TH3 RULE$ ARE CHANG ÷ING

From the GOLF DI­GEST 5O to tele­vi­sion deals and be­yond, m%ney is flow­ing in new ways.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - The Golf Life - by ron si­rak

SHORTLY AF­TER THE TURN OF THE CEN­TURY, when the golf econ­omy was run­ning hot, Nike chair­man and co-founder Phil Knight was asked at the an­nual stock­hold­ers’ meet­ing if the com­pany could have found a bet­ter way to spend $100 mil­lion than by ex­tend­ing Tiger Woods’ con­tract for five years at $20 mil­lion a year. “No, it couldn’t,” Knight replied em­phat­i­cally and, in terms of words, eco­nom­i­cally. ▶ When Knight said that in Septem­ber 2000 at the Me­mo­rial Coli­seum in Portland, Ore­gon, it had a ring of truth.Woods had just won three con­sec­u­tive ma­jor championships – the US Open by 15 strokes, the Open Championship by eight and the PGA Championship in a thrilling play­off. Seven months later, he would com­plete the Tiger Slam at the 2001 Mas­ters, be­com­ing the first to hold all four men’s ma­jor championships si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

For rel­a­tively new Nike Golf, and for golf in gen­eral, the ceil­ing for growth seemed to be quite high. The Woods deal un­leashed a flurry of high-priced con­tracts as golfers fol­lowed their form of free agency – not chang­ing teams like base­ball, foot­ball and basketball play­ers, but by chang­ing equip­ment com­pa­nies.

Ernie Els, Phil Mick­el­son, David Du­val and Davis Love were among those who cashed in big-time, ei­ther by chang­ing com­pa­nies or by us­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of leav­ing to en­hance deals. And equip­ment com­pa­nies, lack­ing the deep pock­ets of Nike lined with sneaker cash, be­gan cut­ting deals with play­ers to keep them, al­low­ing them to sell their most valu­able logo space – the hat – to other com­pa­nies.And thus fi­nan­cial ser­vices, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and other con­cerns got into the en­dorse­ment game.

Six­teen years af­ter Woods’ ground­break­ing deal, the num­ber of equip­ment com­pa­nies has shrunk. Nike has stopped mak­ing clubs and balls.Tay­lor­Made is for sale, and most say the new own­ers will be more cost-con­scious. All that leaves some won­der­ing if the hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars spent an­nu­ally on player en­dorse­ments might be con­tribut­ing to the con­sol­i­da­tion of the equip­ment in­dus­try, which still show­ers play­ers in money to play their clubs and balls.

That largesse can be seen in the 14th an­nual Golf Di­gest 50 all-en­com­pass­ing money list.Though the names have changed – slightly – the stars are still pulling in eight fig­ures a year off the course to sup­ple­ment tour prize money, which con­tin­ues to grow.

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