The Primary Cut

The Primary Cut

Second installment of The Primary Cut–weekly insights from the world of golf player management and other golf-related industry and player news.

The Shark

The Shark Bites Back

According to Golfweek’s John Steinbreder, Greg Norman will be appointed the new chairman of MacGregor Golf, the culmination of “a leadership change that began in July when Norman and other board members relieved MacGregor CEO and majority shareholder Barry Schneider of his operational duties and began a strategic review of the Albany, Ga.-based clubmaking enterprise.” During that time, “The Shark” and two other investors have helped lead a recapitalization effort of MacGregor “designed to strengthen the company’s balance sheet and give MacGregor greater financial flexibility and provide resources for continued growth.” Norman actually joined the board of MacGregor last fall after acquiring a minority stake in the company. The McGregor entity includes MacGregor clubs and outerwear, as well as the Greg Norman Collection apparel business. Norman’s first order of business as chairman? Finding a new CEO.

Read between the lines and you’ll notice that Norman has grand plans for MacGregor. He also seems fluent in business lingo and speaks in terms of motivation and accountability—kind of a cross between Gordon Gekko and Knute Rockne:

“We have to get back to the basics of what the company is all about,” he told Golfweek. “Also, we need to make things far more integrated from an operational standpoint. I believe we have to empower middle management more and have them be the ones who make and implement the decisions as we make them more accountable. I also want to make sure our employees understand the direction of the company and the places we want to take it. I am a huge proponent of that, and the idea that you have to lead from the top down, that you have to lead by example and make the people who work with you understand where you want to take the business. Do that, and they work with much more enthusiasm.”

Norman was explicit in stating that he envisions MacGregor providing “products that can be described as ‘modern classics’ and likely would compete against brands such as Mizuno.” In other words, “players clubs” that may help the company garner more usage on Tour. Now whether or not the company will be able to produce a worthwhile product that will cause even the ficklest of players to contemplate a brand change is another matter. Regardless, one thing is for certain: following a bitter and costly divorce in 2006 that took a healthy bite out of Norman’s previously estimated $500 million net worth, it seems that Norman, always the business connoisseur and a man who seemed to get more enjoyment and personal satisfaction out of his plethora of business pursuits, than he did actually playing professional golf, is back in the game.

Polo, anyone?

Looking to dress your client in fashionable yet practical golfing apparel? Ralph Lauren hopes that you consider its new RLX Golf line, which according to Golfweek “reflects the company’s push to reach hip, athletic-minded players who have been fueling the performance apparel craze–and making the techno-wares of Adidas Golf and Nike Golf such hot commodities.” The primary spokesman for RLX Golf is Luke Donald, the rather cosmopolitan Englishman whose classic style meshes well with other Polo golfing clients like Davis Love III, senior player Tom Watson, Jonathan Byrd and Morgan Pressel. Donald has been Polo sponsored since 2002.

Jamie Lovemark likes Polo

Industry experts claim that the move is an “effort to bolster Polo Golf, which has lost business to upstart competitors such as Fairway & Greene and Peter Millar.” However, some question the move of dropping the “Polo” brand name altogether from the new RLX line. Other prominent golf fitters such as Izod and Ashworth, for example, “have found that consumers don’t always catch up with a company that creates alternate brands with different names.”

Generally, unless making a fashion statement per se is the primary want (see Camilo Villegas, Hank Kuehne, Aaron Baddeley, Jesper Parnevik and company in J. Lindeberg’s collections, which look like they ought to be on display at the Tate Modern rather than Augusta National), the fit of the garment and the nature of the fabric are the two most essential elements of desirable golf wear. Therefore, some retail analysts argue, “it is a gamble to think Ralph Lauren, best known as a fashion brand, has the cache to persuade cutting-edge consumers that it can create better technical fabrics than Nike and Adidas, which have long histories in performance wear. Furthermore…’better fitted’ apparel may not appeal to older golfers with expanding girths who may prefer loose, oversized cotton shirts.”

But that much is irrelevant to the modern professional. As more and more college players look up to fitness freaks like Tiger Woods, the desire to be dressed in comfortable yet muscle revealing slim-wear is only increasing. Plus, more attention than ever is being placed on golf fashion (Golf Digest’s Marty Hackel gets at least one page per month in which to praise or bash), and future players are less likely to simply defer to their equipment manufacturer’s line of wear unless it truly fits their wishes and needs. The RLX brand was designed with this new, uber-fit and fashionable trend in mind. And there’s no reason to think that young players won’t flock to this line. USC’s Jamie Lovemark, for example, the nation’s number-ranked amateur (per the latest Scratch players’ ratings), is typically decked out in Polo’s vintage line when not in official team wear (see picture, inset) and, if Lovemark’s eventual agent plays his cards right, could be a leading spokesman for the company for decades to come, given his classic style and laid-back California demeanor.

Challenging Lovemark and the aforementioned Trojans all year long will be cross-town rivals UCLA, whose men’s team is about as deep talent wise as they come. The Bruins are also part of a growing trend in college golf that is utilizing the internet to showcase its talent., for example, was created and is maintained by the team’s Director of Operations, Daniel Hour. What I enjoy most about the site, aside from the up-to-date schedule and statistics relating to the team (they finally kicked off their 2007-2008 campaign with a win, surprise surprise, at the Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge at the brand new and decadent Chambers Bay GC in Washington), is how much in-depth information pertaining to players’ equipment preferences is available.

In golf representation, one of the most important negotiations a player manager enters into on behalf of his client is the equipment deal. But generally, college players tend to stick with the same club makers with whom they found success as junior and collegiate players. To this extent, an agent scouting the Bruins’ latest star recruit, Phillip Francis, would find that Francis currently plays Callaway X-Tour forged irons. Even more telling, however, is that Francis states that his favorite golfer is Charles Howell III, who is Callaway-sponsored. Hmm, do you think maybe Callaway has the inside edge already on landing Francis as a client down the road?

Additionally, individual college players are getting in on the action. As Peter Webb of Gaylord Sports Management noted in his recent interview with the blog that “recruiting by means of the internet is going to grow tremendously.” To that extent, college players are making themselves more and more accessible with their personal websites, not to mention whatever Myspace and Facebook pages their teams may allow them to maintain. Two sites that come to mind are those of USC teammates Rory Hie and Lovemark. Now you can follow their day to day travails. Lovemark especially has hordes of potential agents waiting in the wings, who watch his tournaments and silently cursed when pal Phil Mickelson advised him not to rush into turning professional (Lovemark and Mickelson are from the same area in California and Jamie, like Phil, has already won a professional event while still an amateur in the Pac-10). Sites like these will only make it easier for his eventual suitors to keep tabs on him.

– Jason G. Wulterkens