2013 PGA Player Sponsorships – Predicting the Future

Trying To Be Buy #1 – The Changing Of The Guard Logo

While perhaps it’s not everything that it used to be, the professional – and more to the point, the PGA Tour still has the greatest impact on what the consumer buys. It’s the top of the pyramid of influence, and manufacturers know that if you can control the top, you control everything underneath it. There’s a direct correlation to being the #1 Driver, or the #1 ball on Tour and being the #1 whatever it happens to be in all of golf (which generally includes consumer-driven marketshare).

It’s not unusual for golfers to move from one brand to another. It happens every season. What makes this season unique is that not only are more players changing logos, never in my memory have so many moved between so few companies. If there was any doubt that Callaway and Nike were serious about overhauling their respective staffs with the hopes than an improved PGA presence would better position them to take on TaylorMade, this year’s signings should make it abundantly clear that both companies are absolutely serious.

Nike’s recent announcement that Rory McIlroy will be joining their Global Tour Staff effectively settles the dust on the busiest endorsement season in recent memory; albeit with all the suspense of an episode of the A-Team (spoiler alert: B.A. gets drugged, Hannibal and Co. save the town).

To suggest that Rory’s signing was the worst kept secret in golf would be disrespectful to poorly kept secrets everywhere. If you didn’t know Rory was joining Tiger, you weren’t simply in a coma, you were dead.

Of course, Rory wasn’t the only one swapping logos. More than a dozen other players significant enough to warrant an announcement either jumped ship or signed new deals outright – and that’s before we start talking about apparel contracts…which we’re not going to talk about.

Truthfully the ins and outs of what happens on the PGA Tour isn’t generally newsworthy around here (mostly we don’t care), but with so many ‘name’ players moving around, we decided to take a closer look at the signings and see what they could mean from an equipment perspective.

Admittedly taking on such a task is like trying to grade the NFL draft immediately following the selection of Mr. Irrelevant. Until these guys get their TV time with their new gear (and most haven’t yet), it’s far too soon to know what these signings actually mean…but it sure is fun to speculate.

Nike

Nike’s prevailing philosophy in any sport is “we want to have the best players in the world”. In the NBA it’s as true today (LeBron, Kobe, Durant) as it was back in the proverbial day (Jordan). The same holds true in tennis (Federrer, Nadal), Soccer (admittedly Nike would probably love to trade Ronaldo for Messi), and even American football.

Even if the presence of Tim Tebow on the Nike staff might suggest otherwise, in a sport where being the best is harder to define, names like Polamalu, Suh, Clay Mathews – and of course Bo Jackson before them – suggest Nike always wants to have the very best players wearing the Swoosh.

It’s that commitment to having the best player in the world that led to Nike luring Rors away from Team Titleist. At just 23 years of age, McIlroy already has 6 PGA Tour wins (including 2 majors), and is unquestionably the best get of the season. He’s by most accounts the best player in the world today…and if he’s not, for now anyway, Nike still has Tiger Woods.

There’s still some doubt whether Rory can move the needle (golf clubs and apparel along with it), but if you’re going to gamble that somebody can, Rors is going to give you the best odds. Titleist never really marketed him to sell clubs. Nike will.

Of course, Rory McIlroy wasn’t the only new signing for Nike. Team Swoosh also added Nick Watney (5 PGA Tour wins), Kyle Stanley (1 PGA Tour win), as well as Seung Yul Noh, and Thorbjorn Olesen.

Granted, those last two names probably don’t exactly get your heart thumping, but Seung Yul Noh could serve as Nike’s gateway to the lucrative South Korean market. Thorbjorn Olesen…that’s just fun to say. Try it with me…Thorbjorn Olesen. Thorbjorn Olesen.

Even without McIlroy, the combination of Watney and Stanley is arguably the best combo pickup of any OEM. Toss McIlroy into the mix, and there’s simply no doubt that, on paper anyway, Nike out-signed its competition.

Prevailing Philosophy:  Rory Knows Winning Sells.

Callaway

Ask anyone at Callaway, and they’ll all tell you the same thing. “Things are different now”.

We’re not certain exactly what that means, but there are absolutely signs of real change coming out of Callaway.

The R&D guys won’t talk about clubs without mentioning Chip Brewer’s influence. We’re seeing a more social approach to customer engagement, and a concerted effort to redefine the brand. If the revamped Tour Staff is any indication, what Callaway wants more than anything is to associate themselves with extreme (XTREMEly, XHot) distance.

