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The Masters: Tiger's million-dollar shot and the collapse of the 'Swoosh'

Tiger Woods Chops To 16Th 2005 Masters

In their lives, they had never seen anything like that.

As Tiger Woods’ chip from left of the green on 16 trickled its way down into both the hole and the annals of Masters history, the marketing executives at Nike were swooshing into action.

When something so historic, so transcendent, so utterly brilliant happens, you don’t stop to think. You just do it.

It was April 10, 2005, and the final round of The Masters. Woods, without a victory in golf’s four marquee events since the 2002 US Open, held a slender one-shot lead over playing partner Chris DiMarco as the pair arrived at the par-3 16th.

Woods’ tee shot sailed long and left, leaving him with seemingly next to no hope of making birdie and little more than a reasonable chance of escaping to the 17th with a par. Compounding matters, DiMarco had safely found the heart of the green and was eyeing up a birdie putt. A two-shot swing looked if not inevitable then certainly highly possible.

What happened next was pure, delicious theatre.

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Woods played a delicate chip onto the green, up the slope, across a ridge and then down, at what looked like an impossible 90-degree angle, towards the hole.

“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed CBS sportscaster, Verne Lundquist. In a long career behind the mic, he had seen and called many historic moments. “Maybe… yes sir!” was how he memorably described Jack Nicklaus putt at 17 in 1986 that effectively sealed the Golden Bear's sixth Masters and 18th major. The man who described Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan’s 1996 Winter Olympics figure-skating psychodrama as “a bizarre real life movie”? Also Lundquist.

Another memorable call was seconds away.

Woods ball rolled towards the hole, slowing all the way, as the TV cameras zoomed in tighter, tighter, tighter still.

As it reached the lip of the hole, Nike’s iconic ‘Swoosh’ logo at a jaunty angle but in full view of a rapt, disbelieving global audience, it came to a full stop. For two full seconds, it didn’t move.

Until, suddenly, it did. 

By virtue of some unseen power - force, fate, fluke, fantastic serendipity - Woods’ ball tumbled into the hole.

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“OH, WOW!” yelled Lundquist. “IN YOUR LIFE HAVE YOU SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THAT?”

The crowd roared. Woods and caddie Stevie Williams were too excited to connect properly on their high-five. DiMarco looked on disbelievingly. The jaws of golf fans around the world dropped in wonder.


In the basement of his Portland home, Chris Mike leapt out of his seat and yelled so loud that he scared his two young children out of the room.

As the director of marketing and advertising for Nike Golf, Mike had just been delivered Christmas in April.

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He immediately picked up his phone, called one of his colleagues and said: “I think we have our next One Ball commercial.”

Just three months earlier, Woods had switched to using the Nike One Platinum ball which was lined-up for consumer release in May 2005. Tiger’s shot, the documentation of it, Lundquist’s sublime commentary and, of course, the fact Woods went on to win the tournament gave the new product the perfect launchpad.

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At the time, one 30-second commercial during the final round of The Masters was priced at roughly a quarter of a million dollars. The two seconds that Nike's logo appeared on screen before it fell back into the hole amounted to $16,666 in intellectual value each time it was shown.

Before the night was out, Nike had made the equivalent of roughly $1million in free publicity from replays of the clip.

Speaking to sports business expert Darren Rovell, Mike later revealed how he knew One Platinum had just struck gold.

"When I saw the shot roll in, I knew that what we would be doing for the next quarter or two would revolve around this,” he said. "Every time Tiger does something great, he can affect sales. When he hit a 300-yard drive with a 3-wood at Doral, our phone lines were flooded."

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Nike’s hope was that the moment could become what marketing people like to call a “disruptor”.

Despite being one of the world’s most instantly recognisable brands and having arguably the most iconic athlete wearing and playing its products – for which Woods was reportedly compensated to the tune of $20million annually – Nike was struggling to find a foothold in golf. Other, more established, “golf-specific” brands, such as Titleist, Callaway and TaylorMade, had cornered the sector, leaving Nike in the unfamiliar position of fighting for scraps.

As an example, at the time Woods’ won the 2005 Masters, the company had just a 9% share of the golf ball market and only 4% of the club market.

It needed something special to transform its fortunes and it appeared, to all intents and purposes, as though its most prized asset had delivered.

“I think under the circumstances, it's one of the best shots I've ever hit,” he said soon after slipping into the Green Jacket for the fourth time.

You wouldn’t have found anybody in Nike’s marketing department who disagreed.

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The initial pre-order run of One Platinum golf balls sold out within a fortnight of Woods’ heroics.

Before the month was out, Nike had capitalised on the opportunity and, in collaboration with advertising giants Wieden+Kennedy, debuted a new TV ad which used the raw footage and audio of the shot with commercial messages woven in.

“We gave you a wedge with more feel.
You showed us what it could do.
We gave you a ball with more control.
And you didn't centre the logo?!”
 

It was a masterstroke born out of a master’s masterstroke at The Masters.

"We wanted to be able to remind people about how special it was and to connect our product to that moment," added Mike. "You don't often get natural opportunities like this."

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Marketing expert Scott Becher added: “Advertising is usually about what a product can conceptually do for you but this was a real moment that happened in a pressure-packed environment that proved that both Tiger, and by association, Nike, could deliver. That's not something to be bashful about.

“That moment, with continued nurturing, will be a defining one for the Tiger-Nike relationship.”

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Paul Swangard, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Centre at the University of Oregon, agreed.  

"It really reinforced what Nike has been trying to get across,” he said. “That they're a leading performance golf brand.”

Except it didn't and they weren't.

Despite Woods’ magic and five more major wins in the three years that followed the 2005 Masters, Nike continued to struggle to establish itself as a golf equipment force.

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Its struggles were compounded when Woods fell from the game’s top branch, first through ACL surgery in 2008 and then as a consequence of his well-publicised sex scandal late in 2009.

With its brightest star’s stock sinking, the brand was forced to look to other players to fill the void. In January 2013, it signed Rory McIlroy to a deal worth a reported $200m. Others, including Jason Day, Michelle Wie, Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari, were also paid to play and promote the ‘Swoosh’.

Nothing worked.

In August 2016, having haemorrhaged $90m in the previous two years and having reported its worst fiscal-year performance in five years, Nike closed its golf hardware division.

Ironically, this all happened against a backdrop of revenue growth across the broader Nike business. At the time it withdrew from equipment manufacture, golf was Nike’s smallest business category and had seen sales fall for three consecutive years. It contributed less than 3% to the company’s total revenue.

The official explanation for the closure was attributed to positive change and looking to the future.

“We’re committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel,” said Trevor Edwards, the president of Nike Brand. “We will achieve this by investing in performance innovation for athletes and delivering sustainable profitable growth for Nike Golf.” 

Yet all it took was a simple scratch beneath the surface to expose the grim truth. That for all Woods’ spectacular success and moments like that one at Augusta’s 16th in 2005, the brand accounted for little more than 7% of golf's $8.7b marketplace.

They had learned that not all mountains could be scaled with a three-word directive.

Not everything is as straightforward as “just do it”.

Not even capitalising upon historic moments, the likes of which you had never in your life seen before.

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