Updated: January 10, 2013, 7:38 PM ET

Rory McIlroy set to switch equipment

Harig By Bob Harig
ESPN.com
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One of the worst-kept secrets in golf will finally become reality on Monday when Nike puts on a show in Abu Dhabi to announce Rory McIlroy as the latest to put its golf clubs in his bag.

How many of the new tools he ends up using and how much of the company's garb he is required to wear will be unveiled a few days before McIlroy makes his season debut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

[+] EnlargeRory McIlroy
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsRory McIlroy's first test with his new golf equipment under tournament conditions comes next week at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in his 2013 season debut.

But make no mistake, McIlroy is going to be paid handsomely to do so. Various reports have pegged that number at $20 million a year over 10 years, although the estimates are apparently inflated and the terms of the deal shorter. Still, what if it is "only" $10 million a year?

The No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, McIlroy, 23, is cashing in on his ability to hit a golf ball and was reportedly seen with Nike clubs in his bag in Dubai, but not the putter. Ironically, he could be putting that in peril with such a switch. Equipment changes happen all the time with much less fanfare, but there is enough evidence out there to suggest that going from one brand to another is not always a smooth transition.

"It's a big move, no doubt about it," said McIlroy's friend Graeme McDowell. "I think 20 years ago it would have been a monster move and perhaps a mistake. I think as we sit here, there's about six, eight, 10 golf manufacturers on the planet that are making incredibly good equipment, and I don't think there's such a thing as inferior equipment nowadays.

"I think as long as Rory can find a driver and a golf ball that do what his driver and golf ball do right now, which is pretty amazing, to me that's the key stepping stone for him. If he can remain as good a driver of the golf ball as he is right now, I think the rest will fall into place, and I think he'll be okay."

McDowell knows something about this. He switched from Callaway to Srixon/Cleveland golf in 2010 following his U.S. Open victory and a season that saw him clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe.

Players are reluctant to blame equipment companies for their woes -- after all, they are being paid by said company -- but it is interesting to note that McDowell struggled in 2011 and has not won on the PGA Tour since capturing the Open at Pebble Beach.

Then again, those struggles could have been inevitable. And golfers experiment with equipment, whether it be drivers, shafts, wedges, golf balls. ... with amazing frequency.

After winning three times in 2010 and capturing PGA Tour player of the year honors, Jim Furyk also made some equipment moves, among other things switching to a TaylorMade golf ball. He had a poor season in 2011 that saw him fail to make the Tour Championship.

"I hate to sit here and blame it on equipment because I don't really think that's the major thought. I definitely tried to go a little bit different route in my game and maybe tried to address some of my weaknesses and trying to get a little longer off the tee, trying to hit the ball a bit farther," said Furyk, who in 2012 had several heartbreaking defeats.

"I like the ball that I was playing. It was spinning a little bit less than the products that I had played in the past. The driver was spinning a little less than the products I had played in the past, so there was an adjustment period to that.

"And I'll say that I didn't do a very good job adjusting at times either. In hindsight if I had it to do over again, I may have done things a little bit differently. I may have addressed my equipment a little bit different, but I think I learned a lot in the process."

If McIlroy needs any advice, perhaps he could simply ask Tiger Woods. The flag bearer for Nike equipment, Woods made the move to the company when its track record was nowhere near what it is today.

"I think that any time you make a change in equipment, it's certainly a big deal," Woods said. "I think it's about how you go at it. Going through the testing process, trying to get the right shaft and the club head, plus ball ... it's a challenge, and there's a lot of hitting of golf balls or a lot of testing, a lot of days out there spending by yourself testing.

"But when you get it right, it's pretty good. I remember for me in 2000 it turned out pretty good with that ball change. But I went through just a huge process to get to that point. It was very time-consuming, but when things go right and you test properly and you find equipment that's better than what you were playing, then you can do some pretty neat things on the golf course."

It was a gradual process for Woods, probably much slower than the one McIlroy will put in place.

Although Woods signed with Nike upon turning pro in 1996 and wore the company's apparel, he used no golf product until putting a Nike ball in play in 2000 -- the year he won three majors. He added the driver and irons in 2002, wedges in 2003, fairways woods in 2005 and finally the putter in 2010.

"For me, it's knowing that that club or that ball is better than what I was playing with, and it's going to help me in the end while I'm out there," Woods said.

Labor Woes

Unlike the major team sports, golf, particularly the PGA Tour, doesn't have to worry about work stoppages because players are independent contractors.

But those who officiate PGA Tour events are part of a union (Professional Association of Golf Officials) and their contract expired -- at the end of 2011. Rules officials worked last year under the terms of the old deal and continue to do so as negotiations with the PGA Tour are ongoing.

"The basics are the guys are going to work unless they are told otherwise," said Christian Dennie, an attorney representing the officials. "They hold the game of golf in high esteem and they don't want to see it hurt."

As for the issues, it is pretty simple: "There is no hidden agenda," Dennie said. "Compensation is one of the major issues."

The contract involves 27 rules officials who work the PGA Tour, Web.com Tour and Champions Tour.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

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