After Seasons of Sputtering Cobra Hits the Gas
Loggers-on to www.cobragolf.com encounter an animated Cobra logo, supported by throaty audio of a race car revving up. At the end of the introduction, the words COBRA IS BACK appear in large, gold letters.
Like an aging NASCAR driver surging forward from the middle of the pack, Cobra Golf is trying to muscle its way back into something like its old top-5 position in the premium golf equipment business. To do it, parent company Acushnet brought in Jeff Harmet, a proven golf and sports marketing expert, from Wilson. And Acushnet, whose other golf brands are Titleist, FootJoy, and Pinnacle, handed Harmet a pile of resources and left him alone.
In return for that trust, Harmet delivered what he hopes is a claim on an untapped lode of golf business success.
We are clearly not a value company, Harmet said from his Carlsbad, Calif., office. Were not competing in that low-price segment that Tour Edge is in. Our targets are on-course and golf specialty shops. Were offering Callaway quality at Cleveland prices.
Harmets industry shorthand translates this way: Cobra wants to make products the industry acknowledges as possessing top-grade technology, but at accessible prices of the kind Cleveland Golf has been getting for its Launcher drivers ($390) and TA5 ($600 per set with steel shafts).
Were going to appeal to the masses, Harmet said.
And Cobra is betting those masses will comprise mostly golfers with handicaps of 10 and above, players looking for upper-end gear with graphite shafts and a little game improvement built in.
For instance: The suggested retail price for Cobras SS350 titanium driver will be $369. Compare that to, for example, Pings TiSi Tec at $515 (graphite shaft).
No question, the masses like paying less for golf gear. But what about the age-old axiom of premium goods? Regardless of what youre selling, if you underprice yourself, consumers wont consider you cream of the crop. Ely Callaway and Karsten Solheim lived by that principle, and it served them well. Is Cobra making the worst-house-in-the-best-neighborhood mistake?
Harmet says no.
The brand equity we have is tremendous. Customers are saying, This is exactly what you did in the mid-1990s; this is what you should have been doing all along.
It was in 1997 that Cobra took a turn, some would say in the wrong direction. American Brands was jettisoning its worldwide tobacco interests and looking for healthier businesses. Cobra looked like a good fit with Americans Acushnet Co. The conglomerate wanted to ride the golf wave that rose with Callaway and the Big Bertha in 1991, and was expected to swell with the advent of Tiger Woods.
The prospect was worth more than $700 million to American, more than twice Cobras annual sales. When the deal closed in early 1997, the rest of the golf industry stood agape at the amount of money one brand in a changing cottage industry could command.
Once American took Cobra private, Acushnet no longer broke out Cobras annual sales as a line item on financial reports. But it didnt take an income statement to see that sales fell throughout the late 1990s as the entire industry slogged through a 1998 slump from which Callaway, TaylorMade, and Ping emerged as the strongest players.
Titleists own club line, positioned for better players, also did well, perhaps taking some aspirational potential customers from Cobra. Until the Harmet hiring, Cobras mission wasnt entirely clear; a succession of managers and product designers took care of the brand while Acushnet chief Wally Uihlein and his lieutenants strategized.
By the beginning of this century, Cobra sales had slumped to around $75 million per year, industry sources have said. Acushnet critics wondered how long American, now renamed Fortune Brands, would wait for return on its investment.
Hiring Harmet was seen as a step in the right direction. At Wilson, Harmet worked with company chief Jim Baugh and oversaw Wilsons return to prominence in tennis. Prince had beaten back Wilson to just 17 percent of the racquet market Wilson had once dominated. But the Hammer family of racquets got Wilson back to 45 percent. Harmet also got credit for Wilsons success with Fat Shaft clubs, which became a bright spot for the beleaguered brand in the late 1990s.
A bright spot for the new Cobra is retailer acceptance, which seems high even before the April 1 nationwide shipping target. (Some Cobra products are already available in the Sunbelt states.)
Were happy to see [the brand coming back], said Randy Morton, general manager of Pro Shop World of Golf in Skokie, Ill. Cobra was a solid brand for many years until Titleist bought it. Then it was kind of like an ugly stepchild. But now theyre behind it and promoting it.
We think itll be a real good seller, said Edwin Watts, whose eponymous off-course stores cover much of the southeast. The products are good and the prices are good.
But will those seasons as a faltering brand be a hurdle with consumers?
Brands in golf that have been around for years, like this one, with its connection to Titleist Watts said, well, its really hard to destroy a brand.
Cobra hasnt turned around yet, but Harmet is all smiles and enthusiasm so far.
The beauty of this industry is word of mouth, Harmet said. You dont need a billion dollars in advertising. You just need a good product ' and to break through all the clutter.
Or race through it.
Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2
With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.
He picked up one more No. 2, too.
The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.
In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.
Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.
“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”
Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.
Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.
He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.
Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title
Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.
His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.
“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."
Tom Brady, postgame, on wearing the wrap on his hand: “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) January 22, 2018
Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.
Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.
Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:
Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)
What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.
Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.
Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.
Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.
Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.
Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:
Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry
Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile
Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.
The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.
"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."
He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).
Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.
“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."
Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.
Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.
Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.
The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.