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January 23, 2013

Luke Donald sticks with Mizuno clubs, says McIlroy will be fine

Posted at 11:45 AM by Mike Walker | Categories: Luke Donald, Mizuno, Rory McIlroy

LukedonaldLuke Donald at the BMW Masters golf tournament in Shanghai in October 2012 (Getty Images).

Luke Donald didn't announce his contract extension with his longtime sponsor Mizuno at an international media conference or by filming a funny commercial with fellow Mizuno man Charles Howell III. He did it in a quiet telephone call from Florida, where he's preparing for his 13th season on the PGA Tour.

"I like to stick to what I know," Donald said of his contract extension, of which Mizuno would not disclose the financial details or length. "I've been with them for 10 years, and I've never been one to tinker."

Mizuno has a "family atmosphere," Donald said, and he likes the special attention he gets at the equipment truck when he needs to re-grip his clubs or change his lofts. Other companies have to take care of dozens of players. Still, Donald tested the waters with other equipment companies before deciding to stay at Mizuno, which he's been playing since his college days at Northwestern.

One of the main sticking points for Donald is that he didn't want a deal that forced him to play all 14 clubs from a single manufacturer.

"I would find it hard -- unless [the contract] was substantial -- to play all 14 clubs," Donald said. "I would be lying if I said I didn't try other equipment, but I'm still very uncomfortable committing to play all 14 clubs. I like to have flexibility with the driver and the putter."

Donald said he plays 11 Mizuno clubs -- all his irons and wedges -- and he plays a TaylorMade Rocketbalz driver and an Odyssey White Hot Tour XG putter. Although equipment companies and players treat the details of endorsement contracts like nuclear secrets, megadeals like Rory McIlroy's new Nike contract generally require the golfer to play all of the company's clubs with some exceptions. For example, McIlroy switched back to his Scotty Cameron putter in Abu Dhabi after playing the first round with his Nike Method putter, and Tiger Woods has gone back and forth with putters while playing all Nike clubs.

Having spent more than a year -- 55 weeks -- as the No. 1 player in the last two years, Donald is now ranked third behind No. 2 Woods and No. 1 McIlroy. However, Donald didn't admit to any schadenfreunde watching McIlroy miss the cut in Abu Dhabi while playing Nike gear for the first time, nor does he think his Ryder Cup teammate will stay down for long.

"Given his talent, he's not going to struggle," Donald said of McIlroy. "I would not place the blame on the equipment. That's a tricky golf course to start your season on. He'll adjust to that."

Despite their closeness in world-ranking points, Donald is aware that McIlroy and Woods's star power far eclipses his own, and he's fine with that.

"Players like Rory and Tiger come around once in a lifetime," Donald said. "They have that 'wow' factor and they have so many fans following them. I'm a different type of payer, and I certainly understand the frenzy around them."

For Donald, the 2013 season isn't about adjustments. His only focus, he said, is "winning and winning majors," and his mind is already on April. Many see the Masters as Donald's best chance to win his first major due to his otherworldly talent on the greens. (In 2011, Donald had a streak of 434 holes without a three-putt.) Asked when he'll start preparing for the Masters, Donald responded, "I start now."

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