From what I can tell, while still in its infancy, the approach is starting to gain a little traction, but success at retail in the US still begins, and may even end, with success on the PGA Tour.

To that end, and not be outdone – at least not in terms of the raw numbers –  Callaway signed Andres Gonzales, Nicholas Colsaerts, Gary Woodland, Ryo Ishikawa, Chris Kirk, and long driver monster, Jamie Sadlowski.

Colsaerts and Woodland are two of the longest hitters on tour. Jamie Sadlowski is as close to a household name as you’ll find for a long drive competitor (which is still as far as he can hit the ball away from actually being a household name) Gonzales is an affable character that seems to resonate well with fans (he covers the engagement piece of the equation), and Ishikawa gives Callaway the top Japanese golfer – which like Nike’s signing of Seung Yul Noh, gives them better access into a lucrative foreign market where they’re already well positioned. Ishikawa also brings a youthful face to a brand that is otherwise starting to look a little dated.

On paper, it reads pretty well. But…

For all the hoopla, Callaway’s 6 name signings bring a grand total of 2 PGA Tour victories to the table. If winning with distance doesn’t pan out, we could be looking at the single biggest waste of sports dollars since the Raiders inked JaMarcus Russell.

At the risk of stating the Johnny-Miller-obvious; this all comes down to Colsaerts and Woodland. If they play to their perceived capabilities, Callaway’s new guard could be major factors in their 5 Year War to overtake TaylorMade. If they don’t, Callaway still has Mickelson, Els, and I suppose, Timberlake.

Prevailing Philosophy: Distance Sells.

TaylorMade

Nobody in their right mind is going to suggest that anybody that joined team TaylorMade this season even loosely qualifies as a major impact signing.

While PGA Rookie of the Year John Huh could turn out to be something, Stewart Cink is arguably the most recognizable addition – even if his only TaylorMade tools will be his driver and fairway woods. Of course, he’ll be carrying them around in a TaylorMade bag, which should give them all the brand recognition they really need.

Other signings – Ryan Moore, J.J. Henry, and Brian Davis, aren’t expected to give good TV face late Sunday afternoon, but like many others in the TaylorMade stable, they add to the spread, and all of the above – even Cink, are still capable of competing in, and even stealing a win, in just about any tournament they enter.

Take Cink (6 PGA wins / 1 Major) out of the equation, and the new TaylorMade guys still have one more combined PGA win than the new faces of Team Callaway.

Prevailing Philosophy: What We’re Doing is Working, So We’ll Just Keep Doing It (which is different from “Just Do It”).

Cobra-PUMA

There are 3 companies in golf that will more or less admit that they desire to be #1. TaylorMade is already there. Nike and Callaway have made it known that they’re coming for them. Nearly everyone else will tell you that they’re not trying to compete in quite the same fashion…at that same level.

Most of the time, I don’t believe them. I believe PING would love to be #1 across the board. Titleist too. But Cobra-PUMA…their story is they’re not trying to be #1 at anything, and I actually believe them.

Cobra-PUMA is building a culture brand. I say that with no intent to detract from clubs that perform as well as anybody’s, but rather to illustrate that Cobra-PUMA is trying to develop a brand identity that resonates with a specific set of consumers.

As a brand, It’s not just about what they make; it’s about who they are and what they represent.

Case in point is the recent signing of Jesper Parnevik. Apart from Rory McIlroy, the Parnevik signing is perhaps the most significant of the season. He’s probably not going to win many tournaments, and he’s probably not going to be competitive in the majors, but more than any other signing, he fits perfectly within the larger scheme of the brand he now represents.

There’s no better guy to help Cobra-PUMA expand its identity from the brand for the young to the brand for the young at heart. As I said in a recent forum post, Jesper Parnevik can make it cool for older guys to dress like Rickie Fowler – and that makes it cool for me to dress like Jesper Parnevik.

Think Parnevik doesn’t matter? Check out the margins on apparel sometime.

Worth noting – although he’s past his prime, his 5 career PGA Tour victories are only 1 behind Cink and McIlroy, and equal that of Nick Watney.

Prevailing Philosophy: Golf is Fun…or at least it should be.

Titleist

If there’s a loser in all this tour staff shuffling, it’s Titleist. Of the 17 names I’ve listed above, 8 of them (including McIlroy, Watney, Stanley, and Colsaerts) left Titleist to sign with new sponsors.

Usually when there’s this much looting it’s preceded by an earthquake. The end result is the appearance that Team Titleist is playing an unfortunate game of reverse musical chairs where there are plenty of seats and not nearly enough asses.

