Equipment

January 29, 2013 - 1:14pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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TaylorMade Golf CEO Mark King
TaylorMade CEO Mark King believes that actions like the proposed anchoring ban will hurt golf, and that golf's governing bodies run the risk of becoming irrelevant if they continue to pursue them.

We're about two months into the three-month comment period that the USGA and R&A instituted after they announced their proposed rule to ban the anchoring of long putters.

Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade, has a comment. And, wow, what a comment it is.

In short, King told The Telegraph newspaper in England that the anchoring ban is nonsensical, urged the tours to break away from the USGA and even predicted that the USGA will become a non-factor within a decade.

"The anchoring ban makes no sense to me at all," said King, whose company owns TaylorMade, adidas Golf, Ashworth apparel, Adams Golf and puttermaker Yes! Golf. "If I were running the PGA of America, I would write my own set of rules. I'd do it with the PGA Tour. The industry needs to come together without the USGA. Leave them out."

PGA of America President Ted Bishop issued a statement expressing his concern with the proposed ban immediately after it was announced. The European Tour has indicated it will go along with the ban when it goes into effect in 2016, but the PGA Tour hasn't yet formally established its position.

It would be a drastic move for the PGA Tour to flout the USGA and R&A, which establish the Rules of Golf worldwide, Telegraph columnist James Corrigan wrote. But, he noted, King feels it could happen because such prominent players as Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Webb Simpson have expressed strong opposition to the ban.

"I'm still not convinced the PGA Tour is going to completely embrace the long putter rule," said King. "Here's a prediction: The USGA within 10 years will be a nonentity. They will be a non-factor in golf because they are choosing to be on the outside and no one is signing up for what they represent. The industry is going to move away from them and pass them. They're obsolete. I hate to say that but that's their behavior."

Bifurcation – having one set of rules for professional players and another for amateurs – is not only inevitable, King told the newspaper, it's coming fast. "If [PGA Tour Commissioner] Tim Finchem says he's going to use all the USGA rules except the long putter rule, there you go. You have two sets of rules."

Regardless of whether the ban is instituted or not, King says TaylorMade will continue to make long putters. And if the USGA ever acts to restrict ball flight, as has been rumored, the company will keep making hot balls. There's no reason to doubt him, either -- TaylorMade has enjoyed record-setting sales in each of the past two years, and is by far the dominant company in the golf equipment space these days.

"The whole world, not just golf, the whole world is about innovation and consumers only want what's new and exciting," he said. "They don't want last year, they want new, innovative cool stuff and if we're going to stop that or limit that, we're going to kill the industry not just equipment but the playing of the game.

"So if the USGA doesn't jump on board and lead this new way of golf, they're just going to be obsolete," he summarized. "And if Finchem goes ahead and leaves the long putter in, it's just the start. The USGA is going over the edge."

King is the first big-clubmaker CEO to come out so strongly against the anchor rule, and others might not follow. However, having the largest equipment company come out so strongly against them has got to at least furrow some brows at the USGA and R&A, and King's vocal opposition might encourage other opponents to speak out as well. It'll be very interesting to see what happens from here.

January 28, 2013 - 2:11pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Chris Wood
Getty Images
Chris Wood hit a Mizuno MP-69 6-iron 205 yards to within six feet of the final hole of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters en route to an eagle and a one-shot victory, his first triumph on the European Tour.

Golf's biggest equipment makers dominated the news last week at the PGA Merchandise Show down in Orlando, but Mizuno held its ground with the biggest of the big boys thanks to three noteworthy developments:

--Last Sunday, Charles Howell III finished second in the Humana Challenge.
--On Wednesday, Mizuno announced that it had renewed its agreement with world No. 3 Luke Donald.
--On Friday came the news that the company had re-upped its deal with reigning LPGA Tour Player of the Year Stacy Lewis.
--And on Saturday, Mizuno staff ambassador Chris Wood bagged his first European Tour victory at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

Donald doesn't play an entire bag of Mizuno clubs, but he does use the company’s irons and wedges, and those clubs are the backbone of his steady short game. In fact, he provided feedback throughout the development of Mizuno's new MP-64 irons and MP-T4 wedges, to the point that Mizuno describes those clubs as being designed hand-in-hand with him.

