Sergio Garcia and TaylorMade, partners for 15 years, announced a “mutual separation” on Monday. The Masters champion is now the latest superstar free agent in the equipment game.
It’s no surprise that golf’s biggest stars wind up becoming synonymous with their equipment sponsors. Especially in today’s game, there’s too much money floating around for either party in a successful relationship to stray. Even as today’s golf business struggles to find a footing, it’s surprising to see a true superstar change gigs. Never has that been more true than with the announcement that Sergio Garcia and TaylorMade are through.
Tiger Woods built Nike Golf from the ground up. Phil Mickelson started his career with Titleist, but has become the biggest star in Callaway’s lineup since Arnold Palmer. Garcia took a similar path, but opted to sign with TaylorMade back in late 2002. If you want to see just how far the industry has come since then, check out this clip from the original press release:
"Paris, October 9th, 2002—Global golf superstar Sergio Garcia, one of the most talented and recognizable golfers in the world, has joined TaylorMade-adidas Golf’s team of tour staff professionals. Garcia will play TaylorMade branded golf clubs and Maxfli branded golf balls. In addition, he will switch to adidas headwear; and will continue to wear adidas golf apparel and footwear, as he has since turning professional in 1999.Garcia will feature the TaylorMade logo on his bag and the adidas logo on the front of his cap at the Trophee Lancome in Paris next week, where he is defending champion."
Sure, most Maxfli balls are relegated to the bargain bin in your local golf shop, but Garcia was part of TaylorMade’s rise to becoming a total equipment behemoth. For 15 years, he stayed true to the TaylorMade-Adidas group, and his success around the world played a big part in the company’s rise to the top of the industry.
What’s next for Sergio Garcia and TaylorMade?
The golf economy hasn’t recovered entirely from the recession of a decade ago, but TaylorMade has mostly weathered the storm to remain one of golf’s premier brands today. The company lists just seven full-bag staffers on their site following Garcia’s departure, but the list remains strong. Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods both signed on when Nike Golf closed up shop.
The rest, though, are almost exclusively players who followed in Garcia’s path, from Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose to Jason Day and Jon Rahm. Paula Creamer is the only full TM staffer on the LPGA Tour, but with someone of her caliber, how much more do you really need?
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One thing we know is that today’s golf market is perhaps less reliant on star power than ever before. Sure, it helps to know that you’re swinging the “same” sticks as Rory or DJ, but the vast majority of golfers are simply looking to make golf more fun and, frankly, more affordable. TaylorMade has plenty of established stars, and they’ll likely look to their “next big thing” going forward.
Garcia will certainly have his choice of companies to join going forward. If some of his recent tests are any indicator, Callaway is the clubhouse leader. But what of Titleist, his original sponsor? Or perhaps upstart PXG? Even as the reigning Masters champion, will Garcia still command the same attention he had at TaylorMade?
One thing is certain – we’re starting to see a shift in the equipment industry when it comes to their TOUR marketing practices. Where Garcia lands, and what effect (or lack thereof) he has, could be a big indicator of what’s to come.