Tiger the Whistle Stop Tour Pt 5

By Casey BiererJanuary 14, 2007, 5:00 pm
Editors note: Golf Channel business reporter Casey Bierer participated recently in Nike Golfs Whistle Stop Tour; a press and media junket that traveled a group of Nike execs and invited media to four cities in 48 hours. This column is the fifth entry of a six-part series chronicling the journey.

Heres a recipe we havent seen before. Take the following key ingredients: one Nike GV jet, four cities in 48 hours, three PGA TOUR stars - Tiger Woods, David Duval and Jason Gore, a number of key Nike Golf executives, five print journalists, one television reporter (me) and the launch of two new Nike drivers. Mix thoroughly. The result? Nikes Whistle Stop Tour (WST); a media junket extravaganza that, even by Nike standards, is unprecedented.

The assignment given to me by Golf Channel ' create a reporters first person video journal of the trip. Roll tape as much as possible. When in doubt shoot first, beg for forgiveness later. And, oh yeah, interview Tiger Woods. This was going to be fun.

Part 5
Los Angeles is home to many different kinds of stars: movie stars, TV stars, rock stars, comedy stars, sports stars and many, many wannabe stars. On this Tuesday morning, however, the real deal was in town. No bigger star to be found than one Eldrick Tiger Woods; the No. 1 athlete on the planet. Everyone in the Hawthorne Airport hanger (fitted at this particular moment to house Tigers press conference) was waiting for Tiger to make his appearance.

But Tiger wasnt the only star of the day for Nike. The companys newest drivers, SUMO and SUMO, were having something of a coming out party. Cindy Davis, Nike's domestic general manager, got things rolling.

I dont have room in this particular column format to include the full transcription of the entire press conference, so Ill give you a small taste of what each of the participants had to say.

CINDY DAVIS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Cindy Davis, the U.S. General Manager for Nike Golf, and welcome to our kickoff event of the Whistle Stop Tour. A two-day coast-to-coast tour that will really give us the opportunity to show you why in our estimation it's hip to be square; and I'm not kidding when I say that.

Today you're going to have the opportunity to check out for yourself the new SasQuatch Nike Golf SUMO and SUMO drivers, which have already won on the PGA TOUR and created quite a buzz already in the marketplace.

This Whistle Stop Tour in many ways is indicative of how we approach our business at Nike Golf. It's our nature to innovate, to bring fresh ideas to the marketplace. So we began this tour this morning at Nike Golfs world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. We flew here to hook up with Tiger Woods. Immediately after this event, another Nike Golf athlete, David Duval, will be joining us to fly to Phoenix-Scottsdale where we'll stage our second event. And then tomorrow morning yet another Nike Golf athlete, Jason Gore, is going to join us as we fly to New York City to conduct our final event in the Financial District.

Cindy addressed some other general business interests and then introduced Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf.

BOB WOOD: Thanks, Cindy. My remarks are going to be pretty short and sweet, but I wanted to just kind of set up a few things about Nike Golf and what we've been doing.

As Cindy mentioned, I've been with Nike for 26 years and eight years ago took on the challenge of building Nike Golf. When we decided to begin to build a business in the golf industry, we thought about a few thingsa couple things that were really going to make a difference for us.

The first thing was product. I think one of the most important things to understand about any business at Nike is that Nike considers itself a product company first. We work with the best athletes in the world; we give them the products that help them earn their livingso we have a very high standard for products in everything that we do.

I think the biggest milepost for us in the golf ball business was in the year 2000 when we switched Tiger Woods to our golf ball and he won four majors consecutively. When that happened, it really sort of changed our point of view and our outlook about our future in the golf business and who we could be.

The next step for us really was the equipment business. This is our fifth year making golf clubs and it's really a milestone for us. In the last five years I would argue that Nike Golf has brought as much innovation to the golf equipment business as anybody out there.

Another thing I would talk about is our presence on the PGA TOUR. This year, for example, we had more wins with our driver on the PGA TOUR than any of our competitors and more wins with our irons than any of our competitors. We had nineit's not just about Tiger, although Tiger is incredibly important. But we had nine different players win with our driver and win with our irons just on the PGA TOUR, and we were either first or second in wins in every equipment category all the way from driver, ball, all the way through footwear.

So what this really gets down to is we're getting a lot of momentum, and we're building our business. We grew our business 12 percent last year. Our business overall is up 23 percent year-to-date this year, and we've got a ton of momentum here in the United States which is 50 percent of the world market.

Really what we're here to talk about today is product, and specifically our new drivers. So lets bring up Stan Grissinger and Rick Wahlin to talk about the new product. Thanks.

Stand Grissinger and Rick Wahlin were up next.