Donald even visited the the plant in Hiroshima, Japan, where the clubs are forged, last November, and spent a little time with the man who grinds his clubs. While he was in Japan last fall, he won the Dunlop Phoenix, one of the biggest tournaments on the Japan Tour, and used those MP-64 irons and MP-T4 wedges in that victory.

Donald signed on with Mizuno back in 2003, and has earned 13 professional wins with that gear. He also played those Mizuno clubs during his red-hot 2011 and 2012 seasons, in which he held the world No. 1 position for a total of 56 weeks and topped the money lists on both the PGA Tour and European Tour in 2011.

"We've refined my Mizuno equipment in the last couple of seasons and I'm really happy with what I have in the bag right now, so it gives me great pleasure to extend this relationship," Donald said. "Mizuno is the most precise, incredible clubmaker out there, and I'm honored to represent this quality brand."

Donald's renewal never seemed to be seriously in doubt, but there was considerable speculation that Lewis might sign elsewhere. She began playing Mizuno gear in college, and last year led the LPGA Tour with four victories as she rose to No. 3 in the women's world rankings. She notched 16 top-10 finishes, more than any player on the 2012 LPGA Tour, and led the tour in birdies, eagles and rounds in the 60s.

"Since my freshman year at Arkansas, Mizuno has been my equipment manufacturer of choice," said Lewis. "Mizuno has helped me reach many of my goals thus far, and I'm looking forward to building on last year's momentum for another successful season."

Lewis hasn't unveiled her club set for 2013, but she ended 2012 with this configuration:

Driver: Mizuno JPX-800 (9 degrees of loft)
3-Wood: Mizuno MP (15 degrees)
17-Degree Hybrid: Mizuno MP CLK
4-9 Irons: Mizuno JPX-800 Pro
48-Degree Wedge: Mizuno JPX-800 Pro
52-Degree Wedge: Mizuno MP T-11
56-Degree Wedge: Mizuno MP T-11
60-Degree Wedge: Mizuno MP T-11
Putter: TaylorMade Ghost TM-110 Tour
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

Wood jumped into the spotlight by tying for fifth as an amateur in the 2008 British Open and then coming in third in the 2009 British Open, and earned his spot on the European Tour at Q-School a few months later. He had struggled to win as a professional, though, before breaking through with a triumph in the Thailand Open last fall.

His victory in Qatar on Saturday was as dramatic as they come – he led after three rounds, then fell behind Sergio Garcia and George Coetzee before eagling the final hole to win by a shot. After a big drive on the par-5 18th hole, Wood hit a 6-iron 205 yards to within six feet of the hole, and drained the putt for the win. His set includes:

Driver: Mizuno MP-650 (8.5 degrees, Royal Precision Project X Black 7.0 shaft)
3-Wood: Ping G20 (15 degrees)
3-4 Irons: Mizuno MP-64 (Royal Precision Rifle 7.0 shafts)
5-9 Irons: Mizuno MP-69 (Royal Precision Rifle 7.0 shafts)
48-Degree Wedge: Mizuno MP-69 (Royal Precision Rifle 7.0 shaft)
52-Degree Wedge: MP-T4
56-Degree Wedge: MP-T4
60-Degree Wedge: MP-T4
Putter: Yes! Tracy Tour
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

Other prominent players who use Mizuno gear include Jonathan Byrd, Marcel Siem, Mayu Hattori and Jiyai Shin.

And finally, if Tiger Woods closes out a win at the Farmers Insurance Open this afternoon as we all expect him to, the winners of the two big events worldwide this week will be Wood and Woods. That, obviously, has never happened before.