Now in fairness, while this is perhaps as hard as the brand has ever been hit by turnover in a single season, it’s very much Titleist business as usual. Woods, Els, Mickelson, even Fowler, all left Titleist as they’re careers were beginning to take off.

In many respects Titleist serves as the Tampa Bay Rays of the Golf World. They develop the talent, and then it gets too costly they let them move elsewhere. Some, kinda like Wade Boggs, will eventually return and end their careers with Titleist.

The good news is Titleist still has Steve Stricker, and Adam Scott. They’ve got real talent in younger guys like Bud Cauley and Patrick Cantlay, and they’ve still got plenty of the other guy’s staffers playing the ball.

I’m  not sure how much longer the ball thing will last as TaylorMade and Nike put more pressure on staffers to play their own balls, but for now anyway, Titleist, despite losing some of its most well-known talent, is still well positioned to compete exactly as it has for the last several years.

Prevailing Philosophy: We Still Have the #1 Ball in Golf

Other Notables

PING retained Louis Ooshuizen, Hunter Mahan, and Bubba Watson. For now it appears that Keegan Bradley, and Graeme McDowell are staying put with Cleveland, and Luke Donald is staying with Mizuno.

Predicting the Future

While nothing is absolute, the recent signings suggest that both Callaway and Nike are serious about trying to overtake TaylorMade. TaylorMade is doing its part to stay on top.

Ultimately who proves to be the most successful at leveraging their staff to achieve retail success will be determined by who is best able to mesh traditional advertising with aggressive online campaigns and customer engagement.

TaylorMade has a strong history of doing just that. New Callaway endeavors like their Callaway Talks and Friday Office Golf lessons show real signs of promise, but they’ll need to sustain and grow the momentum. Nike’s social media following absolutely dwarfs the competition, but thus far they’ve been unable to translate that to real engagement and ultimately retail success.

I expect these 3 companies to fight it out for the next several years, with the new leader in 3, or even 5 years determined not by who creates the best performing products, but rather by who is best able to leverage The Tour while avoiding a major disaster at retail.

For everyone else…PING, Cleveland, and even Titleist, it’s business as usual.

Decision on belly putters to be made shortly

We’re very close to an official decision on the use of long and belly putters.
It is believed that the R&A and the USGA are to make a formal announcement within the next month on a decision to ban the practise of anchoring golf clubs against the body during a golf swing. A recent report suggests that professionals will be advised of the changes at this week’s WGC Champions event in China and next week’s event in Singapore.
What’s wrong with it?
The overwhelming argument against anchoring is that it reduces the potential for any nervous twitches to affect the putt. Unlike changes to clubs and balls, the fundamental golf swing is changed when the golf club is anchored to the body. Anchoring is thought to provide help for golfers who have struggled for consistency on the greens, particularly those who have developed the yips. Adam Scott has been quoted as saying the long putter “makes going out on the course less stressful, knowing you’re going to putt alright all the time”.
What will the decision be?

As yet nothing is confirmed but some of the strongest rumours have indicated a ban at the professional level beginning 2016 with a ban at amateur level possibly at the same time, or more likely a few years later. The changes will be made with regard to the rules regarding the golf swing rather than a ban on particular golf clubs but will have the same effect as outlawing belly and long putters. We wait for a formal announcement.
The arguments for anchoring
Despite the huge groundswell of support to ban anchoring some people insist anchoring is no big deal and should be kept within the rules of the game. Some claim that many golfers will no longer be able to compete against other golfers – amateurs included. A recent article at Golf.com is full of many more popular arguments which include the idea that the advantage has not been proven, and anchoring makes the game more enjoyable for some golfers.
My view
All the arguments I’ve heard in support of anchoring have failed to sway me in any way. Lamenting that some professional golfers may no longer be able to compete on the tour, to claims that all golfers would be using them if they improved putting, miss the point.
Not all golfers are poor putters. Not all golfers would improve with the use of belly putters, but the fact that some golfers improve there putting to any degree is enough to question the practise. Further, as Wayne Grady mentioned last week: “What relief does someone have when they get the yips with the chips?”
While it may be true that technology has changed the game to a larger degree that anchoring, it is no reason to ignore the issue. From a purely physics perspective the anchoring must reduce the potential for wayward putting by reducing the number of degrees of freedom during the swing.
I still like the idea that the putter is the shortest club in the bag and dealing with nerves must remain an integral and enticing part of the game.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON TAKES COMMAND IN BERMUDA

Three time Major winner Padraig Harrington capitalizes his third opportunity at the 2012 PGA Grand Slam of Golf CHICAGO, Oct. 25, 2012 – Wilson Staff professional Padraig Harrington captured the PGA Grand Slam of Golf tournament at the Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton, Bermuda. The Irishman carded a total of twelve birdies in just two rounds to finish nine-under par ahead of three American competitors – Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and Keegan Bradley.

