Staying The Course: Haas opted to re-up with Titleist rather than change his equipment affiliation.
Equipment company contracts are a time-honored tradition in professional golf. Yet unlike Gene Sarazen, who signed with Wilson Golf in 1923 and stayed with the company until his death in 1999 (his tenure marking the longest endorsement contract in professional sports), today's players tend to switch hats and bats more frequently.
Unlike recent years, however, when several big-name players chased the money and changed companies, late 2011 saw less movement and several marquee players opted to re-up with their current companies instead of changing teams. Among the bigger names staying put were Bill Haas and Webb Simpson (with Titleist); Hunter Mahan, Miguel Angel Jiménez and Mark Wilson (Ping); Brandt Snedeker (Bridgestone, after speculation he was close to a deal with TaylorMade); and Jhonattan Vegas (who was said to be going to Callaway but re-signed with Nike). Some top LPGA players also likely will stand pat as it is expected Yani Tseng and Brittany Lincicome will remain with Adams Golf.
The reasons for maintaining the status quo are multiple (and, often, individual). Jiménez has been with Ping for 25 years and enjoys a comfort level with his equipment and the people he works with. Ditto Haas, who has been with Titleist since turning professional in 2004. The marketplace too has helped curb movement. The combination of companies spending less freely on players combined with the large purses available on the course has kept both companies and players from taking chances.
Of course, there have been some examples of players who have changed and done OK. Phil Mickelson ditched Titleist after his first Masters win and has chalked up three more majors since signing with Callaway. But there's also Ernie Els, who hasn't won a major since leaving TaylorMade at the end of 2002.
Mind you, not everybody stuck with what they were using. TaylorMade signed Johnson Wagner and Steve Marino while Adams Golf grabbed Kenny Perry and Robert Karlsson. Although not official yet, the worst-kept secret in golf is that Rickie Fowler will sign with Cobra (but continue to use a Titleist ball and glove). Callaway also got in the game, signing Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey and Jim Furyk, the latter contracted only to play its driver and golf ball. There are still some free agents on the market: Justin Leonard and John Cook, for example, are no longer with Nike and have yet to sign with another company.
If history holds, they won't be logo-less for long.
Price: $400 (Lofts: 9.5, 10.5 degrees)
The hottest driver on tour and in the marketplace in 2011 has received several upgrades including a thinner crown (allowing for a 460cc head) and a new five-way adjustable sole plate. Combined with the eight settings on the adjustable hosel and the myriad of possibilities using the two movable weight ports, the R11S has 80 possible setup options (32 more than last year's R11) that cover a range of 3 degrees of loft, 6 degrees of face angle and can move the center of gravity up to 4 millimeters. As with last year's model, the white head is designed to reduce glare.
Price: $800 (Set of eight, steel)
Mark Wilson put these irons, made from stainless steel with a tungsten weight in the toe for forgiveness, in play at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Designed for better players, the clubheads get progressively smaller from long irons to short irons for control.
Nine of the 27 players at the T of C used a different driver than they did in their last tour start. Among those changing big sticks were David Toms and Keegan Bradley (each using a 10.5-degree Cleveland Classic 290 -- a driver with a retro look) while D.A. Points, Rory Sabbatini and Johnson Wagner used TaylorMade's new R11S. Aaron Baddeley, meanwhile, switched to Adams Golf's new Speedline Fast 12 model. ... Sabbatini's and Points' change to the R11S included a fair amount of fitting, using the club's adjustability features. Sabbo started with a 9-degree head and moved the five-way adjustable sole plate to the open+ position, then moved weight from the heel to the toe to reduce dispersion. The hosel remained in the neutral setting. Points also used a 9-degree head with the hosel set between "standard" and "higher." The sole plate was set at neutral with seven grams of weight in both the toe and heel. Sabbatini finished T-9 in Hawaii, Points T-12.