Proof's in results: Titleist lets equipment promote itself

One of the biggest names in the equipment industry decided to
skip the PGA Merchandise Show this year. Titleist figured the $2.5
million it usually sets aside for the four-day extravaganza could
be better spent on other promotions.

So far, the best advertising has come from its players.

''We were the talk of the show in absentia,'' Titleist chief
Wally Uihlein said.

Three weeks into the new season, the talk on the PGA Tour is
Ernie Els belting a drive that reached the bottom of the hill on
the 555-yard 15th hole, leaving him only 150 yards from a patch of
grass that was free of divots. No one had ever hit it there off the

''I was down there twice this week,'' Els said.

A week later in the Sony Open, Els put his Titleist 983K driver
and the Pro V1x ball to work at Waialae Country Club, routinely
needing only a wedge for his second shot on the 501-yard ninth

The buzz at the Phoenix Open last week was Phil Mickelson,
another Titleist pitchman, driving to the front edge of the green
on the 403-yard 10th hole.

Mickelson began using the 983K driver and the Pro V1x after the
Tour Championship last year, and he has embarked on a conditioning
program to get more strength and speed into his swing, allowing the
equipment to work wonders.

''This new x-ball, if I just swing at it regular speed, I don't
get much out of it,'' Mickelson said. ''But when I go after it, I
get a ton out of it. The harder I can hit the ball now, we have
golf balls made for that swing.''

That raised more questions about what technology is doing to

One of the most famous photographs in golf is Ben Hogan hitting
a 1-iron to the 18th green at Merion in his 1950 U.S. Open victory.

By today's standards, that probably would be a wedge.

Augusta National already has revamped its course by adding
nearly 300 yards. Club chairman Hootie Johnson was tired of seeing
players hitting wedges on long par 4s.

The easy explanation is the equipment, starting with the ball.

The golf ball industry has been revolutionized in recent years.
Nearly every company has switched from a wound ball to those with
solid cores and multilayers.

The U.S. Golf Association is developing a modern test to
determine how far the ball travels, although senior technical
director Dick Rugge says he expects every golf ball on the
conforming list to meet the new standards.

''The real revolution is not distance,'' Rugge said. ''Distance
balls have been available for two decades, but tour professionals
gave that up for the feel and control. Now, they don't have to give
that up.''

The revolution began with Strata in 1996, and was in full force
four years later. Tiger Woods switched to the Nike Tour Accuracy,
and Titleist -- the tour leader in golf balls for more than 50 years
-- answered with the Pro V1.

Uihlein said Titleist's latest products are more of an evolution
than a revolution.

The new Pro V1 has been tweaked to deliver more speed with lower
driver spin, and its 392 dimples come in five sizes instead of two.

The Pro V1x has a high-compression, dual core -- essentially a
four-piece ball -- that benefits players with greater clubhead speed
like Mickelson, Els and Phoenix Open champion Vijay Singh. It has
332 dimples in seven sizes.

When the original Pro V1 made its PGA Tour debut at the 2000 Las
Vegas Invitational, nearly one-third of the field switched from the
wound ball and virtually every Titleist player was using the ProV1
within six months.

With this launch, Titleist players have a choice. About 55
percent of the 76 players who used a Titleist at the Sony Open
chose the Pro V1x.

For Titleist, it's another opportunity to fortify its hold in
the premium ball market. The ball industry has never been more
competitive, with Nike, Callaway, Spalding (Strata and Hogan),
Precept and Maxfli all developing balls that go farther and land

''We're trying to make the Pro V1 and the Pro V1x the Kleenex of
the super premium category,'' Uihlein said. ''That's the end game.
We've got a 60 percent market share of that segment. Now is the
time to strike, particularly with the regulatory bodies capping how
much improvement is ahead of us.

''We're looking at this as a critical point in the evolution of
golf ball development and marketing. Who's got what, and how does
it perform?''

Uihlein bristles at suggestions that the ball alone is changing
professional golf.

Woods, Singh and David Duval are among the high-profile players
who have set the standard for fitness. Mickelson only recently
began working with a personal trainer, while Els has also increased
his fitness regimen.

Nearly 50 players on the PGA Tour are at least 6-foot-2, while
25 weigh at least 210.

''I don't want to understate the contribution of the player,''
Uihlein said. ''Even Phil, admitting he might not be a charter
member at the L.A. Fitness Club, is understanding that the physical
side is a contributor to advanced performance.

''The ball gets singled out because it's the thing that moves.''

Even so, the Pro V1x has been singled out the first three weeks.
More tour players use Titleist than any other ball, so there are
more chances of them winning.

But that's part of the Titleist mission.

''The Pro V1x is clearly an attempt to raise the bar one rung
further,'' Uihlein said. ''It's our best effort across the board.
At the pyramid of influence, we've got the majority usage. We're
expecting them to carry that message.''