It’s that time of the year known as ‘silly season’ within the golf equipment industry.
As December approaches, contracts tend to run out, and all sorts of rumours – unsubstantiated or otherwise – invariably begin to circle about high-profile brand switching among Tour players.
But one story which has gained particular momentum in recent days is that of Justin Rose making the switch to Honma Golf in 2019, thus bringing an end to a heady 20-year stint with TaylorMade.
While no official equipment site, or indeed any inner-circle party, has yet provided official comment on the matter, there have been plenty of rumblings on a Golf WRX Forum thread.
The exchange actually dates back to September 20, although this comment from one member, who goes by the name of GolfChannel, is arguably the most compelling: “Hoping this isn’t old news, but I heard from someone typically reliable on insider info when it comes to club contracts, that Justin Rose has signed a deal with Honma. Silly season or crazier s*** has happened?”
The exchange then yielded a number of agreeable responses from other members, one of whom claimed that they’d heard from a European Challenge Tour player that Rose had “signed a 13-club agreement with Honma.”
Then there was this from fellow member Mallrat, who commented: “A teaching pro at our club is on staff with Honma and told me the same thing on Weds. He said it is because of TM’s old president or something who is now running Honma USA.”
That “TM’s old president or something” he refers to is, of course, Mark King – the former CEO of TaylorMade.
King worked in various capacities with TaylorMade for the best part of three decades, and it is no surprise that he is said to have developed a very close relationship with Rose during that time.
King recently took on the role of ‘consultant’ for Honma Golf. However, his brief is rather more aggressive than the job title suggests, with insiders reporting that he’ll be in charge of company strategy, with the focus being on expanding the brand in North America.
Shortly after King took on the Honma role in August, an anonymous former employee told Golf Digest: “He’s in charge. It’s been in the works for a while. Mark’s taking over everything.”
And it may well be more than just Rose who King appears to have snared. Another Golf WRX member, Daniel32293, wrote this on the forum: “A source of mine in TM told me that Rose isn’t the only Englishman joining Honma… an equipment free agent from last year will be joining him.”
Honma Golf opened its doors for business back in 1959. It has its head office in Tokyo, although its clubs are produced in the brand’s Sakata Plant. The key USP of Honma’s clubs is that each club is carefully handmade by their staff of 400+ skilled craftsmen over a number of different processes. Quite a labour-intensive operation, especially when you consider the company as a whole only has 700 employees.
Currently, their list of Tour players is exclusively compiled of players from the Far East – the most well-known of which are LPGA Tour players SoYeon Ryu and Shanshan Feng, along with China’s former men’s number one Liang Wen Chong. Needless to say, Rose would represent an extraordinary coup if the rumours have any substance to them, not least with Honma’s push to grow their market share in America.
Rose has officially been a TaylorMade player since 1999, not long after he turned pro. Among his many achievements in that time are a US Open title, 22 professional victories, five Ryder Cup appearances and a recent stint as the world’s number one player.
At present, the 38-year old’s entire bag comprises TaylorMade clubs, including an M3 driver, M4 fairway wood, P790 2 and 3-irons, P730 ‘Rose Proto’ irons (4-PW), Milled Grind wedges and TP Red Collection Ardmore 2 putter. His ball of choice is also the TP5.
Again, we must caution that this is all pure speculation at this stage, and we wouldn’t want anyone – least of all ourselves – to get too carried away.
It’s that time of the year where a pinch of salt should always be kept close to hand. But this is definitely a story that’s captured the imagination, and, if there turns out to be any truth to it, we’ll be the first to bring it to you.