Els Moves to Callaway

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Ernie Els, the No. 6 player in golf's world rankings, has agreed to a multi-year equipment endorsement deal with Callaway Golf just days after leaving a four-year relationship with Titleist.
 
Callaway announced the deal as Els began first round play in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand with a Callaway FT-5 driver, an HX Tour 56 golf ball and a new Callaway bag. Callaway and Els will work on fitting him with the metalwoods, irons, wedges and putter that best suit his game. The driver has 8.5 degrees of loft and aneutral face bias, and Els got comfortable with it in just two days of trial, said a company official.
 
Ernie ElsThe eventual switch to an Odyssey putter (Odyssey is a Callaway business unit) is definite, said the Callaway official. As for irons and wedges, Els will work with legendary Callaway club designer Roger Cleveland, who has known Els for more than 17 years.
 
Els will continue to wear the hat with SAP logo on front, but the Callaway logo appears on the sides and back of his cap.
 
Although it was reported in some quarters that Callaway bought out Els agreement with Titleist, Callaway officials said that's not true.
 
The parties didn't disclose specific terms of the deal. Els, 37, has won three major championships: the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Opens and the Open Championship in 2002. He joined the PGA Tour in 1994; the U.S. Open at Oakmont that year was the first of his 15 PGA Tour wins. Els has won 43 times in international events, plus four times in team tournaments, always with fellow South Africans David Frost and Retief Goosen.
 
Els didn't win in 2006. But he did manage eight Top 10 finishes in the wake of a 2005 surgery needed beause of a knee injury sustained while sailing in the Mediterranean.
 
Whenever a Top 10 player's equipment deal is in play, the rumor mill heats up. For a few days this week, the uncertainty as to where Els would land generated more heat than light.
 
Depending on who you asked Tuesday, Els was 1) ending his four-year equipment endorsement deal with Titleist, 2) signing with Callaway, 3) negotiating with Callaway but still seen wearing a Titleist hat, or 4) some version of all of the above.
 
But when Els teed off Thursday in Thailand, his equipment situation became clear. A few days earlier, Titleist had issued a brief statement saying Els and the company had agreed to part ways immediately, and thanking Els for his services.
 
But on Tuesday, a Callaway official said no deal had been signed with Els, and there was no announcement to make, at least for the moment. The same executive wouldnt comment on how negotiations were progressing, or even if they were happening at all ' thats Callaway company policy.
 
Titleist officials did not extend comment past the confines of their brief statement, and Els and his agent either did not return calls or could not be reached. So the reasons for Els departure remain unclear. Tour players move for many reasons, including shifting economic goals and fortunes within the companies they endorse. David Toms left Cleveland Golf and started with TaylorMade this year; Lucas Glover went from Titleist to Nike as the new season began. And, of course, sometimes player economics, not company decisions, impel a move.
 
Recent Titleist history confirms that although it is not afraid to use the courts or mediation to protect its brand and contract rights, in the end it doesnt insist on keeping around anyone who is determined to change. Tiger Woods began with Titleist equipment, but went to Nike in 1999 (he already had a shoe and clothing deal with the company). David Duval left in 2001 for the same destination. Phil Mickelson parted with Titleist in 2004 to move to Callaway. Titleists tour staff, although replete with solid stars, has always had more of a team feel ' no one player predominates; the whole staff advances the brand. Davis Love III may be better known than, say, Bill Haas ' but Titleist doesnt market its players in a way that shows overt preference.
 
Now that Els has signed with Callaway, the squad feel could increase there as well. The staff already includes Mickelson, recent Nissan Open winner Charles Howell III, and Annika Sorenstam, as well as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. It will be interesting to see how it helps the company that pioneered big, easy-to-hit drivers (with 1991s Big Bertha) to get its hands on The Big Easy.
 
Els short-term schedule includes the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the WGC-CA Championship at Doral on the PGA Tour, plus the Tavistock Cup in Orlando.