Fully Equipped mailbag: Are we nearing the end of whirlwind equipment signing periods?

January 9, 2020
Remember Rory McIlroy's mega-deal with Nike? It likely won't ever happen again.

Welcome to another edition of the Fully Equipped mailbag, an interactive GOLF.com series in which our resident dimplehead (a.k.a., GOLF’s managing editor of equipment, Jonathan Wall) fields your hard-hitting gear questions.

Should we expect any more player equipment signings/changes? Or do you believe everything’s been pretty much announced? — Ryan Redding

Kevin Tway was unveiled as the newest member of Wilson Golf’s tour staff at the Sony Open. It was, by all accounts, the most significant equipment signing thus far. Let that sink in for a second. On the heels of Justin Rose (Honma) and Francesco Molinari (Callaway) inking gear deals elsewhere in 2019, the first few weeks of 2020 have left much to be desired, with Tway, Chez Reavie (PXG) and Eddie Pepperell (Ping) leading the way. (Patrick Reed has, by all accounts, signed a deal with Grindworks Co. in Japan, but few details have been released.)

What a few of you have been asking me on social media recently is if I think the slow start to the signing period is an anomaly or a sign of things to come. Having spoken to a few close contacts in the equipment industry, I tend to think it’s the latter for a couple of reasons.

For one, golfers have become far more discerning when it comes to their club purchases, eschewing the chance to play what they see on television each week for a custom-fit clubs geared to their strengths. With high-profile names playing less of a role in purchasing decisions, there’s been a significant decline in the number of big-money staff deals being doled out each season.

I think we’ll still see names from the OWGR upper crust test the free agency waters when their current deal is about to expire; I’m just not sure they’ll find anything better on the market unless someone is willing to splash the cash. And with manufacturers gaining more leverage than ever before in deals, Rory-Nike money isn’t exactly floating around on tour.

Throw in the head-spinning purses they play for each week and it honestly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to shake things up in the bag — unless you’re a current gear free agent or someone who’s looking at a guaranteed check that’s impossible to pass up.

Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey are still club free agents three years later, which tells you everything you need to know about the current equipment endorsement landscape. There just aren’t not a lot of enticing options out there.

Nike’s departure from the hard-good industry and TaylorMade’s tour staff contraction laid the foundation for the seismic shift, but we’re still seeing the effects years later. That likely isn’t changing anytime soon. Save for a few surprises, I think quiet signing periods have become the new normal.

To hear more gear insights from Jonathan Wall and True Spec’s Tim Briand, subscribe and listen each week to GOLF’s Fully Equipped podcast: iTunes | SoundCloud | Spotify | Stitcher