Ask anybody on the planet to name a golfer, and among those who can come up with even a single name, the probability is that name will be Tiger Woods.
For many, Tiger Woods remains the only golfer that matters.
Despite what feels like a long-term absence from the actually competitive part of the game, the Big Cat’s draw is still unparalleled. He is the central discussion point of any tournament in which he participates and is barely off-center in those in which he doesn’t.
Several years removed from what was inarguably his prime, the evidence still suggests Tiger is the most marketable force in golf.
Not Rickie, not JDay, neither Spieth nor Fowler; no one attracts the circus like Tiger Woods. Golfers still pay attention to what’s in his bag.
That’s a fact to keep that in the back of your head as we continue.
If you’re TaylorMade or any other golf company on the planet, you want Tiger on your team. The thing is, Tiger doesn’t come free, or even cheap. So within that reality, it’s reasonable to ask if Tiger is still worth the cost.
The Unpleasant Reality of Tiger Woods
My how time flies. We’re coming up on 4 years since Tiger last won a PGA tournament. We’re approaching 9 years since he last won a Major. It’s only delusion that would prevent us from acknowledging that the trends clearly suggest missed cuts and withdrawals are now more probable for Tiger than TV time on the weekend. With every purportedly minor setback, the voices of those wondering if Tiger is still capable of putting in the reps grow louder. The process may very well require more competitive time than Tiger has left.
It’s a shitty thought for those of us who love watching Tiger play, but that’s the thing about reality; sometimes it’s shitty.
When you consider the cost versus the benefit, it’s fair, yet somehow admittedly odd, to wonder if TaylorMade inking Tiger to a long-term deal will prove to be a mistake.
The Upside to Tiger
On the positive side, news of the Tiger signing stole the spotlight during an otherwise lackluster PGA Show. Many, myself included, would like to believe that Tiger still has the potential to help reinvigorate a brand facing its biggest challenges in recent memory. It remains for sale, and its largest competitor, Callaway, believes it will overtake TaylorMade in the metalwoods category (retail sales, not tour use) sometime this season. That’s a bigtime threat to the TaylorMade identity, and no doubt, some believe Tiger helps bolster the defense.
It’s also every bit as true that TaylorMade’s R&D team is genuinely excited to work with Tiger Woods. The energy and enthusiasm coming from team TaylorMade are real. They’re excited and focused, and that’s where good businesses want their employees. That part of the story is inarguably good for the TaylorMade.
Now imagine a healthy Tiger Woods winning again (and again), and doing it with 13 TaylorMade clubs in the bag. Recent history suggests that’s a pipedream, but TaylorMade was clearly willing to roll the dice on the possibility, however remote, that it could happen.
With Tiger Woods comes upside potential, and If we’ve learned anything from Roger Federer recently, it’s that even Father Time loses the occasional battle.
Nearly all of us want to believe that Tiger can win one too.
The Downside to Tiger
That’s all well and good, but we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that TaylorMade had to spend big to ink Tiger.
The story coming out of the TaylorMade booth at the show was that once Tiger hit M, he knew he had no other option. It’s an uplifting yarn, but you can never really trust anything you hear in a PGA Show booth.
The real story is that once Team Tiger had laid out its list demands (the baggage as I’ve heard it described), and threw out a number, TaylorMade was likely the only option.
A source familiar with early negotiations suggested that Tiger’s want list was long, and would have proven disruptive to implement. His asking price was high, and his health was a massive question mark from the start. Short story, the numbers didn’t make sense.
In a time where the pyramid of influence has shifted, and tour players have less influence than they’ve had in the past, Mizuno, Wilson, Cobra, and Srixon no longer spend big on tour, and when they do, it’s on younger players with actual upsides.
Callaway and PING choose their spots and are careful not to overspend, and while it’s true that PXG’s Bob Parsons has shown a willingness to throw money at the tour, he also said that he probably wouldn’t be interested in signing Woods.
Scratch all those names off the list and what you’re left with are TaylorMade and Titleist, and with Tiger already under contract to play a Bridgestone ball, realistically, Titleist wasn’t ever at the table.
So now TaylorMade has Tiger and his personal iron guy (part of the baggage). It has to put time and resources into developing irons that won’t sell in any meaningful numbers at retail (if they’re even brought to retail), and it has to pay Tiger Woods big money. And of course, it has to hope he stays healthy.
In fairness, it’s still very early, but we’re not off to the best start on that last one.
On the one hand, it’s an odd play for a company that already has a well-established tour identity and a stable of top players (Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and a rapidly emerging John Rahm) on staff. If you still believe the tour moves the needle at retail, you could argue that nobody needs Tiger less than TaylorMade.
On the other, there are golfers out there who will tell you that Tiger Woods still influences what they play. They bought Nike because of Tiger, and at a minimum TaylorMade climbs their list because of him too.
Whether or not that’s enough to shift the percentages remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely that Tiger, on the downside of his career, will have a more significant impact on TaylorMade’s identity and its retail sales than he did for Nike when he was in his prime.
Time, as it always does, will tell.
Have Your Say
Was signing Tiger Woods a smart move by TaylorMade? Tell us what you think.