The equipment aspect of the game of golf has different value for different golfers and continues to evolve as technology improves each and every year. What is said to be relevant one minute can quickly change and become less relevant the next. We believe that this phenomenon is what makes the golfing consumer follow the brands affiliated to their favorite golfer or commercial (Brand Affiliated) rather than playing what is best for their individual game (Brand Agnostic).
In this article, we will go into the various reasons why, over the last few years, professional golfers are moving toward a more brand agnostic approach, and why you should too.
Equipment on Tour
Each and every year, the big brands release a multitude of different products that can affect different players’ games differently, and obviously, they want these clubs to sell. These companies are not only hoping that the consumer buys the latest-and-greatest because of the media and the advertising behind the products, but also because they see it being played by the top players in the world. Along with the countless hours spent testing equipment at each brand’s R&D facilities, the real test is how the Tour Professional receives the new technology and whether or not they end up putting it in play.
In a perfect world, these big brands want all of their Tour Professionals – on all levels – playing the latest offering from driver down through the putter, but we know as club fitting professionals that this is never the case.
There are many factors that come into play when determining if the Tour Professionals will play new equipment season to season. These factors include:
- The contracts at hand with each company (i.e. how many clubs you are required to play)
- How much money is on the table for playing/winning with new product
- The performance of the new product in comparison with the player’s current clubs
- The state of a player’s game.
When players make it to any major Tour, they are bombarded with many offers from companies, and for good reason.
Tour Professionals are looked at as walking billboards; the better the player you are, the more airtime you get. The manufacturers understand that this airtime results in brand awareness with the television viewer, which can directly lead to sales. This is why the upper echelon of professional players are signing million dollar deals, while the vast majority of players sponsorship deals range in the thousands of dollars. These contracts can be small agreements for ball, glove, hat and shoe (which is what most Web.com players start with) and they can range up to where you have to play 13 out of 14 clubs of one specific brand to make all your equipment endorsement money for the year.
Many young players feel tremendous pressure with these 13 club deals (i.e. PGA/LPGA Tour), but while the money can provide a bit of financial security, you also want to play with what gives you the best shot at winning. Tour Professionals quickly learn, in a lot of cases, that the most money on the table is not always their best option for their longevity on Tour. For that reason, Brand Agnosticism has become a popular topic on Tour in the past few years.
If (insert Pro here) plays it, it must be good
The internet has become a huge channel for the golf public to interact with his or her favorite Tour Professional. Access to information such as “What’s in the Bag” allows the golfing public to see what clubs the professionals are using tournament to tournament. As you may already know, a lot of the Pros that seem to be all Callaway or all Taylormade or all Titleist on TV actually have a few pieces of gear in their bag from other brands. Keep in mind that headcovers do a wonderful job of concealing the truth, and many times, upon pulling one off of a Tour Professional’s club, the brand underneath the cover doesn’t match the brand on the top. In addition, some Tour Professionals may have contracts that specify that only certain clubs must be played in the set, allowing them greater flexibility with the wedges or putter, etc..
It is also worth noting that many player’s contracts specify that each player must play one of the most recent offerings by the brand they are endorsing. Why? Simple… each manufacturer claims that its latest offering is an improvement over its last. This claim would be undermined should a Tour Professional have a two-year-old model from a purportedly innovative manufacturer in play. The big manufacturers understand this, and this is why it is mandated a player play the most recent items offered.
It is also a fallacy to think a Tour Professional has access to hit whatever equipment they wish under a sponsoring brand’s umbrella; these contracts are often more restrictive than you would think. The manufacturer’s Tour representatives are constantly directed from the sales department to have their lesser known Tour Staff play the products at the higher price points of the available products offered. If a manufacturer offers two drivers, one at $499 and another at $399, yet all of its Tour Staff is playing the lower price point driver, that would undermine the credibility of the performance of the higher price point driver. This is the reason for this directive.
Despite generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue the past few years, the big manufacturers are still finding difficulty finding profitability. In the past 5 years, 3 of the top 4 companies have had major shifts in their executive teams including Presidents/CEO’s in some cases. This causes a change of direction in companies that are not always for the better. With all this being said, it has allowed smaller companies that produce ultra-premium products to become bigger players in the golf equipment industry. This is especially true in the vacuum created by the departure of Nike Golf.
The leveling of the playing field has become evident over the last 12 to 18 months and has directly impacted the Tour Professional; they are now inclined to seek all the options available before making their next move. There are less « big money » contracts that stand out above the pack, and there is more parity between each of the OEMs’ offerings. Furthermore, the ever-expanding world of equipment analytics (Launch Monitors, Club Conex, etc.) is providing Tour Professionals with hard data that can neutralize whatever brand affiliations they may be harboring.
As a result, for the first time in most of the top players’ careers on both the PGA and LPGA, they are no longer chasing dollars behind the contracts – instead they are focusing more on what is going to yield the most wins and top 10 finishes. The pictures below are just a few players that have made a shift in this period, with many more now starting to understand the benefit of a Brand Agnostic approach. Top Tour Players that have increasingly become more Brand Agnostic:
- Nick Watney: TaylorMade, Mizuno, and Titleist
- Tony Finau: Nike, Callaway and Titleist
- Zach Johnson: PXG and Titleist
- Rory McIlroy: TaylorMade, Nike, and Titleist
- Michelle Wie: Testing Ping and TaylorMade
- Tiger Woods: Rookie Year on Tour – Cobra, Titleist, Mizuno, and Cleveland. Testing New Products for 2017 including TaylorMade and Miura.
What’s in it for me
How does all of this apply to the everyday golfer? This should be a wake-up call for the amateur golfers out there – to realize that playing all different makes and models within your set is the only way to truly get the most out of each club in your bag. If the best players in the world are reaching out to club fitting experts for the best resources to benefit their game, it is a sure sign that you should do the same.
« The golf ball never lies »
As a club fitting professional, we are routinely asked which products are the “best”, or if a specific product would benefit a player’s game. This is perhaps one of the most difficult questions to answer, because one product may finish last in a player test with one player, but also be the best product tested for another player, even for two players with similar clubhead speeds. This is because the predominant strike area on the face, club path, angle of attack, and clubface angle is so different from one player to the next. Everyone has a different impact recipe that could make one product outperform another. The only way to determine this is by testing these products on an even playing field.
To most club fitters, it is amazing how biased some players are, despite the irrefutable fact that the equipment they play is costing them shots, golf balls, and anguish. Often during a fitting, a player will refuse to accept that the brand they have played for years is being bested by the brand they have made fun of their friend for playing. The golf ball never lies, and it would be best for a player to choose whichever gear helps them get the ball in the hole with the fewest strokes.
Think about this – often times, what is marketed as a product designed to affect performance in a certain way, actually performs slightly different than what is represented. When a shaft manufacturer markets a high ball flight shaft, that is within the umbrella of their own offerings. What if that manufacturer tends to produce low ball flight products? Where would that offering fall on the spectrum of ALL the products offered, despite the brand being considered? The only way to determine this is with an open mind, and unbiased product testing.
Amateur golfers are prone to following the latest and greatest trends put into play by their favorite Tour Professionals. This makes little sense when considering amateur golfers are not being paid to play a specific brand. It is understandable that an amateur golfer would have an allegiance to a specific brand based on the company’s culture or the way they market themselves. However, as it relates to performance, there should be no favorites.
The golf ball only knows physics… the physics generated by their swing and how the equipment being used either undermines, or enhances, those attributes. Players should keep an open mind and trust that the Brand Agnostic shift in the industry is real, it is happening, and it will allow you to get the best clubs in your bag to play better golf.