Corporate Sponsors Endorsements Golf Sports Agents

Els To Callaway Raises Eyebrows?

“The Big Easy” is the newest client of Callaway Golf Company.

Loyal reader of and avid golf fan, Jason Wulterkens, has decided to hand over his first contribution to this site (besides his insightful comments). His post is a great read:

South African professional golfer Ernie Els, nicknamed “The Big Easy” and also a three-time major champion, sent ripples through the golf industry and community alike after his agent Andrew “Chubby” Chandler of International Sports Management, along with executives of the Carlsbad, CA based Callaway Golf Company, orchestrated the buyout of Els’ equipment contract with the Acushnet Company, maker of both the Titleist brand and Footjoy shoes.

According to various reports, “Els’ five-year contract with Titleist was up for renewal at the end of 2007, but negotiations between the world’s No.6 [ranked player] and the Acushnet company evidently fell through, leaving Callaway the option of buying out the remaining year of his current contract with Titleist—which it did.” [Els leaves Titleist, signs with Callaway].

The driving catalyst behind the deal may have been Chandler’s preexisting relationship with Scottsdale, AZ based Gaylord Sports Management, as well as Gaylord’s relationship with Callaway, which dates back most notably to the infamous 2004 Phil Mickelson (world no.3)-Titleist debacle, and also to deals between Callaway and Gaylord-represented professionals such as Rich Beem and Rocco Mediate. Callaway officials have already stated that Els, the 37-year old South African, will begin the deal by using a Callaway ball (HX-Tour ball) and bag and wearing its logo on the sides and back of his cap. He will also work with the company to determine which clubs best suit his game.

Chandler is presumably very tight with Gaylord CEO Steve Loy, who is Mickelson’s lead agent, given their respective company’s ties. ISM, in fact, is directly linked to on Gaylord’s website, and is described as an “affiliate” of Gaylord. One can therefore reasonably surmise that the Els-to-Callaway switch may have indeed been a long time in coming, given the pre-existing relationships that existed between Chandler, ISM, Loy, Gaylord and Callaway.

Some pundits have also speculated that another reason for Callaway’s move might have been to add a prominent European or international player to its client roster, presumably to counter Srixon Golf’s late 2006 signing of recent Accenture Match Play Champion Henrik Stenson (world #5) of Sweden. Others have opined that the move exemplifies a long-time philosophy at Acushnet that Tour professionals like Els and Phil Mickelson, whose bitter split with Titleist in 2004 shocked many in the golf world, are simply not worth the money. Mickelson’s move to Callaway, for instance, was rumored to be in the neighborhood of $4 million per year, including incentives, over five years.

If the latter is true, it may be argued that Titelist has dropped the ball (literally and figuratively?) on this one. Though no golfer aside from Tiger Woods commands, or arguably is worth, the 5-year, $100 dollar type-deal that Woods inked with Nike in 2001 (as well as the seemingly even more lucrative deal he just completed with Nike in 2006, whose terms were undisclosed), players such as Mickelson and Els remain popular worldwide and are surely in that ‘next-tier of golfer besides Woods’ who may reasonably command multi-million dollar deals.

Acushnet’s executives may have convinced themselves that the return-on-investment on players-not-named Tiger is just simply not there, or that they’d rather concentrate on strictly making golf balls. But in the meantime, Titleist, the once undisputed king of golf equipment, and the leader still in terms of golf balls, is feeling the heat from all around it.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.