Enjoy this first installment of The Primary Cut–weekly insights from the world of golf player management and other golf-related industry and player news.
More Woes For Wie
If you’re scoring at home, this is now successive agents for Michelle Wie who have quit after less than a year on the job.
In a 2007 season that saw the now 18-year old Wie break par only twice, make only three cuts, and continue to be dogged by criticism and second-guessing about her decision-making and those of the vast team around her, at least one man had enough. Greg Nared, a former Nike business manager whom the William Morris Agency hired a year ago to manage Wie, resigned as Wie’s manager and as vice president of William Morris Golf. His announcement came one day after Wie finished 19th in a 20-player field at the Samsung World Championship. Let the rumors begin that Nared, like Wie’s original agent Ross Berlin, was in fact fed up with Wie’s father, B.J., whose relationship with his daughter seems eerily similar to that of Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena.
It was as recently as February 2006, when Wie was ranked third in the world in the initial Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings behind Annika Sörenstam and Paula Creamer, that her future looked nothing but bright. Wie had just turned professional by inking over $20 million in endorsements the previous October—including a reported $5million/year in equipment and apparel with Nike—and signed with the William Morris Agency. According to John Hawkins of Golf World at the time:
“Wie’s alignment with William Morris formalizes a relationship that began seven or eight years ago, according to an insider, although the agency has no prior experience in representing pro golfers and has struggled in previous partnerships with athletes. By signing with a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based image machine known for its roots in the entertainment industry — Clint Eastwood, John Travolta and Heidi Klum are among William Morris’ more notable clients — Wie continues to defy any conventional mold.”
Since turning professional right before her sweet sixteen, however, there has been little to cheer about. In 2005 Berlin, who had only been representing Wie for William Morris for less than a year, left the company to return to the PGA Tour. Ironically, but perhaps not coincidentally, Berlin was immediately replaced by Nared, who had in fact spearheaded Nike’s aggressive recruitment of Wie during the past years.
Flash ahead to 2007. Wie is ranked 55th in the world and plummeting fast, engulfed by a fury of controversy and criticism. One, she goes through caddies like chewing gum (Wie has employed at least nine caddies since her father stopped caddying for her in 2004). Two, she arguably improperly horded sponsors exemptions (particularly in men’s events) by taking away opportunities from more talented golfers. Third, she may have—on at least one occasion—fabricated injury to avoid playing (or in one case, to avoid being barred by the LPGA from further play under the aptly titled “Rule 88”).
Wie recently turned 18 on October 11th and finally became eligible to officially join the LPGA Tour. Hopefully this is where she’ll finally focus her attentions. Despite resounding advice from professionals and pundits alike around the world throughout her junior years to focus on learning to how to win on the amateur circuit, Wie—whose actions and statements some allege are basically controlled and contrived by her father— stubbornly stuck to a plan to play primarily with the game’s elite professionals—be it men or women—whenever and wherever. However, in doing so her play has floundered, and her confidence and swing are at least temporarily shot. As I blogged last week, what tends to separate professional golfers is their mental state more than their physical abilities with the golf club (rather, one leads the other). Tiger grew up winning tournaments on all levels, and in that sense programed his psyche to understand nothing but utter domination of his opponents. Wie, on the other hand, decided to jump into the deep end right out of the gate, with no sense of direction. She’s sinking fast, but hopefully her father and new manager at William Morris will help right the ship.
Speaking of Tiger, Gatorade announced this week that “Gatorade Tiger” will make its debut in March. Remember that we previously posted that Woods had inked a five-year deal with the Pepsi-owned brand (after spurning a less generous offer from Vitamin Water) that would reportedly pay him as much as $100 million, moving him closer to the $1 billion mark in career endorsements (arguably a more Herculean feat than Nicklaus’ majors record?). According to the AP report, Woods has chosen the flavors himself, and the drink will be available in a cherry blend, a citrus blend and grape.
Woods’ IMG agent, Mark Steinberg, stressed the importance of the deal for Tiger from a licensing perspective. Though Tiger’s “likeness” has been utilized in the past, most notably by Electronic Arts for their popular EA Sports video game, Steinberg remarked that this was Tiger’s first true licensing deal. “There have been some licensing elements to things we’ve done [in the past],” said Steinberg. “But everything he does with Gatorade is going to be creating new products. It’s something Tiger and I and our licensing business has been looking at for some time.” In fact, it seems the crux of the deal, from Steinberg’s standpoint, was the ability for Tiger to innovatively break new ground. “We wanted to get away from a straight endorsement deal in the beverage category,” Steinberg said. “We thought this would be the best fit for his first licensing deal. It’s authentic to what Tiger does every day, as hard as he works out every day.”
IMG ‘down under’
While IMG certainly boasts an impressive client list of international professional golfers—British Open Champion Padraig Harrington, former power-lifter K.J. Choi, Michelob-sponsored Sergio Garcia, and personal friend of CEO Ted Forstmann, Vijay Singh, among others—one continent they have been relatively quiet on has been Australia. Aside from Robert Allenby, for example, IMG represented only one of the four Aussies that comprised the field in the Fed-Ex Cup ending Tour Championship. And it was somewhat telling when former number one-ranked amateur Michael Sim chose Tony Roosenberg’s SFX Golf Australia (where he is managed by Ian Davis), based out of Sydney, over David Rhodes’ IMG division counterpart, in the summer of 2006. Had IMG ceded to SFX some territorial control in golf?
Maybe not. IMG announced today that it has signed 22-year old Rick Kulacz from Perth. Kulacz was the 2001 World Junior Champion and Australian Junior Champion, and has been a member of the Golf Australia National Squad since 2002. But he opened the eyes of prospective agents most recently this summer when he was a quarter-finalist at the British Amateur Championship and when he won the increasingly prestigious Scratch Players Amateur here in the U.S. Kulacz finished his amateur career ranked 20th in the latest World Amateur Golf Ranking (put out by the R&A, the leading golfing body outside of the USGA), but second in his country to Rohan Blizard.
One reason why Australia (as well as South Africa) is such a hotbed for young talent is because the most promising young juniors there are generally steered early on into sport-specific programs, such as those offered by the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS), that “develop sport specific competencies and life skills via a combination of coaching, sport science, sports medicine and vocational support, providing athletes with the tools to compete at the national and international level.” Allenby, as well as well-known professionals such as Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley, and 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, are all graduates of the VIS Golf Program. And it’s with this type of program in mind that IMG has patterned its globe-stretching David Leadbetter Golf Academies.
–Jason G. Wulterkens