 

January 23, 2013 - 5:05pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Luke Donald and caddie John McLaren
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Luke Donald and caddie John McLaren will continue to handle Mizuno irons and wedges for the next several seasons.

Last week, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy made the season’s biggest equipment switch, as he officially moved over from Titleist to Nike. On Wednesday, world No. 3 Luke Donald did exactly the opposite.

Donald has re-upped his endorsement agreement with Mizuno, signing a multi-year agreement with the Japanese clubmaker whose equipment he has played for many years. Donald doesn't play an entire bag of Mizuno clubs, but he does use the company’s irons and wedges, and those clubs are the backbone of his steady short game.

In fact, Donald provided feedback throughout the development of Mizuno's new MP-64 irons and MP-T4 wedges, to the point that Mizuno describes those clubs as being designed hand-in-hand with Donald. Donald even visited the the plant in Hiroshima, Japan, where the clubs are forged, last November, and spent a little time with the man who grinds his clubs.

Donald signed on with Mizuno back in 2003, and has earned 13 professional wins with that gear. He also played those Mizuno clubs during his red-hot 2011 and 2012 seasons, in which he held the world No. 1 position for a total of 56 weeks and topped the money lists on both the PGA Tour and European Tour in 2011.

"I feel as if I am playing as well as ever at this stage in my career. Over the next few years I want to be in a position to win major championships and to continue to improve," Donald said. "We've refined my Mizuno equipment in the last couple of seasons and I'm really happy with what I have in the bag right now, so it gives me great pleasure to extend this relationship. Mizuno is the most precise, incredible clubmaker out there, and I'm honored to represent this quality brand."

While he was in Japan last fall, Donald won the Dunlop Phoenix, one of the biggest tournaments on the Japan Tour. He used those Mizuno MP-64 irons and MP-T4 wedges in that victory, along with a TaylorMade RocketBallz driver and 3-wood, a 17-degree Mizuno CLK FliHi hybrid and an Odyssey White Hot XG #7 putter.

January 22, 2013 - 1:35am
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Mobile Warming Gear golf outerwear
Courtesy of Mobile Warming Gear
The golf-specific vests and jackets from Mobile Warming Gear contain micro-alloy heating elements built into the back and chest area, which completely eliminate the need for extra layers of clothing while keeping muscles loose in all conditions.

Playing golf at this time of the year can be a challenge because keeping warm can be as tough as a 200-yard carry over water. If you live in the three-quarters of the country that are freezing right now, you know what I mean.

One great way to seriously lessen the challenge of cold-weather golf, however, comes from a company called Mobile Warming Gear. Its Mobile Warming system is based on concepts pioneered by NASA during early days of the U.S. space program, and use a small, rechargeable lithium-ion battery to provide hours of heat – sort of like electric blankets that you wear.

"While some golfers put their clubs away when the weather turns cold, those with a true passion for the game want to get in as many rounds as possible," said Mobile Warming Golf General Manager Keith Apple. "We're making that a comfortable reality, rain or shine, with a unique system that ensures a player's core stays warm for up to 10 hours."

Mobile Warming has launched its first collection of heated, waterproof jackets made just for golfers – in  fact, the company worked with a number of PGA Professionals to make sure the clothes are as swing-friendly as they are warm.

Each seam-sealed garment is crafted from ultra-lightweight and breathable technical polyester. Featuring four-way stretch, the jackets and vests provide significant freedom of movement throughout the golf swing – and, thanks to the placement of the heating units, they also conform to USGA regulations.

They're further enhanced by the system of micro-alloy heating elements built into the back and chest area, which completely eliminate the need for extra layers of clothing while keeping muscles loose in all conditions. At the touch of a button, this breakthrough technology provides heating and warmth, for an entire day, that exceeds the heat transmitted by any other form of insulation available in outerwear today.

