Justin Rose on the brink of signing deal with Honma Golf

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 16: Justin Rose of England speaks to the media at a press conference during previews to the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 16, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 16: Justin Rose of England speaks to the media at a press conference during previews to the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 16, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Justin Rose and TaylorMade have had one of the longest relationships in golf, lasting his entire professional career. However, after recently rising the the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, it appears that may be coming to an end, as Honma Golf appears ready to sign away one of the world’s best players.

It was with a mild degree of confidence when the story broke regarding Justin Rose potentially jumping ship from TaylorMade in favour of a new equipment deal with Honma Golf a couple of weeks ago.

Today, there seems little doubt that this will now become a reality.

The already-rife rumours had gathered pace off the back of numerous media reports, but it was Rose himself who all but confirmed it following his victory at the Turkish Airlines Open.

Asked if he would be using new equipment come the 2019 Masters at Augusta by a reporter, Rose offered up this grinning, thinly-veiled response: “I understand there has been a bit of speculation about that recently – and where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.”

Rose’s current deal with TaylorMade is set to expire at the end of the year, so it appears the only reason the new Honma partnership has yet to be made public is out of courtesy to Rose and his 20-year relationship with TaylorMade. But one imagines it won’t be long after the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve that the official announcement is made – if the cat is even left in the bag that long.

The only question is whether the deal will oblige him to use Honma irons, wedges and driver, or just the irons and wedges.

We’d put a wager on it being the former.

Signing Justin Rose would be a major coup for Honma

On the face of it, the revelation is a tremendous success story for Honma. Having filed for bankruptcy protection as recently as 2005, signing the world’s best player completes a remarkable turnaround for a brand which is slowly establishing itself as a standout in the premium equipment range. It is also vindication for Honma’s decision to recruit Mark King, the former TaylorMade CEO who was involved with the company for three-and-a-half decades.

King was brought on board in August with the remit to expand the new Honma North America division, which, as the name suggests, is the arm of the company which is looking to establish itself within the US and Canada. The quality of Honma’s equipment – single clubs alone can fetch tens of thousands of dollars – has never been in doubt. Take a look at the video of Japanese President Shinzo Abe presenting Donald Trump with a gold-plated driver (valued at just under $4,000) to see for yourself.

But the signing of Rose will give Honma the foothold it needs as they embark upon the challenging task of penetrating a market which, it must be said, is rather saturated. The 38-year-old Rose, who has accumulated just under $50 million in earnings, 23 professional victories, a US Open and an Olympic gold medal, seems to be getting better and better. His inexorable rise to the top of the World Rankings comes in the slipstream of five wins and eight other top-three finishes since the beginning of 2017.

Is Justin Rose joining Honma to avoid being pushed out by TaylorMade?

Yet here’s the most astonishing part of all: it appears as though Rose has been given the boot by TaylorMade, rather than the other way around.

Their strategic shift is in favour of younger players, and TaylorMade have form when it comes to such ruthlessness, given that they shed the services of then-Masters champion Sergio Garcia at the end of last year.

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TaylorMade had, until that point, assembled a remarkable crew of PGA Tour brand ambassadors, which also includes Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Jon Rahm, and it would seem that such a wage bill is proving to be a bridge too far for the owner, KPS Capital Partners.

In particular, the $100 million contract dished out to McIlroy means fat needs to be trimmed off the budget somewhere. In that respect, you can see where they are coming from by not renewing the Englishman’s deal – one which, in combination with his clothing deal with TaylorMade’s former sister company, Adidas, amounts to more than $10 million per year.

But even still, one imagines it can’t be with much relish that they let go of such a long-standing brand ambassador; one who has served with class, in every sense of the word. And dismissing him as he reaches his peak? Who are we to criticise, but let’s just say we can’t imagine that the folks at Honma are complaining too much.

With Rose in the fold, Honma roaring back into the marketplace

Honma has a heck of a lot of real estate to cover before they can even think about tapping into the market share of the big four (TaylorMade, Titleist, Callaway and PING), and it’s probably fair to argue that their more like-for-like rivals at this point would be PXG or Miura Golf; both of whom are making headway as ultra-premium equipment brands.

That said, 2019 will mark the 60th anniversary since Honma was founded, and with Rose as the face of their new North American operation, they look set to get off to a running start in the New Year. What a remarkable transformation Honma has had since billionaire Chinese owner Liu Jianguo took the helm a decade or so ago, and it would be foolhardy to put a cap on the progress we can expect them to make.

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In Rose, they now have the ideal launchpad, and if the masses hadn’t heard of Honma Golf before, the name will be all over their screens in the coming months and years. And one can’t help but feel it will all be at TaylorMade’s expense too – even if saving a few million feels like the priority for them right now.