With a barrage of reports that Rory McIlroy will soon sign a 10-year, $200 million equipment and apparel deal with Nike – coupled with McIlroy’s own admission that he’s been tinkering with new clubs – the transition for McIlroy from Titleist to Nike now seems imminent. “I’m a Titleist player until the end of the year, and I’ve made no commitment to any company for next year,” said McIlroy. “I have a process that we are working through and you’ll probably hear more about it in the next few weeks.”
While the reported move has already drawn criticism from the likes of Nick Faldo, I for one have no issue with the move. It’s easy to share Faldo’s opinion when you don’t have a $200 million contract in front of you, but I’d imagine it’s damn near impossible to turn down that kind of guaranteed money. Faldo’s opinion is based largely on the notion that any change in equipment will initially lead to you having less trust in your clubs, which can in turn shake your confidence when you’re not sure if it’s the Indian or the arrow leading to errant shots. While I see Faldo’s point, I think Rory has picked the perfect time of year to experiment with new clubs. Couple that with the fact that all of the major equipment manufacturers make awesome stuff, and I think Rory has nothing to worry about. On top of this, Nike is reportedly bringing in one of Cleveland/Srixon’s former top designers exclusively to match Rory with the equipment that works best for him, much like they did when they lured Tom Stites away from Titleist and made him Nike Golf’s Chief of Design (essentially to work with Tiger Woods). Rory will also continue to play equipment with same shafts that he has been using, a key to consistent shot-making.
All of this aside, I stand by the notion that if you’re that good at golf, you can play with a wooden spoon. Give Rory a set of ladies clubs and he’ll shoot a 65 on your home course with ease.
With the switch now seemingly imminent, one interesting by-product of the move is that Tiger Woods is no longer Nike’s highest paid golfer. Will the man who essentially built Nike’s golf division on his back now play second fiddle? Far from it. While Rory is the world’s current #1 player and their highest paid golfer, Rory is no match for what Tiger does for the Nike brand. No athlete in history has ever touched Tiger’s marketability – his ability to reach what has long been a historically Caucasian market, coupled with the Asian market and the African-American market is unmatched. He’s brought more people to the game who otherwise may never have found it than any player ever will. Rory’s a white kid from Ireland, and no matter how good he becomes, he’ll never be as valuable to Nike as Tiger.
That said, you have to credit Nike for a brilliant business move. Nike knows Tiger as well as anybody, and they clearly believe that he has plenty of golf left in him. By bringing Rory onboard they’ve further fueled the growing Woods-McIlroy rivalry. As the golf world drools over Woods-McIlroy showdowns that you know will happen for years to come, both men will be donning the Nike Swoosh. The best golf ever played may very well be in front of us, and Nike is positioning itself as the gold standard of the game.
In signing Rory, Nike is also stepping pretty solidly on Titleist’s neck. Long considered arguably the best equipment company in the game, Nike has used it’s seemingly endless resources to squash the competition. While I’m something of a golf traditionalist and yearn for the days of the best players hitting MacGregors and Wilson Staffs, I’m aware that that will never happen again. I’ll never root for any corporate takeover, but you have to admit Nike is pulling all the right strings in their golf division.
Tiger will always be the man at Nike, but the new kid will certainly position them as golf’s premier equipment company well into the future.