Arizona State, where one of his teammates was Phil Mikkelson, then three years at Oregon State and several years as a golf vagabond on various pro tours.
“I gave (pro golf) a lot of chances,’’ Hackenberg said. “I played a lot of smaller tours. But I was below par. In my early 30s, it became apparent it wasn’t going to happen for me, so I became a golf teaching pro.’’
He did maintain a connection to the PGA, as Hackenberg would caddy for former Minot golfer Patrick Moore. And the combined experiences of teaching pro and caddy led to the development of Hackensack’s creative side.
“When you caddy, you stand around a lot,’’ Hackenberg said. “I watched golfers a lot. You’d see them and notice that certain players made it look easier than others. I started to focus my attention on those guys. I saw that they swung with perfect rhythm. That kept them in great balance. So the next question was, ‘How do I teach that?’
“I like to consider myself an efficiency expert, for whatever that means. I’m always looking for the most efficient way in everything I do.’’
Hackenberg went to his drawing board.
He wanted some sort of device that would act like a weighted pendulum, with a flexible shaft.
He started by using fishing rods and weights. Eventually, he found the prototype for the shaft at a home-improvement center. He tried a lacrosse ball, experimented and decided on something larger. The initial counter weight was a door knob filled with lead.
The experimentation started in 2003. In 2008, the product went on the market.
Since them, Hackenberg now has his own company, Jimmy Hack Golf, LLC. He has another golf-training device on the market — Orange Peel, a spherical platform developed to help golfers improve their swing. Hackenberg also is working on training equipment for putting and chipping.
“I don’t think all this is really surprising. My mind has always been sort of over-worked,’’ Hackenberg said, smiling. “Bob Leach, my coach at Central, used to tell me I think too much when I play. I’ve always looked at stuff over and over, trying to solve things. But I’ve never really built anything before this.
“I didn’t think this would turn into a business. I started doing it strictly to help my swing and my teaching.’’
Hackenberg is based in Easley, S.C., where he’s lived for the past 4½ years. He still plays in four or five larger regional pro tournaments a year, and he still hasn’t totally forgotten about his dream.
“I’m probably playing better now than I ever have,’’ he said. “I think I’m more relaxed out on the course.
“I keep thinking I’m going to go back and play on a tour, something like the Dakota Tour, for four weeks. I’d do it just for the fun of it.’’