Callaway Reluctantly Yields the Helm
Ely Callaway has finally felt the need to do what he resisted for so long. With his recovery from gall bladder surgery taking longer than expected, the 81-year-old founder of Callaway Golf resigned from two of his three top executive posts to save his company ' and Wall Street ' from a breath-holding wait for the beginning of Callaway Golfs next chapter.
The successor, picked from a deep pool of inside executive talent, is Ron Drapeau, 54, Callaways manufacturing chief. Drapeau brings a solid industry reputation and varied experience to the helm. He was chief of Lynx Golf all the way back to the days when it was a division of Zurn Industries, the plumbing fixtures company. He also served at Odyssey Golf, which is now a part of Callaway, before becoming a Callaway executive in 1996.
Drapeau inherits something akin to an enormous cruise ship whose engine is so finely tuned it seems to require little maintenance, or even stoking. It simply parts the sea before it with its prodigious bow, sailing along at full speed. (Callaway posted record sales of $261 million for the first quarter of 2001.)
But he will never be the host at the captains table that Ely was. Drapeau is certainly not a drip; on the contrary, he is an energetic, intelligent and engaging man who has earned his confidence with long experience. But no one could easily follow the one-of-a-kind act of the charismatic Mr. Callaway, who in his active career combined razor-sharp business acumen with a folksy southern charm ingrained in him from birth near Lagrange, Ga. in 1919.
Nobody in the industry has walked the Wall Street walk more effectively than Mr. Callaway. His policy of easy press accessibility helped launch the career of more than one golf journalist, and his frequent appearances in the mainstream press and on financial and golf television ' including The Golf Channel ' helped cement his reputation as a business media star since the days of the first Big Bertha in the early 1990s.
Journalists and business colleagues in and out of golf marveled at Mr. Callaways vitality, a seemingly ceaseless verve that belied his lined face and rich experience. Thats why many were shocked in the days following April 23, when his company announced that Mr. Callaway had his gall bladder removed. During surgery, doctors discovered a tumor on Mr. Callaways pancreas. This raised fears that Mr. Callaway might be suffering from a very quick-killing form of cancer. (Metalwood pioneer Gary Adams lived for years with the wasting condition, but his case was an exception. Once discovered, pancreatic cancer can kill in a matter of weeks.)
Company officials refuse to discuss pathology results on the tumor, saying it will be Mr. Callaways personal decision whether to reveal them. But it appears now that even if the tumor is malignant, it has been discovered early enough to prevent a quick demise. Company officials continue to describe Mr. Callaways condition as manageable, even though minor post-operative complications have kept him in the hospital longer than planned. In the first week after surgery, both doctors and the company believed Mr. Callaway would be back at his desk in two weeks.
His desk is where he longs to be; Ely Callaway may be the happiest workaholic in golf. And his company will not be entirely without him. He will continue in the less-demanding position of chairman of the board, perhaps because of his sense of his value as an icon to his shareholders and to Wall Street.
The executive succession committee of Callaways board chose Drapeau in accordance with Mr. Callaways recommendation, and reportedly that advice was based on research. Before his illness, Mr. Callaway privately polled each member of his executive team as to who should succeed him. Drapeau was the overwhelming choice.
What Drapeau inherits is one of the most successful brands, not only in golf, but in consumer products. Mr. Callaways cherished business principles have always included the notion that people will pay premium prices for premium products, and so far he has not broken the rim of any price envelope he has chosen to push. That confidence (some competitors have called it arrogance) has moved Callaway closer every year to $1 billion in sales. One could say that all Drapeau has to do is not screw it up.
But sure there is more to it than that. Callaways club operation may be cruising, but its golf ball operation is still a child in need of guidance. Even though the 2000 introduction of the Callaway Rule 35 ball was the most successful golf ball launch (from scratch) ever, Callaways market share foothold is still in the single digits.
And Callaways gentlemanly but heated conflict with the U.S. Golf Association over nonconforming drivers is a situation that will require special management skills over the short and long terms. The introduction of the ERC II nonconforming driver set off many sparks, some of which still float in the air, looking for something to fall on and ignite. Callaway sees the conflict as nothing less than a battle for control over the future of the game, and was moved to create a special department to steer efforts toward that objective.
That departments chief, Chuck Yash, was at one time tapped as Elys successor. But plans changed after Mr. Callaway changed his mind about retiring before a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31, 2000. Yash, a former naval officer who plays things close to the vest, would never admit it even if he did feel passed over for this latest appointment. But he is just one of a number of talented executives Drapeau will have at his disposal ' and have to manage.
Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational
Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.
The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.
Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.
“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”
Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews
Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.
Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.
Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.
Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.
Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.
Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA.
New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.
Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.
Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.
Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.
Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.
Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions.
Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”