Randy Vehslage lived and breathed golf, and played it almost every day.
Then one afternoon, in April of 2015, Vehslage had an epiphany on the 16th hole of The Links at Challedon in Mount Airy, a club he joined two years before.
"I hit my ball into the woods," Vehslage said. "It was like the sixth one of the day. I was so frustrated I said, 'I am done playing golf. This is not fun anymore.'"
Before the Sykesville resident could throw his clubs in the water and stomp off the course, Vehslage's playing partner, Jeff Bowers, tipped him off that he wasn't properly using his hips in his swing.
Vehslage went home, racked his brain and came up with a solution that would eventually culminate in a product called HipStart.
Vehslage, who co-owns a telecommunications company, said he spent most of the next two years designing and refining the device, which finally made it to market in late May. It retails for $19.95.
A golfer can attach HipStart to their belt and use it to warm up before playing a round or practicing.
It helps golfers improve their technique, Vehslage said, by giving them instant feedback on the rotation of the hips during practice swings.
Effective hip movement is a swing fundamental. It results the ball being driven farther and with more accuracy, Vehslage said.
One of the first golfers to try it out was Vehslage's friend Justin Stankewicz, a PGA teaching professional who lives in Mount Airy.
Stankewicz said it made a noticeable difference with his middle school and high school students and even improved his own swing.
"He had me try it and it was unbelievable," Stankewicz said. "It was just a great idea. I am surprised there wasn't something in the industry like this already. You saw the difference of 10 yards on two of my shots. It was doing the same thing for my students. You are increasing the speed of your hip flexor."
For Stankcwicz, it brought back memories of the 1996 Adam Sandler sports comedy "Happy Gilmore."
"You think back to the movie," Stankewicz said. "You've got the guy Chubbs saying, 'It's all in the hips, it's all in the hips.' It all goes back to that."
It really goes back to the initial idea that Vehslage came up with the next morning after his fiasco at The Links at Challedon. He decided to remove one of the stands that holds up his golf bag and used it to assemble a makeshift device that he could strap to his belt.
"I took an iPhone case and taped it around the stand and used a Dremel [rotary tool] to cut it so it would swing fully around to where I needed it," Vehslage said. "I put it on my waist and that's when I really felt my hips moving."
Vehslage practiced with the device and resumed playing about a month later. His friends were surprised how much his game improved.
"A lot of guys were like, 'What are you doing differently?'" Vehslage said. "They told me, 'You are hitting the ball straighter and longer.'"
Several of Vehslage's friends tried it out and saw similar improvements. Vehslage's next step was to enlist the help of two designers to create a prototype.
Then he took four months off from golf and working on HipStart to undergo treatment for a cancerous tumor in his left eye.
After Vehslage recovered, he resumed the pain-staking, six-month process of fine-tuning the product with Freeland resident Scott Leonard, one of the designers.
"He came back with the [computer-aided] design and I went and 3D printed it about 20 or 30 times," Vehslage said.
Leonard and Vehslage also hit on the idea of marketing HipStart to tennis and baseball players in addition to golfers.
"To make his product marketable, he needed mechanical design and engineering help to develop the parts that can be done in an efficient way," Leonard said. "It was a great idea, and he got me to believe in it. I was able to improve on the idea he had and make it more functional."
When Vehslage had the finished product, he took it to a Florida golf show and rented a booth in a section for new products.
"I had about 100 people tell me they really liked it and wanted to buy it," Vehslage said.
Vehslage has brought it to market and sold about 100.
He's on the verge on launching a wide-ranging social media to get out the word on HipStart. Vehslage says he ultimately wants it placed in national retail sports chains such as Dick's Sporting Goods.
"I am positive I will find a way to get it in there," he said. "It's just a matter of knocking on the right door."
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