All golf brands are not created equal. However, at the highest level, most tour-issued equipment is relatively similar. Indeed, many of the players on this list have won golf tournaments with more than one company's clubs and balls.
Tiger Woods, for example, originally played Titleist clubs and balls when joining the Tour in 1996, as Nike had yet to produce its first clubs and balls at that time. Woods played Titleist clubs during his incredible stretch of play from 2000 to 2001 during which he won four consecutive majors. He switched to Nike irons in 2002.
Sure, players might prefer one brand of equipment to another. The brand the world's best are most partial to, however, is the one which pays them the most money. Most of the equipment companies on this list expect their players to use 12 to 14 clubs of their making, as well as sport the company's logo on the front of their hats and the sides of their golf bags (the two most valuable pieces of real estate on/around a golfer).
Some companies, such as Nike, have "head to toe" deals with their staffers. This means players in the Swoosh stable are expected to carry only Nike clubs, wear only Nike gear, and not sport any other logos. Obviously there are exceptions to this. For example, Tiger Woods' golf bag has prominently featured the logo of other companies (such as Buick and Fuse Science) for years.
So, all golf equipment makers are producing relatively comparable goods. However, payouts to staff players are not the same, as budgets are varied. Consider that Nike Golf is a subsidiary of Nike, Inc, which earned nearly $7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013 alone. Callaway Golf, which is not a subsidiary of any other company, didn't gross $1 billion in revenue for the whole of 2013.
Although endorsement arrangements are largely private (except for blockbuster deals like Woods' and McIlory's), it can be safely assumed that players sporting the Swoosh are earning more than those wearing the chevron (Callaway's symbol). However, Callaway staffers have the option of taking on additional endorsements, whereas Nike's largely do not, thus narrowing the gap some.
Let's have a look at the top-ranked player on each major club manufacturer's roster.
10 Nike: Tiger Woods (OWGR: No. 1)
Unless you've been in a coma since 1996, this shouldn't come as a surprise: Tiger Woods is Nike's top-ranked golfer. The Oregon-based company essentially launched their golf division to cash in on the already forged Tiger Woods brand. Now, nearly 20 years later, it's more than sufficient to say that the relationship has proved immensely beneficial for to both parties.
Woods' deals with Nike have been enormous. He initially signed a five-year, $40 million deal upon turning pro. Since then, the golfer has been paid in excess of $20 million per year to sport the Swoosh.
Revenues for Nike's golf division have grown from basically nothing to nearly a billion dollars since 1997. Up until the recent signing of Rory McIlroy, Tiger's star power was the most significant component of Nike Golf's success. It goes without saying that no other golfer is more important to a brand on this list than Woods is to Nike.
9 Cleveland: Graeme McDowell (OWGR: No. 15)
When it comes to golfers with Cleveland clubs in their golf bags, nobody is better than Graeme McDowell.
GMac won the Volvo World Match Play Championship in 2013, as well as the RBC Heritage. He presently sits in the 15th spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. McDowell made 11 of 16 cuts on Tour last season, earned more than $2.1 million, and finished 28th in the FedExCup standings.
While the Cleveland roster may not be huge, they have a pair of very popular and all-together cool players among their ranks in Keegan Bradley and Graeme McDowell.
8 Callaway: Phil Mickelson (OWGR: No. 5)
The fifth-ranked golfer in the world is Carlsbad, CA-based Callaway Golf's best player on staff.
Mickelson won twice in 2013 on the PGA Tour, including at the Open Championship at Muirfield. Additionally, the left-hander narrowly missed winning the U.S. Open as well.
He finished fourth in the FedExCup and raked in more than $5.4 million on Tour for the season.
The second-highest ranked Callway staffer? Patrick Reed in 20th position in the OWGR.
7 Titleist: Adam Scott (OWGR: No. 2)
Scott made the cut in all 16 of his PGA Tour starts in 2013, and got the major monkey off his back with a win at the Masters.
During the 2013 season, the Australian moved from seventh in the OWGR to second; an impressive jump.
6 Srixon: Henrik Stenson (OWGR: No. 3)
You may not know a lot about Srixon golf. However, even if you're a casual golf fan, you know their top staffer: Henrik Stenson.
The Swede had a mind-bogglingly good 2013 season, winning both the FedExCup and the Race to Dubai, moving to third in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Stenson won more than $6 million the PGA Tour, in addition to securing the $10 million annuity handed to winners of the FedExCup. All in all, Srixon has to be delighted with the exposure afforded by Stenson's historic 2013 season.
5 Cobra: Ian Poulter (OWGR: No. 19)
Plaid aficionado Ian Poulter is Cobra's top-ranked golfer. Poulter presently sits at 19th in the Official World Golf Ranking after beginning the season in the 12th spot.
Last year, the Englishman made the cut in 13 of his 16 PGA Tour starts, racking up four top-10 finishes.
Although he has been trending downward, Poulter is still well ahead of Rickie Fowler (41), who is the next highest-ranked Cobra staffer.
4 TaylorMade: Jason Day (OWGR: No. 4)
Although Sergio Garcia has been the face of TaylorMade for the past decade, he's no longer the company's top-ranked golfer.
That honor now belongs to Australian Jason Day, who presently sits fourth in the OWGR.
Behind Day is the 2013 U.S. Open champion, Justin Rose. Rose is the sixth ranked golfer in the world. During the 2013 season, the Englishman rose as high as fourth in the OWGR.
3 Mizuno: Luke Donald (OWGR: No. 25)
Mizuno staffer Luke Donald has long been the company's brightest talent for the past decade.
Donald signed a multi-year extension with the company at the beginning of 2013, so he'll be playing Mizuno irons and wedges for the forseeable future.
Not only does Donald play the company's equipment, he also does a good job of talking it up. Upon resigning with the Japanese iron maker, Donald said, "Mizuno is the most precise, incredible club-maker out there, and I’m honored to represent this quality brand."
2 Ping: Bubba Watson (OWGR: No. 12)
The highest-ranked golfer in the Ping stable is Bubba Watson. The 2012 Masters champion is the No. 12 golfer in the world at the moment.
The fifth-longest hitter on Tour in 2013, Bubba Waston notched three top-10 finishes, making 18 of 21 cuts.
For Watson, 2013 didn't contiunue the upward trajectory of his 2012, major-winning season. However, with his tremendous overexposure across all forms of media, the Phoenix-based company is certainly getting there money worth.
1 Bridgestone: Matt Kuchar (OWGR: No. 11)
Quick. Name a Bridgestone Golf staffer. The subsidiary of a company that is more famous for its tires than its golf clubs, Bridgestone has a respectable roster of PGA and LPGA Tour standouts playing the company's equipment.
Although both Davis Love III and Fred Couples play Bridgestone clubs, the top-ranked player with the company's weaponry in his golf bag is Matt Kuchar.
The 11th-ranked golfer in the world, Kuchar had a stellar 2013 season that assuredly pleased his sponsors.
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