STAN GRISSINGER: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our launch of the SQ SUMO and SUMO drivers. I'm Stan Grissinger. I'm the Business Director for Golf Balls and Golf Clubs for Nike Golf. And joining me up here on stage is Rick Wahlin. He is the Lead Engineer on the SQ product and he's going to talk about the technical aspects of the product today.

A lot of times what happens is that ideas get written down on a napkin or a piece of paper and handed to Rick Wahlin, and it's his job to bring that concept, that vision, to life. That includes refining the process, working with the CAD designers tying to refine the design.

Then he has to figure out a way where we can produce the thing in mass. Then ultimately the product that's produced and made in production has to perform for the consumers. So by far the biggest challenges we face in the product category is in Rick's area. With that I'm going to turn it over to him and let him tell you about the product.

Now, normally Stan would be introducing Tom Stites on stage to do the product presentation. Tom is the Director of Golf Club Creation. But, Tom got snowed in somewhere in the wilds of northwest Canada at the end of his hunting trip. As a result, he would be joining us later in Scottsdale. So the presenting responsibility fell on the shoulders of Rick Wahlin. Ive gotten to know Rick a little bit over the last couple of years; super nice guy but kind of an intimidating guy if you dont know him. Hes built like an NFL lineman. I mean, this guy is huge. When you look at him you cant imagine him being afraid of anything. Before the event started, however, he told me he was a little nervous about presenting instead of Tomespecially with Tiger Woods present. Rick did a great job, though.

RICK WAHLIN: Well, I'm excited to be here today. This is a fun, exciting time to be at Nike Golf with the success we've had with the SQ driver and now being able to roll out our new drivers here.

We're going to start off talking about the new SUMO. I assume many of you have seen this, heard about it; some of you may have hit it already. This product is awesome. It's big, it's bold, it's accurate, it's long. Everything about it is geared towards performance. The shape of it is new, unique, radicalpeople will recognize it and we're extremely proud of what we've produced in this product.

When we went out to design this product we knew we had a platform of geometry. The geometry basically yields a very high MOI. MOI is the resistance to twisting or the stability of the golf club. What that directly gives you is performance in both distance and in dispersion. That is accuracy.

The MOI on this product is 5,300a new unprecedented range that we've achieved directly due to the geometry. So once again, that geometry and MOI go hand in hand.

Rick then went on to describe the features and benefits of the SUMO driver, a more traditionally shaped driver also designed on the SQ platform. Then Cindy Davis came back on stage to introduce Tiger.

CINDY DAVIS: How do you adequately introduce this next person? You all know him, you write about him, he's already been covered in the history books of golf, and we're all watching him make history every day that he tees it up. I am pleased to welcome Tiger Woods.

Tiger was standing towards the back of the hanger next to a side wall. As he made his way to the stage, the metal-on-concrete clickity clack sound of golf spikes could be plainly heard. Tiger had to be careful not to slip and fall and when he hopped up on to the stage Cindy and Tiger joked about it. A fun little momentOK, maybe you had to be there. But honestly, it was funny.

Cindy continued, I'm going to ask Tiger just a few questions to kind of get the ball rolling and then we'll open it up to all of you to ask questions. Tiger, thinking about this year, two major championships, and eight wins on the PGA TOUR, nine if you add that Grand Slam you just won

TIGER WOODS: Well, Dubai, too.

CINDY DAVIS: Uh, right. Well, the PGA TOURreally an incredible season to maintain your world No. 1 ranking. Tell us about the season from your perspective.

TIGER WOODS: Well, golf-wise it was probably one of the best I've ever had. Overall consistency, the way I played this year, I really have had a nice little run basically since the Western Open. I had a nice little run of top-3 finishes since Augusta. It's been a very consistent year -- one of the most consistent years I think I've ever had.

CINDY DAVIS: As far as being with the Nike Golf family, you've been with us now 10 years and recently renewed your relationship with a multi-year deal with us. Maybe from your perspective share with this group how you think Nike Golf has evolved and how we're different than other golf companies.

TIGER WOODS: Well, back when I first started I think we had a red shirt, a yellow shirt, a blue shirt, a white shirt and a black shirt. We didn't really have a lot. And we weren't into golf clubs, we weren't in the ball business. I mean, we've come so far so quickly. To even be a little part of that process has been a lot of fun.

My learning curve with golf clubs has gone up exponentially. Being a part of learning how to make golf clubs and trying to communicate what I feel in a golf club to help Nike make a better golf club for the average consumer, and I think that's been a lot of fun as well. And especially with the golf ball. That's everything to me -- to be able to create something basically from nothing and see it flying in the air. It's a dream come true for a golfer.

CINDY DAVIS: I don't know if people here realize how much you really work with our team. Even our apparel group, you've been working with some of the folks there?

