Golf fans can debate whether Tiger Woods is truly “back” in action after playing in a single tournament (the Hero World Challenge this month, where he finished 15th out of 17 golfers), but he is certainly back in a business sense.
On Thursday, Bridgestone Golf announced it has signed Woods to a long-term endorsement deal to play exclusively with Bridgestone (BRDCY) balls.
Bridgestone did not share the value of the deal or its length. “No one spends more time perfecting their equipment than Tiger Woods,” Bridgestone CEO Angel Ilagan said in a press release. “His choice of Bridgestone sends a clear message that our golf balls are superior to all others.” Woods, for his part, said, “It’s an essential part of my equipment… I’m not just here to play — I’m here to win.”
Consider this the first order of business in launching the Tiger Woods comeback. Next up: a golf club deal.
Woods has been a free agent on the equipment side (“equipment” typically refers to clubs and balls) since Nike abruptly halted its equipment business this summer. The exit of Nike meant that all Nike-sponsored golfers, which includes Woods, world No. 2 Rory McIlroy, and Tony Finau, are free to sign equipment contracts with other companies even as they are under contract for apparel with Nike.
They have not been in any hurry to do so, despite companies doing their best to woo Woods and McIlroy by sending equipment to their homes.
— Bridgestone Golf (@bridgestonegolf) December 15, 2016
Woods has been testing out various equipment at his leisure. At the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas this month, his first tournament in 15 months, he played with a varied mix of clubs: TaylorMade driver and woods; Nike irons and wedges; and the Titleist Scotty Cameron putter. It was a fascinating view into what a golfer might use when not bound by the constraints of an exclusive contract.
He arrived at the decision to go with Bridgestone for balls completely on his own. Bridgestone sent him balls to use, “but we had no communication with him and didn’t have any way to help influence his decision,” Corey Consuegra, ball manager for Bridgestone Golf, told ESPN.
If you’re not a big golfer, you might not have known Bridgestone, the Japanese tire maker, even makes golf balls. It has been doing so since 1935. Bridgestone founder Shojiro Ishibashi was a polymer scientist and an avid golfer. Golf balls are packed with rubber on the inside, so the jump from tires to balls made sense. “When a driver impacts a golf ball, the material impact there is very very similar [to how a tire interacts with the road], they’re both very violent interactions,” a Bridgestone marketing exec told Golf Magazine in 2009, “so the polymer science required to perform under that kind of pressure, there’s a strong parallel.”
Bridgestone added golf clubs in the 1970s. Now its roster of sponsored golfers includes Brandt Snedeker, Bryson Dechambeau, and Paula Creamer.
Woods has yet to commit to a club maker, and surely any of the major brands would love to sign him. Meanwhile, world No. 1 Jason Day has an existing club deal with TaylorMade, but recently signed a new apparel deal with Nike, which he can do since Nike is no longer a competitor on the equipment side.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.