Written By: Tony Covey

Callaway's Top Staffer Bags TaylorMade's SLDR Driver

Phil Mickelson plays his TaylorMade SLDR driver in the draw position. I wouldn’t have guessed that. Of course, I also wouldn't have guessed that Callaway’s #1 Tour Guy would be putting Callaway’s #1 competitor’s driver into play at the Presidents Cup either.

The same guy who told the world he couldn’t have won the Open Championship without Callaway, apparently feels he needs TaylorMade to help Team USA capture The Presidents Cup.

Spin it any way you’d like, but there’s no way this doesn’t look bad for Callaway. It’s as bad as the shoddy refinish job on Mickelson’s TaylorMade driver. And let me tell you, man, that’s bad.

We’ve Seen This Before

As you may recall, last November Phil Mickelson replaced his Callaway fairway wood with TaylorMade’s RocketBallz. That was Pre-XHot, and by Callaway’s own admission they didn’t have anything that could really hold its own against RBZ.

At the time, Harry Arnett, Callaway’s Senior VP of Marketing, thought it was much ado about nothing:

"We told him, 'Play whatever you want. We've got the prototype coming in a few weeks. If you really feel like this is the best way for you to compete and win, then go for it!'" - Harry Arnett

And arguably Harry was right. Eventually Phil won the Waste Management Open with Xhot in the bag, sales increased significantly, and while Callaway didn’t come close to catching TaylorMade, there’s no denying that XHot helped put a resurgent Callaway back on the map.

Callaway would like us to believe it’s no different this time around.

They’re wrong.

A driver, especially a TaylorMade driver, is a much bigger deal than a fairway wood, and The Presidents Cup is a much bigger deal than the HSBC Champions series in China.

People watch The Presidents Cup. #JustSayin

Mickelson-sldr-mygolfspy

Same Story, Different Year

In a response to a question posted on Twitter about Phil’s driver choice, Harry Arnett had this to say:

 

The reality of the message isn’t much different from last year.

Let’s all be patient here. If we can just give Callaway a few months they’ll have something just as good as what TaylorMade already has on the shelves.

They’re just not ready yet.

For Callaway, a company hoping to position itself as the leader in technology, innovation, and all that cool stuff that makes us want to buy new golf clubs we probably don’t need, having to publicly acknowledge for the 2nd year in a row that the product they’ve spent hours dialing in to exactly details catch match the performance of TaylorMade’s flagship product; there’s absolutely no way that’s good for business.

Callaway and Phil Mickelson have all but completely validated the low and forward CG story of TaylorMade’s SLDR Driver, and that’s not good for business either. Well…it’s good for TaylorMade’s business.

Twist it, spin it, and promise a better future, but right now it’s not so good for Callaway.

Once is an aberration. Twice…well, that’s a pattern.

And the pattern suggests that for all the good things that have happened for Callaway this year, they’re still playing catch-up.

TaylorMade Responds

Golf companies are notoriously cagey about discussing players under contract with different companies. When asked for a comment, a TaylorMade Spokesperson, who I can only assume has been smiling uncontrollably since the news of the Mickel-SLDR broke, would only say this:

“SLDR has been hot since it hit tour in July and we are flattered he is playing it.”

Callaway’s Statement

Despite what quite obviously isn’t the best press of Callaway’s season, their willingness to sign off on Phil’s SLDR illustrates the commitment the company makes to its staffers. If there’s something better out there, Phil is welcome to put it in his bag.

That’s the commitment Callaway made to Phil, and they’ve honored it – even when it’s clearly not in their best interest to do so.

I gave Callaway’s Sr. VP of Marketing, Harry Arnett the opportunity to share Callaway’s perspective on Mickelson’s driver choice. What follows is his full statement on the matter.

"It's no secret by now that Phil and Callaway have perhaps the most unique relationship of any Tour player and a golf company. It's been reported before that we have one of the most flexible contracts of any top player and that much is for the most part true.Throughout Phil's career, he has experimented widely and routinely both within the Callaway range of products and even outside Callaway's range into competitive products. We've always allowed him to do so even on occasion when it was within our contracted right to prohibit it. This was the spirit of the agreement with Phil when it began a decade ago.It was fairly well publicized last Fall that Phil played a competitor's fairway in some events in Asia. At that time, we said we were not that concerned because we had a fairway coming that we were confident would outperform anything and would quickly get into Phil's bag when it was ready. That proved out to be true on both accounts.

About a month ago, Phil asked us if he could experiment with a competitive driver, wanting to try a low/forward center of gravity the SLDR driver produces. Since our own version of driver that can deliver this particular low/forward cg mass property wasn't ready, we permitted him to do so.

On Thursday night Phil personally called Chip Brewer, our CEO, and asked permission to put the driver in play at the President's Cup. He felt he needed to have a driver in the bag since the rain and wet conditions had made the course play longer than it had earlier in the week. Chip agreed to let Phil play the driver, feeling it was the right thing to do for Phil and his position in the team. And was completely consistent with the history of Callaway's long relationship with Phil.

We are of course embarrassed by the conversation around this and we wish the circumstances were different. But once again, we are 100% confident the driver we have coming will dramatically outperform the competitive driver he's playing and will be in Phil's bag when it's ready to bring to market. So to that regard, once again, we aren't overly concerned." – Harry Arnett, SVP Marketing/Callaway Golf