Spieth, Under Armour a perfect match

By Rex HoggardSeptember 16, 2015, 6:44 pm

BALTIMORE – For the better part of the work day on July 20, the vast majority of Under Armour’s workforce was glued to a massive TV screen that stretched two stories high in the company’s space-age cafeteria.

Jordan Spieth - Under Armour’s Jordan Spieth - was closing in on the third leg of the single-season Grand Slam at the Open Championship and the Monday finish at St. Andrews had transformed a normally quiet day at UA headquarters into a frenzy of excitement and opportunity.

“It was crazy,” recalls Ryan Kuehl, the company’s senior director of golf. “Nobody could stop watching it.”

Spieth came up a few rotations short in that historic bid, finishing a stroke out of the playoff that was eventually won by Zach Johnson, but the 22-year-old had already made history for himself and the emerging athletic-wear company.

It was a similar defeat when Kuehl and Under Armour first started to realize the impact Spieth would have on a company that had enjoyed plenty of success in the team sports category but was still relatively new to the golf market.

“It was Augusta last year when he lost,” Kuehl said of Spieth’s runner-up showing at the 2014 Masters. “The impact of that was like, whoa, not only from a cash register perspective in the golf business, but just from the brand.”

For Kuehl, who played eight seasons as a defensive lineman in the NFL before going to work for Under Armour, Spieth is the quintessential franchise player, talented and competitive with enough humility to resonate with fans.

This is, after all, the same player who declined to talk about his humility earlier this year because, well, that wouldn’t be humble, and regularly answers questions with the rejoinder, “We had a good game plan.”

“People saw the power that if you can get a guy who looks, talks and walks like that to represent your brand on that type of stage, the impact of that, we've never felt before,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl signed Spieth to his original endorsement deal in January 2013 after convincing Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank that Spieth possessed that rare combination of competitiveness and Q score.

“I sat with Kevin, I told him, ‘He's the Bryce Harper of golf,’” Kuehl recently said over lunch at Under Armour’s sprawling campus along the shores of the Patapsco River.

Spieth now shares space with Harper, the all-star outfielder for the Washington Nationals, and Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors’ guard and last year’s NBA MVP, on an enormous wall mural that greets guests when they arrive at the company’s campus.

Spieth's appeal is what prompted Kuehl to cancel the last two years of Spieth’s original deal and re-sign him to a new 10-year contract in January.

Although details of the new deal weren’t announced, like most contracts it is heavily incentive-based depending on his play in the majors – Spieth won the season’s first two Grand Slam starts at the Masters and U.S. Open – and his position on the Official World Golf Ranking, where he has been trading the top spot with Rory McIlroy the last month.

For a company that has grown its presence in golf at a measured pace – Hunter Mahan was the first Tour player the company signed to an endorsement deal in 2003 – it was a bold move considering that at the time Spieth had one Tour victory (2013 John Deere Classic) and was ranked ninth in the world.

But the potential for a massive payoff became clear to UA executives following Spieth’s runner-up showing at the 2014 Masters.

“We signed him in January of ’13, and we've almost tripled [golf product sales], so that gives you an idea, by the end of this year,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl declined to give specific sales figures, but the “Jordan effect” could be felt at UA headquarters as early as February when the company discovered it wouldn’t be able to meet demand for pant sales for the fall. “We were trying to figure out, how do we get our partners more pants,” he said.

Even as the company watched Spieth come up short on Monday at St. Andrews, his impact on the bottom line, to say nothing of the company’s growing influence in golf, could be felt.

“The storm sweater fleece he wore at the British [Open], it was a gray piece with borders on it - we sold out of grey on Monday morning,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl said the company has no immediate plans to get into the golf club business, instead focusing on what it considers its core accessory and apparel line like the launch of the third iteration of Spieth’s own golf shoe in the spring.

“I'm very involved,” Spieth said earlier this year when asked about his shoe line, and Kuehl added that it’s not unusual for Spieth to spend five hours a day going over product samples during his regular visits to Under Armour.

If Spieth’s heartbreak at the 2014 Masters set the tone for what was possible, it was his historic victory in April at Augusta National that solidified everything Under Armour thought they knew about Spieth.

“I think Kevin [Plank] said it after the Masters: ‘We grew up today,’” Kuehl said.

It seems both Spieth and UA’s golf division came of age in 2015.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."