Justin Suh signs with Puma but foregoes club deal, a growing trend on PGA Tour

Justin Suh signs with Puma but foregoes club deal, a growing trend on PGA Tour

Equipment

Justin Suh signs with Puma but foregoes club deal, a growing trend on PGA Tour

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CROMWELL, Conn. – Last Wednesday before the Travelers Championship, Justin Suh was brought to the media center. He sat behind a table next to Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff. The four fielded questions about what it was like to be elite collegiate players who had each turned pro.

Halfway through the press conference, they were asked about signing endorsement deals and getting paid to use golf equipment for the first time.

Hovland talked about inking an agreement with Ping, while Morikawa and Wolff said they had been using TaylorMade gear and were happy to sign with the California-based company.

Then it was Suh’s turn.

“I went on a little different route than these guys. I didn’t sign an equipment deal,” he said. “The only deal I went with is with Puma for apparel. The big, deciding factor for me in the whole transition of turning professional, I wanted to be as comfortable as I could looking down at the clubs that I was using for the past couple years. Puma allowed me to do that.”

In addition to inking a deal with Puma, Suh signed a ball deal with Titleist and will get paid to use the Pro V1 he had already been playing.

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At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial, the U.S. Open and last week’s Travelers Championship, Suh used a Ping G400 LST driver along with his i200 and iBlade irons and Ping Glide 2.0 wedges. His putter was an old Nike Method Matter 004.

“I wanted to use the clubs that gave me success in my college years and proceed to do that in my professional career,” he said. “So I didn’t do the equipment deal. I just kept the clubs I’ve been using for the past four, five years.”

Suh’s answer highlights an alternative path that has gained some traction among established pros, and that could be a viable option for elite amateurs who turn pro.

Signing an endorsement deal with a major clubmaker can give young players financial security. Endorsement deals vary from player to player and brand to brand, but one industry insider said Suh, who was an All-American from the University of Southern California, might have been able to sign a three-year club deal for between $500,000 and $750,000 total.

The person is familiar with how equipment contracts work and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. From a brand perspective, companies are really investing in a player’s potential, the person told Golfweek. Since young players don’t have status, there’s no guarantee the player will have TV exposure next year.

Justin Suh at the Travelers Championship (Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

The cost of that security is typically being obligated to use at least 11 or 12 clubs from one brand, with the driver and putter almost always being part of the deal. Some companies also require new staffers to use one of the brand’s golf balls.

Even after a world-class fitting, it can take some players months to feel totally comfortable using new clubs. While every sponsor exemption (players are limited to seven per season) and appearance in a PGA Tour event is precious, that can be risky.

Players such as Suh, who don’t sign an equipment deal, are free to use any clubs they want. Many think that putting their bag together piece by piece with gear from different brands can give them a better chance to be successful. Signing a footwear or apparel contract, while typically not as lucrative as a club deal, can bring some money in and reduce the financial stress that comes with being a young pro.

After Nike Golf stopped making equipment, Brooks Koepka, the No. 1 player in the world and the winner of four major championships, decided not to sign a club deal. Similarly, Patrick Reed won the 2018 Masters without having an equipment deal. It’s possible their success could inspire newly minted pros to forgo club deals.

So far Suh’s decision hasn’t paid off, but it’s early. He missed the cut at the Travelers Championship, and he missed the cut at Memorial too. He has a sponsor exemption into this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.

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