We’ve had a couple of weird Tour Equipment Deals announced this month, and no, I’m not talking about Sergio going to Callaway. A couple of weeks ago MyGolfSpy ran a story about the 518 ranked player in the world getting an equipment deal. Who the player was wasn’t particularly interesting, but the fact J.J. Henry signed with the back-from-the-dead Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company certainly was.

Today we can report the 587th ranked player has signed an equipment deal. Big whoop, you say? Well sure, big whoop is probably an appropriate response, but Hall-of-Farmer Ernie Els signing an equipment deal with Srixon-Cleveland-XXIO to be - get this - an XXIO Brand Ambassador, may make you rethink why some OEMs sign some of their Tour Staff.

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587 With a Bullet?

Ahh, no. Els is a 4-time major winner and owner of a swing so fluid it earned him the nickname The Big Easy. It’s been a while since Els was a factor on Tour, so it’s highly doubtful Srixon-Cleveland-XXIO is paying Els a boatload of money in the hopes that all you Ernie fans will flock to the stores and buy whatever he’s playing because he’s in the final group virtually every Sunday. Maybe TaylorMade thinks you’ll do that because of Tiger, Rory, Rahm or Rose, but I doubt that’s the game Srixon & Co is playing.

Els has yet to finalize his bag, but we hear he’ll be gaming Srixon’s current Z series irons - likely a Z 765/Z 965 mix - Cleveland RTX-3 wedges, the Srixon Z Star XV ball and an as yet determined driver from the Srixon-Cleveland-XXIO Stable. XXIO is probably a long shot, since the brand itself isn’t intended for, nor engineered for, the types of swings you see from the men of the PGA. Els will be wearing XXIO branded headgear, and his caddy will be toting an XXIO Staff bag, but there most likely won’t be any XXIO in it. Odd? Perhaps, but let’s think this through.

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As a Multiple Major Champ Emeritus, Els certainly brings some juice to the table, but he’s also known as one of the Tour’s Good Guys who works tirelessly for charitable causes - especially the close-to-home Els For Autism Foundation, and to promote the brands he represents. The value of an Els isn’t that we’re going to rush out and buy stuff just because he plays it. It’s in appealing to, and often interacting directly with, well-heeled golfers who were in their 30’s or so when Els beat Loren Roberts in a playoff to win the US Open back in 1994 at Oakmont. Ernie is 48 now, and those who remember his heyday and appreciate his last Open Championship in 2012 are getting a bit long in the tooth, and are inevitably entering XXIO’s target demographic - golfers with money who’ve lost swing speed with age, but still want to enjoy the game and maybe recapture a few lost yards,

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The value of an Els for a brand such as XXIO will be in corporate outings, media relations and XXIO Days demo events to validate and promote the brand to its intended audience. And that is something Els is very good at.

You can argue whether any club can help you deke Father Time, but that’s a different conversation for a different day. From a marketing standpoint, it looks to be a solid move with a specific target demographic in mind and is, I would assume, sound from a budgetary standpoint. It’s also important to remember, XXIO is NOT trying to get into Callaway/TaylorMade territory, and from what I know of the brand’s leadership, they certainly don’t think everyone will be rushing out to buy XXIO because Ernie Els has it on his bag (but not in his bag). At XXIO’s pricing and presumed margins - and considering the brand’s growth - Els doesn’t have to move the needle much to earn his money.

And I’ll bet you my autographed copy of the 1986 Jan Stephenson calendar that BIG EASY and EASY TO HIT will find its way into XXIO’s marketing efforts. It’s also important to remember XXIO does carry plenty of weight in Asia and the rest of the Pacific, and no doubt the South African’s global name recognition is expected to help in those markets, given his PGA and European Tour schedule.

It’s also worth noting that Els had been a TaylorMade staffer, and his availability is likely another sign TaylorMade is cutting back on non-big name or no-longer-relevant Tour Staff. Those investment groups do watch the dinero.

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A Busy Winter

Srixon-Cleveland-XXIO has been busy over the past few months. The XXIO X iron and metal wood lineup hit the stores in December, and just a couple of weeks ago Cleveland Golf signed Long Drive competitor and aspiring Web.com player Jaime Sadlowski to an equipment deal. We’re hearing from social media sources who should know (trust, but verify) that group sales grew 30% in 2017. If true, that represents nice growth in a stagnant market, albeit off of a small number to start with.

It could also be a case of being scenerioed rosily. It happens.

Srixon, of course, copped Most Wanted Driver and Most Wanted Game Improvement irons from MyGolfSpy last year, and the group’s wedges and putters also showed well in our testing. 2018, of course, is a new year, and Srixon is on schedule for a late summer upgrade to the Z Series metal woods and irons - which are on a two-year product cycle - as well as a possible upgrade in the fall to the two-year-old RTX-3 wedges.

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So the addition of Els is surely aimed at XXIO brand awareness, to a degree, but Ernie is a personable guy. We’re not entirely sure how involved he’ll be in customer events (he has done considerable work for ECCO), but the Els personal touch with a very targeted market should bring some added value to the brand, especially considering its target demographic.

This is not a move that’s going to bring the masses to Srixon, Cleveland or XXIO, but when it comes to XXIO, they’re  in no way targeting the masses - the so-called average golfer. These are folks who don’t have a lot of golf-playing years left and want to enjoy those years, and who also don’t mind spending $800 for a driver or $2,400 for a set of irons (because it’s their money and they can), especially if an afternoon with the Big Easy is part of the deal.