Amex dumps Woods, signs PGA

AKRON, Ohio (AP) — No longer affiliated with Tiger Woods or the tournament he won five times, American Express signed an endorsement deal Friday with the PGA of America that showed how it has shifted its strategy in golf.

American Express, which in November became the first corporate partner of the USGA, agreed to become an official patron of the PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup and has a membership of 28,000 teaching professionals.

Among other things, American Express card members will have access to Ryder Cup tickets starting next month.

Corporate partners with golf organizations have become almost the norm over the last nine months. Amex and Lexus have deals with the USGA, while the PGA of America earlier this week announced a similar deal with Royal Bank of Scotland.

But for the last decade, Amex focused its golf business on the world's No. 1 player and a World Golf Championship.

Woods twice signed five-year endorsement deals with American Express, which led to one commercial in which Woods played the role of groundskeeper Carl Spackler in a spoof of the movie "Caddyshack." American Express also was title sponsor of a World Golf Championship that Woods won five times on five courses, the last one at The Grove outside London in September.

Amex vice president Rich Lehrfeld said while the relationship with Woods was strong, the company's marketing strategy has shifted to become even more geared toward consumers.

"He brought a lot of value to Amex. He's an incredible athlete with an incredible work ethic, and that runs well with what our brand is all about," Lehrfeld said. "Sometimes strategies change. We wanted to move our dollars to build a broader base of consumer experiences."

One example of that was at Oakmont, where American Express allowed 82 card members to play the course two months before the U.S. Open, then tag along as Woods played a practice round and explained how he prepared for majors.

When he walked off the 18th green that afternoon, however, it was his final act with American Express.

"It was a good 10-year run," Mark Steinberg, his agent at IMG, said Friday while following Woods at Firestone. He said Woods and American Express mutually agreed not to negotiate another contract.

"I know that sounds like a cop-out," Steinberg said. "But this was one of those deals that had run its course. If they wanted to be more consumer-driver, that might require more of Tiger's time. And it still might not hit the right demographics for them. We talked about doing something smaller, but why downsize?"

American Express stopped its title sponsorship of the WGC event after Woods won last September. Lehrfeld said the company would stay involved with events through the USGA (U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open, Senior Open and U.S. Amateur) and the PGA of America, which counts the Ryder Cup, PGA Championship and Senior PGA Championship among its biggest tournaments.

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