With McIlroy in tow, Nike introduces new line

Rory McIlroy during Nike Golf's recent Innovation Unleashed event.

Rory McIlroy during Nike Golf's recent Innovation Unleashed event.

LAS VEGAS – Rory McIlroy, who broke his 2013 winless streak at the Australian Open, owes his success to me.

Well, me and 72 other journalists.

Immediately before flying to Melbourne for the Australian Open, McIlroy was here with me at a Nike function called Innovation Unleashed. Oh yes, there were six dozen additional writers, reporters, note-takers, bloggers, broadcasters, commentators and other newsmongers.

It was a cold, rainy day at TPC Summerlin, and the Las Vegas Visitors Bureau couldn’t have been happy. Nike Golf president Cindy Davis, however, was making the best of it.

After all, Davis had to entertain 73 journalists from around the world while talking about new Nike products and shining a spotlight on her Northern Irish racehorse, the streaky and sometimes perplexing McIlroy.

This was hardly a cameo appearance. McIlroy stuck around for six hours, and he didn’t make excuses for his play this year. “I haven’t been consistent enough,” he said. “I’ve had some great rounds, but I haven’t had four of them in a row.”

Aiming to change that, the 24-year-old McIlroy introduced his newest sidekicks: Nike VRS Covert 2.0 Tour driver (8.5 degree) and Nike RZN Black golf ball. Clearly, they enjoyed their maiden journey to Australia.

“I’m sorry Rory couldn’t play golf with you today,” Davis told us in Vegas. “We came here for the weather. We were looking forward to a fun day of golf.”

What she received was a fun day inside the clubhouse at TPC Summerlin. McIlroy was joined by Team Stockton (Dave the elder, along with Dave the younger), as well as two esteemed Nike golf club engineers, Mike Taylor and David Franklin, who seldom get the attention they deserve.

While the journalists fought over the opportunity to interview McIlroy, he occasionally amused himself with 100-foot putts down the clubhouse corridors. Call it Cirque du Nike.

Davis is one of the most congenial, engaging, likable individuals in the golf industry. Long after she dismissed any notes for a prepared speech, Davis stood in front of her audience and delivered a heartfelt message about her company’s goals to grow.

Nike spent a bit while publicizing its extensive lineup of new clubs, apparel and footwear for 2014. After Nike communications virtuoso Beth Gast unleashed her creativity to come up with a name for the gathering, she scoured the earth for influential journalists. Many of the 73 were associated with websites. Less than 20 came from the United States.

Las Vegas was the end of a three-day adventure. The journalists flew into Portland, Ore., on Nov. 20 to start the extravaganza, spending most of their time at the Nike campus in nearby Beaverton. A charter flight took the party to Las Vegas, and eventually everyone flew home from there.

Wow. All this for golf. It was a very serious affair. It felt like a presidential summit. I suppose it was, with president Cindy Davis in charge.

When it was over, there was little doubting Davis. “We want to help all golfers play better,” she said. “We want to help all golfers be winners.”

There was a temptation to say McIlroy must have been listening to that remark, but I swear he wasn’t. He was too busy clowning around with the Japanese reporters, who were easily the biggest fans of Rory Unleashed.

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