Hasn’t the Professional Golf Association had enough media controversy lately? Apparently not, as the PGA recently tried to bar British golf pro Lee Westwood from the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, TN.
The reason? No tales of Tiger Woods-style tomcatting, but a small logo on the shoulder of Westwood's golf shirt depicting his sponsor UPS, which wouldn't be a problem if Memphis didn't happen to be home to FedEx corporate HQ.
FedEx's motto these days is “we live to deliver.” And deliver they did, in the form of a ‘do not participate’ edict to Westwood, the #4 player on the PGA Tour. Did we mention that Fed Ex is a major PGA tour sponsor?
Phil Cannon, St Jude Classic tournament director, addressed the ban to the UK's Telegraph newspaper: “One of his sponsors gives us a little concern. Brown trucks [a reference to the tiny UPS logo on Westwood's golf shirt] aren’t welcome on site.”
Cannon also defended the decision by saying that 12 players applied for eight sponsor exemption spots, with priority given to returning golfers.
Cannon’s decision outraged Westwood’s agent, Chubby Chandler, who replied, "It's a good job every sponsor doesn't behave like that. It’s irritating and quite pathetic. All because of one little UPS on his shirt. It's not even on his head."
As for Westwood’s own reaction, “I’m at a standard where I can play pretty much where I want, when I want. That’s how it is this year, apart from one event where I haven’t been able to get an invite.”
Only after the press – largely British at first - had a field day with the story did St. Jude’s back down and permit Westwood to play with a sponsorship exemption.
As one blog commented, “Protecting a brand and an investment in a sponsorship is an essential part of any organization's communications and crisis planning. But sometimes you score a double bogey by trying too hard when you should have settled for par.”
The incident's a lose-lose all around.
Fed Ex, no doubt, regrets the unwanted attention to itself and to its competitor, UPS.
The PGA marred its reputation at a time when golf is trying to rebound from the Woods' scandal and a dip in popularity. It also irked its partners by creating a reason for sponsors to so publicly clash.
Finally, going loco over a logo dragged tournament sponsor St. Jude’s – a respected charity – into a corporate controversy.
The St. Jude affair will go down in golf annals as an under par performance for all involved except, perhaps, Lee Westwood's performance on the links.