Ill Give You a Major Winner and A Player to Be Named Later

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The dealing has begun in equipment endorsement season, which usually starts when the first leaves fly. Call it the golf industrys version of baseballs winter meetings. And if it looks this time like companies are trading players the way baseball teams do, thats not an accident.
 
You may have heard that starting next season, Sergio Garcia will switch from Titleist equipment to TaylorMade-adidas gear, and that Ernie Els will leave TaylorMade for Titleist. At first it looked as if two burglars were at work on each others houses at the same time, neither knowing what was going on at home. But this swap had more intricacies than the deal that relieved Philadelphia of Scott Rolen.
 
As is often the case, the unrest started with an agent. Sergio left his old agent for the mammoth International Management Group in late 2000. That had Titleist, Sergios equipment partner, waiting for a knock on the door, sources say. Its not that Sergios former agent fell down on the job, but his deals werent generating the kind of revenue that keeps IMG happy (if that can even be done).
 
IMG must have been salivating. The magic still lingered from Garcias energetic and charming performance in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, when the kid hammered a tree root, advanced the ball, and advanced his career with a boyish ballet down the fairway, all in the space of about 10 seconds.
 
No question, Sergio could play. His youth promised all kinds of crossover appeal, the kind that makes marketers catatonic with joy. The future looked justifiably bright.
 
Like a lot of European athletes, Garcia wore adidas shoes. After adidas acquired TaylorMades parent, Salomon, in 1998 and co-branded their golf products to create TaylorMade-adidas, it was just a matter of time until the pressure started to make Sergio TMaG head-to-toe. After all, adidas is the worlds second-largest sporting goods company, with annual sales of more than $6 billion. Money wouldnt be a problem.
 
Meanwhile, Els continued to play a Titleist golf ball after an early-career stint as an equipment endorser. As a TaylorMade club guy, he created win-win situations for himself and that company by winning the 1997 U.S. Open and this years British Open.
 
But for more than a year, Els had been working on a deal to sell his hat space to business software power SAP, sources say, for a cool $3 million. What would that do to his TaylorMade hat space? Would it still be worthwhile for TMaG to hang onto Els, who is 10 years older than Garcia?
 
It might have been, sources say, if the Garcia camp hadnt become revenue-restless. In Sergios 2000 Titleist deal was a clause, say sources close to the matter, that allowed for some co-opting of Sergios visor space, as long as Titleist approved. Sergios old agent was working on something with Microsoft for as much as $4 million, but that deal petered out when IMG took over. When IMG went to Titleist to trigger the visor clause for another sponsor, Titleist naturally asked who. When it turned out to be adidas, Titleist said no way, sources say. Titleist brass wouldnt share space on a golfer with a competing golf brand.
 
Where was Els during all of this? Like Garcia, competing in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Around that time, sources say, Titleist knew that if Els left, TMaG would have enough to get Garcia and pay Titleist for the last two years of his deal. NBA powerhouse Kobe Bryant had also left adidas this summer, leaving more discretionary dollars for adidas. So Titleist felt free to pursue The Big Easy.
 
Without confirming any of the backroom stuff, Titleist chief Wally Uihlein left no doubt about his companys enthusiasm about Els.
 
We had been talking to Ernie Els for a long time, Uihlein said. We were aware of his situation, so we aggressively went after Ernie. And we clearly knew TaylorMade had a very strong interest.
 
Whether it was now or the end of 2004, we knew the Sergio matter was going to be a situation that would turn into a bidding war. At this time, it made more sense, being able to land [Els] for the next five years as opposed to having someone gone in two years.
 
Things began to move rapidly. Now covered by the Els deal, Titleist had some flexibility. Titleist agreed that Sergio could leave his contract early (it was set to end in 2004) to become a complete TaylorMade-adidas-Maxfli man, as long as some restitution were paid to Titleist to compensate it for the lost two years. (Remember the lawsuit that erupted when David Duval left Titleist for Nike? Same deal. And while no one would say the dollars were unimportant, sources confirm that the restitution element of the Garcia departure was more a matter of conformity to precedent than a mere accounting move.)
 
So off Sergio goes to TMaG for $7 million per year, presumably for five years. (TMaG officials were unavailable for comment.) Compare that to the $5 million or so he was getting annually from Titleist, and it becomes clear why it was worthwhile for Sergio to completely rearrange his bag to match his shoe rack.
 
And Titleist got the reliable Els, whose appeal is closer to Titleists classic bent, for about $3 million per year for five years. That frees up some salary cap, if you will, for future projects during troubled economic times.
 
Not that anyone else is coming or going soon at Titleist. As a matter of fact, the Els-Garcia trade may be the biggest deal of the year. Other endorsement deals up for reconsideration include Jesper Parneviks with Callaway, and perhaps Colin Montgomeries with the same company.
 
Big question: Can we get a good left-handed closer for Monty?