Nike over the years has paid Tiger Woods the equivalent of a small country’s GDP to endorse the company’s apparel, footwear and – until August – its golf clubs and balls. The idea was that Tiger gave Nike unmatched visibility.
When he made his return to competitive golf last week, Woods still wore Nike clothing and the next-generation Nike TW shoes at the Hero World Challenge. But for three golf equipment companies, he also provided a rare, non-paid endorsement that could translate to big dollars.
Tiger played a Bridgestone Tour B330S ball, a TaylorMade M2 driver and a pair of M1 fairway woods that were fitted with Mitsubishi Rayon Tensei CK White shafts. He also chose to play the Scotty Cameron for Titleist Newport 2 GSS putter that he used to win his last 13 major titles.
The key word there was “chose.” Woods returned to competitive golf under unique circumstance, because he does not have a contract with a current clubmaker. Nike exited the equipment business while he recovered from back surgeries, so Woods is not obligated to use specific clubs or balls. He can choose anything he likes.
“I’m still learning some of my equipment,” he said after Friday’s second-round 65 in the Bahamas. “My irons are old irons, don’t have to worry about that. I’m still learning my fairway woods. I’m still learning the golf ball.”
Some company eventually will ink a deal for Woods to endorse its equipment and pay him a lot of money, but until that happens, some brands will get a complimentary “Tiger Effect” that Nike paid millions to own.
Corey Consuegra, senior director of marketing for Bridgestone Golf, confirmed that Woods and Bridgestone do not have a formal relationship. Woods and his agent, Mark Steinberg, asked Bridgestone to send over some golf balls for testing, and the company happily complied.
Consuegra said that having staff Tour players such as Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar is extremely valuable, but Woods’s use of a Bridgestone ball created an immediate impact. In fact, Consuegra said Bridgestone’s website received about the same amount of traffic last Monday through Friday that it did in the entire third quarter of this year (July-September), and most of those visitors were going to the Tour B330S page.
“It changes the way we can tell the consumers and the public how good we are in the golf ball category,” Consuegra said. “We get outspent by our biggest competitors, but (Woods is) one of the best players to ever play the game, period, and he could have selected any golf ball on the market today he wanted, and he chose to go with the B330S.”
Sales numbers were not available, but the buzz surely has value for Bridgestone.
The same was true, to an extent, for Woods’s clubs. Stars such as Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose have played TaylorMade M2 drivers for several months, and former Nike equipment staffers Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka also recently picked up M2 drivers. Again, Tiger’s use of the club can only add cache for TaylorMade, even though his effect on TaylorMade is probably less than his effect on Bridgestone because so many M-series drivers already are in use on Tour.
It also is important to remember that nothing is set in stone, and the next time Woods plays – likely in the Middle East or at Torrey Pines – he could show up with an entirely different setup. Maybe he will use a Ping driver, Callaway fairway woods, Mizuno irons, Titleist Vokey wedges and a Srixon ball. Until he signs new deals, he can be a mixed-bag free agent in a world of continuously improving gear.
“I’m hitting shots and numbers that are surprisingly bad and surprisingly good,” Woods said last week. “I have to do a lot more testing in the future before I actually do feel comfortable.”
It’s a sure bet that any manufacturer would love the chance to help Woods achieve that comfort level.