A 34-year-old gym teacher who played baseball at Central Bucks West has changed the game in Augusta.
At least, he’s changed the game before the game.
Every Wednesday afternoon during Masters week, the par-3 course that rests on the shoulder of Augusta National transforms into a cavalcade of cuteness. Players who participate in the Masters Par 3 Contest often use their wives as caddies, and adorably, their children trudge alongside, too.
But Augusta National requires all caddies to wear the club’s all-white coveralls, which they provide for wives, but not children. So, the players usually get a facsimile set from a local seamstress; or, if they plan far enough ahead, from Zach Johnson’s mother-in-law, Carol Barclay.
Now, Justin Pillmore’s their guy.
As of Tuesday morning, Pillmore had sold 36 coveralls to 18 golfers, including previous Masters champions Danny Willett, Charl Schwartzel, and Sergio Garcia, who even helped customize his two outfits. Dustin Johnson, the No. 2 golfer in the world, ordered two.
Pillmore packed plenty of inventory for his four days in Augusta, and planned to sell right up until the players tee off Wednesday. They come with patches, but Augusta National is making official kid-sized Masters patches, which they will pick up just before the Par 3 Contest, fasten them on, then return them to Augusta National immediately. It’s Augusta National, after all.
Paul Casey bought a set of coveralls Monday morning, but most players ordered weeks ago. Rising star Lucas Bjerregaard’s fiancee, Henriette Friis, posted their daughter Josie’s coveralls on Instagram, complete with her little pink putter.
Marc Leishman needed three: for Harvey, 7; Ollie, 5; and even Eva, who is 21 months. Hers will have ruffles.
“I was impressed with how they truly do look like authentic Augusta caddie uniforms,” said Audrey Leishman, Marc’s wife. “And I like to support a small business like this.”
This business might not be small for long. This year, when you watch the Par 3 Contest, Leishman’s brood will be part of the more than 60 percent of the kids wearing Pillmore’s product.
“The ultimate goal,” Pillmore said, “is 100 percent.”
When Pillmore watched the Par 3 Contest last year, that wasn’t even a kernel in his mind. Sprawled across his couch in Sellersville, Bucks County, his 2-year-old son Gideon on his lap, Pillmore saw the kids with their golfer dads and thought:
“I want one of those suits for Gideon for Halloween.”
He checked eBay, Amazon, Google: nothing. He got prices from local seamstresses: $200, $300, $400. No thanks.
Finally, Pillmore contacted a company overseas that could make a perfect replica. One problem: The minimum order was 100 coveralls.
He took the plunge. Ordered 100. Designed a number patch for the front and name patches for the back with a company based in Augusta. Took pictures of Gideon. Posted the coveralls on Etsy.com for $95.
They were all gone in two months.
“They just started selling like hotcakes,” Pillmore said. “I even had to sell my son’s.”
By October, he’d ordered another 125; gone by Halloween, but none sold to actual Masters participants. His dad, Eric Pillmore, changed that.
Justin’s parents now live in Charlotte, N.C. By happenstance, they attend the same church as Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion. Eric Pillmore called Justin and said, “Why not send us some pictures?”
Pillmore did, of Gideon — with Simpson’s name on the back. Two weeks later, Simpson’s wife, Dowd, emailed Pillmore: “We absolutely love it.” She ordered four.
Pillmore called Augusta National and tried to make a deal to get his product into the merchandise tent. The club declined, but it offered to steer players to him when they called the club. Pillmore got four orders that way, including Keegan Bradley’s.
How does he have the time and energy for this enterprise?
Well, Pillmore is a physical education teacher and administrator who went to college at New Mexico, where he learned the Tao of Jump Rope as a student-teacher. Pillmore started a jump-rope club at his first job, at an elementary school in northeast Nevada, but word quickly got back to Doylestown. Out of the blue in 2008, he got an interview with Groveland Elementary School in Doylestown.
There, he began a before-school fitness program, created two sessions of a week-long summer jump-rope camp, and formed the Bungee Jumpers, a jumpers group that performs at local colleges and, occasionally, at halftime for the Sixers.
But because of dwindling school populations and policy changes, he was downsized three times at two schools in the next 11 years. After it happened a fourth time last spring, Pillmore and his wife, Rebekah, exasperated, moved their achy, breaky hearts to Arkansas.
Rebekah’s family lives there. They live in Bentonville, the home of Walmart. She works out of the house. The jump-rope camps, clinics, and appearances continue, and, combined with the burgeoning coverall business, Pillmore makes a decent side income. He’ll keep about 200 coveralls in stock, though he’ll get back into education this summer.
This week, though, he’s at Augusta National until after the Par 3 Contest — making sales, making alterations, rubbing elbows with superstars and living a dream.
“It feels,” he said, “like I’m walking on clouds.”