SBD/March 4, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

McIlroy's Withdrawal Puts Focus On Nike Deal, Increased Pressure To Perform

McIlroy pulled out of play Friday, citing an aching wisdom tooth
Golfer Rory McIlroy’s withdrawal during the second round of the PGA Tour The Honda Classic on Friday was the “latest disappointment since he made the highly lucrative but risky move of changing his equipment from Titleist to Nike at the beginning of the year,” according to Karen Crouse of the N.Y. TIMES. The week of his title defense at the tournament “began with McIlroy brushing off criticism in the news media" over his equipment change. However, nobody who has “spent time around him believes" that the value of McIlroy’s Nike contract “was his motivating factor in making the switch.” Golfer Mark Wilson said, “I truly believe he didn’t leave Titleist for any money reasons. He just wants to be with a company that represents some of the best athletes in a lot of sports.” Crouse wrote McIlroy before his tournament withdrawal had “demonstrated why so many in the golfing world and global marketplace regard him as a golden asset” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/2). GOLFCHANNEL.com’s Randall Mell wrote this is the “third troubling exit for McIlroy since he opened the year with news trumpeting his multi-million dollar deal with Nike.” There is “mounting pressure to prove this swoon isn’t the clubs” (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 3/1). In Daytona, Ken Willis wrote when a “mammoth sporting-goods corporation” like Nike reportedly adds $200M to your personal worth, "all because you’re an international megastar and figure to remain one for a decade or more, you take on even more personal responsibility” (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 3/2). In Illinois, Barry Rozner writes McIlroy is “going through a lot right now, the biggest issue being a new ball and equipment.” There are the “expectations of living up" to being the world's top-ranked golfer and the Nike contract, "not to mention a high-profile, public relationship and a swing that looks out of sorts” (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 3/4).

THINGS WON'T BE THE SAME: ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski wrote McIlroy’s “humility and the easy-going charm of someone who doesn't take himself too seriously have always been his strengths.” Until he “walked off the course and offered conflicting reasons that still don't add up, his reputation didn't have a smudge mark.” But it “does now.” There is “nothing normal about getting money-whipped by Nike to change equipment and join Tiger Woods atop the endorsement mountaintop.” McIlroy’s credibility and image in the U.K. “took an instant kneecapping” (ESPN.com, 3/3). McIlroy's withdrawal was a topic for GOLF.com's weekly roundtable discussion, and SI Senior Editor Mark Godich said, “Plain and simple, Rory is frustrated over the adjustment to his new equipment. But remember: The switch wasn't about the money.” GOLF.com Senior Producer Jeff Ritter wrote, “There’s no question this whole Nike/life adjustment is going to take some time.” Golf magazine’s Cameron Morfit wrote, “What if Rory went back to his old clubs? What legal superstorm would ensue and how much money would it cost him? ... I think the pressure got to him and this is turning out to be the most awkward adjustment period since Kardashian-Humphries” (GOLF.com, 3/3). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s John Paul Newport wrote for deals less than $1M, switching equipment "isn't necessarily the right play.” That is what makes McIlroy’s "rare complete-bag switch to Nike from Titleist so difficult.” The quality of Nike’s clubs “is not at issue.” Even if the “heads, shafts, lies, lofts and weights of McIlroy’s new clubs are identical to his old ones, however, they won’t all feel the same” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/2). YAHOO SPORTS’ Jay Busbee wrote, “Let’s kill the whole ‘it's the equipment's fault’ meme dead" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/1).

PEER REVIEW: Golf HOFer Jack Nicklaus said of McIlroy, “He shouldn’t have walked off the golf course. That was unfortunate. I think if he had thought about it for five minutes he wouldn’t have done it” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/3). Golfer Ernie Els said, “I’m a great fan of Rory’s, but I don’t think that was the right thing to do" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/2). Golfer Graeme McDowell said, “Something (had to) give. It was only a matter of time. ... He kind of skyrockets into the (upper) echelon by becoming the No. 1 player in the world, signing the biggest (endorsement) deal in world golf, becoming the most marketable player in the world. It’s a lot to deal with for a young kid” (PALM BEACH POST, 3/4). Golf Channel’s Damon Hack said, “To walk off that golf course as the No. 1 player in the world, you're an ambassador of the game, it was a mistake and Jack Nicklaus was spot on” (“Morning Drive,” Golf Channel, 3/4). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, "A professional golfer cannot do that to a tournament and the sponsors and the patrons.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser: "I think his people don’t want people to say that it’s the Nike clubs or the Nike golf ball" (“PTI,” ESPN, 3/1).
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