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By Mike Stachura
It appears that Justin Rose, the No. 1 player in the world, the current Olympic Gold medalist and the recently crowned FedEx Cup champion, is leaving the only equipment company he has known in his 20-year professional career.
At least that’s the contention of media reports from MorningRead.com, The Sun and the Irish Times. According to those reports, Rose was asked after his win at Sunday’s Turkish Airlines Open whether the much swirled about rumours of a new equipment deal were true. Rose slightly dodged the question, saying simply, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Rose’s words lend credence to the idea that his current contract will not be renewed by TaylorMade and that he is expected to sign with Japanese luxury equipment brand Honma to start the new year. Rose’s agent, Mark Steinberg, did not respond to requests for clarification on Rose’s endorsement contracts for 2019. Officials for Honma and TaylorMade declined to comment.
Honma recently announced that former TaylorMade president and CEO Mark King would be joining the company as a consultant, although it is widely believed that King will be running Honma’s operation in North America. King, who was CEO at TaylorMade from 1999-2013, stood by Rose in his early professional days when he missed the first 21 cuts of his career and posted a stroke average of 75.18 in his 1999 European Tour season.
In his new position with Honma, King has brought with him several former top TaylorMade employees, including Jeff Letorneau as chief operating officer, as well as bringing in former TaylorMade executive vice president John Kawaja as a consultant. Tom Cismoski, who spent nearly 24 years at TaylorMade, is Honma’s senior vice president of sales in North America.
Rose would become the second top European player and long-time TaylorMade staffer to walk away from the company in as many years, following Sergio Garcia’s departure to Callaway at the start of this year. Of course, Rose might have been a tough fit going forward for TaylorMade, which was purchased from Adidas by KPS Capital Partners in May 2017. It already has more top-ranked players in its endorsement stable than any other golf brand, including former No. 1s Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, and, of course, Tiger Woods. It also has signed a long-term deal with European Ryder Cup rookie standout Jon Rahm, the No. 8-ranked player in the world.
Honma, famous for its gold-plated clubs, artisan-style craftsmanship and five-figure price tags, has redoubled its efforts to become a major player in the golf business both globally and specifically in North America after having been purchased by Chinese businessman Liu Jianguo. Originally established in 1959 in Sakata, Japan, Honma languished in the early 2000s before being purchased by a fund run by Liu, a Chinese businessman whose company makes hair dryers and rice cookers. An avid golfer, Liu changed Honma’s business model in Asia and its sales have increased the last four years in a row to nearly $250 million. Honma now is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange after a 2016 initial public offering. It also is the title sponsor of the Hong Kong Open.