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?

Click here to see all the clubs in Ernie Els’ bag.

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.

Ernie Els 1997 U.S. Open
Ernie Els won the 1997 U.S. Open and the 2002 British Open as a member of TaylorMade’s Tour Staff.

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.

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  1. I didn’t see this on a quick scan through the article, but didn’t Ernie play TMs at one point early in his career? I’m thinking it was somewhere around ’97 and/or before, because I was thinking he was playing some modified form of the Burners at the U.S. Open that year.

  2. At EE’s age, he should get the best cash in town. He still has one of the best swings in golf, so it comes down to putting. With the recent rules change with belly/long putters, finding a biggest cash in the biz (TM), sounds like a great idea. Plus, he likes a soft golf ball, and there is no ball better than the Lethal for that. Seems like a good fit.

  3. there is so little difference between the top balls, I bet if you didn’t put a label on them, the players could not tell the difference. It is usually about the money. In fact, the 2nd line of balls are now so good, any pro would probably also win with them…and some are using the next ball down.

      • They couldn’t tell the difference with anything close to perfect accuracy on feel alone, no (although you’d have to go beyond labels — dimple patterns, etc., give it away). The differences in performance are mostly imperceptible. You do get much more important differences in clubs, both because of appearance (a player’s confidence or feeling of expectation is critical — he’ll swing it differently if it’s not there) and actual differences in playing characteristics.

  4. In his prime Ernie could have win a major with a shovel and a tennis ball. I saw him at the practice ground in Troon in approx 2005 and he was crushing 7 irons better than your life time best 3 iron with absolutely no effort (a stunning lesson in compressing the ball). However, old age, concentration and a big dip in putting (the curse of being 40+) has caught up with him. i know he won the British open recently, but it was more Adam Scott imploded! At this stage an equipment change might be good for him. I am not a TM fan, but if it works for him go for it. He still likes a traditional type blade/muscleback and TM don’t have anything like this in the line-up at the moment. The new Speedblade things are shocking and I couldn’t see him bagging them, but let’s wait and see…….stranger things have happened

  5. You seem to forget the current Fedex Champion, Henrik Stenson is also a Callaway staffer. Being a massive EE fan from his home country of SA and having personally benefited from all the work he has done for autism, I want to see the big man start to win on a regular basis again. I could care less what equipment he plays.
    A move to TM, Adams, Titleist or anyone else might make him a few extra dollars but it isn’t going to improve his putting which is what is costing him.

    • Since when is Stenson a Callaway Staffer? Did he sign on with them in the past couple of weeks?? I believe he is playing a mixed bag with more Callaway clubs, but he has been playing TM driver, Piretti putter (and golf bag!) Titleist ball(?). These are three areas key areas for Callaway staffers more important than utilities, wedges and previously FW woods. The irons he plays are not models that can be regularly purchased.

  6. Ernie needs to what is best for him and his family first and foremost. He struggled last year and hasn’t been playing to his standards then he should switch if contract allows him. Whatever works best for him!

  7. It actually would make sense Internationally for Adams to have EE on staff. Plus they would let him play a mixed bag which would be a good transition for him. Building Adams business internationally is a big play with huge potential. The growth of that brand has been substantial already and TMAG has already made that purchase pay off. Plus despite the “doom and gloomers” initial comments, the brand has not imploded but rather exploded and the new equipment that has been viewed early shows great promise for all types of players. As much as the “Haters” don’t like to see this the brand has a big upside. EE would be a very nice addition, we’ll see. I may do a little investigation on this . . .

      • That lawsuit rumor was not factual. The Adams purchase was a smart business purchase at a very good price that was set to pay for itself by just putting the brand into their international distribution channels. The purchase price was alittle over $70 mil for an upcoming company with little baggage, good product, a crack design and R&D team. A lawsuit for what people think could have only been for 6 figures or low 7 figures. In these deals a big company like TMAG can easily outspend a small company like Adams who was for sale. Trust me I hate to bust anyones bubble, there is very little justice when it comes to these types of suits, the money wins. But the differences in the slot technology of the two companies actually was different and the percentages of differences allowed is not that high. The combining of two excellent design teams is pretty powerful. Actually it allows TM to lose a key design guy to another company (Cobra/Puma) without any great pain. The one departing cannot take any technology TM has been working on over to the Cobra. Any attempt to do so would result in a huge lawsuit and everyone would know about it, you would need to whisper about rumors. That is where you see the battles.

  8. I think signing younger talent is the way to go. Callaway needs to appeal more to a younger age group. I am in the 25 to 35 age group. Neither myself or any of my friends plays anything Callaway. I always see the forty and fifty somethings gaming Callaway(no offense)

    • No offence taken. I’m 40 and play Cally Razr X Musclebacks because with all my experience and demonic short game, I need to make the game harder so I don’t take the 20-something’s beer money every week ;)

      BTW If you want an awesome driving iron I suggest the Cally X-Proto 21 degree with GDesign shaft. BOOM!

  9. Ernie has lost a lot of his luster. It makes sense for Callaway to allow him to sign with someone else and find a higher profile right hander with a conventional swing.

    Note to Callaway: I turn away from the TV or close my eyes when Furyk swings – get another right-hander to complement him.

  10. since when is callaway young and edgy? especially compared to taylormade? callaway has been the choice of grandpas for a long time. taylormade has the youngest, most progressive image among golf companies.

    • TM has the most progressive image….

      I would say Cobra/Puma has them beat in that particular department.

      Just in the appeal to youth, probably nothing else. Although I’d play Cobra ACP’s over anything TM came out with this year. Just because TM didn’t release a blade.

    • but the taylor made guys seem to come and go rather quickly…fowler, dustin johnson, sean ohair….all the guys that did the rocket balz commercials…what did they do last year?
      I think Ping is getting a lot of the guys I saw winning last year with their G25 woods. titleist still has the most players using their ball.

      • Good catch. but the taylormade roll-outs if you don’t like the price wait a couple weeks and they will drop their prices. As far as an equipment standpoint but companies are coming out with some products that would probably help out the every day player. both have a supper hot iron that goes for ever a little to far for my liking (bigger gaps). both also have a great wood set not huge on the drivers I believe Ping has them beat in this department but the woods are longer than anything that I have tested. if callaway would allow for custom orders for the frankenwood I would be on board with that and ditch the driver.

        Last thing is since the discussion has been brought up about young and edgy what about Ping and underarmor through I really don’t know if they are affiliated.