Nike Golf's equipment shutdown has ripple effect on industry

By Matt GinellaAugust 4, 2016, 1:42 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Goodbye, world … of equipment.

Almost 20 years since launching the iconic “Hello, World” ad campaign with a 20-year-old Tiger Woods, Nike is exiting the equipment industry. As of Wednesday, the mega brand will no longer be producing golf clubs, bags or balls.

Their focus, according to a news release, will be shoes and clothes.

Which leaves their tour pros, coming off of four major championships and into the Travelers Championship, scratching their headcovers.

“I can’t comment at this time,” Paul Casey, a Nike ambassador for 12 years said via text. “Wish I could, but I’m still digesting it.”

Tony Finau, who signed a five-year deal to wear and play all things Nike to start the 2015-16 season, had a similar reaction.

“My agent texted me today and said we needed to talk,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure it all out. It’s now on Nike to reach out and help each one of us understand the future.”

Being a publicly traded company, Nike was required to keep employees and ambassadors in the dark until something like shutting down a branch of their portfolio is public information.

Patrick Rodgers, a Nike player who made his pro debut at the Travelers three years ago, and his caddie, Thomas Maples, were at the Nike equipment truck Wednesday morning. They talked to staff about testing wedges. The two returned in the afternoon, after news had broken, and were met with: "I don’t think we need to do any more testing of wedges. We all just lost our jobs."

As Maples said, the players will be fine. They'll play what they have for now and move on. Sympathy is for those no longer employed.

After a day of Nike Golf laying off employees, including their tour reps, there were at least some industry insiders not surprised.


Timeline: Nike in the golf industry


“To be honest, I can’t believe it didn’t happen five years ago,” said Harry Arnett, Callaway’s chief marketing officer. “They’ve been throwing a lot of good money after bad for a long time now. And at some point you need to justify the spend. There needs to be a return on your investment.”

As Arnett pointed out, with only three percent of the U.S. equipment market and not much more globally, that wasn’t happening for Nike. What has been happening has been decades of seismic deals ending in lots of zeros.

Woods signed the first of his four deals with Nike in 1996 for $40 million. Then another contract in 2001, reportedly worth $20 million a year. After another contract in 2006, and another in 2013, it looked like Woods would finish his career with the company.

In 2005, at age 15, Michelle Wie signed a Nike and Sony contract worth an estimated $10 million per year. (More than $3 million more than what Annika Sorenstam was making per year, and Sorenstam had already won nine of her 10 major championships.)

And in 2013, under the lights and through smoke machines of a stage in Dubai, Rory McIlroy, who had won two of his four majors, became what many business insiders projected was Nike’s “$200 million man.”

Woods, Wie, McIlroy, Finau, Casey, Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Rodgers and Nick Watney are all golf ambassadors for Nike. And there are more. But for how long?

"Just like his comeback to golf, I think timelines inhibit you,” Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent, told GolfChannel.com. "So we'll do this methodically, and in a proper way."

Given the context of the Tour season, Finau says he will also take his time if he were to make a change.

“I’m going to stay focused on golf right now,” Finau said. “I will finish the season playing Nike. I’m happy with my equipment right now and I need to keep playing for the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup.”

Arnett raised another good point.

“When you think of Jordan Spieth, what brand do think of?” he asked.

Under Armour is the clear answer.

“Exactly.”

What we see are hats, shirts, bags and shoes, to Arnett's point. And then we see the logos. And although we see clubs and balls, it’s not always easy to identify the equipment brand a player is using.

So, Nike is going back to doing what it does best: shoes and apparel. And thus, the potential for less money down and more coming back.

"We're committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel," said Trevor Edwards, president of Nike in a statement. "We will achieve this by investing in performance innovation for athletes and delivering sustainable profitable growth for Nike Golf."

Nike was not immediately available for further comment to Golf Channel.

So, how would a mega successful brand like Nike plug the public perception of loss or failure?

Some industry insiders say it wouldn’t surprise them to see Jason Day become a Nike ambassador for clothes and shoes, while continuing to play TaylorMade clubs and balls. Adidas announced earlier this year that it will be selling TaylorMade and Ashworth.

Nike has said goodbye to equipment, but it’s still difficult to imagine the company will not continue to offer more hellos to the best players in the world.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

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.



FALLING

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. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

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.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.