Precept a Confident Player in High-Stakes Premium Golf Ball Game

By Adam BarrSeptember 3, 2002, 4:00 pm
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. ' For much longer than the rest of the industry, the people at Precept have been wringing their hands about spring-like effect.
But not in the way you might expect.
For this golf brand, its all about the rubber; specifically, the rubber in the core of golf balls. Precepts unique position as the golf-brand grandchild of a major industrial corporation has enabled it to take advantage of technology developed where the rubber literally meets the road.
The latest result of Bridgestone tire technology is the U-Tri golf ball line, which was unveiled for the golf press here August 29.
Precept is the golf brand of Bridgestone Sports USA, the Covington, Ga.-based unit of Bridgestone Sports. The parent is a $365 million-per-year, multi-sport company into everything involving the intersection of rubber and sporting goods. Bridgestone Sports is itself a unit of the legendary Japanese company Bridgestone Corp., which garners its $19 billion in annual sales from a wide variety of industrial and consumer goods, including tires for all kinds of vehicles.
Shojiro Ishibashi (in Japanese, ishi means stone and bashi means bridge) founded Bridgestone in 1931 with the broad mission of improving life by making products people want and need. The company began making golf balls in 1935, and produced its one-millionth golf club in 1981. Although its primary golf market has been Japan, where the brand is a byword, Bridgestone got a foothold in the United States when it opened an office in the Atlanta area in 1985. Golf ball manufacturing started in Covington in 1990.
Tire companies the world over love auto racing, that glamorous proving ground for the chemical mixtures that make modern synthetic rubber. Imagine rubber molecules as items on a flow chart, connected by branches. Through its experiments with high-performance tires, Bridgestone claims to have come up with a formula in which the branches that connect the molecules have fewer dead ends. Better energy transfer results, Bridgestone says, making the rubber more useful for a variety of applications.
That includes golf balls. The so-called Muscle Fiber Core has been the performance selling point for Precept balls since 1997, when it powered the first MC line of balls. Whether they agreed with the technology or not, competitors as big as Titleist offered gentlemanly congratulations to Precept for the performance of its golf balls.
As a unit of a rubber company, Precept never had much of a stake in wound golf balls. As early as 1991, 93 percent of Precepts product mix was solid core. So Precept pats itself on the back for seeing what was coming and quickly converting that last seven percent to solid. Privately, Precept also takes credit for changing over the United States market: Tiger Woods had the power to bring avid U.S. golfers to solid core, and Nike had the power to get Tiger. So Precept signed a deal a few years back to develop and make Nike golf balls, including the one Tiger plays. (The self-congratulation conveniently ignores the resounding success of Titleists Pro V1, but Precept is not stingy with its kudos in private.) Nike and Bridgestone are constrained by their agreement from talking about that arrangement, but it is all but an open secret in the industry.
With its own label, Precept has amassed a respectable market share and by all indications, a loyal following, even if it has not threatened the market leaders yet. Precepts U.S. share is about eight percent, say company sources, quoting industry metrics leader Golf Datatech. (Titleist has about 46 percent; Spalding has 20, says Precept.) In a category of its own making, premium balls costing more than $20 per dozen, Precept claims 12 percent of the market.
Fresh off the phenomenal word-of-mouth success of its MC Lady soft-core ball, Precept has introduced the U-Tri golf ball in spin and distance versions. The balls feature an improved Muscle Fiber Core, Precept says, encased in a new-formula rubber mantle and a seamless polyurethane cover. The soft core deforms more when struck by a driver, Precept says, and this reduces spin to encourage half of that holy grail of golf ball performance, tee ball distance. The responsive cover provides the other half, greenside feel, Precept claims.
But as important as the performance is the price. Precept means for this ball line to compete with Pro V1 and other premium balls, but not at the same price point. Whereas the Pro V1 and others may cost around $40 per dozen, the street price of the U-Tri will be allowed to settle in between $25 and $28 per dozen (even though the manufacturers suggested retail price per dozen will be $38).
Precept bases its pricing gamble ' and it is a gamble ' on its research into consumer behavior, which says most golfers want to pay about $26 per dozen, even for high-performance balls. The dice-throw comes with that annoying consumer habit of sometimes equating price with quality, essentially saying, Well, if it doesnt cost that much, it cant be that good.
Precept thinks it can beat the house on this one. But if there has been one resounding criticism of Precept, it has been about its insistence on making the ways of Japanese business intelligible to the U.S. market. With inestimable patience that has sometimes maddened its U.S. employees, Bridgestone has extended its penchant for cost control to the marketing side of its business. The money overlords in Japan would rather under-spend on advertising and marketing than risk over-spending.
For that reason, you wont see a lot of Precept ads on network TV. They like print, but only in limited amounts, and mostly in publications calculated to reach an audience demonstrably saturated with avid golfers. Some Precept products receive no marketing support at all: A creditable line of golf gloves does what it can with point-of-purchase exposure alone. The phenomenal (some say flukey) success of the Lady ball, which Precepts U.S. marketing director Stephen Graham freely admits is a once-in-a-lifetime windfall, only reinforces the Japanese distaste for U.S. marketing tactics. Why bother if the customers do it for you?
Thats great cost-side economics, but hard to sell to U.S. sellers. Although expert U.S. marketing advice from inside and outside the company says that only a little more spending would pump up market share out of proportion to the expense, Japan has politely ' and resolutely ' refused, sometimes even declining to explain why. And although the U-Tri will receive some marketing support, the company is reticent about discussing how much, and in what forms.
Even the name of the new ball, U-Tri, shows some bravado about what consumers are expected to do. The ball is the performance component of a simplified product lineup that includes the Tour Premium LS (with which Nick Price and Justin Leonard have won this year) in the tour segment and the MC Lady and new Laddie soft-ball model in the niche segment. With all those balls, trial and repeat business have come. Precept is willing to bet consumers will follow suit again.
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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.