Mickelson to become pricey free agent

Updated: September 3, 2004, 12:33 AM ET
By E. Michael Johnson | Golf World

The Acushnet Co., parent company of Titleist and FootJoy, and Phil Mickelson have reached a mutual agreement to release the 2004 Masters champion from his equipment contract, effective immediately, according to a release issued by the company. Mickelson signed a five-year contract with Titleist in 2001 that was to run through the end of the 2005 season.

Phil Mickelson

"Our relationship with Phil has lasted many years, during which he represented the qualities of excellence and leadership," said a statement released by Acushnet. "In turn, we believe the product and service we provided contributed to the on-course success he has enjoyed."

The development is not unique for Titleist. The company long has put its brand above any individual and, in fact, parted ways with Tiger Woods in 1999 by mutual agreement before Woods' contract with the company was up. And with Ernie Els, Adam Scott and Davis Love III remaining on staff as full-line players, Titleist still sports plenty of star power in its lineup.

More intriguing is the timing of the announcement, with Mickelson nearing the end of his best season. He reportedly wanted to renegotiate his contract and when Titleist refused, they agreed to part ways, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Additionally, over the last month there has been speculation in the industry that Callaway has an interest in signing Mickelson. And now that he's available?

"You have to look at him," said Larry Dorman, Callaway's VP of global press and public relations. "He's one of the best and most charismatic players in the world. He's loved by millions of people. You'd have to be crazy not to look at [the possibility of signing him]."

While Mickelson was an unabashed pitchman for Titleist, his relationship became strained last year when he tried out as a pitcher for the Toledo Mud Hens toward the end of his worst season on the PGA Tour.

He also infuriated Titleist chief executive Wally Uihlein by leaving a voice mail for a Callaway representative to thank him for helping Mickelson's brother out with some equipment. Mickelson praised Callaway for its new golf ball and driver, and Callaway officials were said to have played voice mail for its salesman at a national meeting.

A Mickelson signing would be consistent with the shift in Callaway's tour focus from the LPGA and Champions tours to the PGA Tour over the last 18 months. It also would give the company the top-five PGA Tour player it currently does not have (Charles Howell III is its top-ranked male at No. 40 in the World Ranking). The company also has a ball, the HX Tour (as well as a new Ben Hogan prototype), that could interest Mickelson and player-tested blade-type prototype irons earlier this year at the Players Championship.

Mickelson is expected to play next week at the Canadian Open.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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