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Golf news: Nike exiting equipment means Tiger Woods will have new clubs

By
Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
Tiger Woods stands on stage with Rory McIlroy at the launch of the new Nike Vapor Iron Franchise at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, NJ on August 18, 2014. The Vapor Iron Franchise consists of 3 sets of golf club irons; The Vapor Pro, Vapor Pro Combo and Vapor Speed. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Tiger Woods stands on stage with Rory McIlroy at the launch of the new Nike Vapor Iron Franchise at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, NJ on August 18, 2014. The Vapor Iron Franchise consists of 3 sets of golf club irons; The Vapor Pro, Vapor Pro Combo and Vapor Speed. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

--Nike, which has huge endorsement deals with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy among others, dropped a bombshell when it announced that it is getting out of the golf equipment business.

The company said it will concentrate on the golf footwear and apparel but that it will transition out of making clubs, golf balls and bags.

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"We're committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel," said Trevor Edwards, president of Nike Brand. "We will achieve this by investing in performance innovation for athletes and delivering sustainable profitable growth for Nike Golf."

Woods signed with Nike when he turned pro in 1996 as a rookie out of Stanford and helped what had been primarily an athletic shoe and apparel business become one of the top golf equipment companies in the world.

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That initial contract was worth a reported $40 million over five years, and the partnership has been one of the most lucrative in sports. Woods worked closely with Nike over the years on developing equipment and signed his latest deal with the company in 2013.

"He's been the most loyal ambassador and longest standing for Nike Golf; that doesn't change," said Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent. "It just means he'll likely have some different equipment in the bag, whether that's tomorrow, next month or a year from now.

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"Tiger and I have been talking about this the last couple of days. We have a very sophisticated, legitimate plan in place, and we're going to see it through."

RELATED Hot Arizona State rookie Jon Rahm takes special PGA membership

McIlroy left Titleist late in 2012 and signed a deal with Nike reported to be worth at least $250 million over five years, after he became No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking.

Others who play Nike equipment include Brooks Koepka, Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen of Norway, Paul Casey of England, Nick Watney, Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, Tony Finau and Thorbjorn Olesen of Norway

--Maria Verchenova of Russia was cleared to play in the Women's Olympic golf tournament next week in Rio de Janeiro after a review of her doping record by the International Golf Federation (IGF) and the International Olympic Committee.

Verchenova, who plays on the Ladies European Tour, is the only Russian golfer to qualify for the Games.

"The IOC has notified the IGF and the Russian Olympic Committee that Ms. Maria Verchenova's entry to the women's individual golf event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has been confirmed," said Ty Votaw, IGF vice president.

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Verchenova's eligibility was brought into question after the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended a blanket ban on all Russian athletes following the discovery of Russia's state-sanctioned doping program.

However, the IOC balked at a full ban and left it up to each individual sports federation to vet each Russian athlete competing under its jurisdiction.

A three-member IOC panel reviewed all of the decisions made by the international federations and issued final determinations.

--Sabrina Iqbal of San Jose, a 15-year-old high school junior, captured the 50th California Women's Amateur Championship with a 4-and-3 victory over Anna Zhou of Palo Alto at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

The 15-year-old Iqbal, who attends Pioneer High, trailed for only two holes in her five matches.

"It's awesome to win and do it at Pebble Beach," said Iqbal, who joined a champions list that includes Juli Inkster, Patty Sheehan, Amy Alcott, Natalie Gulbis, Emilee Klein, Jennifer Johnson, Shelly Hamlin, Amy Fruhwirth, Andrea Gaston and Mina Harigae.

"This is one that I wanted to win. It's great to be a part of that list. I putted really well today. Anna played well, too. It was fun."

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Zhou, a sophomore at Harvard, never trailed in her four previous matches, but Iqbal took a 1-up lead on the opening hole. Zhou got back to all-square when Iqbal three-putted for a double-bogey on the eighth hole, but the winner never trailed.

Iqbal, who has committed to Texas Christian, took the lead for good by winning the ninth hole with a par and sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the 10th to go 2 up.

After finding greenside bunkers on the next two holes, Iqbal got up and down for pars to maintain her lead and stretched it to 3 up with an 11-foot birdie putt on the 13th.

When she holed another birdie putt on the 15th hole, it was over.

Iqbal, who won the NCGA Junior Championship and the San Francisco City Championship earlier this year, played the last seven holes in 3 under par.

--Matt Kuchar was all in when he was given the opportunity to represent the United States in the Olympic Games, unlike some of his peers.

However, Kuchar didn't know the men's and women's Olympic tournaments will be individual events only, with no gold medal going to the country with the best team score.

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He found out from the media, eight days before the event.

"Now, I may be misinformed or just don't know," Kuchar said at the Travelers Championship. "You may have to help me. Is there no team format at all?

"From my understanding, it was supposed to be Bubba (Watson) and Rickie (Fowler), they were the two highest-seeded Americans. Their combined score I thought was going to be the team part. There is no combination, no team at all? OK."

Of course, Kuchar wasn't supposed to be on the American team.

Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson were expected to join Watson and Fowler, but the top two players from the United States in the World Golf Ranking decided not to go to Rio because of fears of the Zika virus.

Patrick Reed will round out the U.S. team.

"I certainly was never going to be part of the team, or at least when I became part of the team I knew I wasn't in the top two," Kuchar said. "I knew I wasn't playing for any sort of team medal. I knew I was strictly there as an individual, and I will be going on an individual."

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The Olympic golf format was announced seven years ago.

--Jon Rahm of Spain accepted Special Temporary Membership for the rest of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season, meaning he can accept unlimited sponsors' exemptions for the rest of the season in an effort to earn his playing card for next season.

Rahm, 21, turned pro in June after winning the Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus awards as the NCAA's top male golfer during his senior season at Arizona State. He is the only player to win the Hogan Award twice.

In his four seasons with the Sun Devils, he won 10 tournaments and was an All-American selection in 2015 and 2016. In five PGA Tour starts as an amateur, Rahm had two top-10 finishes and was low amateur at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont with a tie for 23rd.

Rahm tied for second in the RBC Canadian Open to earn 208 Non-Member FedEx Cup points to surpass the total number of points of the player who finished No. 150 (361 points) on the 2014-15 points list. That gave him a total of 382 points in four professional starts, including a tie for third in his professional debut at the Quicken Loans National.

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Rahm will be managed by Tim Mickelson, his college coach, who recently resigned at Arizona State.

Byeong Hun An of South Korea also joined the PGA Tour as a Special Temporary Member earlier this season.

Neither will be eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs unless he wins a PGA Tour event and earns a two-year exemption on the circuit.

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