If you're a Tour pro, the meter is always running. You just have to be smart enough to know when to turn it off. That's why so-called tee-up programs, the weekly bonus pools of money available to pros for playing a certain brand of equipment, can be two-edged swords. On the one hand everyone wins. The pools allow the pros to pocket found money, while the manufacturers can claim the pros play with their equipment. On the other hand they tempt the pros to compromise their games, making some of the claims based on the weekly tally by the Darrell Survey of what clubs the pros are playing highly questionable.
As the accompanying chart illustrates, the average PGA Tour player can make an extra $2,000 a week simply by using a particular driver, putter, fairway wood, wedge, and ball and glove. Even elite players with endorsement contracts are seldom required to play more than 11 of their company's clubs, leaving at least three chances to pick up pool money.
Some manufacturers pay extra if players use their products for a set number of weeks, while others will double the payment for a year's worth of uninterrupted use. There are also incentives for high finishes, which is how most of the bonus money in the ball and glove category is divvied up. In addition to cash, players are sometimes paid in stock. The most novel incentive currently available is offered by Porsche Design Golf, which awards a $50,000 Boxster to any player who wins using a Porsche driver. (No one has to date.)
The count on the Darrell Survey, which companies use to support advertising claims about the popularity of their clubs with pros, can be misleading. In many cases all a manufacturer has to do to increase its market share among Tour players is make its bonus payments larger than the competition's. New companies use tee-up programs to heighten awareness. For example Soft-spikes had programs on the LPGA, PGA and Senior tours, beginning in 1996, with their biggest offer being $20,000 to any winner of a Senior event who wore its nonmetal spikes. The programs were discontinued this year because those spikes became commonplace.
Players must guard against mistaking the tee-up money for the big prize. "The programs had more impact a few years ago, before the purses jumped," says the Tour representative for one club manufacturer. "Players are really after the best product so they can play their best." Says Larry Ziegler, a Senior tour player who dropped out of a wedge maker's bonus pool because he wasn't comfortable with the club, "Why should I mess up a chance to win $300,000 just to make $500?"
That's the feeling among players who are financially secure. More apt to compromise are pros who are not as competitive or are short on cash. Even on the big Tour an extra grand or two a week is nothing to sneeze at. "It took some pressure off, definitely," says second-year pro Rich Beem of the $1,250 a week he made in pool money as a rookie—$500 for playing a Callaway driver and $750 for using a Titleist putter. "Those were the clubs I came on the Tour playing, but if they hadn't been, I could've been tempted."
The easy money can be hard to resist. According to a Darrell Survey staffer, one PGA Tour player carried two putters in his bag for several weeks last year—one to play with and the other so he could pick up $15,000 in bonus money.