5 things you never knew about Tiger Woods’ ‘Frank the Headcover’ commercials
Folks, good news: The Tiger Woods YouTube Project is back! After Beverly and the Tiger Trap gave us the best chapter yet, we took a brief hiatus (it’s tough to follow greatness), but I can assure you this episode is well worth the wait and there are plenty more on the way.
There’s something incredible about Frank the Headcover. The best way I can put it is that I am almost positive that you, dear reader, are already in a better mood just at the very idea of reading more about Tiger Woods’ costar. You’re smiling just thinking about Frank. I can assure you I don’t usually have that confidence — that of a smiling reader — when I begin most articles.
Nine Frank Nike spots aired in 2003 and 2004. The ads broke new ground on several fronts: They created a character from scratch. They gave Tiger Woods a stuffed animal friend. They made a headcover produced by a different company into the very centerpiece of their own ad. But the most groundbreaking piece of it all was this: they made fun of Tiger Woods. No person in their right mind would tell Woods he’d been “dinkin ’em.” But through Frank, they could.
Late last year, my colleague Sean Zak published the culmination of months’-worth of research in an epic feature on the Legend of Frank, which you can and should read here. But you can save that in a tab for later, because right now we’re getting to the good stuff: the commercials themselves. And Sean is here to help us break ’em down.
Tiger Woods YouTube Project, Chapter 21: Frank the Headcover
As a primer, here are a handful of Frank commercials to watch. Then read on for an enlightening Q&A with Zak. I guarantee you’ll learn something — or your money back.
Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier): Sean, please tell me something I didn’t know about the origin story of Tiger’s headcover and where it came from.
Sean Zak, senior editor, GOLF.com (@Sean_Zak): You probably know that Tiger’s mother Tida bought him the headcover, and continues to buy him one each year, sewing “Love from Mom” into the back of each one in her native Thai (Rak jak Mea). Tida bought the original headcover in the early 90s in southern California. The timing there is important, because that purchase didn’t come long after Jane Spicer and her mother had set up the headcover branch of their company, Daphne’s Toys.
The headcover branch of the business was simply an addition. Spicer grew up in Phoenix and went to school at Northern Arizona, spending most of a decade trailing toy trade shows across the American southwest. She would drive all across the region and sell headcovers to golf clubs on the side. One of those clubs happened to be Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, Calif., where Tida made that fateful purchase for golf’s greatest prodigy.
Let’s say Spicer skips Big Canyon. Let’s say the innocent buyer at Big Canyon didn’t want to add tigers to the inventory; maybe they just liked the bird headcovers! Or let’s say Tida and Earl Woods raise Tiger on the East Coast, or the Midwest, or really anywhere except where they did, it’s very plausible that Tiger would never have put that Daphne’s tiger on his driver and Frank would never exist! Or worse, Frank would be something completely different…
Dethier: Tell me something I didn’t know about the company that (still!) makes Tiger’s headcovers.
Zak: Daphne’s Toys is now named Daphne’s Headcovers. In other words, selling tiger headcovers has been such good business it is now the business. My favorite bit is just how it took off.
Spicer was minding her own business in April 1997. She was well aware that the best young golfer in the world carried her tiger, but she was focused on other things. Her mother (and namesake of her company) had recently passed and she was raising a young child. Well, Woods went on to win the Masters and Spicer quickly received a phone call from American Express, then one of Tiger’s sponsors. They wanted 30,000 tiger headcovers and they wanted them ASAP. AmEx was willing to cough up an extra $30,000 for expedited service. I don’t know the exact figures, but that had to be more than their yearly output of tigers at the time. Maybe double.
Spicer told me she remembers three dates: “The birthdays of my two children and the date that Tiger first won the Masters. That’s pretty much it.”
So, basically overnight their tiger shot up the headcover rankings to No. 1 in the world and has been there ever since. I think it’s fair to call it the most valuable golf accessory on the planet. Daphne’s has filed numerous trademark infringement suits to protect its special design, as they should. It was a game-changer for them. Spicer even maintains a great relationship with Tida Woods to this day.
