Spon­sor-less Mas­ters champ Reed could be los­ing mil­lions

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - GOLF - Scott Glee­son

Mas­ters cham­pion Pa­trick Reed says he doesn’t be­lieve in one com­pany spon­sor­ing a golfer en­tirely. At least that’s his stance now.

But the de­ci­sion to play with a mixed bag of clubs and not com­mit to one big­name brand could be cost­ing him mil­lions, ex­perts say.

The 27-year-old win­ner of six PGA Tour ti­tles parted ways with Call­away Golf last year and told CNBC last week, “It’s hard to be­lieve that there is one com­pany that makes 14 per­fect golf clubs.”

Golf Chan­nel equip­ment ex­pert Matt Adams sees Reed in a unique sit­u­a­tion fi­nan­cially. He es­ti­mates win­ning a Mas­ters could pay out be­tween $12 mil­lion-$15 mil­lion from cor­po­rate ap­pear­ances, speak­ing fees and en­dorse­ment dol­lars. That num­ber could be even higher for Reed con­sid­er­ing he’s a free agent with his clubs.

“I don’t think (Reed) is look­ing for or stressed about find­ing a deal. There’s no rush,” said Adams, who has worked in the golf in­dus­try for more than 25 years. “How­ever, when you’re the Mas­ters cham­pion, re­ferred to as Cap­tain Amer­ica, and it’s a Ry­der Cup year, I get the feel­ing that equip­ment com­pa­nies will be knock­ing on the door and would love to sign some­body of (Reed’s) cal­iber.”

There’s been an over­all de­cline in equip­ment deals be­cause of how the mar­ket has changed, Adams notes. But he says the de­cline has gen­er­ally hurt PGA Tour play­ers less ac­com­plished than Reed, who is ranked No. 11 in the world. “Five to 10 years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to see any Tour player who didn’t have an equip­ment deal,” Adams said, “but there’s not as much money as there used to be.”

Af­ter the Mas­ters, Reed seemed un­fazed that he’d miss out on a bonus that golfers typ­i­cally re­ceive from their equip­ment spon­sor af­ter win­ning a ma­jor. “The big­gest thing was, I wanted to be dif­fer­ent,” he told CNBC.

Just how dif­fer­ent is it? Reed’s de­ci­sion to sign with Nike for a cloth­ing deal that’s sep­a­rate from his equip­ment falls in line with Tiger Woods’ de­ci­sion to be spon­sored by Nike for ap­parel but Tay­lorMade for clubs and Bridge­stone Golf for balls. Nike stopped mak­ing golf equip­ment in 2016, cre­at­ing a ma­jor wave of free agency for some of the top equip­ment brands. While un­der con­tract with Call­away, Reed was seen us­ing other brands’ clubs and blamed lack­lus­ter re­sults on his equip­ment.

“That’s the trade-off, when those two things are at con­flict,” said South­ern Cal­i­for­nia as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor David Carter, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the school’s sports busi­ness in­sti­tute. “An ath­lete in this sit­u­a­tion has to weigh what’s best for his on-course per­for­mance and long-term, off-course fi­nan­cial well-be­ing.”

Brooks Koepka also bucked the trend when he won the 2017 U.S. Open by us­ing a bag full of irons he wasn’t paid to play with. Koepka, who had used Nike equip­ment and now has an ap­parel deal with the com­pany like Reed, was courted by Mizuno Golf. Al­though he wasn’t un­der con­tract, Koepka used Mizuno irons cre­ated specif­i­cally for him.

In an­other sign of how much the mar­ket has changed, Ser­gio Gar­cia split with long­time spon­sor Tay­lorMade af­ter 2017, the year he won his green jacket, and signed on with Call­away.

Adams says big-name play­ers such as Tiger or Rory McIl­roy can make more than $20 mil­lion a year from their ap­parel and equip­ment deals com­bined, and those deals are typ­i­cally writ­ten long term for five to seven years. But the num­bers greatly vary below the top-tier names, with mid-range golfers av­er­ag­ing closer to the $1 mil­lion-$5 mil­lion range for shorter terms.

Phil Mick­el­son earned $50 mil­lion in 2016 off the course from ap­pear­ance fees, course de­sign and a list of spon­sors that in­cluded Call­away and Rolex, ac­cord­ing to Forbes. The only ac­tive ath­letes to earn more out­side their nor­mal salaries was Roger Fed­erer ($60 mil­lion) and LeBron James ($54 mil­lion). And Jor­dan Spi­eth more than dou­bled his spon­sor­ship earn­ings af­ter he won two ma­jors in 2015

“The po­si­tion that Reed is in now is a good one be­cause of his no­to­ri­ety,” Carter said. “Whether it’s good, bad or in­dif­fer­ent, he has an emerg­ing brand that gives him a tremen­dous amount of lever­age with these com­pa­nies.”

Reed’s case presents an in­ter­est­ing dilemma: Com­fort with his clubs or dol­lar signs. It’s worth not­ing that he earned $1.98 mil­lion for his Mas­ters vic­tory and has just over $22 mil­lion in PGA Tour earn­ings over­all.

At Au­gusta Na­tional, Reed used a Ping driver, Titleist and Call­away irons, Ar­ti­san Golf wedges, a 7-year-old Nike 3-wood club and an Odyssey put­ter. And he used a Titleist Pro V1 ball.

“He would be pass­ing up quite a bit of money,” Carter said of Reed’s lack of equip­ment spon­sor. “But if he’s be­ing true to him­self and his per­sonal brand, he could mon­e­tize it else­where. He could do a deal when he’s com­fort­able. But it al­most seems in­evitable for him to sign (an equip­ment con­tract). You can only go rogue for so long with­out it hav­ing a (fi­nan­cial) ef­fect.”

Con­tribut­ing: David Dusek of Golfweek

MICHAEL MADRID/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Pa­trick Reed’s de­ci­sion to play with a mixed bag of clubs and not com­mit to one big-name brand could be cost­ing him mil­lions, ex­perts say.

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