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.

Getty Images

Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

Getty Images

Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

Getty Images

Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

Getty Images

Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.