January 03, 2019
By Andrew Tursky, PGATOUR.COM
- Gary Woodland started playing Wilson Staff forged prototype blade irons at the 2018 Hero World Challenge. (Ali Kerns/PGA TOUR)
In what seemed like inevitable news, Wilson announced on Thursday that it has officially signed Gary Woodland to a multi-year equipment deal. Woodland started playing Wilson Staff forged prototype blade irons at the 2018 Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, and he continued playing them for the remainder of the year. Then, when he showed up at the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions event wearing a Wilson Staff hat, the writing was on the wall. Woodland is now officially a Wilson staffer.
To learn more about the deal, exactly what it entails, how it all came about, and Gary’s current setup, I caught up with Wilson Golf president Tim Clarke. Below is my full Q&A with Clarke on Thursday afternoon.
Some big news today …
Yea, some cool stuff going on at Wilson Golf. Very exciting for us, for sure. I’m just elated to have a brand ambassador like Gary. I’m ecstatic. It’s great.
How did it all start? How did Gary end up playing Wilson prototype irons in the first place?
Long story short, Gary was a guy that … when I started at Wilson awhile back, he was one of the guys I really liked. So I met him a few times and had a few conversations, and he ended up doing a deal with an apparel brand that just didn’t match up well with Wilson. And so we kind of just put that (aside) and saw him while I was out on TOUR, and I saw that he was no loner in his agreement. We reached out, made some contacts, and he was open to trialing some equipment. He was obviously trialing with multiple companies at the time and we were just one of the few. The proto blade… one thing that Wilson does probably, I would say, in my tenure and probably 100 years before my tenure, the brand knows how to make world-class blades; in the past and probably always will. We make great irons across the entire line, but this prototype blade was the one we sent out to him, and basically, that was the start of it. Then he made the decision, kind of unexpectedly, to take them to the Hero Challenge, Tiger’s event in the Bahamas, which was when things got noticed. Then from there he played them again in the (QBE) Shootout, and here we are today. That’s kind of it in a nutshell.
Can you talk about what is actually different about the prototype irons and if you made those specifically for him?
No they were not made for Gary. They’re actually, to be very honest about it, they’re very influenced by what Brendan Steele likes. Brendan obviously was very active in the involvement – he’s a three time TOUR winner, he’ been playing our blade and he’s had very good success. He had come on board when we launched the 100-year anniversary blade basically. He played that until now. So when we were getting ready to do something new, we wanted to kind of get his feedback on what was going to change, what he liked and what he didn’t. So you have to give Brendan credit for the blade, and our innovation and R&D team. But a lot of input on the blade from Brendan directly.
So obviously Gary was an equipment free agent, and there’s a lot of guys not signing staff deals. Was it unexpected for him to actually make a deal with you guys?
I always look at things in a couple different vacuums. First of all, and we’ve always done this at Wilson, whether it was Kevin Streelman coming on and winning twice, or Ricky Barnes setting the 54-hole record at a U.S. Open, or Padraig Harrington winning three majors with us. So I always start with the premise, man, you better like the stuff. So when we sent him the blades there was no… there was nothing about signing him, it was really his investigative search to see what he liked the best. Obviously, Gary not only being a world-class golfer, but a huge athlete, an accomplished basketball player, he’s one of those unique individuals. He plays all sorts of sports. And as we got into discussions after trial, and we were down with him in Naples chit-chatting and trying to see what he wanted to do, I think him being from Kansas, being a Midwest guy and us being a Midwest brand there’s a certain DNA that comes with that. And I think the more we talked the more comfortable he got with the idea of actually doing something more formal. That’s how we got here, but the first part of the equation was really like “Hey Gary, we know you’re a free agent, we have new blades, would love to have you try them out and see what you think.” And we knew he was testing some other equipment from some other competitors, and we thought we’d get in the mix and see where we stood with the new product. Like I said, when he brought them to the Bahamas, clearly we found out we were in pretty good standing, and that was good to hear. But we knew we were in good shape. Brendan Steele has been working with them, so we didn’t really have a whole lot of worries. We have a couple of our European Tour players who are playing the protos. And obviously we have Harold Varner (III), who we love we think he’s just a wonderful guy and just enjoy him, he was interested in trying something different. So we put a head in his bag to give a run with. And, again, it’s part of the evolution of Wilson. We have product that let’s us get to the elite players in the world.
