After Seasons of Sputtering Cobra Hits the Gas

By Adam BarrFebruary 15, 2002, 5:00 pm
Perhaps it wasnt an accident that Cobra Golf chose Daytona 500 weekend to relaunch its website.
 
Loggers-on to www.cobragolf.com encounter an animated Cobra logo, supported by throaty audio of a race car revving up. At the end of the introduction, the words COBRA IS BACK appear in large, gold letters.
 
Like an aging NASCAR driver surging forward from the middle of the pack, Cobra Golf is trying to muscle its way back into something like its old top-5 position in the premium golf equipment business. To do it, parent company Acushnet brought in Jeff Harmet, a proven golf and sports marketing expert, from Wilson. And Acushnet, whose other golf brands are Titleist, FootJoy, and Pinnacle, handed Harmet a pile of resources and left him alone.
 
In return for that trust, Harmet delivered what he hopes is a claim on an untapped lode of golf business success.
 
We are clearly not a value company, Harmet said from his Carlsbad, Calif., office. Were not competing in that low-price segment that Tour Edge is in. Our targets are on-course and golf specialty shops. Were offering Callaway quality at Cleveland prices.
 
Harmets industry shorthand translates this way: Cobra wants to make products the industry acknowledges as possessing top-grade technology, but at accessible prices of the kind Cleveland Golf has been getting for its Launcher drivers ($390) and TA5 ($600 per set with steel shafts).
 
Were going to appeal to the masses, Harmet said.
 
And Cobra is betting those masses will comprise mostly golfers with handicaps of 10 and above, players looking for upper-end gear with graphite shafts and a little game improvement built in.
 
Cobra SS 350 driverFor instance: The suggested retail price for Cobras SS350 titanium driver will be $369. Compare that to, for example, Pings TiSi Tec at $515 (graphite shaft).
 
No question, the masses like paying less for golf gear. But what about the age-old axiom of premium goods? Regardless of what youre selling, if you underprice yourself, consumers wont consider you cream of the crop. Ely Callaway and Karsten Solheim lived by that principle, and it served them well. Is Cobra making the worst-house-in-the-best-neighborhood mistake?
 
Harmet says no.
 
The brand equity we have is tremendous. Customers are saying, This is exactly what you did in the mid-1990s; this is what you should have been doing all along.
 
It was in 1997 that Cobra took a turn, some would say in the wrong direction. American Brands was jettisoning its worldwide tobacco interests and looking for healthier businesses. Cobra looked like a good fit with Americans Acushnet Co. The conglomerate wanted to ride the golf wave that rose with Callaway and the Big Bertha in 1991, and was expected to swell with the advent of Tiger Woods.

The prospect was worth more than $700 million to American, more than twice Cobras annual sales. When the deal closed in early 1997, the rest of the golf industry stood agape at the amount of money one brand in a changing cottage industry could command.
 
Once American took Cobra private, Acushnet no longer broke out Cobras annual sales as a line item on financial reports. But it didnt take an income statement to see that sales fell throughout the late 1990s as the entire industry slogged through a 1998 slump from which Callaway, TaylorMade, and Ping emerged as the strongest players.
 
Titleists own club line, positioned for better players, also did well, perhaps taking some aspirational potential customers from Cobra. Until the Harmet hiring, Cobras mission wasnt entirely clear; a succession of managers and product designers took care of the brand while Acushnet chief Wally Uihlein and his lieutenants strategized.
 
By the beginning of this century, Cobra sales had slumped to around $75 million per year, industry sources have said. Acushnet critics wondered how long American, now renamed Fortune Brands, would wait for return on its investment.
 
Hiring Harmet was seen as a step in the right direction. At Wilson, Harmet worked with company chief Jim Baugh and oversaw Wilsons return to prominence in tennis. Prince had beaten back Wilson to just 17 percent of the racquet market Wilson had once dominated. But the Hammer family of racquets got Wilson back to 45 percent. Harmet also got credit for Wilsons success with Fat Shaft clubs, which became a bright spot for the beleaguered brand in the late 1990s.
 
A bright spot for the new Cobra is retailer acceptance, which seems high even before the April 1 nationwide shipping target. (Some Cobra products are already available in the Sunbelt states.)
 
Were happy to see [the brand coming back], said Randy Morton, general manager of Pro Shop World of Golf in Skokie, Ill. Cobra was a solid brand for many years until Titleist bought it. Then it was kind of like an ugly stepchild. But now theyre behind it and promoting it.
 
We think itll be a real good seller, said Edwin Watts, whose eponymous off-course stores cover much of the southeast. The products are good and the prices are good.
 
But will those seasons as a faltering brand be a hurdle with consumers?
 
Brands in golf that have been around for years, like this one, with its connection to Titleist Watts said, well, its really hard to destroy a brand.
 
Cobra hasnt turned around yet, but Harmet is all smiles and enthusiasm so far.
 
The beauty of this industry is word of mouth, Harmet said. You dont need a billion dollars in advertising. You just need a good product ' and to break through all the clutter.
 
Or race through it.
Getty Images

Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
Getty Images

Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

Getty Images

Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

Getty Images

Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”