For years, it seemed like Oakley didn’t really care about golf.
Sure, they were out there, but everyday consumers rarely stumbled upon something that caught their eye — and when they did, it was more likely to be apparel adapted from xtreme sports to the golf market, maybe a long-sleeve mock turtleneck from the snow side or a toned-down pair of shorts from Oakley’s surfing styles.
Today, Oakley is charging strong to the top of the leaderboard — in more ways than one. Above all, they have arguably golf’s greatest talent, Rory McIlroy, flying the brand’s famous O, culminating in his ascension to No. 1 in the world rankings when he won the Honda Classic at the beginning of March, just days before Fairways + Greens spoke with Raphael Peck, vice president for Oakley’s triple threat
of global apparel, footwear and accessories.
“Whilst discovering our passion for golf, there was a fresh-faced Northern Irishman out there who we felt was young, took care of his body, was a difference-maker in golf and had an interesting look relative to wanting to attract youngsters to the game of sport and make it inclusive, and came from very humble beginnings — we believed in his future and felt like it was a perfect fit,” Peck explains. “Two years later, we have a partnership with the No. 1 player in the world who has been nothing but a gentleman to work with, and we respect his input into what he needs and why he needs it.”
So what does it mean to have one of the best players in the game — perhaps the best [although Luke Donald wrested back the top spot from Rory after just two weeks] — wear Oakley shirts and pants on tours and television worldwide?
“We both — Oakley Golf as well as Rory McIlroy — want to become paradigm-shifters in the game relative to how you look and the innovations that move the game forward — the ability to look good, feel good and therefore play good,” Peck says.
To that end, Oakley team members chase their star all over the world up to 10 times per year [Global Men’s Merchandising Director Gregg Hemphill actually flew to Dubai for only four hours once, just to meet with Rory], not only for input on how his clothing performs but also to re-fit for the 22-year-old’s growing body as he sculpts and adds muscle.
“Rory has as much input as he wants, but specifically we’re very reactive to his changing body,” Peck says. “To these guys, apparel is equipment — and equipment is not allowed to fail. It has to look good, that’s a given, but at the end of the day, it has to perform. You don’t want to be wet, you don’t want your product to smell, you don’t want your product not to protect you from the sun, you don’t want your product not to fit right and therefore cause hot spots or friction points — because it’s those tiny, tiny things that you think about every single day that can help a guy win or lose. At that level, everything’s gotta be right.”
It’s quite a change for a company where the game seemed like an afterthought not so long ago. Today, golf stands on par with Oakley’s longtime surf and snow foundations.
Which wouldn’t be possible without a team that understands golf and apparel as well as any in the business. Peck came to Oakley from UnderArmour. Hemphill jumped from TaylorMade-adidas, as did Dave Ortley, the footwear mastermind behind such products as the Tour360 and Powerband. And Oakley isn’t stopping there — expect to see Peck poach more talent in the coming months.
“We have a new vision with terrific results over the past two years,” Peck says. “We really like our chances because we believe we have the best golf team in the industry.”
Folks at Oakley are throwing around the phrase game-changer when discussing the new Cipher line of footwear, and once you’ve seen a pair up close, it’s easy to understand their excitement.
At only 260 grams, Cipher takes the growing minimalist golf shoe movement to a new, ultralight level. “It’s a different, new-school way of building a golf shoe, promoting natural movement,” says Oakley’s footwear guru, Dave Ortley. “If you’re a guy who wants to lock in and swing for the fences, then there’s a different kind of shoe for you. But if you’re a guy who is athletic, who is more about feel and rythym and control, and appreciates athletic performance and natural feel, then Cipher is a different approach.”
Equally different — and no less impressive — is the NanoSpike cleatless technology that allows your feet to grip the turf in new ways, actually using the ceramic alumina aggregate to “grab on” to blades of grass, Ortley says. “It’s a radically different sensation on the foot.”
We’ll be wearing a pair of Ciphers all summer to put it through the paces on golf courses from coast to coast. But when we’re away from the fairways and greens, expect to see us in other stylish Oakley footwear, including the foot-fitting Hypercoil sandals, which look cool and feel great. These are the best flip-flops since Mitt Romney.
FAST JACKET EYEWEAR
We’ve worn many, many sunglass styles in our years at Fairways + Greens, and Oakley’s Fast Jacket might be the best of them all. The G30 Iridium lenses allow just the right amount of light to save you from dreaded “dark tunnel vision,” and the head-hugging frames fit perfectly, with curves in all the right places. Oakley has long been a leader in athletic performance eyewear, and now we understand why.
The golf shirt business is a delicate balancing act between style, comfort and sweat-management — and Oakley’s latest men’s apparel is scoring on all fronts. With bold (but not exactly Rickie Fowler crazy-bold) colors and prints, these shirts are head-turners (it’s rare we go anywhere decked out in Oakley and not elicit at least one Hey, that’s a great looking shirt comment). And the polyester garments are perfect for summer, with O Hydrolix moisture-managing, antibacterial-battling, UV-protection technology.
Plus, and perhaps most importantly, they fit just right — tight on the body where they need to be and stretchable in all the right spots for such athletic endeavors as the ever-important golf swing. We all talk about taking our golf game to the next level, so why not take your golf fashion there as well?