Dethier: Tell me something I didn’t know about the voice of Frank the Headcover.
Zak: For those stuck under a rock (editor’s note: Zak may, in fact, be in too deep here — don’t be offended if you didn’t know this), the voice is Paul Giamatti, who played the role so well it’s hard to imagine anyone else voicing Frank. That being said, Giamatti wasn’t the first choice for the role. Michael Keaton and Larry David were both up for consideration as well, and David was the top choice. Jim Riswold, then the creative director for the agency Weiden + Kennedy, told me that David didn’t want money in exchange for his services, but rather he just wanted to play a round with Tiger. In hindsight, this feels like obvious scene setting for a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. Eventually, that request was denied and Weiden + Kennedy went with Giamatti for the part. He crushed it.
My other favorite thing is that Riswold still has the original pitch he made for Frank the character. When he read it off to me, I felt like I was in the boardroom at Nike. It goes as follows:
Meet Frank. Frank is one of Tiger’s inner-circle. He is Tiger’s bon ami. He’s also Tiger’s confidant. In other words, when Frank speaks, Tiger listens, but not as much as Frank thinks he should. Frank is also the headcover for Tiger’s driver. Frank and Tiger have been together since childhood. Frank was at Tiger’s appearance on the Mike Douglas Show. Frank was with Tiger at his three USGA Junior championships. Frank was with Tiger at his three U.S. Amateurs. Frank was with Tiger at Stanford, graduating with a degree in accounting.
They go everywhere and do everything together. Golf tournaments, obviously, the practice range, the gym, the stores, the movies, the fishing hole, the coffee shop, the dating scene, you name it. Frank and Tiger do it together. Frank is not some airy, fairy Baggar Vance, speaking oblique and obtuse terms. Frank is, well, frank, and outspoken. You know where you stand with Frank — just ask Tiger. Frank, as we shall see, also has a lot more interests in life than golf. He’s a devout bon vivant, a proponent of the good life, who has particular fondness for singing. Oh, one other thing: Never call Frank a sock. Never.
Dethier: Tell me which Frank the Headcover commercial is the best and why it’s the “Dinkin ‘em” ad.
Zak: Ha! “Dinkin ’em” is great but my favorite is actually the one where Frank is a skeezeball making Rory Sabbatini pay up for a peek at Nike’s new driver. It’s pretty clear that Frank is a selfish dude who isn’t afraid to use his connection to Tiger for his own benefit. It’s the best ad because Tiger isn’t even in it — Frank had gone mainstream! An advertisement with a talking headcover surrounded by golfers? Nah, that’s just Frank being Frank.
What might be most amazing is that the gizmo beneath the fur is an animatronic robot that was brought to life by five (5!) puppeteers working as one. Also, the ending line is equal parts hilarious and sad. “Best contact you’ve made all year, Duval!” is painfully true. Duval had lost his game and made just seven cuts in 29 events during 2003 and 2004 … and it didn’t really come back to him.
Dethier: Tell me something I didn’t even know I should have asked on the subject.
Zak: Is the real Frank ever coming back? Nike brought the image of Frank to an apparel line in 2019. That stuff sold out immediately. Tiger continues to wear the Frank-logoed gear to this day. Why hasn’t Nike made another Frank commercial?
Well, Nike seems at least interested. In 2017, they had Jason Day and Rory McIlroy poking around Tiger’s bag before Tiger says “Don’t touch Frank,” while our hero sits there lifeless. Since when does Tiger talk for our mouthy headcover??
According to Riswold, there was plenty Frank bits left on the cutting room floor, but he was never asked to produce more. He also said that Tida Woods loved the campaign. So … before Mother’s Day 2021, please, Nike. Please bring back Frank!
For more Tiger Woods YouTube Project:
CHAPTER 15: How Tiger and Michael Jordan became friends
CHAPTER 17: Tiger Woods vs. Bob May
CHAPTER 18: The true meaning of “Better than Most”
CHAPTER 19: 81 at Muirfield
CHAPTER 20: Tiger gave her a Buick