Tiger Woods today signed his first major equipment deal since Nike Golf announced its exit from the golf hardware industry in August, penning an agreement with Bridgestone Golf.
Woods, who turns 41 later this month, put the brand’s Tour B330-S ball in play for the first time at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month, where he made his return to golf after almost 16 months on the sidelines.
But what made him decide to go with Bridgestone and the Tour B330-S in particular? Let’s take a closer look and try to answer the questions you might be asking…
First things first - why did he choose the Tour B330-S?
Officially? Because, according to his agent Mark Steinberg, it ‘fit his game the best’. Reading between the lines, however, it would appear that Tiger has chosen a ball that will help him to recover the yards that he’ll lose from, presumably, having to swing a little bit more within himself so as to preserve his delicate back. If he is to extend his career for another decade or so, he won't be able to do it with the same explosive action that has become a characteristic of his game through multiple swing changes.
The Tour B330-S should help him find a little bit of middle ground. It has an innovative dimple design that promotes a slightly lower shot trajectory. There are smaller inner dimples that reduce drag at launch to help get it airborne quicker, whilst the larger outer dimples are designed to promote a shallow angle of descent for increased roll-out on landing.
It also has a firmer core which is designed to increase ball speed for greater distance.
How does it perform around the green?
Extremely well, which has presumably been another major factor in Woods’ decision-making. Its ground breaking SlipRes Cover is the highest performing cover that Bridgestone has ever produced and has the highest friction coefficient rating possible. That basically means it maxes out on greenside spin without sacrificing any spin out of the rough. And when you're as wayward off the tee as Tiger has been in recent years, that's a precious commodity.
This is all well and good – but has the Tour B330-S actually won anything?
Matt Kuchar, pictured below, has been using the ball for a number of years and had it in play when he won Bronze at the Olympics in August and again the following month when he helped the USA win back the Ryder Cup. He is believed to have played a part in helping Tiger choose the ball. The pair are great friends and played together in the 2013 Presidents Cup. Was it then that Tiger first started to take note of the B330-S?
Who approached who?
According to GOLF.com, Tiger approached Bridgestone. Shortly after Nexit in August, Woods’ agent – the aforementioned Steinberg – asked Bridgestone to send the 14-time major winner some Tour B330 and Tour B330-S balls for him to test. Corey Consuegra, Bridgestone's senior director of marketing, estimated that, all in, the company sent Woods as many as 60-dozen balls for testing. After a reasonably successful return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month, where he led the field in birdies, Woods quickly inked a deal with the brand, which was announced today
What has the man himself had to say?
Precious little, other than this tweet…
After extensive golf ball testing, I chose the best one for me. I am proud to join @BridgestoneGolf and play the #B330-S! - TW pic.twitter.com/JoIeoY2SX1
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) December 15, 2016
So, will we now see him in marketing for Bridgestone balls?
Absolutely, and potentially as early as next month. Bridgestone will be keen to try to eat into its competitors’ big market share in the ball market – according to industry tracking firm Golf DataTech, it currently trails Titleist and Callaway. Using Woods, arguably the most marketable golfer of all time, would appear to be a good way to redress that balance, which is why he’ll feature in print and TV advertising, as well as on packaging and point-of-purchase displays.
However, it’s unlikely that Woods alone will be enough. If he was, Nike would still be making golf clubs, right? That's the thing about the golf industry at the moment: it's not easy to shift product.
That being said, Bridgestone has largely got by without investing huge amounts in marketing. Its advertising budget, in fact, is one of the smallest of any of the top brands... and yet it still manages to be highly competitive, particularly in the golf ball sector. Why? Because its balls are that good. Performance is everything. Bridgestone's balls perform. Simple.
Didn't Bridgestone pull out of the UK market last year?
Yes - but they're coming back. A report last week revealed that the Surrey-based Benross Golf had signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Bridgestone Golf for the UK and Ireland, with the balls set to return to shelves nationwide from February.
Last question – how much is Woods making from this new partnership?
Shock horror, financial terms were not disclosed. It is, however, a multi-year deal, so ‘lots’ is probably a fair estimation.