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Original Issue

The Truth Is in the Bag

All too often touring pros endorse one club model but play another

At last year's PGAMerchandise Show in Orlando, Davis Love III appeared as a staff player forTommy Armour 845 investment cast irons and G. Loomis graphite shafts. At thePGA Championship in August and the World Cup of Golf in November, Love playedMizuno forged irons with shafts made of steel, not graphite. Yet the names onhis bag were still Armour and Loomis.

Deception is oftenreality in tournament golf. What you see on the bag isn't always what's in thebag.

"I think thata guy should play what he endorses," says Tour player Mark McCumber. Sodoes the Federal Trade Commission, which clearly stipulates that endorsements"may not contain any representations which could be deceptive."

Does MichaelJordan wear Reeboks, Arnold Palmer rent from Avis, or Jim Palmer don BVDbriefs? In golf a degree of misrepresentation goes on all the time. Touringpros give the pitch, and then they run—often to the bank.

A commercial thataired during the Mercedes Championships early this month and during last week'sNorthern Telecom Open features Fred Couples hitting the new Lynx "BlackCat" irons, which will debut at this week's Merchandise Show. In the ad atank follows Couples around the course, firing shells that destroy greens."The tank leaves a slightly larger ball mark," says a man in thevoice-over. In Couples's bag at the Mercedes Championships and when he won theDubai Desert Classic last week were the Lynx Parallax irons he has been usingsince 1992.

Also broadcastduring the Mercedes Championships was a Founders Club advertisement thatfeatures Lanny Wadkins hitting oversized Judge irons. "The new Judge iron'sgot a sweet spot the size of Texas," Wadkins says. "The weight's hit the ball high...and bring it down soft." Wadkins used FoundersClub forged blades in the Northern Telecom Open.

Some players havecontracts that allow this kind of deception, committing them to carrybillboard-style bags but not clubs of the same brand. Under such a deal, a fewyears ago Paul Azinger carried a Hurricane Golf bag but played MacGregor irons.Also, though newly signed players are expected to start carrying the companybag immediately, they are often given a grace period of several months in whichto experiment with the sponsor's equipment. That's why Nick Faldo carriedMizuno irons in his Wilson bag at the 1990 U.S. Open and Steve Elkington playedthe 1993 season with Titleist forged irons in his Cubic Balance bag.

To protectthemselves, most companies now demand a minimum of eight sponsored clubs in aplayer's bag. Companies that pay their touring pros six—and in some casesseven—figures per year want credibility, not just exposure. "In the past,we didn't make players who endorsed our products play them," ChuckSwisshelm, then the general manager of Bullet Golf, told Golf Pro magazine in1993. "However, we've modified our policy."

But what is acompany to do when a player can't adjust to playing its clubs? Tommy ArmourGolf addressed its problem with Love by making forged blades for him. And evenif Black Cats are cutting edge, Lynx can hardly expect Couples to stop usingthe irons he has had so much success with since 1992. Those Black Cats couldbring bad luck.

Changing clubs canmean disaster. Look what happened to Lee Janzen. Last year he signed a $550,000contract to play perimeter-weighted H40 irons made by the Ben Hogan Company.Ads featuring Janzen playing the H40s aired through June 20, despite the factthat Janzen had already switched to Hogan Apex blades because he couldn't playthe H40s. The 1993 U.S. Open champion has since left Hogan and signed a lesslucrative contract to play Nicklaus N1 forged irons.

Golf's misleadingadvertising often results from the fact that companies pay players megadollarsto endorse game-improvement clubs, such as oversized drivers and investmentcast irons, which appeal to the mass market but not to all touring pros."You can make a fortune playing with cast clubs, or you can make nothingplaying with blades," says Elkington. But that's not the case. The sad factis, pros can make a fortune advertising cast clubs and playing forged ones.

One player whocan't be accused of misleading the public is Ben Crenshaw. When ClevelandClassics, whose irons he had played and endorsed, went to the radically shapedVAS iron in 1994, Crenshaw the traditionalist just couldn't make the switch. Hewent back to an old set of Walter Hagens.

Crenshaw's bag isgeneric—not a logo on it. In golf that's as rare as a double eagle.