Celebrity golf equipment signings
By Torleif Sorenson on 1/31/13
The golf equipment landscape now has two new celebrity endorsers: Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps (with Ping) and Golf Channel "Morning Drive" co-host Holly Sonders (with Cobra-Puma Golf).

"Which of these things is not... like... the otherrrr..."

Sonders' signing with Cobra-Puma is not unexpected; she is no longer playing in competition, although she was part of the Michigan State University Lady Spartans golf team that won the Big Ten Championship in 2007.

But in signing with Ping, Phelps has obliterated any chance for himself to improve and test his game in an ideal training ground: The amateur game.

Phelps, who earned 22 Olympic swimming medals and over 70 medals in international competition, will be part of Ping's promotional package for their new G25 woods and irons. Last year, it was announced that Phelps is also the subject of the latest eight-episode season of "The Haney Project" on the Golf Channel, and Phelps has also appeared in many commercials for Subway sandwich shops. Given how much of Phelps' athletic success has come in the glare of the television spotlight and yielded a yacht-full of endorsement money, Phelps signing another commercial contract is understandable.

But the problem is that golf is Phelps' second sport; while he was perhaps "born" to be a champion swimmer, golf presents a very different kind of challenge. Nobody should doubt that Hank Haney is an outstanding instructor, but every one of his "Haney Project" pupils - from Charles Barkley to Ray Romano and Rush Limbaugh - have continued to play for fun, not money.

And while Phelps is obviously a talented athlete, he will feel a different-but-strong kind of pressure from his sponsors to do well in his new vocation.

Some athletes from other sports have done quite well in golf, quarterback John Brodie, baseball pitcher Rick Rhoden, and hockey hall-of-famers Grant Fuhr, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull. Several former NFL players are exceptionally talented on the course, including Ryan Longwell, Billy Joe Tolliver, and Al Del Greco, amongst others. But they play largely out of the spotlight and none of them his a high-profile equipment endorser.

Others have had trouble learning this game under the pressure of the television spotlight, most notably two hall-of-famers in their respective sports: Jerry Rice and (at the needle-pegging end of the meter) Charles Barkley.

This writer understands how, after having had so much athletic and commercial success up until now, the money and the spotlight may have been too big for Phelps to resist. So far, the only evidence against him was his "baptism of fire" on Tuesday during the Waste Management Phoenix Open pro-am, during which Phelps was booed and heckled by some 15,000 fans at the (in)famous par-3 16th.

And even though some of us are questioning the wisdom of building a game in the spotlight, rather than the quieter, less-intense realm of amateur golf, credit to Phelps for sticking out his neck in a big way.

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Images via Ping, Golf Channel

[ comments ]
mmontisano says:
i don't understand why rich people always get the free stuff. they're rich! they don't need free stuff. just think if they were a bit more philanthropic and picked 5 people every year and gave them all the trimmings and perks of an endorsement deal. wouldn't that make you want to try out those clubs a bit more? help out Joe Schmoe, and they'll help you.
mjaber says:
You left off Tony Romo and John Smoltz, both of whom have come close to qualifying for the US Open.
Torleif Sorenson says:
MJaber: I knew about Tony Romo, as well as Mike Schmidt, but wasn't trying to do an all-encompassing list. Still, credit to Romo for his game and credit to you for knowing about it!
larrynjr says:
I'm with you badcaddy, why give them money to go with the clubs? I think giving them clubs and letting them win their own money is more than enough incentive to play anyones clubs.
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