2005: Newsmakers - Nike leads irons count; TaylorMade cries foul

Well before the numbers were official and even before the opening round started, Nike was trumpeting the news: More golfers used Nike irons than any other brand at the Masters.

Nike issued a news release in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday, taking credit for its first No. 1 finish in the iron category in a PGA Tour event.

The final iron count, confirmed by the Darrell Survey, was close. Nike had 17 players, TaylorMade 15, Ping 13 and Titleist 12.

TaylorMade later tried to add an asterisk to Nike’s triumph. “Includes five sets of irons used by past champions,” said a TaylorMade news release.

The five former Masters champions were Sandy Lyle, Raymond Floyd, Charles Coody, Tommy Aaron and Billy Casper. Coody, Aaron and Casper were late additions to the Nike staff. When he played a Tuesday practice round, Casper had a TaylorMade bag. By Thursday, he had switched to a Nike bag.

Well-circulated rumors, spread by other golf companies, claimed that Coody, Aaron and Casper were paid $20,000 apiece to use Nike equipment.

“I’ve been experimenting with Nike clubs since January,” Casper said. “The new bag just got delayed. This has nothing to do with money. I like Nike clubs, and I like what they are doing.”

What Nike is doing, among other things, is supporting a golf radio show that features Casper’s son, Bobby.

“Back in November (2004), we started doing lots of things,” said Kel Devlin, global sports marketing director for Nike Golf. “We signed players like K.J. Choi, Justin Leonard, Paul Casey and Shingo Katayama.

“We have gone from 400 to 900 green-grass pros (retail accounts) in the last 12 months. It’s all part of an initiative to gain credibility on many fronts.”

One of those fronts is players ages 40 and above.

“It’s no secret that we struggled more with that older age group,” Devlin acknowledged, “so we began to focus on some of the older players. It is absolutely not true that we signed these guys just for the Masters. Billy, for example, will do some corporate outings for us and some other things.”

And the rumored $20,000 figure for the Masters?

“We don’t talk about the terms of any of our contracts, but all of them are for a minimum of a year,” Devlin said.

The practice of tee-up incentives is well-established on the PGA Tour, although companies such as Ping and Callaway largely have dropped out of these player sweepstakes.

TaylorMade, which has dominated PGA Tour driver usage for the past four years, has paid several former Masters champions to use its driver.

Darrell Survey numbers from the Masters showed TaylorMade as leader of the driver count (followed by Titleist and Nike). Titleist won the golf ball count (Nike was second).

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