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Why pro golfers might soon make less money

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

The landscape for the golf equipment business looks grim at the moment. Adidas announced in May it is looking to sell off TaylorMade, its golf club brand that was once the category leader; Nike announced in August it’s halting its own golf club business completely.

Those announcements have already prompted change. Jason Day, the world’s No. 1 golfer, has an existing deal with TaylorMade for clubs but has signed a new deal with Nike just for apparel, which he is able to do because Nike is no longer a competitor as a club-maker. Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who are both signed to Nike Golf, are both suddenly left without club deals, so other club-makers have aggressively wooed them.

McIlroy recently practiced with TaylorMade clubs. If he were to use them at his next tournament without a paid deal, it would represent a new normal for the world’s No. 2 golfer.

Nike, Adidas exits mean fewer equipment deals

Pat Perez, a PGA Tour veteran who missed this golf season due to shoulder surgery, says the problems in the equipment business will quickly take a hit on the wallets of the players. Nike and Adidas leaving the business is “massive,” he tells Yahoo Finance, “because now other companies are going to have to try to make up the difference, but there’s just not enough money to pay all these guys, they just can’t do it.” Equipment deals in golf, depending on the stature of the player, can reach the single-digit millions each year.

There is still Callaway for clubs (ELY), and Titleist (GOLF) for balls, but Callaway isn’t going to spend to endorse every PGA Tour player in the top 30. With Nike and Adidas (eventually) not making clubs, it means fewer brands to sign golfers to club deals.

Of course, even if they aren’t being paid to use a brand’s clubs, pro golfers still have to play, and they’re going to play with clubs. “So even with TaylorMade trying to get sold and Nike going out, the game is still going to be there,” Perez says. “The guys aren’t going to be making as much money as they could have been, but the game will go on. The PGA Tour is doing fantastic, we’re playing for a lot of money as it is—I think the game will be just fine.”

Promoting Bill Murray’s golf apparel line

While the equipment (clubs and balls) business is in the rough, apparel is a different story. Nike Golf will still make clothes and shoes, and Adidas Golf will still make clothes and shoes. The apparel side still has enough appeal that the actor Bill Murray and his brothers have just launched their own golf clothing line, William Murray Golf.

Perez is the first pro ambassador for Murray’s label. The long-haired 40-year-old, who tied for 6th at the PGA Championship in 2005, is a colorful personality and fitting choice for William Murray Golf. His antics on the course have often been divisive; in 2011, Golf magazine wrote that Perez’s tantrums “are an embarrassment.” During his time off this season, Perez created a music video, “Irons Aren’t Metal,” in which he sings lines like, “You’ll love my wood, I swing it real good.” Golf Digest wrote, “We’re not quite sure what to make of this Pat Perez music video.”

Perez also has an endorsement deal with MGM Grand, which is now home to the flagship location of Topgolf, a three-floor interactive golf entertainment venue and driving range.

Interest in the golf business from a well-liked celebrity like Murray could be a positive step for the health of golf—it could even rejuvenate the equipment side. Perez wearing the clothing on the course will help, and so will promotion from The Chive, an extremely popular men’s interest web site that is heavy on galleries of college girls in their underwear.

Murray’s line is a partnership between the Murray brothers and Resignation Media, parent company of The Chive. The clothing is being sold exclusively through The Chive, where readers are obsessed with the “Caddyshack” star.

“I’ve been a fan of The Chive for a long time,” Perez says. “They’ve got this following that’s just incredible. Once we started hanging out, they started following golf a little more. I thought, ‘How can we get these guys involved in golf,’ and once they got Bill [Murray] and saw the love Bill has for the game, the pieces started to fit together.” Perez was the choice as William Murray Golf’s first endorser “for one simple and obvious reason—his authenticity,” says John Resig, president of Resignation Media. Perez, he says, is “on a mission to ensure golf remains fun.”

The timing of the William Murray Golf launch is also lucky because Murray is a huge Chicago Cubs fan (one of the golf line’s first shirts is a Cubs tribute design) and the Cubs are in the World Series. The line’s logo is of Murray casually tossing a putter over his shoulder; one of the shirts has a pattern of spilled cocktails.

William Murray Golf

Perez is optimistic that William Murray golf is more than just a gimmick. “The William Murray line is going to be there for a long time,” he says. “Bill’s going to be involved with his brothers, and with the following we have already with The Chive behind it, we’re going to make it cool.”

For a hip, playful new clothing line to catch on with amateur golfers and fans of pro golf, it will need to grow beyond just Perez. Most pro golfers right now, young and old, point to the sport’s young stars as the key to growing the game and making it more popular again. Rickie Fowler has brought big attention to Puma, and Under Armour launched its first golf shoe line on the shoulders of Jordan Spieth.

“The sports is in good hands right now because you have all these young kids that are playing well, that are bringing more young kids out to play,” Perez says. “The problem is it’s so expensive to do it if you’re a middle class family—you’ve gotta buy clubs, all this new stuff, it’s expensive. But I think Jason Day and Spieth and Rory are really helping it out and are going to carry the game for a long time. It’s just whether or not people are able to play the game or not.”

For more from Perez, including his thoughts on what golfers think of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, watch the above Sportsbook video.

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

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