Ill Give You a Major Winner and A Player to Be Named Later
You may have heard that starting next season, Sergio Garcia will switch from Titleist equipment to TaylorMade-adidas gear, and that Ernie Els will leave TaylorMade for Titleist. At first it looked as if two burglars were at work on each others houses at the same time, neither knowing what was going on at home. But this swap had more intricacies than the deal that relieved Philadelphia of Scott Rolen.
As is often the case, the unrest started with an agent. Sergio left his old agent for the mammoth International Management Group in late 2000. That had Titleist, Sergios equipment partner, waiting for a knock on the door, sources say. Its not that Sergios former agent fell down on the job, but his deals werent generating the kind of revenue that keeps IMG happy (if that can even be done).
IMG must have been salivating. The magic still lingered from Garcias energetic and charming performance in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, when the kid hammered a tree root, advanced the ball, and advanced his career with a boyish ballet down the fairway, all in the space of about 10 seconds.
No question, Sergio could play. His youth promised all kinds of crossover appeal, the kind that makes marketers catatonic with joy. The future looked justifiably bright.
Like a lot of European athletes, Garcia wore adidas shoes. After adidas acquired TaylorMades parent, Salomon, in 1998 and co-branded their golf products to create TaylorMade-adidas, it was just a matter of time until the pressure started to make Sergio TMaG head-to-toe. After all, adidas is the worlds second-largest sporting goods company, with annual sales of more than $6 billion. Money wouldnt be a problem.
Meanwhile, Els continued to play a Titleist golf ball after an early-career stint as an equipment endorser. As a TaylorMade club guy, he created win-win situations for himself and that company by winning the 1997 U.S. Open and this years British Open.
But for more than a year, Els had been working on a deal to sell his hat space to business software power SAP, sources say, for a cool $3 million. What would that do to his TaylorMade hat space? Would it still be worthwhile for TMaG to hang onto Els, who is 10 years older than Garcia?
It might have been, sources say, if the Garcia camp hadnt become revenue-restless. In Sergios 2000 Titleist deal was a clause, say sources close to the matter, that allowed for some co-opting of Sergios visor space, as long as Titleist approved. Sergios old agent was working on something with Microsoft for as much as $4 million, but that deal petered out when IMG took over. When IMG went to Titleist to trigger the visor clause for another sponsor, Titleist naturally asked who. When it turned out to be adidas, Titleist said no way, sources say. Titleist brass wouldnt share space on a golfer with a competing golf brand.
Where was Els during all of this? Like Garcia, competing in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Around that time, sources say, Titleist knew that if Els left, TMaG would have enough to get Garcia and pay Titleist for the last two years of his deal. NBA powerhouse Kobe Bryant had also left adidas this summer, leaving more discretionary dollars for adidas. So Titleist felt free to pursue The Big Easy.
Without confirming any of the backroom stuff, Titleist chief Wally Uihlein left no doubt about his companys enthusiasm about Els.
We had been talking to Ernie Els for a long time, Uihlein said. We were aware of his situation, so we aggressively went after Ernie. And we clearly knew TaylorMade had a very strong interest.
Whether it was now or the end of 2004, we knew the Sergio matter was going to be a situation that would turn into a bidding war. At this time, it made more sense, being able to land [Els] for the next five years as opposed to having someone gone in two years.
Things began to move rapidly. Now covered by the Els deal, Titleist had some flexibility. Titleist agreed that Sergio could leave his contract early (it was set to end in 2004) to become a complete TaylorMade-adidas-Maxfli man, as long as some restitution were paid to Titleist to compensate it for the lost two years. (Remember the lawsuit that erupted when David Duval left Titleist for Nike? Same deal. And while no one would say the dollars were unimportant, sources confirm that the restitution element of the Garcia departure was more a matter of conformity to precedent than a mere accounting move.)
So off Sergio goes to TMaG for $7 million per year, presumably for five years. (TMaG officials were unavailable for comment.) Compare that to the $5 million or so he was getting annually from Titleist, and it becomes clear why it was worthwhile for Sergio to completely rearrange his bag to match his shoe rack.
And Titleist got the reliable Els, whose appeal is closer to Titleists classic bent, for about $3 million per year for five years. That frees up some salary cap, if you will, for future projects during troubled economic times.
Not that anyone else is coming or going soon at Titleist. As a matter of fact, the Els-Garcia trade may be the biggest deal of the year. Other endorsement deals up for reconsideration include Jesper Parneviks with Callaway, and perhaps Colin Montgomeries with the same company.
Big question: Can we get a good left-handed closer for Monty?
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.