Guest Blogger – Gary Evans 

Within a whisker of winning the 2002 Open and one of only a handful of players to make an Open albatross, ex-European Tour player Gary Evans shares his thoughts on Rory McIlroy’s now infamous switch to Nike.

How many times will we see a player be successful with one brand (and a set of sponsors) and taste a large degree of success, then, just when they hit the top of the world…they decide to change everything for what appears to be a bloody big cheque and no other reason.  Many of you will understandably think, well that’s a bloody good reason isn’t it…I mean, they are set up for life and everything is rosy in the world…but by doing so, you’re inviting a world of doubts into the scenario.

I wrote a piece on Rory changing to Nike some months ago and in it, I relayed my fears of such a decision. I mean the guy had played Titleist equipment all his life so let’s just think about this for a minute; He could have stuck with Titleist (1) and worn whatever clothing he wanted (2), he could have added additional sponsors by way of his branding positions (left and right sleeve (3&4), right chest (5), left or right collar (6&7), front panel of golf bag (8) and finally the side of the hat (9). Nine potential sponsorship opportunities but that’s a nasty Formula 1 driver look…if he went classy, let’s say 5 sponsors equalling what? At Rory’s level, may be something like this but this is a guess

Club manufacturer – $8m pa

Clothing – $3m pa

Right chest – $3m pa

Sleeves – $1m each pa

Total – $16m pa plus performance bonuses

Titleist have always had great belief in their product and they have their own value system for calculating a player’s worth. Once the agent starts asking for “silly money” they simply back away and I applaud this level of constraint and financial planning.  They must protect their bottom line and simply writing a “silly” cheque to keep a player on board is against good business practice and once you do that for one player, the flood gates open! I’ve seen other manufacturers go the other way and got themselves in to deep financial trouble.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of the Agent – You can sign a deal with Nike (and Nike only permit one additional logo on the golf bag) and reduce your work load to handling just 2 contracts. Or you keep the player in the product he has always used and physically have to work by sourcing, negotiating and handling up to another 8 or 9 contracts (5 sensibly). Which way would you go?  The easy way out is obvious, as is calculating the Agent’s new found commission he would receive for delivering a new deal (bearing in mind he wouldn’t be receiving any commission from pre-existing deals).

Each contract comes with stipulations and requirments such as making personal appearances, which does take up your time and clearly dealing with 1 or 2 companies would be far easier than dealing with 5 or 6. But let’s not forget that these companies are paying you serious dollars, so you’re not giving up your personal time, you’re being paid for your time. Whilst we’re on the subject of time, let’s consider something else…

Top players play as little as possible to keep their World Ranking as high as possible. The number of points they win is divisible by the number of tournaments they play. The minimum diviser is 40 events per two years and nobody in the world is been better to keeping his schedule to a minimum than Tiger Woods. Players carefully review their up and coming schedule and the sole reason why we don’t get to see top players play more regularly. World ranking is important to access to the Majors, World golf Championships and most importantly, the contractual performance bonus schedules!

I find it amusing that players such as Rory claim that they are feeling “fatigued” at the end of the season…I wonder would it be because that they play a handful of “wheelbarrow” events at the end of the year. These are non-sanction exhibition events where they are paid a shit load of cash to appear. Perhaps if these events were banned by the World Tours, then this money would find it’s way back into those Tours and the players wouldn’t feel so “tired” for appearing in them. Ahhh bless them.

There’s a story about one Ryder Cup player who shall remain nameless, who was asked to go play in China for one of these exhibitions, and was offered $250k to appear. He didn’t want to go and told his agent to ask the promoter for $750k and the likely answer to the request would have been a no, saving himself the trip. They said yes and off he went! Sod the fatigue eh!

I digress, sorry, back to managing a player… Even with these “wheelbarrow” events, a top player is unlikely to play more than 27 events per year, which means he had 25 weeks to accommodate his sponsors contractual requirements and have some time off. OK, so now you can put your violins down.