His desire to return to the event stems from his prior participation twice at the Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda, where he lost in playoffs to Angel Cabrera in 2007 and Jim Furyk in 2008. “It was unfinished business for me, having lost in two playoffs. It was nice to come back and win it now. Yeah, it feels good,” commented Harrington earning a $600,000 prize. “Winning is a habit and it’s nice to do it.”

The Wilson Staffer proved his eagerness to make his third time a charm, capturing an early lead during the first round and showing consistency in birdie-making ability with the help of his Wilson Staff FG Tour V2 irons. With three birdies on the back nine of the final round, he edged U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson by one stroke for the victory.

Wilson Staff’s FG Tour V2 irons feature mass placed behind the impact zone for a traditional muscleback feel surrounded by a built-in cavity to provide forgiveness desired by even the world’s best players. Wilson Staff FG Tour V2 irons can be viewed at www.wilson-staff.com.

About Wilson Golf

For nearly a century, Wilson Golf has designed, manufactured and distributed premium and recreational golf equipment throughout the world. Since 1914, Wilson Staff irons have won 61 Major championships, more than any other iron manufacturer in history. Wilson Staff’s Di11 and Ci11 irons, as well as the Duo golf ball, were honored with Golf Digest’s Hot List awards. Wilson Staff, Profile, ProStaff and Hope consumer brands continue that tradition today by delivering the highest quality golf equipment to all golfers to enhance performance on the course and overall enjoyment of the game.

Kuchar Tames TPC Sawgrass With New Tour B330-s

Kuchar Relies on Bridgestone Equipment In PLAYERS Championship Title Run

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – On Mother’s Day, May 13th, Matt Kuchar delivered a gift to his wife and Mom that they will never forget, a PLAYERS Championship title. And a million-dollar smile to celebrate the win! Kuchar’s joyful victory also marked an important occasion for Bridgestone Golf, as it was the first PGA TOUR win for Bridgestone’s new 2012 TOUR B330-S golf ball, featuring the company’s proprietary Dual Dimple Design cover.

In his PLAYERS triumph, the biggest of his career to date, Kuchar relied on a deft short game, precision iron play, unflappable resolve and an enviable countenance down the stretch to outlast one of the toughest fields in golf this year, finishing at 13-under par – two better than his nearest competitor. Down the stretch, Kuchar trusted his J40 Cavity Back irons and new TOUR B330-S ball to hit an incredible 9 out of 9 greens in regulation on the Back 9 at Sawgrass.

“To win the PLAYERS Championship against what is probably the toughest field in golf is just an unbelievable feeling,” said Kuchar.  “I was able to really pull off some big shots out here all week.  Those Bridgestone balls, they just listen.”

The enhanced precision and feel of the new Bridgestone TOUR B330-S ball was on full display at Sawgrass as Kuchar finished the tournament T3 in Birdies (22), T3 in Greens-in-Regulation (73.6%) and #1 in Proximity to the Hole (a measure of the distance from the hole that approach shots finish).

Kuchar earned $1.71 million (golf’s biggest single event payday) for the win and vaulted himself into the 6h position in the 2012 FedEx Cup standings and 5th in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Kuchar’s Bridgestone Arsenal in his 2012 PLAYERS Championship Victory

  • 2012 TOUR B330-S Golf Ball
  • J40 430cc 9.5 degree Driver
  • J40 Cavity Back Irons – black finish (5-PW)
  • J40 Black Oxide Wedges (52 and 60 (bent to 57) degrees)

Golf Must Make Changes: Newton

Jack Newton with Stonebridge Golf Club president Kerry Bartlett. Source: The Daily Telegraph

ASK Jack Newton what golf needs to do to pull itself out of the tight lie it’s in popularity-wise in this country and typically, he comes out swinging.

“The game needs to change,” Newton said. “If you haven’t got enough people coming through your club, old bastards like me are going to be dead and gone. What’s the future of golf clubs then? What’s the future of the game?”

Newton was back in his old home town of Cessnock yesterday at the official opening of the newly named Stonebridge Golf Club.

It was formerly Cessnock Golf Club and then The Oaks Golf and Country Club before it ran into financial trouble and closed two years ago.

