Ill Give You a Major Winner and A Player to Be Named Later
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?
Els: Tiger playing well validates his generation
AUSTIN, Texas – Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.
Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.
He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 PGA Tour victories if he had to face this group.
''I'm just glad he's playing like I know he can play to validate me – validate me, Phil and Vijay,'' Els said. ''We weren't bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again ... is great for the game.''
Generational debates are nothing new.
Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.
Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.
Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation's players?
''It doesn't (tick) me off. Can you imagine how it must (tick) Tiger off?'' he said. ''He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can't take anything away from anybody.''
Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press
Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause
AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.
The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.
“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”
Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.
As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.
“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”
Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid
AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.
Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.
“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”
Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.
“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”
Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.
“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”
This week, let the games(manship) begin
AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.
What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.
During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.
“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”
Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.
“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].
Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.
Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.
“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”
Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.
“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”
While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.
But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.
“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”
It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”
McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”
It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.
“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.
Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.