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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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Podcasts

Gear Dive: USC head golf coach Chris Zambri on the challenges that will come with the new NCAA rules

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In this Special Edition of The Gear Dive, USC Men’s Head Golf Coach Chris Zambri discusses his thoughts on the new NCAA mandates, how to get recruited, and the pros and cons of recruiting can’t-miss superstars.

  • 9:55 — Zambri discusses thoughts on new rule
  • 17:35 — The rule he feels is the toughest navigate
  • 26:05 — Zambri discusses the disadvantages of recruiting a “can’t miss” PGA star
  • 32:50 — Advice to future recruits
  • 44:45 — The disadvantages of being tied to an OEM as a college golf team

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

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Opinion & Analysis

A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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