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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on local inventor Carl Papa.)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“I’m truly a bogey golfer,” Knoxvillian Carl Papa says in describing the game that he has played since the eighth grade.
“I muscled the ball,” he adds in describing his swing. “When I shifted my lower body the way you’re supposed to, I would murder it (the ball).”
That reality led the retired federal Chief PreTrial Services Officer to develop a device designed to improve his golf swing and the swing of others by establishing the muscle memory to repeatedly shift weight to their front foot.
Today, Papa is Chief Executive Officer of Pin High Pro, a company whose latest product iteration is something called the “Pocket Pin High Pro.” He holds four patents for the devices that he sells over the internet.
How the South Jersey native happened to get to East Tennessee is a story in itself as is the career path that he pursued before becoming an inventor nearly five years ago.
“The sport that I excelled in was wrestling,” Papa said of his high school days. Following graduation in 1968, he was looking for a college wrestling program. This region was not on his list but, at the last minute, there was an opening on Milligan College’s team for a person in his weight category.
He accepted the offer and, with the exception of a few weeks back home after graduation from Milligan, Papa has spent his entire career in East Tennessee.
“When I came to Milligan, I did not know what I wanted to do,” he said. During one summer, Papa interned with the Probation Office in Johnson City.
“I loved it,” he said. When he got an offer to join the State of Tennessee, Papa readily accepted, thinking he would be assigned to Johnson City. The opening was actually in Knoxville.
After three years with the state, Papa moved over to the federal system where he worked for 30 years, the last 14 as Chief Pre-Trial Services Officer for the Eastern District before retiring in 2006.
“I have always fixed things,” Papa said, so it was only natural that he might decide to find a way to become a better golfer in retirement. The awakening came in the summer of 2009 when Tom Slagle, a golfing partner, noticed his swing.
“You’re not shifting your weight to your front foot,” Slagle told Papa. “You’re using your upper body.”
Based on this intelligence and noticing others had the same challenge, Papa started tinkering.
“I thought of a little buzzer on my front foot,” he says. Armed with his Dremel, Papa walked around his house looking for things like Christmas tree lights.
“I thought I could do a circuit with a momentary on switch on a spring,” he says. The initial prototype looked like a clam shell. Although it was too high, it worked.
“Eureka,” Papa recalls saying.
He refined the design and changed the idea of a light to a beep that was produced when the weight properly shifted to the front foot.
After further testing with other golfers, Papa decided he had something and needed to consider applying for a patent. He worked with Bob Pitts, another golfer, who looked at prior art and decided there was nothing too close to Papa’s idea.
That patent was issued on March 15, 2011, but Papa was far from finished as an inventor.