The site was redeveloped and Newton, whose father Jack and grandfather Bill were both coal-miners at nearby Bellbird, was called in to redesign an 18-hole championship course in among a new residential estate.

He is justifiably proud of what’s been achieved but has challenged people to judge for themselves.

“There’s four million people trying to escape Sydney every Friday. This is where they should come,” he said. “This region is now a genuine golfing destination.

They should be rushing up here to have a game of golf I think rather than getting on a plane and going to Surfers Paradise.”

When it all boils down to it though, you get the impression Newton would just like to see more people playing golf, no matter where it is.

He worries about the sport’s future and where it is headed, claiming a long line of clubs have got themselves into financial trouble because of poor management decisions.

“A lot of old blokes are commandeering the committees and putting up fees without any improvement to the facility,” he said. “There’s a lot of clubs in Sydney whose books have been closed to new members for years that are now open.”

But he says the real changes needed to bolster dwindling player numbers have to be made at junior level to attract the players of the future. Problem is, it calls for some forward thinking.

For starters, he says it’s time to do away with some of the game’s rigid dress code regulations. “For young people, they (dress codes) haven’t been upgraded in 50 years,” he said.

 

“The standard answer you get when you question having to wear a shirt with a collar is it’s a tradition we must keep.

“I’m not suggesting allowing football shorts or a singlet. But I think there is other attire around now that young people like to wear that cost a whole lot more than a shirt with a collar on it.”

Newton, who has done more to promote junior golf in NSW than anyone else with the Jack Newton Golf Foundation, is not holding his breath, waiting for change to occur.

But don’t think for a minute he won’t use his considerable influence to continue to push for it.

Can an Aussie breakthrough at The Players Championship this week?

Can an Aussie breakthrough at The Players Championship this week? We run through the chances for each of the 10 Aussies competing at The Players Championship.

Robert Allenby
Allenby historically performs well at The Players having finished second in 2010 and tied fourth in 2003. However Allenby has struggled recently, missing the cut in his last two events on the PGA TOUR.

Aaron Baddeley
One of the best putters on Tour, Baddeley had a good start to his 2012 season but April was a disappointing month for him with two missed cuts. However The Players could see Badds back in contention, in his last three starts at TPC Sawgrass he has twice finished in the top-10.

Greg Chalmers
Chalmers has been quietly consistent this season with four top 25′s, but is yet to produce the form which saw him thrill Australian crowds over the summer of golf. After winning the Emirates Australian Open and Australian PGA Championship presented by Coca-Cola many expected Chalmers to do big things on the PGA TOUR, this could be the week for the quiet achiever.

Jason Day
Day relishes playing in a field with the world’s best and often produces his best performances on the big stage. This was evident on his debut at the Masters and US Open last year where he finished tied second and outright second respectively. Having withdrawn from the Masters this year due to injury, Day will be aiming for an impressive finish at The Players this week to improve on his tied sixth in 2011. This is just his second week back on Tour since his injury but if his tied ninth last week at Wells Fargo is anything to go by, he is ready.

Marc Leishman
TPC Sawgrass was not kind to Leishman last year where he shot a nightmarish 81-80 to miss the cut. Putting that behind him Leishman will be aiming for a better performance at The Players this week.

Nick O’Hern
O’Hern has had a very quiet season on the PGA TOUR to date having made just five cuts from 11 starts with his best finish being a tied 27th at the Farmers Insurance Open in January.

Geoff Ogilvy
Ogilvy’s best finish at The Players came in 2004 when he finished tied 16th. Last year Ogilvy had to withdraw in the second round due to a shoulder injury, but with that behind him, he will be looking for a better showing this week.

Rod Pampling
This will be Pampling’s first appearance at The Players since 2009 where he finished well back in the field. Not heading to TPC Sawgrass in the best form Pampling has missed the cut in four of his last appearances on the PGA TOUR.

Adam Scott
A former champion, Scott won The Players back in 2004 and finished tied sixth at TPC Sawgrass last year. Scott has a different strategy towards his season this year, playing sparingly with just five starts in 2012. This will be Scott’s first tournament since the Masters where he was the best Aussie finishing tied eighth.

John Senden
Senden is having a strong season in the US this year and is in the top 10 on Tour in greens hit and birdie average. He comes into The Players off a good week at the Wells Fargo where he finished tied 15th.

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The Players Championship is being streamed LIVE online, please find the schedule below.

Thursday 10th 11pm – 9am
Friday 11th 11pm – 9am
Sunday 13th 2am – 9am
Monday 14th 2am – 9am