Nike recently reported flat to down annual sales last month in its golf business for the last two years at $700 million. A business that has been running since 1984 and introduced the first clubs after bringing in a design team in the year 2000. Its first efforts appeared within a year in the form of the Nike Forged Blades irons and then followed in 2002 with Pro Combo irons, which uniquely combined three different kinds of irons within the same set. Sales in 2013 and 2014 were nearly $800 million a year. The company also had recruited a young Tiger Woods as its clothes peg for shoes and apparel, and ultimately the clubs were to come sometime later. Woods however making that transition to the clubs very gradually – showing a wisdom beyond his years.
In contrast Rory McIlroy was signed up amidst much fanfare in 2013 in an agreement valid for ten years estimated to be worth about $250M. A move which saw the Holywood golfer move lock stock and smoking barrel to Nike products, with some saying soon afterwards that it came at a cost to his golf. McIlroy being a long time user of the Scotty Cameron putter and the switch showing a negative effect. Still lingering today as this season he was about 96th in strokes gained/putting; 107th in putting average and 156th in total putting. Then as he switched to a cross-handed grip at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March, seeking improvement, he reverted to his conventional style at The Memorial. As a coach it was painful to watch and worrying as more majors whiled away and McIlroy was not in the running. Thankfully the rot was ameliorated at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston with the latest news was that the four-time major winner had switched back to Scotty Cameron for The Barclays at Bethpage Park. The move no doubt a direct result of Nike’s announcement.
Ironically McIlroy had been gifted a Scotty Cameron putter during the recent PGA Championship at Baltrusol – which was before Nike made its shock announcement. For all concerned it would seem that Rory maybe back on the road to some successful putting now with his preferred equipment in his hands. The speed with which his move to Nike was first made proving erroneous with the company now out of the equipment business half way through the ill thought out deal. As a coach these are one of the things that you focus on and the matters that occupy your mind when coaching professionals. Then after tournaments the vital feedback is important in order to see whether the changes have delivered results. With the Tour Championship this weekend and the 41st Ryder cup matches at Hazeltine next week. McIlroy needs to be back on song.
Europe are on a run of wins in America and the hosts may fall short this time around once again if Darren Clarke’s team peak at the right time. That story of US invincibility legendary up until the visit to Valderrama in 1997 when Captain Seve Ballesteros reversed the course layout and halved the match to retain the cup. Seeing Valderrama earlier this year when caddying for Peter Lawrie, it is not hard to see where the set up was bound to make it challenging for the America team. The numerous twisted olive trees encroaching at every landing spot and the precision needed on every stroke different to the typical PGA Tour layouts.
For McIlroy this week will prove somewhat similar and a chance to secure the FedEx Cup perhaps softening the blow of a season where contention for either The Masters, US Open, The Open were off the radar. Thus bringing another year to a close without adding to the last major won in 2014 and eh Deutsche the last win in what – by McIlroy’s standards – would be considered a barren spell. The putting woes being thrones attracting greatest comment and causing the greatest leakage in strokes. For even at this level golfer drive for show and putt for dough with McIlroy slipping down the stats list with his work on the greens. Yet again McIlroy has called upon a guru, this tie Phil Kenyon, who also coaches Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen, to help him improve his putting. To win in Boston was no doubt timely reward and the season finale in Atlanta now the first test under major type pressure ahead of the Ryder Cup next week.
McIlroy is the only European Ryder Cup team player involved in the thirty-man field at East Lake outside Atlanta, and will be seeking to finish ahead of the top five; Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey. But winning the TOUR Championship – and possibly the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus — at East Lake Golf Club is all about good putting. In the last 10 TOUR Championships, going back to Adam Scott’s win in 2006 the year. 10 different players have been winners at East Lake and all of them having an impressive week on the greens. This could be the week that Kenyon helps McIlroy shake the season finale and reverse the trending results. As things go better with Coca Cola being at the home of the producers may trigger a spark for McIlroy.