Victories on the PGA Tour are tricky business for shaft manufacturers. If you need an example, go take a look at True Temper Golf’s recent social media post from the Open Championship. Brian Harman came out on top at Royal Liverpool with the company’s Dynamic Gold Tour Issue shafts in his Titleist irons and wedges — but there’s no mention of his name in the post. Only “Open champion.”
In a sea of equipment brands jockeying for position to ink the biggest names in the sport to promote their wares, shaft manufacturers rarely, if ever, enter the fray. For starters, deals are expensive and shaft manufacturers can’t guarantee a player will stay in their product all season. And in True Temper’s case, there’s really no need to compensate the best players in the world when they’re willing to play your product for free — even if it requires you to get creative with the marketing message when you’re unable to use a player’s name, image and likeness.
If sponsoring a player to use the product isn’t in the cards, then getting them to sport the brand’s logo on the front of the hat is a pipedream. Long considered the most visible piece of real estate on a tour pro, the front of the hat can run anywhere from $250,000 to $3 million per year, depending on the player.
But what about on the amateur side? With the rise in popularity of NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) deals, True Temper waded into the waters this season and aligned themselves with recent U.S. Amateur champion Nick Dunlap to sport a logoed hat. Yes, the shaft behemoth has quietly entered the apparel space with gear sporting the True Temper and Project X logos.
True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue Iron Shaft
It’s easy to look at the blue True Temper hat Dunlap wore throughout the week at Cherry Hills Country Club and assume the brand approached the University of Alabama product. But according to Keenan Phillips, True Temper’s manager for product marketing and developmental tours, the deal was anything but transactional.
Dunlap’s connection to True Temper — he currently plays True Temper product in every club, minus the 3-wood — goes back to his caddie, Jeff Curl, who previously played on the Korn Ferry Tour. It was during his time on Tour that he started to work closely with True Temper Tour rep Tom Bill to help optimize Dunlap’s shaft setup as he grew up.
From that point forward, Bill started sending sporadic shipments of True Temper hats and apparel to both Curl and Dunlap — and something stuck. Dunlap became partial to a True Temper American Steel camo hat that came his way. He liked the hat so much, that he wound up wearing it during his triumph two years ago at the U.S. Junior Amateur.
Dunlap didn’t need to wear the hat, but he liked the look and kept supporting True Temper when he wasn’t playing in collegiate events. It was around this time that True Temper started putting more of an emphasis on the elite amateur game and Phillips began seeing Dunlap at events.
“Our goal was to be a resource to support our OEM partners and aspiring players to make sure they had whatever they needed from a knowledge or product support standpoint, they were taken care of,” Phillips told GOLF.com via e-mail. “From there on, I started seeing Nick at more and more events, over the past few years and we just hit it off.”
True Temper hadn’t considered the idea of doing a NIL deal or any sort until Dunlap approached True Temper to inquire about partnering to wear their hats during amateur events. Considering the organic connection, they figured it made too much sense to ink Dunlap to the company’s first and only NIL for the hat.
“[H]e had an attachment to our company and appreciated the support we had given him throughout his career,” said Phillips. “He also liked the idea of wearing a different hat than all other players he was playing against as wearing a True Temper hat had become unique to him.
“We care about Nick as a person and player and we never wanted to force him to play any of our products — our contract is strictly stipend-based to wear our hat. We are fortunate that he has long played all our products.”
In fact, Dunlap’s True Temper shaft setup he used to win the U.S. Amateur was the exact same one he used during the U.S. Junior Amateur, outside of a custom cosmetic Project X HZRDUS driver shaft that was made for him earlier in the year.
While having the lion’s share of the shafts for both of Dunlap’s biggest amateur wins is nice, Phillips admitted having the True Temper logo front-and-center on the hat at the U.S. Amateur made the moment extra special.
“This doesn’t really happen for shaft companies, so this win was super cool for us to witness,” Phillips said. “Nick is one of the most driven, talented and kindhearted individuals you can meet. He means a lot to us and we are extremely happy for him and his accomplishments.”
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