Nike's new driver scores
Tiger Woods is winning with a new Nike driver, the SasQuatch, and so is the company.
NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - Tiger's got a yellow streak.
We don't mean to suggest that the world's greatest golfer is playing scared. Quite the contrary, as Tiger Woods returned from his winter hiatus to post back-to-back wins at the Buick Invitational and the Dubai Desert Classic.
No, the yellow streak refers to Tiger's new driver, the Nike SasQuatch, whose unique design and neon-yellow underside are turning heads -- and ringing up major sales for Nike Golf. That's good news for new CEO Mark Parker, recently elevated to head the $13.7 billion dollar sports juggernaut after founder and chairman Phil Knight lost patience with his chosen successor, William Perez, after just one year on the job.
Close to two years in the making, the SasQuatch has a club head almost as deep as it is wide -- the technical term is "breadth-to-face" ratio. That spreads its center of gravity and increases the club's so-called "moment of inertia," all without exceeding the U.S. Golf Association's limit of 460 cubic centimeters.
What all that technical jargon means is the club head doesn't twist as much when you hit the ball off-center -- which, if you're not Tiger Woods, can happen quite often. "It's more forgiving," says Randy Zanatta, CEO of golf equipment retailer Golf Galaxy.
Nike's business director of club and ball development Stan Grissinger and a team of seven engineers and designers spent quite a bit of time perfecting the look of the club head, which is still slightly off-putting for some golfers. Nike calls it "visually distinctive," while golf blogger Kiel Christianson, for one, calls it "weird-looking." (It is named after a big-footed hairy beast, after all.)
Grissinger doesn't mind: "People told us, 'It may be ugly, but it sure does work,'" he says. Indeed, Christianson went on to call it "the real deal," and Golf Digest recently gave the SasQuatch an Editor's Choice award -- Nike's first in the driver category.
Nike officially launched the club last November but gave pros an early look last summer, and since then PGA Tour members such as K.J. Choi and Chad Campbell, in addition to Woods, have all won with the SasQuatch. In fact, Campbell has raked in more winnings than any other pro so far this year. Teen sensation Michelle Wie plays with it as well. (A SasQuatch for women called the Sweet 16 just debuted.)
No matter who's swinging the SasQuatch, it's hard to miss the yellow underside on television -- just another testament to Nike's uncanny branding skill.
Selling for $299 at Golf Galaxy (a "tour" model with custom shafts costs about $50 more), the SasQuatch is about $100 cheaper than popular drivers like TaylorMade's r7 and Callaway's (Research) Big Bertha 454, which should help Nike gain market share against the two industry giants who between them divvy up most the of lucrative driver market.
Nike (Research) has had its ups and downs since entering the cutthroat, hypercompetitive golf market in the late 1990s. To this day, Woods still does not use a Nike putter, for instance. "Nike said they would just waltz in and be successful," says Zanatta. "That did not happen."
It may be happening now. In its first two months, the SasQuatch has more than doubled the market share gained by Nike's 2004 Ignite driver in its first two months. More telling, though, is that when the SasQuatch debuted, Nike did not have a single driver among Golf Galaxy's top 25 sellers. Since then, however, the SasQuatch has been number one across Golf Galaxy's 50 stores.
"This is the first time Nike has come out with a product that's truly unique," Golf Galaxy's Zanatta says. "Up until now they were just relying on the swoosh."