SHANGHAI -- The rumors of Rory McIlory decamping to Nike have reached China. On Tuesday, during a pretournament press conference at the BMW Masters, McIlroy was asked -- in Mandarin -- if “perhaps you will sign with someone else for the next 10 years or so.”
Ten years is the length of the contract of the purported Nike-Rory deal that has been bandied about in the golf press, usually attached to the eye-popping price tag of $250 million. (Of course, there’s also a parallel rumor involving TaylorMade, but somehow that isn’t as sexy.)
McIlroy smoothly deflected the question, saying, "I have my management company deal with endorsements and everything like that. I’m just here to concentrate on golf this week, and I’ve got enough to think about trying to get that ball in the hole. So no further comment on that.”
Later, he added, "These rumors have been going around for years, and it seems to always come up at this time of year.”
The big difference is that McIlory’s contract with Titleist expires at the end of this year. That is among the handful of deals he signed under his old agent, Chubby Chandler. Now McIlory’s new rainmaker, Conor Ridge, gets to take the world No. 1 into the open market.
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The Nike rumor makes sense because the company always aggressively courts the most dominant player in every sport, and McIlory is clearly that guy in golf, and could be for the next couple of decades. (Nike’s creative talent could also have a lot of fun with McIlroy’s budding rivalry with Tiger Woods.) There is also historical precedent for the rumors, as Titleist has never been willing to pay top dollar for golf’s biggest names at the height of their marketability. Tiger Woods ditched his Titleist clubs for Nike in 2002, and Phil Mickelson decamped for Callaway after winning his first Masters in 2004.
McIlroy prizes loyalty and has been careful to say nothing that would complicate his current relationship with Titleist. I caught him alone on Tuesday afternoon and he did a convincing job sounding unconcerned about all the speculation.
“Even if I didn’t have one sponsor, I’d still make a great living because the prize money is so big,” said McIlroy, who topped the PGA Tour money list with more than $8 million, plus a $2 million FedEx Cup bonus. “I’ve never been motivated by money. All the business stuff will work itself out. What I want is more trophies.”
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(Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)