Free Agency in Golf (Is the Grass Greener?)

Professional golf is like all of the other professional sports. Players earn their paydays through a variety of means. The obvious way is through performance. Perform and you get paid. There are endorsement deals, in some cases these endorsement deals from manufacturers and sponsors alike, can be quite lucrative. For example, did you know that Tiger Woods earned $60 million dollars without hitting a golf shot? Crazy eh?!

Photo Credit: SB Nation

Professional golf at the highest of levels is a business so lucrative that, sometimes a professional golfer will chase dollar signs to play a certain brand. After all, there are bills to pay. A temptation so hard to resist when the carrot dangled in front of their nose is big and juicy enough. Especially, as the end of their current contract is ready to expire. To paraphrase “The Clash”, should they stay or should they go now? Essentially, this is golf “free agency”.

But sometimes, it’s not about dollar and cents. In many cases, a player will leave a certain brand because, well, their career went stagnant playing a certain brand. So, a change in equipment manufacturers could be the breath of fresh air that their playing career needs.

In some cases, the change can be monumental and it could springboard a career, getting said player back on the right track. Or, there’s the flip side of the coin. The move doesn’t work out and maybe the results weren’t as good as before the change. Life and golf is a gamble.

So, who are some golfers that come to mind where the change failed to have the desired effect? Or where a change has really helped out a player. Is the grass always greener on the other side of the fence? Let’s take a look at some golfers who in recent years have made, the change.

Justin Rose – After testing products from Honma Golf for some time, Justin Rose departed TaylorMade Golf when his contract expired towards the end of 2018. He made the change not because of dollar signs necessarily but because with Honma Golf, he had the opportunity to have more input with club design. Rose and his playing record started out well enough with Honma Golf, as he captured a victory in his second start playing their equipment. At the time of signing with Honma Golf, Rose was #1 in the OWGR but as time wore on his world ranking and weekly results started to slide. Eventually, Rose started to throw some more TaylorMade golf products back into his bag. Essentially going back to what he was comfortable with. A short time later, both Rose and Honma Golf dissolved their relationship and the multi-year contract that was signed.

Photo Credit: Honma Golf

Sergio Garcia – When the contract of Sergio Garcia expired back in 2018, it was at the tail-end of a 15-year stretch with TaylorMade Golf. Sergio was going to be leaving TaylorMade Golf and it was less surprising that he ended up joining Callaway Golf. The relationship didn’t last very long, ending about a year for reasons that were described as not being a “good fit”. By all accounts, his play in 2019 with Callaway Golf culminated with 2 Missed Cuts in Major Championships and in 13 starts on the PGA TOUR that season, he missed 4 cuts including The Masters ,where he was the defending champion. After proclaiming that he was a free agent, Garcia has had a golf bag that was far from being brand agnostic. Proving that you play the best equipment for your game, Garcia’s win back in October was catapulted by a cornucopia of golf equipment. TaylorMade Golf metalwoods, PING Blueprint irons, Vokey Wedges, a TaylorMade Golf Spider putter, and the TaylorMade Golf TP5 golf ball.

Anna Nordqvist – It seems like a lifetime ago when Anna Nordqvist had become a bit of a household name for golf fans and observers. Nordqvist won two Major Championships playing PING in 2009 (LPGA Championship) and TaylorMade Golf in 2017 (Evia Championship). It’s unclear why she departed TaylorMade Golf in favour of PXG. Looking at her past with PING, the fact that she went to school at Arizona State which consequently has a close relationship with PING and the fact that PXG hired former PING Director of Engineering, maybe PXG simply had developed better products for her game. Her career has been relatively quiet since, or that was until the 2020 KPMG LPGA Championship. Nordqvist was in the final group paired with Canada’s Brooke Henderson, where she finished 5th this past October.

Photo Credit: PXG

Bubba Watson – Having signed a “lifetime” deal recently with PING, a brand that he has played since he was 8 years old, you know that an equipment change will not happen when it comes to Bubba Watson. That isn’t to say that the golf ball can’t be changed. Bubba changed golf balls and that move didn’t work out too well. In 2017, Watson signed a multi-year deal with Volvik to play the brands colourful golf balls. The man with the pink driver playing pink golfs (or similar), why not?The golf ball is the only piece of equipment that we use from tee to green on every shot. In 2017, Bubba missed 7 cuts in 22 starts. His ranking in the OWGR fell from 9th to 63rd. Citing that he was “frustrated” he became a golf ball free agent and went back to playing Titleist Pro V1. Say what you will. His earnings were $1.2 million in 2017 and then in 2018 he earned almost $5.8 million in earnings. Since then, Bubba has struggled. In 2020, Bubba missed the cut in over a third of his starts. He now sits 44th in the OWGR. Was it the golf ball or was it the player?

Photo Credit: FOX Sports

Zach Johnson – It’s still “weirds me out” to see the former Masters Champion playing PXG golf equipment and not Titleist. I still see him, in my mind, standing by his caddie with a Titleist Staff Bag. But, in 2016 ZJ made the switch from Titleist to PXG. The move started out good enough, putting together a couple of excellent journeyman-like seasons. But then 2019 and 2020 happened. Not only did Johnson plateau, but in comparison to years like 2012 and 2014 where his earnings were over $4 million, Johnson practically flatlined. His 2021 is off to a better start and his earnings are almost equal to or greater than in both of those 2019-20 campaigns.

Tiger Woods – Following on the heels of Nike Golf exiting the golf equipment manufacturing sector, speculation was wild about there Tiger Woods would end up. Would he continue with Nike Golf equipment or would he move on? I was at the PGA Show back in 2017 when I received a hot tip from the Marketing Manager of TaylorMade Golf Canada. I was informed that I should make my way to the TaylorMade Golf booth for a huge announcement the next day. With a crowd gathered together, “Frank” made his way onto a large screen. Tiger had joined the ranks at TaylorMade Golf. The booth was electric! Health aside, the switch that Tiger made has worked out very well. All that he’s done since joining TaylorMade Golf is tie Sam Snead’s record of 82 career wins and win The Masters in 2019. His first Major victory since 2008. It seems imminent that Tiger will be the record holder for victories by himself, and that will, in all likelihood, happen with TaylorMade Golf.

Speculating The Future

Speculating is fun and dangerous. It can be an easy way to make yourself look like a fool. There are some golfers who might need a change, just for the sake of making a change. So I’m going to pick one current fallen star where a change might do them some good.

Photo Credit: GOLF.com

It wasn’t too long ago that Spieth was “The Golden Boy”. It’s been pretty tough to watch the former #1 as he’s continued to struggle for the last couple of seasons. Just when we think that he’s going to snap out of his funk, he gets one or two bad bounces and the wheels fall off. I would love to see Jordan get the “kavorka” again to not only contend, but win. It’s hard not to envision someone like Jordan Spieth making a switch from Titleist, as unlikely as it seems. Imagine how weird it would look to see Spieth playing Callaway Golf , TaylorMade Golf or any other equipment manufacturer not named Titleist.

It’s the wacky season in golf and the period from November to January when the season kicks off in Hawaii is interesting. This is when we see movement of players switching from one brand to another. Which big name will make a move? Will any?

Until The Next Tee!!

#seeuonthenexttee #fightandgrind

***Earnings and stats taken from the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour

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