More vexing questions for McIlroy as Nike Golf exits equipment market

More vexing questions for McIlroy as Nike Golf exits equipment market
Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

David Feherty once tweeted that "Rory McIlroy could break par with a set of hockey sticks and an orange." Now, in theory, he will be at liberty to try, albeit in a golf market that has suffered a major PR blow at the news that Nike Golf are now just going to sell shoes and clothing.

Just when it looked as though the world No 4 could start piecing his game back together for the FedExCup, the Ryder Cup and the 2017 season, Nike Golf’s shock announcement that it intends to refocus on footwear and apparel, and away from golf clubs, balls and bags, leaves the Co Down man facing some inconvenience, at the very least, and possibility a golden opportunity.

The big losers are the Nike Golf employees who have ended up jobless. But for McIlroy, whose five-year, $100m contract was set to expire at the end of 2017, it remains to be seen how the decision affects him and his beloved brand not to mention fellow "Nike athletes" such as Tiger Woods, Books Koepka or Michelle Wie.

On the face of it, it's not good news despite the online jokes about long suffering Nike players finally getting to dump those allegedly inferior clubs.

As far as equipment is concerned, all Nike staff player will be forced to move on and with Charl Schwartzel abandoning ship for PXG before The Open, it seems likely the new kids on the block will get a few of the Nike players. The names are big and also include Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Russell Henley, Paul Casey, Jonathan Vegas and European Tour players such as Ross Fisher and Thorbjorn Olesen

For McIlroy, the news comes after a majorless year that has been notable for his distinctly average putting, leading to much speculation about a move back to the Scotty Cameron putter.

Is it too facile to speculate that he will go back to the Titleist clubs he'd used for most of his amateur career and the first four and a half years of his life as a professional? Perhaps not.

According to, Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, said “he and Tiger were aware this announcement was coming, and that he will begin the process of finding a new club maker for his star client.

"Tiger and I have had multiple conversations about what we'd do, and we have an organised plan in place," Steinberg said. "The plan is continued rest and rehabilitation and we'll sort out the equipment thing in due course. I'll be in the process of doing that, effective immediately."
Steinberg declined to reveal which clubmaker he'd first approach, but added: "He's been a longtime icon of Nike Golf and that's not going to change one ounce. He'll remain a loyal and enthusiastic icon of Nike."
Nike said it will continue forward with its golf shoe and clothing operation.

"We're committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel," said Trevor Edwards, Nike brand president in a statement. "We will achieve this by investing in performance innovation for athletes and delivering sustainable profitable growth for Nike Golf."

Wednesday’s announcement came just a few days after the company's 2016 line of clubs were offered a sale prices online with the $400 Vapor Fly driver reduced to $150 and fairway woods to $100.

The company has always struggled to be taken seriously as a club manufacturer with Woods and McIlroy both struggling to adjust to the new equipment.

McIlroy had serious difficulties at the beginning and his putting has been erratic with the Nike putter. 

The demise of Nike will free McIlroy up to try new equipment and it remains to be seen how his contract will be adjusted, or whether he will renew with the company for apparel and footwear.

“Athletes like Tiger, Rory and Michelle drive tremendous energy for the game and inspire consumers worldwide," said Nike Golf president Daric Ashford in his statement.

"Over the past year the MM Fly Blade Polo, the Flyknit Chukka and Air Zoom 90 have all connected strongly with golfers. We'll continue to ignite excitement with our athletes and deliver the best of Nike for the game."

Adjusting new equipment and a new golf ball is not, on the surface, what McIlroy needs after a tough season by his high standards.

He’s also unlikely to secure another $100m payday with the loss of Nike to the industry likely to negatively affect everyone from players to agents. With one fewer player in the market, it will be harder to gain leverage at negotiation time for all.

Will there be collateral damage to the game's image? It's possible.

While other big brands are doing well, the loss of a major brand of clubs such as Nike may be interpreted as a negative message about the golf industry as a whole at the start of the post-Woods era.

Few Nike players made any comment on social media though it was notable that both Kevin Chappell and Jhonattan Vegas spared a thought for the people out of work.

Those wondering and fretting about McIlroy et al need not worry unduly. Not only are they still making a good living, as Feherty noted, most of them could played with a set of hockey sticks and an orange. 

Given how things have been going for Tiger and Rory recently, it can't hurt.