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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF

New Ball Makers Already on a Roll

March 31, 2000|THOMAS BONK

We're getting deep into it now, and it seems clear that the Great Golf Ball War will continue rolling along for a long time.

The latest estimates of wholesale revenue from golf ball sales are $725 million this year, so there is a lot at stake for the newest producers on the block: Callaway Golf, Nike Golf and Taylor Made.

Not surprisingly, all three of the fledgling ball makers say things are going great.

Callaway's golf balls are projected to generate retail sales of $69 million in 2000, according to an investment report by brokerage A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc.

The new balls are called Rule 35. There are 34 official rules of golf, but Callaway is saying the balls relate to a new rule, Rule 35, to "enjoy the game."

"The demand for it from retailers is huge," said Larry Dorman, vice president of advertising press/public relations at Callaway Golf. "The main question we have to answer is 'How can we get more?' "

Bruce Fleischer is playing the Rule 35 ball on the Senior PGA Tour and Callaway's main regular tour guys such as Rocco Mediate, Olin Browne and Brian Henninger are expected to start using it any time. Annika Sorenstam is playing the ball on the LPGA Tour.

Meanwhile, it's going to be interesting to see what Callaway does with Paul Azinger. He is appearing in Nike ball ads while being sponsored by Callaway in an equipment deal.

Callaway's motto is "Hit it, Believe it." Then there is Nike, of "Just Do It" fame. Whatever "it" is, it is apparent that the ball makers want you to think about "it."

None other than Ely Callaway is the subject of the newest Callaway ball spot.

Nike's ball allocations are sold out through May. A new series of five television ads about the ball are on the air featuring Azinger, Notah Begay, Craig Stadler and Paul Lawrie.

InerGel, Taylor Made's new ball, is making inroads, according to Merle Marting, Global Director of Brand Communications.

Marting said Taylor Made's ball finished the year with 3.4% of the market share.

"For a new ball intro, that's quite a good start," Marting said. "We're trending up."

John Cook, Lee Janzen, John Daly and Gary McCord are among the pros using the Taylor Made ball.

Marting expects some "consolidation" among manufacturers in the future, meaning "there are some people in the golf ball business now that won't be." He also said Taylor Made testing of InerGel against Rule 35 showed the Taylor Made ball superior in distance and spin.

Dorman said robot testing of balls is flawed.

"You can dial in any result you want," Dorman said. "That's why we never use any comparative robot testing. It's the ultimate yes-man. . . . If you want to find out if our golf ball is any good, just hit it and find out."

FOOD NEWS

Gong the dinner plates. Sound the silverware. Alert the gourmands.

Here is Jose Maria Olazabal's menu selection for the Masters Champions dinner: Starters--roasted almonds, olives, cheese; entree--filet of beef with Bordelaise sauce, European-style potatoes, green salad with oil and vinegar; dessert--chocolates.

Said Sam Snead, who wasn't too happy ("That's no dinner.") about Tiger Woods' choice of cheeseburgers in 1998: "Beef, now that sounds good to me."

MASTERS MILESTONES

It's been (blank) years since (blank):

10--Since the last playoff, when Nick Faldo defeated Raymond Floyd.

20--Since Greg Norman made his debut.

25--Since Lee Elder became the first African American to play.

30--Since the last 18-hole playoff, when Billy Casper defeated Gene Littler.

WEEKENDS IN AUGUSTA

There probably is something to be said about consistency, so here it is: Four players in the Masters field (who have made at least five starts) have never missed the cut at Augusta National.

They are Fred Couples with 15, John Huston with 10, Janzen with eight and Daly with seven.

But Bernhard Langer has the longest current streak with 16 straight Masters without missing the cut, over the last 17 years.

LOOK, A STREAKER

For what it's worth, Woods' stretch of 10 victories in his last 17 tournaments is the best since Byron Nelson won 10 straight in his 1945 streak of 12 in a row.

Other than Nelson's mark, Woods' success ratio is better than Ben Hogan's stretch of 10 victories in 19 events that spanned 1949-1953 and Johnny Miller's 10 of 23 in 1974-1975.

IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS

It's perfect for your office Masters pool. That would be a new site on Golfonline.com, called GolfStats, which enables the user to search by player, tournament, year and tour--back to 1970 on the PGA Tour, 1975 on the LPGA Tour and 1990 on the Buy.com Tour and Senior PGA Tour.

SEE YA, ERNIE

Also for what it's worth, Ernie Els' tie for 20th at the Players Championship dropped him to No. 11 in the official world ranking, the first time he hasn't been in the top 10 in 299 weeks, since he won the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

POWER BROKERS

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