HSBC: Golfers 'have a responsibility to their sponsors'

Rory McIlroy may be on a week off, but he remains in the news and at the centre of debate – both for the clubs he plays with and for his choice of tournaments.

Rory McIlroy may be on a week off, but he remains in the news and at the centre of debate – both for the clubs he plays with and for his choice of tournaments.

A big-money move to Nike – the same equipment used by Tiger Woods – is expected after the announcement by Titleist’s parent company Acushnet that they will not be renewing their contract with the world number one at the end of the year.

“I call it dangerous,” six-time major winner Nick Faldo said on American television.

“I’ve changed clubs and changed equipment and every manufacturer will say ’We can copy your clubs, we can tweak the golf ball so it fits you’.

“But there’s feel and sound as well and there’s confidence. You can’t put a real value on that – it’s priceless.”

McIlroy and Woods, meanwhile, have disappointed the sponsors of this week’s HSBC Champions in China – the final world championship of the season – by not staying on in the country following an exhibition head-to-head on Monday that was reported to have earned both of them seven-figure sums.

“On one hand we are delighted to have 13 of the world’s top 20 here, but of course we’re disappointed not to have the two top players in the world,” Giles Morgan, group head of sponsorship for HSBC, told the Daily Telegraph.

“Both have sent me apologies, but this is an event which should be regarded by all players – as it is by the tours and the media – as one of the top events in the world.

“Therefore I feel strongly that the top players should be here. I believe that golfers have a responsibility to their sponsors.

“Without the sponsors there isn’t professional golf. I speak on behalf of the industry.

“I feel very strongly, as I know a number of sponsors do – particularly in a downturn, particularly when there are financial difficulties around the world - that golf cannot be immune either.”

It is the first time McIlroy has turned down any of the sport’s four world championships.

After finishing runner-up at the BMW Masters in Shanghai on Sunday he beat Woods over 18 holes at Jinsha Lake, then flew to Bulgaria to spend time with tennis girlfriend Carolina Wozniacki.

He will be back in Asia for next week’s Singapore Open – sponsored by Barclays - then defends the Hong Kong Open title before travelling on to Dubai for the final European Tour event of the year.

Woods is not playing again until the end of November at the World Challenge in California.

As for the equipment, McIlroy said in a statement: “I would like to thank Wally Uihlein and all of the tour staff and employees at Titleist and FootJoy for everything they have done for me since I turned professional in 2007.

“I have enjoyed five very exciting and successful years with the company and I will always appreciate the contribution Titleist has made in helping me become the player I am today.”

Acushnet chief executive officer Uihlein said: “Our goal has been to provide Rory with the best equipment and service that would help him be the best player he could possibly be.

“He has been a great ambassador for the Titleist and FootJoy brands and in turn we are proud of how our equipment has contributed to his success.

“We wish Rory all the best, both personally and professionally, going forward.”

But Faldo added on the Golf Channel: “I’d be very cautious. Stick with the clubs that you know best.

“It’s really important. It’s the feel and confidence of knowing that your equipment will perform how you want it to perform on Sunday afternoon.

“You can’t mess with that at such a young age.”

Faldo was a day away from turning 30 when he won his first major in 1987. McIlroy, just 23, has already had eight-shot victories in both last year’s US Open and this year’s USPGA Championship.

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