McIlroy gambling with his future regarding new equipment?

By Rex HoggardOctober 30, 2012, 9:23 pm

In the world of mega-endorsement deals this one, at least in newsprint, is Alex Rodriguez – a blockbuster that defies market value and the status quo.

On Tuesday Titleist confirmed it was clearing the air and essentially giving Rory McIlroy an opportunity to take his considerable talents to Beaverton, Ore., home of the Nike empire that has reportedly been wooing the Ulsterman to the tune of a 10-year deal with $20 million a calendar.

For the Acushnet Co., the parent of Titleist, the move has a familiar MO. When Tiger Woods was rumored to be headed for Nike in the late 1990s the company released him early from his endorsement deal and did the same for Phil Mickelson when he signed with Callaway.


Photos: Golf's biggest breakups


“For Titleist to end the contract early is an incredibly intelligent decision,” said Casey Alexander, an analyst with Gilford Securities in New York. “If not, they would be paying a de facto contract for him to endorse Nike products.”

In short, that bridge had been burned. What remains in the void of the Rory sweepstakes is akin to business anarchy, a landscaped filled with questions and concerns and precious few facts.

If the reports are accurate, and there is little reason to think they are not, McIlroy’s marriage with the swoosh would create a powerful combination of the game’s top two endorsers playing for a single global brand. But to what end?

Nike Golf, for all its reach, is not the industry standard bearer when it comes to equipment. Never has been despite more than a decade of dominance by their franchise player Woods.

According to Golf Datatech, consider that Nike had 2.3 percent of the golf ball market share in 2000 when it signed Woods. In 2006 that number had jumped to 11.7 percent and has remained steady since (Nike currently has a 10.1 percent market share of the ball market). Although impressive, it is hardly the commanding presence one would expect.

“Nike could be spending a lot of money on the top two players right now and they suck at selling equipment,” Alexander said. “The apparel and footwear business is where they feel they have their edge.”

So if McIlroy’s reported deal isn’t about moving product – at least not big-ticket items like drivers and iron sets – that leaves only Nike’s brand association with the game’s best, whatever game that may be.

“Nike has always had the No. 1 players in every sport,” said one industry insider.

From Michael Jordan to Roger Federer and, yes, even Lance Armstrong, there is something to be said for being aligned with the best and that, at least fundamentally, seems to be the company’s motivation to pay McIlroy.

The down side, for both McIlroy and Nike, is a failed marriage. He’d hardly be the first Tour type to follow the money to a new bag only to see his game head in the opposite direction from his bank account.

“He has to be very cautious. It’s going to be a dangerous time,” six-time major champion Nick Faldo warned. “The equipment is part of your golf DNA. I would be really careful about that. He’s young and saying to himself he can adapt, but I promise you it will be different.”

Industry insiders estimate that McIlroy, like Woods, would have a “play in” period to adjust to his new equipment but that will mean little if he doesn’t play up to his ridiculously high standards early and often.

“What happens when a player makes an equipment change?” one industry observer asked. “All it takes is a little loss of confidence.”

There is also the question of complacency, or as one equipment representative once told me, “wealth doesn’t breed hunger.” Perhaps Woods’ greatest professional accomplishment, beyond the 74 Tour titles and 14 major championships, is that he was paid handsomely early in his career and yet maintained his competitive hunger.

With $20 million annually in the bank does McIlroy remain fixated on excellence? Given the standard he has set for himself it seems unlikely McIlroy would be impacted by such a large payday, but it is, nonetheless, part of the nuanced concerns when this kind of money is being tossed about.

There is also the question of how a potential Woods-McIlroy marketing campaign would unfold. Nike Golf, unlike Titleist – which markets the brand not the player – is personality driven. How then does the swoosh harmoniously weave together a campaign with a built-in personality disorder?

“When (Woods’) contract comes up and he feels like he’s played second fiddle what happens then?” Alexander asked. “It’s going to be fascinating to watch the interplay of this over the next few years.”

As one industry insider figured early Tuesday McIlroy’s potential move to Nike could be a “game changer,” for the Ulsterman and the industry.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.