Masters champion Patrick Reed says he doesn’t believe in one company sponsoring a golfer entirely. At least that’s his stance right now.
But the decision to play with a mixed bag of clubs — and not commit to one big-name 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 this 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 an (equipment) deal. There’s no rush,” said Adams, who’s 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, particularly when they can offer him a lot of money in a category where he’s not making anything in.”
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’s ranked No. 11 in the world.
“For someone as high a caliber as him to win the Masters without an equipment deal is extremely rare,” Adams said. “Five to 10 years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to see any Tour player who didn’t have an equipment deal, 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 championship. “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.
— Patrick Reed (@PReedGolf) April 10, 2018
Nike stopped making golf equipment in 2016, creating a major wave of free agency for some of the top equipment brands. Since leaving Callaway last year, Reed hasn’t signed with another equipment company.
While under contract with Callaway, he 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 wellbeing.”
While Reed’s situation with no equipment sponsor is unusual, there are other recent high-profile examples. 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 before it got out of the club-making game 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 with him in mind (as an athletic long driver) for the U.S. Open.
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.
According to experts, most equipment companies will sponsor around five to seven notable Tour players, and their contracts require a golfer to use 12 or 13 of 14 clubs with the brand. Tiger’s deal is the rare exception to the rule.
In 2016, Phil Mickelson earned $50 million 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 of their normal salaries that year 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 (equipment) 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 last weekend, 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