With Wilson not being just a golf company, obviously you make basketballs and products for other sports, it seems like Gary Woodland is too good to be true, huh?
Oh yeah, you could say that. I think that’s kind of what I was saying about the DNA of a player. I think Gary Woodland is a perfect brand athlete for Wilson Sporting Goods. Obviously he’ll be a marquee golf ambassador, make no mistake. I think Gary, whether you talk about all of our baseball staff, Roger Federer, our quarterback club, I mean the people that come in our building are, you know, it’s pretty much a who’s who and what’s what. We had Roger Federer in earlier this year they had an event in Chicago, and obviously Padraig comes through, the Williams sisters have been through. Yea, it’s just with Gary the stars aligned perfectly, he was available, he loved the irons and so here we are with him as the lead golf ambassador.
So moving forward a little bit, what exactly does the deal entail? Is it a 10-club deal?
Yea, the deal has some moving (parts), it has some tiers in it. I’ll say this, basically, our baseline deals are usually nine clubs, but I can tell you there’s not a player who’s signed with us that isn’t playing 10,11 or 12. It’s just the nature of the relationship. I don’t really get caught up in the deal. I mean my point is yes, when we first sign somebody we have to have a minimum jump off point, but make no mistake, the goal with Gary is to get him into as many products as possible. And sometimes that means we need a little time. It’s a multi-year deal so we’ll have time, but sometimes you need a little time to just tweak something to their liking. So yea, basically there are stair steps for him for more product. Obviously driver is one of those things. So we’re going to work very closely over the next 3-to-4 months, and have our tour team and development team out there to find out exactly what it is that he feels he could use that may be better than what he has and we’ll attack it individually like we do all our TOUR staff.
I know he just switched into a Ping G400 driver, what’s that process going to be like trying to get a Cortex in his hands? And has he been working with it yet?
Driver, especially for all TOUR players, is a pretty temperamental product, right? So, Gary played two days at the pro-am with the Cortex. There was a little bit of a flight issue – and when I say flight issue it was really more the fact he was able to turn it, and he does not like it to come anywhere near left at all. So that required us to do some slight modifications in the setup, mainly in the adjustable sleeve, to be able to get him a product that sits slightly open. To you and I, it looks like it’s wide open, but to him it looks slightly open (laughs). So with that being said, he does have a Cortex with him in Hawaii. Talking to Ron Graham (TOUR rep for Wilson Staff), I think he’s going to work very diligently to put it in. He has incentive to play it, and clearly when we made the decision to move forward with Gary, it was a mutual decision that we were going to work in the best interest of each other. And I think, you know, we know the driver performs. We’ve seen it. We’ve tested it with all of our other TOUR players. We know it’s a world-class product that can be played any week on TOUR by anybody. We do have some European Tour players that are already playing it – Paul Waring is playing it -- so it already has tour credibility. But obviously Gary is a different level. My guess is before too long you’ll see it get a start. I doubt it will be in Hawaii being that he’s had kind of a little bit of time off and nobody likes to change everything at once. My guess is when they get to the West Coast, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see him on the Darrell list with it.
More immediately, do you know what Wilson clubs he’ll have in the bag, say, this week?
Yea, he’ll be playing the prototype irons. He’s playing the pitching wedge, so he’ll be at 9 or 10 depending on what he decides with the secondary wedge. We have a wide-sole sand wedge. I don’t know, I’m waiting for Ron to give me the actual call today. But he’ll be at 9 or 10, which is kind of what we said in the early goings here. There’s X amount of starts with X amount of clubs that’ll dictate what the deal is. So he’s got a little window to kind of work his way into stuff. Then he’ll be playing that utility 2-iron that a lot of our guys still play. So he’ll be at 9 minimum, possibly 10 right out of the gate. And then, clearly, we have every intention to get him into a Cortex driver and get that in play and that will take him to 11. And then we’ll work with his metalwood additions and see how we get to the next level. That’ll be the long-term goal.