What’s In the Bag Isn’t Always What’s On the Bag

Sometimes the logo on your favorite player’s hat or bag doesn’t match up with the clubs and balls he uses. What’s up with that?

Bag DropA few eagle-eyed Bag Drop operatives have pointed out something that’s an open secret in the equipment business: sometimes pro tour players don’t use the gear they endorse. Now, if you’re the type that still believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, stop reading right now. But if you’re ready to face up to the fact that paid spokesmen (and women) sometimes don’t actually use the products they’re paid to gush about, read on.

In today’s environment of advertising saturation, I tend to think we’re all pretty skeptical about advertising claims. This certainly applies to golf. If we all gained the extra 10-15 yards we were promised with every new ball/driver/training aid that we bought over the years, then we’d all be hitting the ball 800 yards off the tee. Wouldn’t that freak the USGA out?

Of course, claims of extra distance have become so commonplace that we tend not to actually expect that much of a difference when we try new equipment. Same with companies claiming to be “No. 1 on Tour!” in various categories. Equipment usage surveys can be twisted just about any way a creative marketing type wants.

But I think most of us still feel a little bit of betrayal when we notice a tour player using equipment from a company other than their main equipment sponsor. If a player has the Acme Golf Company logo on his hat, bag, and shirt, it comes as a surprise when they pull the Acme headcover off their driver to reveal a rival model.

Sometimes this is a nefarious move on the part of the player, who has willingly decided to play something other than what he’s agreed to use. In the early 1990s, John Mahaffey had a contract to play Lynx clubs. But he took that more as a suggestion than a legal obligation and used other equipment. Mahaffey and Lynx ended up in court, where a judge ruled that Mahaffey had violated his contract and owed Lynx money. David Duval and Titleist also had an acrimonious end to their relationship when DD jumped ship to Nike a few years back that was settled just short of the courtroom.

Litigation is rare in these cases, largely because of the way contracts are drawn up these days. The top players have the clout to negotiate that they are allowed to play whatever equipment is best for their game, as long as they’ve made a good faith effort to play their sponsor’s gear. That’s why Nike didn’t release the lawyers on Tiger Woods when he briefly switched back to his old Titleist 975D driver during his “slump,” and why the Swooshies let Woods continue to use his Scotty Cameron putter. Likewise, Callaway didn’t make a stink when Phil Mickelson put his old TaylorMade V-Steel 3-wood and Titleist 5-wood back in his bag for the U.S. Open a couple weeks back.

Players farther down the pecking order don’t get the same leeway. So they often structure their deals a little differently. For example, a typical golf club endorsement deal might call for a player to use at least 11 golf clubs from the sponsor’s line. If the company is known for its drivers or putters, then the player must be sure to have that club be one of the 11. This way the company is guaranteed that the majority of the clubs in that player’s bag will be from that company’s line. The player also has some wiggle room to use a few clubs from other companies. Many tour players use wedges and putters that are from companies other than their main sponsors.

Jim Furyk Titleist Driver
Jim Furyk may have a Ben Hogan/Callaway/Odyssey contract, but it doesn’t require him to play their woods. Here Furyk tees off with a Titleist 983 on the 72nd hole at the 2005 Barclays Classic.

Other contracts can be even more specialized. Some are ball-only contracts, and others are just for irons. You might expect Fred Couples to use Bridgestone clubs, since he wears the company logo and is in those “boom-boom-boom” commercials for the brand. And you might think Jim Furyk would use a Ben Hogan or Callaway driver, since he wears the Ben Hogan logo, which is a Callaway brand.

But both players use equipment from other manufacturers. Couples teed it up at the U.S. Open with a TaylorMade driver and a Callaway S2H2 3-wood that is older than Michelle Wie. Furyk, meanwhile, uses a Titleist driver to go with his Ben Hogan blades and Odyssey Putter.

Not to single out Furyk and Freddie. They were just two of the players that were pointed out to me via email. The fact is that tour professionals are in the advertising business, where truth can be a little tough to come by. Keep this in mind when you’re making decisions about buying equipment: buy what works best for your swing, not what your favorite tour pro uses… or claims to use.

Quick Hits
Callaway officially launched its new Fusion FT-3 Driver at a press event prior to the U.S. Women’s Open last week. Annika Sorenstam didn’t win with the driver at Cherry Hills, but she does have two majors to her credit with the new driver this year, and it was used by Michael Campbell to win the men’s U.S. Open two weeks ago. The original ERC Fusion driver was a disappointment at retail, but early reports from The Sand Trap forums are strong. Watch this space for a review soon.

Speaking of reviews, I played the Titleist Pro V1x golf ball for the first time this past weekend. I’ve used the various versions of the Pro V1 from time to time over the last couple years, but the Callaway HX Tour has always performed better for me. I had stayed away from the Pro V1x because I wasn’t sure my 105 mph swing speed was enough to get top performance from the ball, which is geared toward the tour’s hardest swingers.

I was wrong to wait so long to try the ball. It was 15-20 yards longer than the standard Pro V1 off my driver, and I loved the high, strong ball flight. I was also very surprised by how well the ball spun on wedge shots. I expected the harder Pro V1x model to release more on the greens, but the “drop and stop” performance was certainly there. And on little half-wedge finesse shots, I was able to put plenty of tour sauce on the ball. Next time out I’ll play the Pro V1x and the HX Tour side-by-side and see how they compare directly. But if you’re like me and didn’t think your game measured up to the Pro V1x, you might want to give it a shot.

4 thoughts on “What’s In the Bag Isn’t Always What’s On the Bag”

  1. I had no idea they could do this. I wondered about Tiger when everyone was saying he needed to get back to his old clubs last year. I just assumed they were stuck with their sponsor’s brand of equipment. Thanks for this information.

  2. And if you think Tiger really drives a Buick, then I have a used Rendezvous to sell you.

  3. I enjoyed that peice.

    I’m a Callaway whore and in the market for a new driver and have my eyes on the ERC. I’m looking forward to the review.

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