At last year's PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Davis Love III appeared as a staff player for Tommy Armour 845 investment cast irons and G. Loomis graphite shafts. At the PGA Championship in August and the World Cup of Golf in November, Love played Mizuno forged irons with shafts made of steel, not graphite. Yet the names on his bag were still Armour and Loomis.
Deception is often reality in tournament golf. What you see on the bag isn't always what's in the bag.
"I think that a guy should play what he endorses," says Tour player Mark McCumber. So does the Federal Trade Commission, which clearly stipulates that endorsements "may not contain any representations which could be deceptive."
Does Michael Jordan wear Reeboks, Arnold Palmer rent from Avis, or Jim Palmer don BVD briefs? In golf a degree of misrepresentation goes on all the time. Touring pros give the pitch, and then they run—often to the bank.
A commercial that aired during the Mercedes Championships early this month and during last week's Northern Telecom Open features Fred Couples hitting the new Lynx "Black Cat" irons, which will debut at this week's Merchandise Show. In the ad a tank follows Couples around the course, firing shells that destroy greens. "The tank leaves a slightly larger ball mark," says a man in the voice-over. In Couples's bag at the Mercedes Championships and when he won the Dubai Desert Classic last week were the Lynx Parallax irons he has been using since 1992.
Also broadcast during the Mercedes Championships was a Founders Club advertisement that features Lanny Wadkins hitting oversized Judge irons. "The new Judge iron's got a sweet spot the size of Texas," Wadkins says. "The weight's down low...to hit the ball high...and bring it down soft." Wadkins used Founders Club forged blades in the Northern Telecom Open.
Some players have contracts that allow this kind of deception, committing them to carry billboard-style bags but not clubs of the same brand. Under such a deal, a few years ago Paul Azinger carried a Hurricane Golf bag but played MacGregor irons. Also, though newly signed players are expected to start carrying the company bag immediately, they are often given a grace period of several months in which to experiment with the sponsor's equipment. That's why Nick Faldo carried Mizuno irons in his Wilson bag at the 1990 U.S. Open and Steve Elkington played the 1993 season with Titleist forged irons in his Cubic Balance bag.
To protect themselves, most companies now demand a minimum of eight sponsored clubs in a player's bag. Companies that pay their touring pros six—and in some cases seven—figures per year want credibility, not just exposure. "In the past, we didn't make players who endorsed our products play them," Chuck Swisshelm, then the general manager of Bullet Golf, told Golf Pro magazine in 1993. "However, we've modified our policy."
But what is a company to do when a player can't adjust to playing its clubs? Tommy Armour Golf addressed its problem with Love by making forged blades for him. And even if Black Cats are cutting edge, Lynx can hardly expect Couples to stop using the irons he has had so much success with since 1992. Those Black Cats could bring bad luck.
Changing clubs can mean disaster. Look what happened to Lee Janzen. Last year he signed a $550,000 contract to play perimeter-weighted H40 irons made by the Ben Hogan Company. Ads featuring Janzen playing the H40s aired through June 20, despite the fact that Janzen had already switched to Hogan Apex blades because he couldn't play the H40s. The 1993 U.S. Open champion has since left Hogan and signed a less lucrative contract to play Nicklaus N1 forged irons.