By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy will not renew his contract with Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet when the deal expires at the end of this year, the company confirmed Tuesday.
"Our goal has been to provide Rory with the best equipment and service that would help him be the best player he could possibly be,” Acushnet Chief Executive Officer Wally Uihlein said in a statement. “He has been a great ambassador for the Titleist and FootJoy brands, and in turn, we are proud of how our equipment has contributed to his success. We wish Rory all the best, both personally and professionally, going forward."
Said McIlroy: "I would like to thank Wally Uihlein and all of the tour staff and employees at Titleist and FootJoy for everything they have done for me since I turned professional in 2007. I have enjoyed five very exciting and successful years with the company and I will always appreciate the contribution Titleist has made in helping me become the player I am today."
The move fuels speculation that McIlroy will sign with Nike, which has long been rumored by industry insiders, but there has been no confirmation. A Nike spokesman said the company will not comment on rumors.
Should McIlroy, 23, join Nike, it would give the swoosh the game’s two biggest stars with Tiger Woods having long been the face of Nike’s golf brand.
Woods, who had an endorsement deal with Nike and an equipment contract with Titleist when he turned pro in 1996, switched to the Nike golf ball in 2000 and Nike golf clubs in 2002.
McIlroy, meanwhile, moved to No. 1 in the world earlier this year with four wins, including an eight-shot victory at the PGA Championship, giving him two career eight-shot wins in major championships. He also finished atop the PGA TOUR money list this season and has a chance to do the same on the European Tour.
Last year, McIlroy shattered U.S. Open scoring records en route to winning at Congressional. With his victory at Kiawah Island in August, he became the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros in 1980 with two majors. Only five players have won majors by at least eight shots since 1976 -- three by Woods, two by McIlroy.
Woods and McIlroy have also struck up a friendship of late. The two were in the same group five times during the FedExCup Playoffs, and the conversation came easily. That led to an 18-hole exhibition match in China on Monday with McIlroy defeating Woods by one.
Walking off the fourth hole, McIlroy even took one of Woods' Nike clubs and took a few practice swings. Now, it appears likely both will be using the same equipment next year.
The last player of McIlroy’s stature to leave Titleist was Phil Mickelson, who signed a lucrative deal with Callaway during the 2004 season.
For McIlroy, it’s just the latest in a series of changes since winning his first major last year. He left agent Chubby Chandlerand signed with Conor Ridge of Irish-based Horizon Sports Management. He also took up membership on the PGA TOUR.
Still to be determined is how any deal with Nike would affect the rest of McIlroy's deals. He has endorsements with Jumeirah Estates, Oakley, Audemares Piguet and Santander bank. Nike typically prefers a clean look for its athletes, with rare exception. Woods and Anthony Kim had separate endorsements for their golf bags.
McIlroy is not playing the HSBC Champions this week in China. He will close out his European Tour season starting the following week with the Singapore Open, the Hong Kong Open and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He would have two months until his next tournament in Abu Dhabi, giving him time to test new equipment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report