The rise of the free agent?



The rise of the free agent?

You could be forgiven for thinking that 2018 (and 2017) heralded a new era in equipment selection on the Professional Tours.

There was much talk about the rise of the ‘free agent’ on Tour…  basically players eschewing the big dollars of an equipment endorsement contract and choosing to play with whatever clubs they wanted. Brooks Koepka and his Mizuno Irons were the poster boys for this new trend, with Patrick Reed and Francisco Molinari not far behind. In reality, little had changed bar one crucial point.

All were signed with Nike Golf, and left without an equipment supplier after Nike’s sudden exit from the hardware business in late 2016. Once Nike had exited the equipment business, these so called ‘free agents’ were in fact still under contract to Nike and free to play whatever they wanted. In essence, Nike have been paying for them to use clubs of their choosing.

"Once there's money on the table... these guys will take it, same as always."

Tommy Fleetwood has stuck with his bag of Nike’s, but most switched to something else. For those that did change, the comfort of that Nike contract allowed them the freedom to treat the bag setup like a puzzle — removing and replacing clubs that don’t fit for something that does, without having to worry about breaking the terms of a 13 or 14 club deal or the prospect of slotting in the latest equipment release. Going ‘free agent’ also gave them access to equipment support, via the Tour Trucks at each event, (from the new brand they’ve chosen to use) which was support they’d lost from Nike.

But what happens when those sweet Nike dollars run out? Will Koepka, Molinari, Reed continue as free agents or look to sign staff deals with other brands?

Once there’s money on the table (or more importantly, once the Nike money is off the table) these guys will take it, same as always. Molinara has recently annocued his signing with Callaway, though Koepka & Reed are still with Nike.

2019 should see off the last of the old Nike contracts, so don’t be surprised when these so-called free agents announce their allegiance to a new brand/manufacturer. It was a nice story for sure, but it’s not really accurate and certainly not a long term trend.

To paraphrase Deep Throat, follow the money! 

Article written by Dean Klatt.

Paul- USA
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“Helps when you've got the Nike money coming in.”
Cormac- Dublin, Ireland
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"Going to be a lot more guys playing without equipment deals in the near future"
Sean- Cork, Ireland
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“Personally I always thought equipment deals were kind of silly. Very few players move the needle in terms of sales.”
Marcel- France
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“If there were no sponsorships, the clubs would cost us less, no?”
James- Australia
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“Guys are realising that they can potentionally make more money on the course instead of having a few clubs in there that they might not like.”