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Opinion & Analysis

Rory McIlroy isn’t worth $250 million, but he should take it

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By Rene Osmena, GolfWRX Contributor

Traditions arrive with much anticipation annually. There’s football, the World Series and new seasons on TV. In the golf world, other yearly rites of passage are circled on the calendar — the cup competitions and the race for tour players to keep their cards. For the most fortunate golfers, there are the big paydays around the globe. However, the wonkiest of golf nuts also recognize the end of the golf season as the sport’s version of the “Hot Stove League.”

You may be saying, “What? Golf is an individual sport, and they’re already free agents!” True, but the close of the PGA Tour’s Fall Series and the conclusion of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai means its time for the “Sponsorship Shuffle,” as companies look to stock their rosters with golf’s rising stars.

This particular re-up period is interesting because Rory McIlroy’s Titleist deal expires at the year’s end. Given Titleist’s history of not overpaying staff players and relying on their dominance in the ball market, they are not likely to offer the kind of money worthy of golf’s current phenom. This makes the 23 year-old Northern Irishman the most coveted soon-to-be free agent since LeBron James. The rumor mill is churning about a certain Swoosh-logoed vulture circling overhead waiting to sweep him up. The latest numbers hint that Nike offered Rory $250 million over 10 years.

That’s A-Rod money! That’s Tiger money! Is he worth that?

According to Golf Digest, Tiger Woods made $62 million in “Off Course” income in 2011 and Rory McIlroy made $5.9 million. One could argue that those numbers should be reversed in the future, considering Rory rose to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings and Tiger failed to win a major championship for the fourth consecutive year. Yes, Tiger bounced back in 2012 with three wins, however, Rory topped him with four wins including a major championship and will end the year as the world’s top-ranked golfer.

Conventional wisdom would then lead one to think, “Rory’s the man now. He is Tiger Woods. Show him the money!” But in one arena Tiger is still the king. People like, no love, watching the dude in the red shirt play golf. They always have, especially when he dominated majors by record margins and willed himself to win the U.S. Open on a broken leg. Now, post scandal, we love Tiger, we hate Tiger, but we still watch Tiger. He’s proven to no longer be immortal in majors, but golf fans either want to watch his comeback or witness his fall.

Rory doesn’t elicit that kind of reaction from the public. They see and appreciate the athletic, graceful swing, the aw-shucks politeness and some fairly dominant golf. But Rory shows a reluctance, more so after Tiger’s troubles, to be the icon at the top. That’s a lot to carry. I firmly believe Rory McIlroy wants to be great; I’m not convinced he wants to be transcendent.

The numbers still show that Tiger is the marquee draw, however. According to Sports Media Watch, televised golf enjoyed its highest ratings in 2012. Tiger played a full schedule for the first time in three years, which led to the surge in viewership. Final round television ratings in Tiger’s three wins (without McIlroy in contention) jumped an average of 161 percent over the previous year. In contrast, when Rory won the PGA Championship, final round ratings were down 17 percent from the previous year (In McIlroy’s other wins, Woods was in contention).

Nike leveraged Tiger’s popularity and built their golf business from the ground up around him. Before Tiger, Nike Golf offered some less-than-stellar golf shirts and golf shoes, but few other products. When Tiger first switched from Titleist, Nike had no clubs or balls in the marketplace. The production of his irons were rumored to have been subcontracted, and his ball was also rumored to be a licensed model from another manufacturer. Now Nike Golf is a truly global golf brand with full product lines and $623 million in gross sales in 2011.

So does Rory deserve Tiger money from Nike? Absolutely not. He’s not only well behind Tiger but arguably behind both Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els in the “needle mover’”category.

So should Nike disregard the numbers and just do it — just hand out the big bucks to McIlroy? Name a Nike player besides Tiger that’s in the Top 10? Top 20? Top 30? Anyone? Buehler???

Francesco Molinari, Charl Schwartzel and Carl Pettersson are ranked Nos. 30, 31 and 32 respectively in the most recent World Golf Rankings. That trio plus Mr. Woods make up all Nike staff players in the Top 50. They are all fine players, but not exactly a star-studded lineup after Tiger. So Nike has a massive void created by the bad bets they placed on David Duval, Anthony Kim, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover and Paul Casey. Rory can more than fill that void. He’s 13 years younger, and will enter his prime as TW exits stage right for good.

But can rivals like Woods and McIlroy have the same sponsor? If it’s Nike, absolutely! Here’s a few examples of rivals that were under the swoosh at the same time: Agassi and Sampras, Federer and Nadal, Kobe and LeBron, LeBron and Kevin Durant, and even North Carolina and Duke.

The cliché goes, “Timing is everything,” and when you’re the best player in the world and Nike not only wants but needs you, it’s time to get paid. There is no other company that can make Rory their centerpiece and build him into a global brand.

Click here for more discussion in the forums.

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GolfWRX is the world's largest and best online golf community. Expert editorial reviews, breaking golf tour and industry news, what to play, how to play and where to play. GolfWRX surrounds consumers throughout the buying, learning and enrichment process from original photographic and video content, to peer to peer advice and camaraderie, to technical how-tos, and more. As the largest online golf community we continue to protect the purity of our members opinions and the platform to voice them. We want to protect the interests of golfers by providing an unbiased platform to feel proud to contribute to for years to come. You can follow GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX and on Facebook.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. kpg

    Nov 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    He going to be hated now like A-Rod because of this. Just hope he stays likable.

  2. Smockgolf.com

    Oct 30, 2012 at 1:10 am

    I dont think rory should take the money. TW made NIke. If i were rory I would stay with Oakley and try to make that into what TW made Nike into. More money in the long run and grow golf into more and more brands i think would be great for the game

    • Mark Slater

      Oct 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm

      The cost of entry is WAY to high for Oakley to penetrate into the golf club market. I do not see them ever in the production side of clubs. If the money is on the table, why not take it? Look at baseball, Albert Pujols came out on top with his deal with the Angels and now you have the NY Yankees willing to swallow $100 million to get rid of A-Rod. TAKE THE MONEY!

  3. Derek Leonard

    Oct 26, 2012 at 11:29 am

    When Nike originally poached TW from Titleist exactly the same arguments could have been made, because brand Tiger didn’t exist in the same way as it does now. Whoever signs McIlroy, or indeed anyone else for that matter, to a 10 year contract is making a judgement call based on the players current ability, and what they see as his potential to improve. They will also invest heavily in the McIlroy brand, and raise his profile, and shape peoples perception of him, as Nike did with TW. It is then up to McIlroy to deliver the goods on the golf course, and, if he does, in 10 years Nike will look to have been geniuses. Its a gamble, but a calculated one that has a good chance to pay off.

  4. Tom Mallon

    Oct 25, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    What a load of pro-American anti-Eurpoean gibberish.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Podcasts

Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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