GM’s Bob Lutz says that Tiger’s presence as a spokesman didn’t help Buick sell cars. Buick having unattractive products at the time may have had more than a little to do with it, but Lutz’s comments fit nicely with my thesis that pro golfers are basically worthless as celebrity spokesmen—except perhaps in clothes. I can’t think of anyone I know who buys a product based on the fact that a particular golfer uses it.
I go even a step further in this: I even think that the whole notion of equipment companies having golfers “on staff” is utter nonsense. Callaway, for example, pays Mickelson millions to play their clubs on the theory that awestruck amateurs will spend big bucks to play the same sticks as Lefty.
I don’t know a single golfer who plays a club because Biggie Pro does. There is some vague notion that the Pro V1 is worth playing because so many pros do, but no casual golfer could tell you with any degree of certainty who does—or does not—play the Pro V. We know that Tiger plays Nike; Phil plays Callaway and Steve Stricker plays …. what exactly does Steve play? But that knowledge isn’t likely to sway anyone. Amateurs aren’t stupid. We know that we don’t have the skill to play the clubs Phil plays, and that even if we could, they’re not the same clubs found in the local pro shops—even if the name is the same. And we know that those pros will switch manufacturers as soon as one offers more money.
At most, having a big name pro with a company’s name on the bag raises that manufacturer’s recognition factor. That’s worth something, but certainly not all of the attention paid to staff pros and Darrell Survey club counts.
When the golfers in my circle feel the need for new clubs, they typically turn to three sources: First, to their friends. Second, to the local pro or pro shop clerk. And finally, to magazines and the internet. I’ve never been a part of a conversation which began “I need some new clubs, and saw that Phil is having a good year, so I bought Callaway.” I have been a part of lots of conversations that go: “Hey, you have a golf website. What clubs have you tried lately?” and “Can I try that driver in your bag.” I’ve certainly tried my share of clubs out of a partner’s bag.
And if a golfer can’t sell clubs—what can he sell? Certainly not cars (“I drive a Buick because Tiger does” is nonsensical). Or tax advice (Phil relies on KPMG, so I do too.).
Clothes perhaps. I admit to taking clues from styles worn by the pros (and by watching Sergio Garcia, I learn what NOT to wear. What the heck was that jogging suit he was wearing at the Match Play? And that banana suit he wore at the Open Championship?). I couldn’t tell you who wears what brand, though.
So I don’t blame Tiger for not selling Buicks. (It turns out that at least one of his cars was a Cadillac, anyway). And I don’t blame any golfer for taking the money. But I do wonder what those corporate execs are thinking.