Notes: Sun Mountain bemused by complaints

Dustin Johnson hits a shot during the downpour at the Ryder Cup.

Dustin Johnson hits a shot during the downpour at the Ryder Cup.

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Rick Reimers looked out from his hotel room in Wales and saw nothing but sheets of rain. It was his last day at the Ryder Cup before flying to a business meeting that Friday afternoon, and he didn’t even bother going out to Celtic Manor.

“I thought, ‘No way they’re playing in this thing,’” Reimers said. “And they did for three or four holes – unfortunately.”

Indeed, it was most unfortunate for Reimers.

He is the founder and owner of Sun Mountain, the Missoula, Mont.-based company that invented the first golf bag with built-in legs and, most recently, provided the U.S. Ryder Cup team with its rain suits.

Two hours of golf was played before heavy rain halted the opening session.

photo

The scene during the first round of the Ryder Cup, as rain inundated Celtic Manor.

The rain suits, already lampooned for looking like basketball warmups with stripes and names on the back, didn’t seem to be working. It was never clear if they leaked or retained too much water. During the seven-hour delay, U.S. team officials bought a different brand of rain suits from the merchandise tent.

“We were pretty depressed,” Reimers said in a telephone interview. “It was hard to talk directly to anyone using the garment. We didn’t know any more than what was being reported in the press. And it turns out, that was the only thing to talk about.”

With no golf being played, the rain suits turned into the big story on the opening day.

Sun Mountain immediately tried to figure out what happened with its RainFlex gear, unique in that it is waterproof and the knit fabric stretches so that it doesn’t make noise when a golfer swings.

Reimers had an employee put on a rain jacket (that had been made for a player not picked for the team) and stand in the shower for two hours. He said water was coming down the neck and up from the cuffs, but “we couldn’t see that it leaked anywhere.” The company also ran tests at an independent lab that showed the suits were waterproof.

So what happened?

“We think nobody got wet with rain coming through the garment,” Reimers said. “Did the outside material hold more moisture than you’d like? Probably. When something gets soaked, it feels cold on the skin. People might interpret that as being wet.”

Reimers was remarkably honest in the wake of such bad publicity. He said he heard from one prominent Ryder Cup player who told him he liked the rain suit and didn’t understand all the fuss. Several players continued to wear them.

The contract with the PGA of America, which bought the gear, kept Sun Mountain from promoting its role in the Ryder Cup. The only way anyone would know the brand would be if something went wrong.

“If people had loved them, we wouldn’t receive any benefit,” Reimers said. “We just never imagined anything like this would happen. We’ve had people call our tour rep and say, ‘I’ve worn it in the rain and it’s an advantage.’

Reimers expected Sun Mountain sales to take a hit, although he hasn’t seen any evidence of that, only anecdotes. Some longtime customers don’t understand the complaints and continue to buy, while prospective customers have shied away because of the Ryder Cup.

So what’s next?

As it has done for nearly 40 years, Reimers said Sun Mountain will try to make improvements. It is in the running to supply the U.S. Presidents Cup team with rain gear, as it did in 2009. He said the PGA Tour already has asked for samples.

Rest assured, they will not look like the ones in Wales. Reimers said Lisa Pavin, the wife of U.S. captain Corey Pavin, wanted a retro look and was responsible for the design. For the Presidents Cup, he is providing a more conservative look – navy blue, with a small amount of color to accent the garment.

“But no names,” he said. “And no stripes.”

• • •

TIGER AT THE TOP: This will be the final week Tiger Woods is at No. 1 in the world, ending a run of more than five years dating to the week before the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Lee Westwood will go to No. 1 on Sunday, unless PGA champion Martin Kaymer gets to No. 1 this week at Valderrama.

Oddly enough, what has made it tough on Woods’ competition in the world ranking is now working against Woods. He plays such a limited schedule that his divisor is rarely more than 40 or 42 tournaments over two years.

Woods has played only 30 tournaments in the last two years because of his knee surgery and personal turmoil. If not for the minimum divisor of 40 tournaments, his lead over Westwood in the world ranking this week would be 2.83 points instead of 0.06.

• • •

photo

Heath Slocum

FALL SERIES IN FAR EAST: The next two tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule offer $6 million and $7.5 million in prize money. They just don’t count on the money list.

First up is the Asia Pacific Classic, a 40-man field in Malaysia that represents the tour’s first event with the Asian Tour. The field features 25 members from the PGA Tour. While some were skeptical that enough players would want to go halfway around the world this late in the year, it worked out just fine. Brian Gay, who was No. 54 in the FedEx Cup standings, didn’t even get in.

It features four of the top 25 in the world ranking, led by Luke Donald of England (No. 8) and Ernie Els of South Africa (No. 11). The highest-ranked American in Malaysia is Rickie Fowler at No. 32.

Also going is Heath Slocum, who won the McGladrey Classic and is No. 30 on the PGA Tour money list by $132 over Ryan Moore.

“I think it’s going to be a good experience,” Slocum said. “It’s free money. To be honest, it’s nothing simpler than a tournament that I can win, and 40 guys there you’re trying to beat. And you don’t have to pay for a thing. It’s ideal.”

It will be Slocum’s fourth tournament overseas this year. He also played the French Open, Scottish Open and British Open.

• • •

LPGA RACE: For all the talk about the revolving No. 1 ranking in women’s golf, far more compelling is the race for the money title.

The LPGA Tour is in South Korea this week competing for a $1.8 million purse. Then it’s off to Japan and Mexico before wrapping up its season in Florida with the LPGA Tour Championship.

Jiyai Shin is atop the money list with $1,463,833, giving her a $14,781 lead over Na Yeon Choi.

Six players have earned more than $1 million on the LPGA Tour this year, and they are separated by a mere $83,340.

• • •

DIVOTS: Olympia Fields, where Jim Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open, will host the 2015 U.S. Amateur. ... John Daly has made 14 cuts in 20 starts on the PGA Tour, his most in one year since making 17 cuts in 2005. He was 42nd on the money list that year. Daly is No. 192 on the money list with one tournament left this year. ... The Travelers Championship generated $1.1 million for New England charities. ... Troy Merritt is at No. 121 on the money list, more than $37,000 ahead of the No. 125 spot. He also leads by one in the Kodak Challenge, and a birdie on the 17th hole at Disney will wrap up a $1 million bonus.

• • •

STAT OF THE WEEK: For the first time since 1991, only one major champion is among the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list.

• • •

FINAL WORD: “It was going to take something special to win it the way we were all playing. And it certainly did.” – Martin Laird, on the hole-in-one by Jonathan Byrd to win a sudden-death playoff in Las Vegas.

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