TIGER WOODS: I've been working with different fabrics to try to get fabrics that actually work for you and not against you. That's one of the things that as a player you want -- you don't want to be distracted by what you have on. You want it to actually enhance your ability to play. Just like what Lance (Armstrong) does with wind tunnel testing and all these different kinds of things. It happens in golf as well. You need to have a product that actually enhances your performance. You may say that's ludicrous in golf, but actually it's true. You can make that happen, and we're making it happen now.

Cindy opened up questions to the media. Even though I had a one-on-one coming up with Tiger in a little while, I thought Id ask him a question during the press conference as well. What the heck, right?

Tiger, I asked, We live in an era of pro sports where its commonplace for athletes to jump from team to team, company to company, endorsement deal to endorsement deal. You've been with Nike for over 10 years and youve just re-signed. What is it about Nike that gives you the confidence to maintain your level of commitment to them?

TIGER WOODS: It starts from the top and it works its way down through the entire company. You look at the drive and the motivation and the passion that Phil Knight has and it sprinkles itself -- his personality -- is throughout the entire company. You begin to understand why each and every different business under Nike -- why everybody is so motivated and has such a great time doing it because it starts from the top. Phil leads by example. Our team here at Nike Golf, we've had just the greatest time in the world creating product and pushing the envelope. That's what Phil did with shoes and look where we are with the shoe business. Look where we are with the golf business. We started with a very small part of the golf business and now we're one of the leaders in the golf industry.

There were a bunch of questions from the media. The press conference took about a half hour. Then we all loaded back in to the secret service vans and headed to the other end of the runway. There were big SasQuatch and SUMO banners set up as well as a make-shift hitting area. This is the one part of the WST event that Im sure the event planners will re-think for next time. The driving range mats that Tiger and then the media would be hitting off of were too small. So I guess they werent real driving range mats at all; just pads of Astroturf with a rubber tee.

When Tiger took his driver stance with the SUMO I saw Nike Rick cringe a bit. Tiger had half of his left foot on the mat and the other half ' the heel ' on the asphalt runway. His right foot wasnt on the mat at all. You could see a calculation forming in Tigers head as he began to judge how hard hed be able to go after the ball based on this bad stance. It would be like if you decided to hit off a cart path because you liked the lie of the ball and you didnt want to take a drop; your left foot half on the grass and half on the cart path and your right foot entirely on the cart path. How hard could you push off on your downswing?

The same metal spikes that were slippery on the hangers smooth concrete floor actually provided ample traction and stability on the runways rough asphalt surface. Now, these are just stock demo drivers. Theyre not drivers custom fit to Tigers specs. So there was a little adjustment necessary after his first swing. I think he pushed the first one a bit. Like 10 yards. After that it was a pipe fest. Crack, smash, bang, boom. I mean, come on. If hes playing golf I dont know what the heck Im playing because Ive never hit a ball that hard in my life. Or even half that hard. And he cant even take a proper stance because of the little mats.

Tiger switched from SUMO to SUMO and pumped a couple more down-runway. As in down-rangelike an artillery range. Again with the crack, smash, bang, boom. The balls were flying 300-plus yards in the air then going another 100 yards once they hit the runway. Nike Rick had a good one: Gee whiz, Tiger, look at the carry and the roll on those drives. Tiger replied, Rick, will all my drives go this straight and far with this thing?

Then the media got a chance to hit the drivers. Tiger had one word of caution: Hey, make sure you guys dont slice the ball on to the main road over there. Sure enough, the very first ball hit by the first media guy sliced wickedly and landed on the main street. Tiger and Bob Wood laughed their butts off. Then Tiger headed over to the admin building to get ready for the one-on-one interviews.

Thats where my mind started to head as well. This was going to be my first time interviewing Tiger. I was feeling a little bit nervous; Ive got to be honest with you. Im not sure why exactly. Ive interviewed and talked to tons of players. Ive never felt nervous before. OK, I lied. I was nervous when I interviewed Jack Nicklaus. Ah, shake it off, shake it off. Itll be just like talking to another golf buddy. Yeah, thats itanother golf buddy.

Related Links:

  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 4
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 3
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 2
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 1
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    Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

    The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

    “Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

    After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

    “Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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    Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

    He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

    Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

    “I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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    A performance fit for a King

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

    So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

    “Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

    But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

    “Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

    But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

    Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

    Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

    Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

    McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

    “I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

    And entertained, of course.

    Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

    “And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

    McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

    During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

    But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

    “The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

    McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

    “He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

    Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

    And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

    “The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

    All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

    Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

    Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

    Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

    “I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

    Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

    “He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

    “It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

    Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

    But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

    There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

    A kiss for his wife, Erica.

    A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

    The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

    “Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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    McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

    By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

    McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

    “I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

    A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

    Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

    “It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”