As 2016 winds down, members of the Golfweek staff reflect on their year in golf. Up first: David Dusek.
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Sitting down to write a “My Year in Golf” column is an impossible assignment that editors love to hand out annually. Try condensing 350 days’ worth of events into 600 to 800 words. Where would you start in a year that included Jordan Spieth cracking the face of his driver on the eve of the Masters, Adidas announcing that it wants to sell TaylorMade, Adams and Ashworth and the USGA and R&A reporting that they don’t feel driving distance is a problem in professional golf?
Instead of looking back chronologically and listing all the things that made up the year, I’m choosing to consider the event that had the most profound impact. Five years from now, when I think back on what happened in 2016 from an equipment perspective, the event that will dwarf everything else is Nike’s announcement that it planned to get out of the golf equipment business and focus exclusively on apparel and footwear.
People remember exactly where they were and what they were doing at the moment huge things happen in their lives. Thankfully, the Nike news did not involve an assassination or violence, but I am always going to remember what I was doing on Wednesday, Aug. 3, at 4:30 p.m. I was in my swelteringly-hot car, waiting for the air conditioning to kick in after spending a hot day at TPC River Highlands. My phone rang, I was told Nike was not going to make clubs, balls and bags anymore. I got out and started walking back to the media center while looking for any player wearing a swoosh on his shirt that I could talk with.
I discovered that Francesco Molinari, Patrick Rogers, Brooks Koepka, Russell Henley and other Nike staff players were shocked by the news. None of the players knew it was coming and Nike did not contact them directly, opting instead to reach out to agents and let them explain things to their clients. At the same time, it was heartwarming to listen to every player express concern for the guys in the Nike equipment van. The pros knew they could find new gear, but they were genuinely concerned for the families and careers of technicians and club builders.
Almost everyone is going to remember the 2016 Travelers Championship as the event where Jim Furyk shot 58 on Sunday, but I’ll remember it as the tournament were I saw Nike players trying some prototype wedges in the short game area on Tuesday. There were people in Portland, Ore., who knew those clubs would never get made or sold.
Tiger Woods, the face of Nike Golf for two decades, hit a Bridgestone golf ball off the tee using a TaylorMade driver when he returned at the Hero World Challenge a few weeks ago. Rory McIlroy is using TaylorMade woods, too, and Michelle Wie has been spotted playing a Ping driver. Quarterly industry data showed that Nike had not been selling a lot of clubs or balls, but no one could have imagined those three players using anything but swoosh-covered clubs as we watched Alabama beat Clemson for the national championship in college football on Jan. 12, 2016.
If Nike had not pulled out of the equipment business, Tiger would never have signed his golf ball deal with Bridgestone, a partnership that could really boost the Japanese company’s standing in the eyes of golfers around the world. A company official told me that during the Monday through Friday of Hero World Challenge week, more people visited Bridgestone’s website than had come to the site in July, August and September combined.
Nike is not leaving golf, and Jason Day will begin wearing Nike’s clothing and shoes very soon, but we may never see a wave of high-quality free agents suddenly become available to other brands like this again.
The coming year, 2017, is going to bring us new Titleist Pro V1 balls, the new Callaway Epic driver, Cobra drivers with built-in shot tracking systems and a new president at Ping Golf. At some point, Adidas is going to sell TaylorMade, and Wilson will get conforming sole plates to all the people who bought a Staff Triton driver. We don’t know what the biggest equipment story is going to be in 2017, but we can all agree, 2016 was a pretty wild ride.
If I were you, I’d keep holding on.