At the Presidents Cup earlier this month, Ernie Els was spotted playing a Titleist golf ball, a departure from the Callaway HEX Black Tour he’s teed up for the past few years. The Callaway staffer also played the Titleist ProV1X at the Venetian Macau Open last week and changed things up this week at the CIMB Classic by playing a TaylorMade Lethal golf ball.
Most top-tier professional golfers have gone on equipment-testing binges at some point in their careers, particularly when they’re struggling, as Els did in 2013. The 44-year-old, who signed with Callaway in 2007, notched only one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour last season (a T4 finish at the U.S. Open at Merion in June).
But when players of Els’ stature make such changes, it’s usually to the much more fluid part of their golf bags: their clubs. Players experiment less with the golf ball, which is considered one of the most difficult equipment changes for a professional golfer to make because of its use on every shot.
Does Els’ recent use of a Titleist and TaylorMade golf ball and UST’s Mamiya Recoil graphite iron shafts mean that the four-time major championship winner is looking for a new equipment sponsor in 2014?
Callaway’s list of recent signings on the PGA Tour includes Ryo Ishikawa, Patrick Reed (who defected to Callaway mid-season), Nicolas Colsaerts, James Hahn, Chris Kirk, Luke List, Bobby Gates and Sang-Moon Bae. Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson represent the big ticket at Callaway, and with the exception of Els’ surprising 2012 British Open victory, they have attracted much more attention to the brand. Each had seven top-10 finishes in 2013, with Mickelson capturing the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Scottish Open and the British Open.
Under the leadership of Chip Brewer, Callaway appears to be casting a wide net among young talent rather than trying to land marquee players. Were Ernie Els to make the move to TaylorMade, which sponsored him early in his career, he’d likely be earning more, as the multi-billion dollar conglomerate member has deeper pockets than Callaway.
Last year, Callaway reported sales of $832 million. TaylorMade’s number was more than twice that amount, $1.7 billion. Surely, socking away some additional cash in his final years as a member of the PGA Tour would please the South African, and TaylorMade—financially able to do so—would likely be happy to have another major championship threat on its staff.
Dropping Els makes sense for Callaway too, as the company could surely sign several young players for the price the 2012 Open Champion commands, and doing so would be more in line with the brand’s move toward a younger, edgier image.