Nike deal puts McIlroy under microscope

By Rex HoggardJanuary 14, 2013, 8:22 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It seems about right Nike Golf and Rory McIlroy would have chosen this corner of the Middle East to tell the world what we have known for months – the Swoosh wants to be in the Rory business.

Unlike Dubai to the east, which became the center of Arab opulence in recent years and seems to have embraced sprawl and style or substance and sustainable growth, Abu Dhabi has deftly found a way to embrace old and new.

Let’s hope Rory and Nike have the same touch, because these mega-marriages rarely go to script.

Although estimates have been dramatically toned down since initial reports suggested the Beaverton, Ore.-based company was poised to sign the world No. 1 to a 10-year, $250 million endorsement deal – with various reports following Monday’s announcement suggesting the deal is closer to five years. Nike didn’t announce the terms of the signing.


What's in the Bag: McIlroy's Nike equipment

Video: Tiger-Rory Nike commercial

Photos: McIlroy through the years


Either way it is clear the Swoosh is all in for the Northern Irishman.

With a commercial featuring McIlroy and world No. 2 Tiger Woods set to debut on Wednesday on Golf Channel and ESPN it’s clear Nike, as it does in other sports, plans to capitalize on having the game’s alpha and omega under a single roof.

Seamlessly weaving two divergent personalities, and not roughing up any egos in the process, will be Nike’s biggest challenge, but there is an army of marketing types to climb that mountain.

The real challenge, the real concern if any exists, rests with the 23-year-old wunderkind and his ability to transition to a new set of Nike clubs. Beginning with this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship all 14 of the Ulsterman’s clubs will bear the company logo and, perhaps more importantly, he will play the Nike 20XI X golf ball.

By comparison it took Woods the better part of a decade to work his way into a full bag of Nike toys, with the last step coming at the 2010 British Open when he finally converted to a Method putter.

For McIlroy there will be no 10-year grace period, no safety net and, as far as the worldwide media is concerned, very little latitude.

As unrealistic as it may seem, if McIlroy doesn’t match his success of the last two seasons – including major victories in both – he will be questioned for making such a dramatic jump so early in his career.

“He has to be cautious. This is a very dangerous time,” cautioned Nick Faldo late last year as news built of the impending blockbuster. “Equipment is part of your DNA. The feel of them, how they sound, everything is about feel. I’d be really careful about that.”

On Monday in Abu Dhabi McIlroy said all the right things and given his performance over the past few years he deserves the benefit of the doubt and then some.

“To be honest, I’ve been blown away by the attention to detail when it comes to product (at Nike),” said McIlroy, who reportedly won’t carry a Nike golf bag. “Nike Golf is clearly committed to being the best and that gives me a lot of confidence in what we can achieve together on the golf course.”

Those who suggest the Ulsterman is in the midst of a money grab may also want to take a breath. You don’t get to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking trying to cash a check and if his jump from International Sports Management to Horizon Sports in late 2011 was any indication he seems to be more big picture than we often give him credit for.

Still, the game’s trash bin is filled with well intentioned decisions. Graeme McDowell, who has become something of a mentor for McIlroy on Tour, readily admitted that he struggled in 2011 after making a wholesale equipment change following his U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach.

Late last year after he’d earned his Tour card at Q-School Ross Fisher revealed he’d suffered a similar fate when he switched, like McIlroy, from Titleist to Nike Golf last January.

“It took me some time to become comfortable with the new clubs,” the Englishman said. “I feel comfortable with everything in the bag now, but it does take some time.”

Although Fisher’s comments weren’t directed at McIlroy, truth is the Ulsterman’s name never came up in the conversation, but his is a cautionary tale that seemed to loom over Monday’s proceedings at the posh Fairmont hotel.

Whether it’s fair or not, McIlroy, and Nike Golf, are officially on the clock. Officially on the hook to do what they’ve done so well in Abu Dhabi, mesh old and new together without making a mess.


Getty Images

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. 

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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.” 

Getty Images

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.