Cobra Strikes Quickly in Tour Return

Cobra’s return to tour prominence is getting a boost from some hot young players.

Bag DropIn the mid-90s, Cobra Golf was one of the hottest brands at retail and on Tour. Greg Norman was the face of the brand, and even a youngster named Tiger Woods used a King Cobra steel driver during his first years on Tour.

After several years away from sponsoring Tour players, Cobra is back on Tour in a big way. Bomber JB Holmes won the FBR Open, and Geoff Olgilvy downed Davis Love III to win the Accenture Match Play. Pretty slick start for the snake. How’d they do it?

When Cobra was last atop the PGA Tour, it was due to the megawatt presence of Greg Norman in his prime and a product that rivaled Callaway’s Big Bertha in terms of popularity. But the Cobra brand went quiet for a few years. The company was purchased by Fortune Brands and folded into Acushnet along with Titleist, FootJoy, and Pinnacle. Cobra’s first entry at the then-new titanium driver market was a high-profile disappointment, and the replacement to the King Cobra irons – the IQ irons – also fared poorly at retail.

Cobra GolfMeanwhile, Norman left the company and Woods dropped the King Cobra driver for a Titleist 975D. Other Cobra Tour players, like Hale Irwin, moved on to other deals, and Cobra exited the tour sponsorship game altogether. The brand seemed to struggle to find its place in the Acushnet family, and Cobra became a shadow of its former self at retail.

But the brand has finally found its stride over the last three years. Cobra was one of the first brands to dive into the super-oversize driver market, and a strong advertising campaign built around effective visuals (the “nine hotter points” on a driver face) and the wisecracks of David Feherty (“Nice ball!”) rebuilt Cobra’s image as a big-hitting, big-attitude brand.

So when Cobra decided to return to the tours this year, it chose to go a different route from its ’90s heyday. Instead of going after a couple big names, Cobra signed some hungry young players who had a chance of breaking through to the big time. It’s a risky strategy, but it is also much less costly than signing a $5 million-per-year superstar. That’s the same route Cleveland Golf wisely took a couple years ago when it added Vijay Singh (an under-the-radar winner of the ’98 PGA Championship who hadn’t really hit his stride yet), David Toms, Jerry Kelly, Steve Flesch, and Chad Campbell. The relatively low-priced group helped re-establish Cleveland as a prominent Tour presence.

Whatever Cobra is paying JB Holmes, Geoff Ogilvy, and Camillo Villegas, they’re getting a bargain. Holmes became the fastest player to reach $1 million in PGA Tour earnings, and has been all over the media with his big-hitting reputation. Ogilvy logged plenty of airtime in his Cobra cap in his win at La Costa. As the credit card folks would say, priceless.

Cobra’s been resurgent at retail the last couple seasons, and a dash of tour validation is apt to kick things up a notch. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cobra’s new Speed series drivers ride this wave of momentum to become one of the hottest-selling drivers at retail this year.

Quick Notes
John Daly has moved on from Dunlop to a contract with TaylorMade’s Maxfli brand. Long John was feted by TaylorMade employees with a big barbecue at the company’s Carlsbad headquarters last week, and will be part of TaylorMade-adidas Golf’s attempt at relaunching the Maxfli brand as a full-line clubs and balls power. Watch for video from the party on an upcoming episode of “The Daly Planet” on The Golf Channel…

Speaking of TaylorMade, the company had an interesting player switch to its new r7 425 driver. Loren Roberts had been using the same TaylorMade 300 series driver for nearly five years until it cracked during the Turtle Bay Championship – Roberts’ second consecutive Champions Tour victory. He put the r7 425 in his bag the next week at the ACE Group Classic and won again. Roberts doesn’t swtich equipment often. He still has his Cobra Greg Norman model putter in the bag from the 1990s, and his Callaway Steelhead Plus 3- and Strong 4-wood from 2000 are there as well…

YES! Golf has added another young lady to its putter lineup. The YES! Carolyne putter is a face-balanced, center-shafted blade made of 304 stainless steel. The C-groove putter is available in standard, belly, and long lengths…

Steve Elkington is joining MacGregor’s stable of staff pros…

Nickent‘s Pipe putter was used to win the SBS Open. Joo Mi Kim picked up a Pipe at the PGA Merchandise Show, then used it to win the LPGA Tour’s first event of the year while leading the field in putting.

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