Watches, golfers make for a timeless pairing

Phil Mickelson is one of several professional golfers who endorse Rolex.

Suzann Pettersen no longer will have an excuse if she’s put on the clock for slow play. The Norwegian LPGA star just signed an endorsement deal with Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer.

A company news release touted that for Pettersen – who, along with Tiger Woods, represents Tag, and is the watchmaker’s first female golfer brand ambassador – “a watch is a necessary piece of jewelry and an expression of who you are.”

Apparently, she’s not the only professional golfer who feels that way. Do you have any idea how many golfers have endorsement deals with watchmakers? Times up.

The answer is more than I thought. In April, Audemars Piguet announced endorsement deals with Anthony Kim and Rory McIlroy. They joined this sizable stable of golfers: Lam Chih Bing, Darren Clarke, Nick Faldo, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, Miguel Angel Jiménez, Shiv Kapur, Shingo Katayama, Cristie Kerr, Thomas Levet, Graeme McDowell, Rocco Mediate, Morgan Pressel, Vijay Singh, D.J. Trahan and Lee Westwood.

Watchmaker Omega, featuring Michelle Wie and Sergio Garcia as brand ambassadors, opts for a less is more approach.

But when it comes to timepieces, I think golfers probably think of Rolex and here’s why. The Rolex association with golf dates back to 1967 when the company presented Arnold Palmer with a gold oyster perpetual to honor his achievements on the golf course.

But when it comes to timepieces, I think golfers probably think of Rolex and here’s why. The Rolex association with golf dates back to 1967 when the company presented Arnold Palmer with a gold oyster perpetual to honor his achievements on the golf course. 

Rolex counts Phil Mickelson, Trevor Immelman, Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, Martin Kaymer, Adam Scott, Camilo Villegas and Retief Goosen among its endorsers. Rolex also is the official timepiece of three majors (U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship), the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and Presidents Cup, and it officially supports golfers – the young (the AJGA) as well as the old (“The Big Three” of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player).

Who knew there was such a battle not just for the hearts and minds of consumers, but their wrists, too?

Al Ries, author of 11 books on marketing, including 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, says golfers and watches make perfect sense.

“It’s like putting a logo on a hat,” he says. “Aside from the equipment they use, it is more visible than any other product you can think about.”

Golf is one of the few sports where one can compete while wearing one, although I’m guessing many professionals would prefer to play without. At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, for instance, I noticed Colin Montgomerie flipped his watch around – presumably so its glare wouldn’t bother him.

It’s not just golfers who are being paid handsomely to wear a watch.

“Have you heard about the half million dollar watch worn at the French Open? You got to Google that,” Ries says.

So I did. Turns out Rafael Nadal sported a $525,000 timepiece, weighing all of 20 grams, from Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille. (Never heard of that brand before, so the press it’s receiving now could well be worth Nadal’s endorsement.)

Next time you want to know the time at a golf tournament, just ask a golfer. Chances are, they’ll be able to tell you.

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