club contract, no problem as free agents win all four majors
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[September 11, 2018]
By Andrew Both
(Reuters) - All four major golf
championships this year were won by players without equipment
contracts, an unusual situation but one that reflects an era when
club and ball manufacturers increasingly focus on signing only the
biggest names in the sport.
Nike's exit from the golf equipment business two years ago set off a
'free-for-all' that ushered in an era of free agency that is still
shaking itself out, according to one insider.
Keith Sbarbaro, senior vice-president of tour operations for
TaylorMade, said equipment companies did not have unlimited budgets
to sign everyone they wanted.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari were
among players contracted to use Nike equipment when the company
decided to leave the golf stage.
Woods and McIlroy subsequently became contracted TaylorMade players,
but Koepka and Molinari did not.
Without the benefit of a crystal ball, TaylorMade had no way of
knowing that Koepka (U.S. Open and PGA Championship) and Molinari
(British Open) would carry off three majors in 2018.
Even if they had known, they would not necessarily have had the
budget to add them to a crowded stable that includes Dustin Johnson,
Justin Rose, Jon Rahm and Jason Day.
Molinari remains uncontracted, a free agent even though he used 12
TaylorMade clubs, along with a Bettinardi putter and a Titleist ball
for his Carnoustie triumph.
Koepka, meanwhile, used clubs of four different manufacturers in his
2018 major championship wins, including TaylorMade's M3 driver and
Mizuno irons. Mixing and matching has certainly not hurt his game.
Patrick Reed, who left Nike in 2013, also used a variety of clubs to
win the Masters in April, a Ping driver and mainly Callaway irons.
"You had all four major winners being free agents. I donít think
youíll see that again," Sbarbaro told Reuters.
"They are high ranked players. They are not going to have small
deals. They got great deals with Nike and they're not bothered
trying to find a bit of club money."
Sbarbaro said Nike's exit set off a mad scramble from rival club
makers to sign the most marketable players.
The superstars were wooed by multiple manufacturers, the others not
[to top of second column]
Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the 12th hole during the second
round of the BMW Championship golf tournament at Aronimink GC. Eric
Sucar-USA TODAY Sports
"When Nike exited it was a free for all. Most (people) didnít see it
coming," Sbarbaro said.
"It opened up for all these Nike guys to play whatever they wanted.
"Roryís parents' house looked like a golf warehouse. Tigerís house
When the dust settled TaylorMade had the two biggest names in the
game, with McIlroy's deal worth a reported $100 million over 10
"We've got Rory, Tiger (etc). You would love to have every player in
the top 10. We just can't have them all. Us golf companies don't
have endless pockets."
Sbarbaro said the days were gone when so-called journeymen enjoyed
lucrative equipment contracts.
"The middle tier is getting hurt a bit," he said.
"Itís got even more separated. The big guys are more important than
ever. There's more value at the top."
He said a prominent social media presence is important, an area
where McIlroy excels with 3.17 million Twitter followers.
"His social media side. we didnít have anyone like him, Rory. He
touches so many people."
But good old-fashioned television remains the biggest factor in
determining a player's worth.
"Our top four players get over 90 percent of our TV time," Sbarbaro
added. "What percentage is Tiger getting on his own?
"Back in the day Tiger (before signing for TaylorMade) was getting
more TV time on his own than our whole staff.
"The beauty of it is when Tiger is on TV thatís when most people are
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken
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