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WHAT'S IN TIGER'S BAG?
August 8, 2003

by Bill Hogan

 
 

It's hard to believe that so much attention can be paid to a single piece of sports gear. Tiger's new/old driver has gotten more press recently than Ben and J-Lo. Not since Johnny Unitas' high-top cleats has an athlete's equipment selection been so thoroughly discussed and analyzed.

Prior to the July 28th made-for-television "Battle of the Bridges" match-play event, Tiger Woods decided to pull his $20 million Nike driver out of his golf bag in favor of his six-year old Titleist 975D.

 
 


OK, the driver doesn't retail for anything close to $20 million. But it's been reported that Tiger is raking in that much each year to endorse Nike golf equipment and apparel. So it doesn't bode well for team Swoosh that he used the Titleist again this past week at the Buick Open where he finished second.

Something tells me Nike executives are on their knees thanking the golf gods that Tiger wasn't able to complete a weekend rally to overtake Buick Champion Jim Furyk. As it is, the driver change was big news in the golf world, and bad news for the shoe company's relatively new golf division.

Nothing says "your equipment stinks" louder and more convincingly than the world's greatest golfer taking it out of his bag because he can't hit it. Contrary to what the Nike spin-doctors are saying, this has got to be the company's worst nightmare.

What golfer in his or her right mind is going to rush down to the sporting goods store and spend a couple of hundred bucks on a driver that even Tiger Woods has trouble hitting? Not me. Not you. And with the world-wide publicity "the switch" has produced, nobody from Japan to Scotland either.

But don't take my word for it. Golfdigest.com is running a poll that asks "Do you think Nike will see a significant decrease in driver sales after Tiger Wood's decision to go back to his Titleist driver?" Over 73% of respondents voted 'Yes'.

When Phil Mickelson suggested that Tiger's "slump" may be due, in part, to his use of inferior equipment, the media went berserk on the Major-less lefty. Now the idea doesn't seem so absurd.

A Nike executive recently pointed out that Tiger has won many tournaments using their equipment. Well, Tiger is probably capable of winning tournaments using a garden hoe and a pool cue. I, on the other hand, need all the technological help I can get just to break 90. When I'm shopping around for the next "latest and greatest", I'll probably stay away from the Nike rack. I'll go with – oh, I don't know, there are so many brands to choose from – Titleist perhaps.

Can it get any worse for a sponsor than to have its premier endorser reveal to the world that there's something better? Do you think Buick would be mildly upset if Tiger was seen cruising around in a Cadillac?

I imagine there would be some tense moments in the board room if Shaq comes down with a severe strain of E.coli a few hours after filming a new Burger King commercial. Of course, there might be a spike in the sale of Big Macs and Happy Meals.

It must have been a coup for American Express to land Lance Armstrong after winning his fifth straight Tour de France. But the move could backfire if he puts that celebratory trip to Disney Land on his Visa card.

And what would we – the consumers - think if it was discovered that Marion Jones – track star and Got Milk? Spokesperson – is lactose intolerant? It wouldn't be good for business to find out that cute little white mustache was made from a soy substitute.

Next week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York is Tiger's last chance to win a Major in 2003. It's been five years since Tiger was shut out at all four Majors.

He's sure to show up at Oak Hill with his "A game" and his trusty old Titleist 975D driver. If he wins, there will be some that will credit the driver switch. If he loses, he may decide to toss the Nike irons and balls out of his bag as well.

Either way, the only time you'll see the Swoosh logo at a golf course any time soon will be on one of those nifty short-sleeve, mock-turtle neck shirts that Tiger wears so well. Maybe $90 million basketball phenom LeBron James will sell enough sneakers to cover Nike's golf losses.

Unless he's seen walking around the mall wearing those spiffy new Adidas cross-trainers.

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