It was one of the biggest talking points of 2016. Nike announced they were exiting the golf hardware game and that left not only their two biggest ambassadors but golf’s two biggest names without a club supplier. While McIlroy flirted with other brands – he was spotted playing Callaway clubs for a few rounds – Woods spent the first few post-Nike months testing TaylorMade gear and put pen to paper in January 2017.
So what’s the story behind Woods’ decision? We asked TaylorMade CEO David Abeles.
“This is a story I’ve told many many times and I never get tired of telling it,” Abeles, on the phone from his home in Carlsbad, California, explains. “We are talking about arguably the greatest golfer in the history of the game and one of the greatest athletes that’s ever played any sport.
“Nike Golf exiting the equipment business was sizeable news on a global basis and suddenly there were 25 Nike athletes that were no longer contractually obligated to play any brand, so we had a really interesting opportunity to see what would happen.
“We’ve always had a saying at TaylorMade that, if contractual obligations, endorsements, and retainers weren’t part of the business, more golfers and more tour players would choose us over any other brand.
“The challenge with that notion is it’s hard to prove because athletes are endorsed, they are retained, and they have contractual obligations to companies.
“But at the time 22 of the 25 chose TaylorMade products above all other brands because they were free agents.
“One of those 22 happened to be Tiger. He was navigating through some recovery with his back ailments and some of the physical challenges he was facing at the time and he said he started testing products from different brands.
“But he recognised that as he worked toward coming back into the game that perhaps his equipment requirements might be different and that he might need different types of technology that would be more effective for how he would play in the future relative to how he played in the past.
“So throughout the [autumn] months in 2016, Tiger limited his practice and our technicians, engineers, and tour staff all worked with him.
“It became evident to us and to him that we could do special things as he worked into the next era of his career.
“He started to put movable weight technology in play, he put adjustable drivers in play, we worked together to build an iron that was perfect for him, we worked on new wedge bounces together, and here we are a couple of years later and his resurgence has seen him win another major get back to the top.
“I’m proud that he’s become an athlete that represents our company the way he has and the story has been tremendous for our company and tremendous for Tiger. I believe he would articulate this as well, but the ability he has to play golf now with the equipment he has has certainly been a key component to his comeback and certainly a key component to the strength and growth of our company.”
- Related: What’s in Woods’ bag?
So how about McIlroy who, it seems, needed a bit more persuading?
“When you think about the world’s best players at this level the one thing they are extremely disciplined in, and will not make any compromise around, is the performance of their equipment,” Abeles explains.
“Rory was slightly different because he always knew we made great metalwoods, he knew we could build him a great driver, he knew we could build him a forged iron – but what he fell in love with first was the TP5x golf ball.
“And the reason Rory came to TaylorMade was more centred around the golf ball than our equipment. Rory said we make the best performing ball in the world, and it was the same with Jon Rahm.
“So you’ve got the World No 1 and World No 2 who play our ball because they know we weren’t willing to compromise the performance.”
- Related: What’s in McIlroy’s bag?
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