Tiger Woods’ name was so big that Nike didn’t relegate him to golf. Like Michael Jordan before him, Woods was bigger than his particular sport — a global sports icon who transcended driving and putting. So Nike signed up one-time Woods rival David Duval to be the face of its straight-up golf brand. Duval’s game promptly fell off a cliff. He recovered enough to win one major, but his face didn’t carry a triumphant Nike brand as much as it carried a sad tale of unfulfilled potential. Given what happened to Nike’s golf business, maybe Duval was the right face after all. Unfulfilled potential was the story.
Nike innovated in golf, to be sure. That’s the only way Woods would play the clubs. But when innovation wasn’t profitable enough and scale was just too hard to reach, Nike announced it was leaving “a tough business.” Shhhhh, keep this under your swoosh golf hat, but there are apparently some things even a “Just Do It” attitude can’t change. Nike founder Phil Knight said it was tough to exit the golf business “emotionally” but not financially. How much Woods’s much-documented decline pushed the brand to see a “tough business” where before it saw potential isn’t clear. But Knight said the exit was “hard emotionally for Tiger” too. Was it the equipment, or the memories?