Both the softshell golf vest and golf jacket and rain jacket are made of lightweight, stretchy Windshark fabric with elastic underarm panels for extra flexibility. They feature three heating panels to keep upper body muscles warm and loose, and include a rechargeable battery and charger. There is also a line of vests and jackets designed specifically for women golfers, as well as other non-golf-specific garments suitable for a variety of outdoor activities from snowboarding to motorsports.

The garments aren't cheap – they range from $159.99 for the vest to $219.99 for the rain jacket. But compared to what you'd pay for a parka or other cold-weather outerwear, they're certainly not overpriced, either – especially when it means the difference between enjoying some bonus golf in cold conditions versus being miserable all day or, worse, being stuck at home wishing you could play.

For more about Mobile Warming Gear, click here.

January 19, 2013 - 4:00pm
Posted by:
John Kim
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Callaway X-bombs
Photo: Callaway Golf
Callaway's innovative x-bomb campaign ties in college football passion to the golf world.

 

Golf has come such a long way in the last couple of years in terms of social media, fan engagement and better branding ideas.  This is no small thing - industry insiders know that golf hasn't always been at the forefront of change nor communication with consumers. But I'm happy to say - I think those days are long gone.
 
Some of my favorite people on Facebook and/or Twitter happen to work in golf - and that's not coincidence or even industry driven.  The major equipment companies have made it a priority to hire and recruit people who have a keen sense of consumers, a sharp wit and an eye for a good picture or the tone of a good story. As the world of media and communication changes, they are in good shape to adapt and now - lead. It's no longer just telling a story - it's finding innovative ways to share it. 
 
One group who has been particulary active on social media fronts is the team from Callaway Golf.  Golfers will no doubt enjoy reading about their often hilarious brainstorms and campaigns or just following the crew as they engage in often hilarious back and forth on Twitter. From Callaway executives to Tour players to golf fans who are trying a new RAZR Fit Xtreme driver - they all get in on the conversation and the fun. And anytime you make it fun to learn, you're going to learn more, right?
 
 
But friends at TaylorMade, Titleist and Nike aren't taking a back seat to anyone. Nike Golf has long been a leader in engagement with fans - something their dominant numbers in the social space reflect. Cleveland, PING and Adams are also actively engaging with thier consumers. It's a new golf world - one that is better for all of us who work and play in this space.  
 
The technology says that there's never been a better time to buy golf equipment. But before I spend significant money - I want to know why I should.  It's no longer about the fun 30 second ad or the Tour player who's playing it - why is it good for my game?  Now, because of the efforts of some superstar marketing groups - you have avenues for answers you've never had before. 
January 18, 2013 - 4:22pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Rory McIlroy
Getty Images
The photo on the left shows the putter Rory McIlroy used Friday (the three circles indicate it's a Scotty Cameron), while the photo on the right shows McIlroy with his Nike putter on Thursday (you can see the Swoosh on the heel).

Is the honeymoon over already?

On Friday, Rory McIlroy reverted back to his old Scotty Cameron putter for the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – after playing only one competitive round with his new Nike flat stick.

McIlroy, who was unveiled as Nike's newest brand ambassador in a big news conference on Monday, took 31 putts with his new Nike Method 006 putter on Thursday. On Friday, he went back to his trusty Titleist Scotty Cameron Studio Select Newport GSS – even though he kept it under a Nike putter cover.

The two putters are fairly similar in size and shape, and the switch didn't help much. McIlroy, who used the Cameron putter to win both of his majors and a plethora of other titles, took 30 putts on Friday as he carded his second straight 75 to miss the cut.

After his round, he downplayed the quick change.

''I felt the greens were pretty slow out there,'' he told the Golf Channel. ''The Nike putter that I used is a little light and it was just a weight issue more than anything else.  I feel like the one I used today was a little heavier and I was able to get the ball to the hole.''

He also gave no indication of his future putter plans.

''It's the first week out. I wouldn't look too much into (the new equipment),'' he said. ''If anything, it's more the Indian than the arrow at this point.''

McIlroy isn't scheduled to play again for a month, at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. No doubt all eyes will be on what's in his bag.

 

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