We see plenty of professional golfers wearing special clothes for special events these days, but we saw something new from Rickie Fowler today.
The Shaggy One showed up for his Wednesday U.S. Open practice session at Merion in all white – mostly. His cap, belt and shoes carried a paint-splattered look, as if he'd stumbled into one of those Jackson Pollock drip paintings (that are worth millions but I swear look like you or I could make them. OK, the art critic's corner is closed; let's get back to golf…)
Specifically, Cobra Golf tells us, Fowler replaced his usual Puma Monoline cap with a limited-edition Paint Splatter Cobra 110 Snapback cap, and wore a Paint Splatter Cobra Fitted Belt and Paint Splatter Puma Faas Lite shoes. While obviously not for everyone, the splatter look works, to me, because it is an accent and not the dominant visual feature.
But the cool part is the way the splatter designs were created. Fowler himself took golf balls covered with different colors of paint and chipped them at blank canvases. White hats were placed between him and the canvases, so the paint splattered all over them as he hit the balls. The splatter patterns that Fowler created are used on these products – as well as on the shafts and headcovers of some of Cobra's AMP Cell clubs earlier this year.
It's not on the level of signing Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy, but Nike Golf has taken a potentially big step in the world of golf sponsorships. The company announced Monday that it has signed its first head-to-toe endorsement deals with two players from China who aren't yet known around the globe.
Hao-Tong Li, age 18, and Xin-Jun Zhang, 26, have signed multi-year agreements and will represent the Swoosh in clubs, ball, footwear, glove, apparel, headwear and accessories.
Li, from the Hunan Province, turned professional in 2011 at age 16. As an amateur, he won nine gold medals and six silver medals in the Asian Games in various cities in China. Before turning pro, he tied for 21st in the 2011 Nanshan Masters on the OneAsia Tour, and was named Best Amateur Player.
He also represented the Chinese National Team as an amateur in 2010 and 2011. More recently, he tied for 39th in this 2012 Australian PGA Championship and tied for fifth in the 2013 New Zealand PGA Championship on the PGA Tour of AustralAsia. He has won $6,664 by making two cuts in five starts on the 2013 OneAsia Tour.
From the Shanxi Province, Zhang turned professional in 2010 at 23. In 2007, he was selected to the Chinese National Team for several international tournaments. He won two gold medals and one silver medal in Chinese Professional Tournaments in 2011 and 2012. He also tied for 13th in the 2011 HSBC Champions in Shanghai, an event won by Martin Kaymer.
''We are excited to welcome these two young and talented athletes to the Nike Golf family,'' said Mark Thaxton, Global Director of Sports Marketing Operations at Nike Golf. ''Hao-Tong and Xin-Jun are our first head-to-toe athletes in China and they will make great additions to our stable of athletes at a global level.''
Nike's siging of these two players reminds me a bit of Major League Baseball teams signing amateur teenagers from the Dominican Republic or Taiwan in that you're often betting on potential. But it seems more likely every year that the next wave of raising golf stars will emerge from Asia, and these deals help Nike show those young players that the Swoosh is serious about helping to cultivate their talent. And signing a couple of the higher-profile players in China sure can help Nike broaden its exposure over there.
And speaking of young Chinese golfers, Guan Tianlang remains an amateur unbeholden to any specific equipment company. During his foray in the United States this year, he's been playing a TaylorMade R1 driver, a Callaway X Hot 3-wood and two X Hot hybrids, Nike Pro combo irons, Scratch wedges, an Odyssey White Hot Pro #7 putter, and a Callaway HEX Black ball.
One of my favorite parts of the run-ups to the majors these days is all the special gear that the big equipment and apparel companies come up with commemorate the big weeks. As usual, TaylorMade and Callaway lead the pack with their staff bags.
The Callaway bag is clean and bold, with a big white star on a field of blue where the big magnolia blossom was on the Masters bag. (Click here to see the Masters bags from Callaway and TaylorMade).
The TaylorMade bag is a bit busier, but everything on there has meaning. Right under the bag's lip, I especially like the word ''OPEN'' in a square, like the famous LOVE statue by pop artist Robert Indiana that is a longtime Philadelphia landmark.
On the bag's belly is TaylorMade's unique logo for the 2013 U.S. Open. The logo – which appears on the caps and other accessories as well as the bags that the TaylorMade staff players will use this week – is a rattlesnake wrapped around the Liberty Bell.
The snake represents the rubber snake that Lee Trevino brought with him to his 18-hole playoff with Jack Nicklaus at Merion that Trevino famously won in 1971. The snake is coiled around the bell much the way a serpent is wrapped around a staff in the universal symbol for medicine. This, TaylorMade says, is a salute to Ben Hogan, who won the 1950 Open at Merion after his near-fatal car crash the year before, and to Olin Dutra, who won the 1934 Open at Merion after winning a long battle with dysentery.
The top of the bell is emblazoned with MMXIII – the Roman numerals for 2013. And behind the bell's top is the snake's tail, where its rattle has been replaced by a wicker basket like those found atop the flagsticks at Merion.
The Orange Whip is available at most golf retail stores for around $109, while the Orange Peel retails for $209.