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Titleist takes legal action over Tiger Woods ad

Titleist takes legal action over Tiger Woods ad

You're not likely to see Tiger Woods wearing Reebok golf shoes or an Adidas T-shirt. That's because Nike pays him about $40 million to wear theirs.

Nike says it has no problem with two of its television ads that show the golfer swinging a club at a golf ball -- even though the club and ball are made by one of Nike's competitors, which pays Woods about $20 million to promote its clubs and golf balls.

But now the Fairhaven-based Titleist -- the company that endorsed Woods to promote their clubs and balls -- is swinging back, with a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston.

The suit, filed on June 25, claims that the Nike ads violate Woods' exclusive contract to endorse Titleist balls and clubs.

In one ad, Woods bounces a ball off the face of a wedge several times before swatting it baseball-style. In the other, regular golfers join Woods at the driving range, and begin hitting the ball 300 yards, just as he does.

Officials for Acushnet Co., the parent company for Titleist, FootJoy footwear and Cobra Golf Inc., say the Nike ads have caused "irreparable harm" because a Nike slogan appears at the end of both commercials. As a result, "many tens of millions" of people may think Woods has switched to Nike equipment, according to court papers filed by Acushnet's lawyer, James King.

Nike says it's doing nothing wrong. Woods is using a Titleist club and hitting Titleist balls in the ads, said Mike Kelly, Nike's director of golf communications.

The company has already changed the slogan at the end of the ad from "Nike Golf" to "Nike -- Just Do It'' in an effort to accommodate Titleist, Kelly said. And the company is considering other slogans before the ad's next run on network television, scheduled to coincide with the PGA Championship in August. The ads are currently running primarily on the Golf Channel.

"We can't advertise Tiger without him playing golf," Kelly said. ``We're within our rights to do that."

Titleist seeks unspecified monetary damages in the suit and hopes that talks with Nike, which began manufacturing golf balls this year, will pull the ads.

That's unlikely, Kelly said.

"We plan to continue airing these two ads on national television, and we have communicated that to the Acushnet Company," he said.

Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, said he was working closely with both companies to settle the dispute, but declined to say how a compromise could be reached.

"We certainly don't want two of Tiger's biggest sponsors to just slug it out," Steinberg said. "We're taking an active role in trying to get this settled."

Woods, 23, turned pro in 1996 after winning his third straight U.S. Amateur title. He immediately signed endorsements with Nike and Titleist worth a combined $60 million over five years.

Titleist's chagrin over the Nike ads is exacerbated by their popularity.

Kelly, the Nike spokesman, said the company had been inundated with phone calls and e-mails from golfers who like the ads, in particular the one in which Woods bounces the ball off the wedge.

The scene actually stemmed from a break in filming the second ad. As people were waiting during filming on a hot day, Woods decided to entertain the crowd by doing some tricks.

"So, I went over there and just started juggling the ball and doing weird stuff, and they were entertained," Woods said.

So was the director.

He suggested getting Woods on tape bouncing the ball off his wedge. After only four takes, Woods was able to "juggle" the ball for a full 28 seconds. He then turned and took a full swing as the ball was in the air and made astounding contact.

"You go to golfing ranges, and average golfers are trying to imitate what Tiger was trying to do," Kelly said. "It really connects Tiger with them.''