Stiffed on stuff
- Jason Vondersmith
- Portland Tribune - Sports
When it comes to equipment deals, LPGA players aren't so lucky
NORTH PLAINS ÑÊEquipment companies pay some PGA Tour pros $3,000 to use one specific driver for one 18-hole round. Dozens of PGA Tour players have attracted 'full staff' endorsement deals, contracts easily worth five, six or seven figures.
At any PGA Tour event, the pros can call on any major equipment manufacturer to outfit them with clubs, apparel, hats, gloves, shoes, balls, you name it.
Then you have the LPGA Tour.
Ping, Callaway and TaylorMade give full staff contracts to 24 LPGA players Ñ less than the number of men pros TaylorMade alone employs on the PGA Tour.
'The manufacturers have more to gain by being on the PGA Tour,' says Fernando Amorteguy, an independent club maker offering his services at the Open.
Equipment companies do let many LPGA pros play their clubs for free, but the comparative lack of care and respect grates on some of the women.
'I finished in the top 10 on the money list last year, and Callaway drops me,' Rosie Jones says. 'In fact, I finished in the top 10 the past four years, and Callaway drops me.'
An extra $3,000 a week for using a certain brand of clubs would pay for caddy fees and travel expenses.
But Jones says manufacturers put all of their money into the men and do not pursue LPGA player business aggressively.
'You think about it,' she says, walking off.
LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw understands the frustration with club makers.
'In endorsement dollars, there's no comparison,' he says. 'They could sell more clubs if they embraced our players.'
Whereas a PGA event will have 10 to 12 manufacturers' equipment trucks available to make and remake clubs, only Callaway showed up with a truck at the U.S. Women's Open this week at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.
But all of the manufacturers try to one-up their competitors by recruiting converts to their clubs while keeping their current clients happy. Representatives work the driving range and display all of their equipment nearby in what is called 'the bullpen.'
Ping employs 13 golfers, including Wendy Ward, Angela Stanford and Maria Hjorth; Callaway has six players, including Annika Sorenstam, Rachel Teske and Kelli Kuehne; and TaylorMade has five, including Se Ri Pak, Natalie Gulbis and Catriona Matthew.
Titleist has scaled back in the LPGA, and Titleist rep Ann Cain wouldn't disclose the number of players using her equipment. But, she says, 'My ball count is 70 percent.'
The independent Darrell Survey documents which LPGA players use what equipment. But their representatives said the company does not release the results to the public, only to manufacturers.
Few players, if any, are using Nike clubs. Many players have Nike apparel and shoes; Denise Killeen and Grace Park are nearly fully outfitted in Nike gear.
Tiger Woods represents Nike on the PGA Tour, but Nike doesn't require him to use its clubs. Earlier this year, Phil Mickelson touched off a controversy when he said Woods wasn't using the best driver available. But in reality, Nike clubs are not perceived to be as competitive as some Ñ yet.
Nike's Amy Reynolds says, 'It's hard to put a timeline' on when LPGA players will use Nike clubs. 'It's all about finding a right fit,' she says.
Callaway, which features the Big Bertha driver line, clearly has had the best year, what with Sorenstam's appearance on the PGA Tour at the Colonial and her dominating play on the women's tour.
Sorenstam has been with Callaway since the mid-1990s. She uses Callaway everything, except wedges (Cleveland). 'We'll get her into some wedges,' Callaway rep Jeff Ophein says.
Ophein says Callaway's budget had room for only six LPGA players this year, hence the company dropped some, such as Jones. 'But we try to get as much equipment in use as possible,' he says.
Similarly, TaylorMade could only employ five LPGA golfers. The company had 25 at its peak. But representative Brian Rhattigan certainly wants golf fans to know what 13-year-old amateur wunderkind Michelle Wie hits off the tee. 'She's hit our driver all year,' he says.
Michelle's father, B.J. Wie, reports that 'she hits mostly the TaylorMade driver ÑÊshe doesn't like their irons Ñ some Callaway woods and Titleist irons.'
The representatives all chase potential clients.
'Drivers are very competitive,' says Amorteguy, the club maker. 'It's a battle out here every week. Right now, TaylorMade has the edge.'
In putters, Odyssey and Never Compromise are hot commodities.
Marty Parkes, USGA senior director of communications, says most golfers use what feels comfortable and put the premium on custom fitting Ñ club plus shaft plus player equals performance.
Many in golf believe that the evolution of the ball is the main reason why many pros are driving farther these days, anyway.
Testing, testing É
In the high-tech golf war, the PGA Tour sees all the major battles. In the LPGA, they throw stones.
This week, for instance, the PGA Tour announced that voluntary, on-site testing of clubs will start next year. The move comes after Woods urged testing of drivers on the first tee of every round and at a time when many PGA Tour players are hitting the ball 300 yards or more.
Testing infers cheating Ñ the USGA tests all clubs at some point but depends on golfers and companies to be honorable.
Could the LPGA be next for testing?
'We're not there, yet,' Votaw says. 'There are logistics and costs, and there's the question of the perceived need. The women aren't hitting it far enough to make golf courses obsolete like the men.'
Jones doesn't see the need to test on the LPGA Tour. The 22-year veteran says, 'I'm not concerned at all. If the USGA thought it was the right thing to do, go for it.'
Kuehne's brothers, amateur star Trip and PGA Tour pro Hank, rank among the world's longest hitters among top-level golfers. She says test away.
'It doesn't matter to me,' she says. 'It would stop any kind of cheating that is going on and prove that they're the same clubs used by the public.'
The USGA tests equipment at its Far Hills, N.J., headquarters. It just started testing in 1998, with the improvement in titanium, oversize and hollow club heads. An air cannon firing balls directly at the club face determines the 'springlike effect' and 'coefficient of restitution,' Ñhow fast the ball comes off the club face. It cannot exceed a measured figure of .83.
The PGA Tour is likely to use the portable pendulum test Ñ determining 'characteristic time' Ñ to test for springlike effect at tournament sites, starting Jan. 1, 2004.
'There are no plans for mandatory testing,' the USGA's Parkes says. 'In theory, it's a possibility for somebody to cheat. We just don't have any evidence that people are being dishonorable. But we constantly look at driving averages and how scoring changes.'
In the future
Votaw says Sorenstam has given fans a good look at the future of women's golf.
'With the condition of the players combined with the improvement in technology, you're going to see more players like Annika at the Colonial, where distance isn't an issue,' he says.
Wie, fellow amateur Paula Creamer and twins Aree and Naree Song are among those in line to make it a brave new world in women's golf.
And yet, most LPGA players are not likely to get the kind of endorsement opportunities the men do anytime soon.
Portlander Jerry Schneider is caddying for Young-A Yang this week.
'She gets money to play the ball, from Titleist, that's it,' he says. 'It's a shame these women can't get more endorsement dollars.'