PEBBLE BEACH — The relationship between Jordan Spieth and AT&T would seem to make perfect sense.
Spieth already is regarded one of the bright young stars on the PGA Tour, with a short game as meticulous as his manners. He went from no status on any tour to No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings and a spot on the Presidents Cup team, at 20 the youngest American to ever play.
He had a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play before finishing second to Bubba Watson. He made a solid Ryder Cup debut. He now is No. 9 in the world. And he grew up in Dallas, headquarters of the telecommunications giant. Spieth even belongs to the same golf club in Dallas as AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson.
But the nature of the endorsement deal signed in June — and what the company thought about Spieth — became evident when he showed up in Shanghai for the HSBC Champions with the AT&T logo on a black-and-orange golf bag.
The last golf bag with the AT&T logo belonged to Tiger Woods, and that didn't last long.
“It's an honor because it really was a big investment for them to get back into having branding on the golf course,” Spieth said Wednesday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. “They were almost, from what I had heard, kind of set on being very hesitant in doing that going forward when the split happened with Tiger. So it really was kind of a perfect scenario for me being Dallas-based myself.”
AT&T has a strong presence in sports around the country as the title sponsor at Pebble Beach, the Byron Nelson Championship and a Champions Tour event, along with having the stadium naming rights in the NFL (Dallas), NBA (San Antonio) and Major League Baseball (San Francisco).
But it didn't have a personal endorsement with a golfer since Woods, and that relationship ended badly.
Woods had the AT&T bag for nine months and won seven times, including the Australian Masters. That was his last tournament before the public embarrassment of a sex scandal that caused him to lose most of his blue chip sponsors. Accenture was the first to cut him loose. AT&T was the second. Others followed.
The company at least stayed as title sponsor of the PGA Tour event that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation — the AT&T National — for four more years until it chose not to renew and instead took over the Byron Nelson in Dallas.
Spieth now is the face of golf for AT&T. He has dinner planned this week with AT&T executives, and he is meeting with four fans who took part in a Twitter campaign and get a “Fan's Eye View” at Pebble Beach this week.
“We believe in Jordan,” said Mark Wright, the vice president of media services and sponsorships for AT&T. “We think he's a great young man and a tremendous golfer. At 21 years old, he represents in many ways the future of golf. We're a communications company trying to connect with all consumers, but in this case, he appeals to the next generation of golf fans.”
Some companies are more cautious now with personal endorsements, unable to control or predict behavior outside the arena. That speaks to how AT&T felt about Spieth.
“We didn't dwell on that. We invested in him going forward,” Wright said. “He's certainly a rising star on tour. He's from the city of Dallas, our corporate headquarters. We feel like we have an idea who Jordan is, and he's a great fit for AT&T.”
Spieth already can be considered a regular at Pebble Beach, even at 21. He tied for 22nd when he was a 19-year-old rookie. A year ago, he was tied for the lead going into the weekend until a 78 at Pebble Beach on a day of vicious wind and rain. The kid still managed to keep his sense of humor when he said everyone should want to play Pebble in miserable weather once in a lifetime. “You just don't want it to be Saturday when you're in the lead,” he said.
That shouldn't be a problem this year. The forecast is for sunshine and mild temperature all week for a tournament held at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula.
“This is paradise for us golfers,” Spieth said, and that probably can't be said for the parts of the country digging out from the snow.
Jimmy Walker is the defending champion. Missing from the field for the first time since 1994 is Phil Mickelson, whose children have spring break. The surprise was Ernie Els, who hasn't been to Pebble Beach since 1996, the year the tournament was canceled after two rounds because of relentless rain from El Nino.
Els has been back twice for the U.S. Open, but this is different.
“It's a nice vibe,” he said. “I like it. Kind of relaxed.”