I don’t know Rory McIlroy that well but I truly believe that he will become one of the greatest players of all time. He is also just 23 years old and with the greatest respect, comes from a very normal working class background. One of the very best things about him is his “the boy next door” appearance and that isn’t contrived because he has always been the boy next door. That’s what is so appealing to the public and more understandably, to sponsors.  One significant problem that we’ve all witnessed with Lottery winners is that from nothing to everything scenario and five years later they are skint. Rory’s parents will even be dealing with hangers on and this is an incredibly ugly area of life to be in.

My personal opinion means nothing I know but I can’t help feeling that Rory has is being driven down a path trying to emulate Tiger Woods (the most contrived sportsman on the planet) and become a brand in his own right and in my mind, that’s a mistake. In my mind, Rory should concentrate on playing golf and absolutely nothing else for the next 20 years. Endorse products yes, try to become a brand at 23, NO. If he carrys on the way that he has started, when he’s older, wiser and achieved everything in the game he has set to, ONLY THEN should he start designing courses and getting involved in other areas that will require his time and attention.

One feels sorry for a kid, who like Rory, came from nothing, but was controlled by his father, controlled by IMG, controlled his entire life to be something he isn’t. Tiger doesn’t have a life because he was deliberately turned into a controlled object, a media frenzy, a comic strip character, a closed book, a Howard Hughes recluse and the poor sod probably doesn’t trust anyone in the world because he can’t. In Hank Haney’s book, he states that Tiger wanted to be a Special Opps Marine, and what do they do??? Everything they are ordered to do, my point being that he is so used to being directed that may be he is lost without being told what to do. I’m sure his issues a few years back was based on “control” and wanting to take some for himself, it’s just a shame he didn’t think the consequences through a little.

Rory, like most of us as professional golfers, played this game for the love of the game and it was never about money. The trouble with playing a game to a world class standard is that at some point, you’re going to have to deal with Management Agencies who make a living off the back of sportsmen and women. Then there are the “friends” that suddenly appear out of nowhere and want something from you.  From personal experience, I can tell you that both entities aren’t in it for you they are in it for themselves…end of story. I was never in Rory’s league but when I tasted what little success I had during my 15 years out there, you wouldn’t believe some of the things that happened to me! I can’t imagine multilying that by 100 to get close to what Tiger or Rory now have to deal with.

Clearly we are only in the third month of his new deal with Nike and it’s been an unfortunate but not unexpected start to the relationship.  First a brilliant advert holing balls in all sorts of cups with the greatest golfer of all time (who reminds Rory who the “Daddy” is at the end of the advert – not sure if I had been managing Rory, whether I’d have let my no 1 player in the World appear to be the inferior player in the advert) and then 3 strikes in a row on the golf course.  The final being his walk off mid round at the Honda last week which was a bloody stupid thing to do as Rory has now admitted.

In the deep recesses of his new $10m Florida home, I wonder if Rory is looking at those clubs in the Titleist bag in the corner of the garage and saying to himself, “what have I done?  Why did I change equipment? Did I get the right advice? Is this new Nike Driver any good? Can I have my Scotty back in the bag? HELP!  We can’t turn the clock back and I truly believe that in a short period of time, Rory will be back to where he belongs, playing with confidence and winning events. Let’s just hope that the barn door of doubt that is being wedged open by his own performances and behaviour, plus the ever present assistance of the golfing press to question Rory’s move can be padlocked closed as soon as possible.

Lessons to be learned? Well, if you have succeeded in golf with one set of clubs and a ball  and you then go on to win a Major…don’t

a) sign your life away for a cheque and try to be seen in the same light as your hero!

b) be so naive to think that you can change every bit of equipment you use and think that you’ll just carry on winning as if nothing had ever changed!

c) listen to your management company if they are trying to get you to move!…. go and talk to people that have been in your position before and changed equipment and see what they say?

Gary Evans writes regular articles on his own blog at Gary Evans Golf

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