Lights, cameras, action as McIlroy signs up to the ranks of 'the swoosh'


The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque took 11 years to build and sits today in Abu Dhabi as the eighth biggest mosque in the world. It has 82 domes, can hold up to 42,000 worshippers and boasts not only the world’s third biggest chandelier but also the planet’s largest known carpet – a 35-tonne, 60,000-square-feet woollen masterpiece that contains within it close to 2.3 billion knots. It is genuinely, in the most literal sense of the word, awesome.

Well, Nike want you to know that they think Rory McIlroy is pretty awesome too. So awesome, in fact, that for half an hour here yesterday, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque existed merely as a backdrop.

The 10-year, $200 million (€150 million) endorsement deal between McIlroy and Nike was announced with the sort of breathless, corporate enthusiasm that apparently makes the world go round and although the man himself had the good grace to seem a little bashful about it all, he knows on which side his bread is now buttered.

Global behemoth

It’s all very easy to sit here and take the mickey out of a global behemoth like Nike. So here goes. This was swooshes at sundown, a garish, over-the-top demonstration of Nike’s all-conquering might and munificence. Where no expense was spared to make it look like no expense had been spared. We counted 20 television cameras, 36 spotlights, two giant screens and a stage that would make Bono wonder if maybe it wasn’t all a bit roomy for a 24-minute gig.

The Fairmont Bab Al Bahr Hotel was on lockdown from 90 minutes before it began, with fastidious security men standing sentry over every loose patch of grass outside where the stage sat. The Irish Times took a wander at one point just to see if we could find the side of said stage, whereupon we were halted by one such badge.

“Sorry sir, where are you going?”

“Just having a look around.”

“No sir, no looking around.”

“No looking around?”

“No sir. Not until later.”

The thought briefly occurred that maybe this was bigger than we’d imagined. That maybe Nike had really pushed the boat out and organised Barack Obama himself to introduce McIlroy to the stage. But no, this was just how things were to be done. No ordinary sponsorship announcement, this.

Though everybody could see McIlroy standing not 100 yards away from the stage, the Nike people weren’t going to get the show on the road until the sun dipped behind the Grand Mosque. When it did, Nike Golf president Cindy Davis walked out between the two screens and launched into her routine.

Serious high-end corporate executives are believers. You might very well think that they must inwardly cringe at some of the guff they’re forced to utter but that’s not how it is at all.

Sounded preposterous

When Cindy Davis stood in front of us yesterday and told us Rory would be using “The Driver That Everybody Is Talking About”, you can be sure that she was certain of her ground. It didn’t matter in the slightest that it sounded preposterous.

Davis assured us this was the very birth of an era. “The beginning of 2013 for us is one of the most exciting times since Tiger Woods joined the swoosh and we made the formal commitment to be in the golf business.”

See? She actually said “joined the swoosh”. No irony, no air-quotes, no nothing. Davis is a professional to the soles of her Nike shoes and this is how it’s done.

“They come to us, these golfers,” she said, “because they want to be Nike athletes, because they know that our innovations and the power of the swoosh makes them better, makes them successful and makes them winners. Which brings me to tonight’s official announcement, one that is befitting of Nike Golf today, one that really captures the true excellence of Nike in a time . . .”

The lights dimmed. The screens illuminated. The speakers crackled and fizzed and then cranked into a pounding bass. It was like walking into Abercrombie Fitch, just with an 82-domed mosque in the background. A fountain erupted behind the stage and then, projected onto the spumes of water, came action footage of McIlroy cracking drives and holing putts. And through it all, the Nike logo. Yes, even the water swished with the swoosh, as if to remind nature itself who’s boss.

McIlroy stood for pictures beside his new bag – on which, to be fair, the various swooshes are quite understated and almost demure, ceding space to his new kids’ charity. As he did so, Davis informed us that: “Rory has signed a multi-year deal with Nike. He is going to represent the swoosh in clubs, ball, full-wear apparel, headwear, gloves and accessories.”

Then he and Davis took to a couple of high stools and got the stilted interview part of the proceedings over with.

Cindy: “There’s lots of questions but I think the most obvious one is this – Rory, as world number one, you could choose to be with any company. And you chose to be with Nike Golf. So share with us why you believe that Nike is the right partner to develop your career?”

Rory: Well Cindy, the 20-mill a year is pretty sweet . . . (Kidding! Just kidding.) What he actually said was:

“First and foremost, I’ve always associated Nike with the best. When I was growing up watching athletes on TV, whether it be in golf, football or tennis, all the best athletes were wearing Nike apparel. I’ve always associated with that and now that I’ve got the opportunity to become a Nike athlete, I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’ve watched Tiger make some history as a Nike athlete, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal too. I’m excited to try to create my own history and be part of the Nike family.”

Cindy: “Awesome.”

The rest of it was fairly regulation stuff. They aired good luck messages from Wayne Rooney, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, the latter even going so far as to say, “Welcome to the family”. Then they showed the new TV ad McIlroy and Woods have made together, a knockabout piece of caper in which they take turns firing golf balls into cups, beakers and champagne glasses.

More pressure

Finally, Davis invited questions from the press. We asked if this put him under more pressure now and he replied that no, he always puts most pressure on himself anyway. We asked if the new season had a different slant now that he had different equipment. “No, not at all,” he said. “The change has been absolutely seamless and I just can’t wait to get started.”

Just as we were starting to wonder if Davis was going to grab him by the collar of his Nike tracksuit top and scream, “Don’t you get it?! Everything has changed! Everything is better than before!”, we brought up the slightly sticky question of his putter.

Over the weekend, an internet photo taken at the course in Dubai where he was practising with his new clubs showed that there were two putters in his bag – his new Nike Method one and his old Titleist Scotty Cameron one. For years Woods stuck with his old putter even though the rest of his bag was filled with Nike clubs and he won 13 of his 14 majors with it.

Does Rory, we wondered, have the option of doing the same if his new Nike Method doesn’t work out?

“I’m really happy with the putter I have in the bag. I’ve practised with it and I feel really comfortable with it. So I have no further comment to make. From now on I’ll be playing a Method putter.”

But do you have the option to go back to the other one?

“I’m not here to talk about the specifics of the contract.”

Ah well.

The general awesomeness of it all will have to do.

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