U.S. Markets closed

Golf companies race to woo Nike stars Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods

Only a few short weeks after Nike surprised many (including its own athletes) by announcing it would stop making golf equipment, golf-club companies are inundating Nike Golf’s two biggest stars with product.

Rory McIlroy, who signed a 10-year deal with Nike in 2013 and is arguably the face of Nike Golf in the absence of Tiger Woods from competition, was asked about his equipment plan now that Nike will not make clubs or balls. He said he asked Nike to send him “three years’ worth” of Nike golf balls, since he is comfortable with those. And he said that for the time being he will play with whatever clubs he wants, which may mean a different brand from one tournament to the next. It sounded as though the prospect might even feel freeing for the star.

That hasn’t stopped other equipment providers from sending their product to McIlroy—and even to his parents’ house in Northern Ireland. “I haven’t been home,” the golfer said, “but apparently my parents’ house has been inundated with golf equipment from different manufacturers. I haven’t asked for it, but it’s there.”

McIlroy has been in the news repeatedly this summer, and not because of his performance on the golf course. Leading up to the Rio Olympics, he surprised many by disparaging Olympic golf (the sport returned to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years) and saying he would not even watch the event on television. Recently, Mclroy appeared to admit his mistake by saying that he was “somewhat proven wrong” by the success of the event.

Just days after McIlroy’s comments about the stash of clubs waiting at his parents’ house, a friend of Tiger Woods told NBC’s Golf Channel that the same thing is happening to Woods. The 14-time Major champion has been with Nike for 20 years, but missed the entire 2016 season due to injuries and hasn’t made the cut at a Major since The Masters in April 2015.

Still, Woods remains in high demand from brands that know he is the most recognizable active golfer on the planet, if not the most marketable anymore.

“I walked into his dining room and it was like going into a PGA superstore now that Nike’s equipment line no longer exists,” said the golfer Notah Begay, a friend of Woods, on Golf Channel. “Every single manufacturer had sent equipment in there, and he’s trying a variety of different things, trying to get a sense of where he’s going to go from this point on.”

These days, “every single manufacturer” is a short list, when it comes to clubs. In addition to Nike exiting the business, Adidas Group is actively looking to sell off TaylorMade, which it acquired in 1997. It is also selling off club-maker Adams and apparel line Ashworth. (It will hold on to Adidas Golf, which makes shoes and apparel, just as Nike will keep making Nike Golf shoes and apparel.) Golfsmith, a golf equipment retailer, is reportedly eyeing bankruptcy.

If Adidas can rid itself of TaylorMade, it leaves Callaway as the only publicly traded (ELY) company making clubs. Then there are a number of private manufacturers.

McIlroy, Woods, Michelle Wie, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka, and other Nike golfers are available now to sign any deal they want with an equipment manufacturer; they will still have to wear Nike apparel on the course. The same will be true for Adidas-sponsored golfers like world-ranked No. 1 Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Sergio Garcia, once Adidas has shed TaylorMade. Expect those golfers to get wooed by club-makers as well.

One equipment maker, Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG), newly founded in 2014 by GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, is interested in all those Nike golfers—except Woods. “Rory’s somebody to get excited about. And I think there are two other guys that have a lot of potential and that’s Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau,” Parsons told Golf Digest. “We’d probably want to chat with Michelle Wie, too.” He does not appear to want to sign Tiger Woods.

But at least in McIlroy’s case, the companies hoping to land him might have to be patient. “I’m not going to commit to anything,” McIlroy said. “I might start tinkering a little bit in the offseason and see what else is out there, but I don’t really expect to sign with anyone next year.”

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

Read more:

Golfers dropping out of the Rio Olympics is about more than Zika

Adidas is on an ironic hot streak in golf

Why Adidas is finally selling off its golf club business

GoPro and golf look to each other for new life