Proof's in results: Titleist lets equipment promote itself
One of the biggest names in the equipment industry decided to skip the PGA Merchandise Show this year. Titleist figured the $2.5 million it usually sets aside for the four-day extravaganza could be better spent on other promotions.
|The following PGA Tour members use the Titleist 983 Series drivers and ProV1x golf balls. Thier average driving distances are through the Phoenix Open.|
|Ernie Els||2 (84)||319.6|
|Robert Gamez||52 (68)||294.4|
|Phil Mickelson||1 (25)||322.8|
|Craig Perks||55 (120)||292.4|
|Tom Pernice||9 (103)||305.0|
|*Vijay Singh||5 (46)||308.9|
|*- Singh used the 983 Series driver in at least the Mercedes Championships.|
So far, the best advertising has come from its players.
''We were the talk of the show in absentia,'' Titleist chief Wally Uihlein said.
Three weeks into the new season, the talk on the PGA Tour is Ernie Els belting a drive that reached the bottom of the hill on the 555-yard 15th hole, leaving him only 150 yards from a patch of grass that was free of divots. No one had ever hit it there off the tee.
''I was down there twice this week,'' Els said.
A week later in the Sony Open, Els put his Titleist 983K driver and the Pro V1x ball to work at Waialae Country Club, routinely needing only a wedge for his second shot on the 501-yard ninth hole.
The buzz at the Phoenix Open last week was Phil Mickelson, another Titleist pitchman, driving to the front edge of the green on the 403-yard 10th hole.
Mickelson began using the 983K driver and the Pro V1x after the Tour Championship last year, and he has embarked on a conditioning program to get more strength and speed into his swing, allowing the equipment to work wonders.
''This new x-ball, if I just swing at it regular speed, I don't get much out of it,'' Mickelson said. ''But when I go after it, I get a ton out of it. The harder I can hit the ball now, we have golf balls made for that swing.''
That raised more questions about what technology is doing to golf.
One of the most famous photographs in golf is Ben Hogan hitting a 1-iron to the 18th green at Merion in his 1950 U.S. Open victory.
By today's standards, that probably would be a wedge.
Augusta National already has revamped its course by adding nearly 300 yards. Club chairman Hootie Johnson was tired of seeing players hitting wedges on long par 4s.
The easy explanation is the equipment, starting with the ball.
The golf ball industry has been revolutionized in recent years. Nearly every company has switched from a wound ball to those with solid cores and multilayers.
The U.S. Golf Association is developing a modern test to determine how far the ball travels, although senior technical director Dick Rugge says he expects every golf ball on the conforming list to meet the new standards.
''The real revolution is not distance,'' Rugge said. ''Distance balls have been available for two decades, but tour professionals gave that up for the feel and control. Now, they don't have to give that up.''
The revolution began with Strata in 1996, and was in full force four years later. Tiger Woods switched to the Nike Tour Accuracy, and Titleist -- the tour leader in golf balls for more than 50 years -- answered with the Pro V1.
Uihlein said Titleist's latest products are more of an evolution than a revolution.
The new Pro V1 has been tweaked to deliver more speed with lower driver spin, and its 392 dimples come in five sizes instead of two.
The Pro V1x has a high-compression, dual core -- essentially a four-piece ball -- that benefits players with greater clubhead speed like Mickelson, Els and Phoenix Open champion Vijay Singh. It has 332 dimples in seven sizes.
When the original Pro V1 made its PGA Tour debut at the 2000 Las Vegas Invitational, nearly one-third of the field switched from the wound ball and virtually every Titleist player was using the ProV1 within six months.
With this launch, Titleist players have a choice. About 55 percent of the 76 players who used a Titleist at the Sony Open chose the Pro V1x.
For Titleist, it's another opportunity to fortify its hold in the premium ball market. The ball industry has never been more competitive, with Nike, Callaway, Spalding (Strata and Hogan), Precept and Maxfli all developing balls that go farther and land softer.
''We're trying to make the Pro V1 and the Pro V1x the Kleenex of the super premium category,'' Uihlein said. ''That's the end game. We've got a 60 percent market share of that segment. Now is the time to strike, particularly with the regulatory bodies capping how much improvement is ahead of us.
''We're looking at this as a critical point in the evolution of golf ball development and marketing. Who's got what, and how does it perform?''
Uihlein bristles at suggestions that the ball alone is changing professional golf.
Woods, Singh and David Duval are among the high-profile players who have set the standard for fitness. Mickelson only recently began working with a personal trainer, while Els has also increased his fitness regimen.
Nearly 50 players on the PGA Tour are at least 6-foot-2, while 25 weigh at least 210.
''I don't want to understate the contribution of the player,'' Uihlein said. ''Even Phil, admitting he might not be a charter member at the L.A. Fitness Club, is understanding that the physical side is a contributor to advanced performance.
''The ball gets singled out because it's the thing that moves.''
Even so, the Pro V1x has been singled out the first three weeks. More tour players use Titleist than any other ball, so there are more chances of them winning.
But that's part of the Titleist mission.
''The Pro V1x is clearly an attempt to raise the bar one rung further,'' Uihlein said. ''It's our best effort across the board. At the pyramid of influence, we've got the majority usage. We're expecting them to carry that message.''
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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