Dan Murphy is back with Bridgestone Golf as its new President and CEO, replacing Angel Ilagan. Murphy previously was with Bridgestone Golf from 2004-2015 (most recently as executive vice president of sales and marketing) a period during which he helped grow domestic revenue by about 250%, according to the company, and increase the brand’s market share.
After leaving Bridgestone in 2015, Murphy held positions as Vice President of American Achievement Corporation and President of textile manufacturer Kentwool.
In his return to Bridgestone, Murphy will direct the company’s core business functions that include product planning and production, marketing, and sales and customer relations. He rejoins a brand that has more than 1,000 golf ball patents and a roster of endorser that features Tiger Woods along with Matt Kuchar, Fred Couples and Brandt Snedeker. Murphy recently sat down to chat with the NGF about what’s next for Bridgestone Golf.
This is a homecoming of sorts for you, having spent more than a decade with Bridgestone. Are you excited about being back?
From a personal perspective, this is where my heart was. I love the golf business and I love Bridgestone. I was there in the beginning and helped to shape it from the early days. It was hard to leave. I’m thrilled to come back and have the opportunity to have this position. And I’m very excited for where we can go. We have the tools in place to really accelerate what’s been going on and to expand our brand.
From a business perspective, we have a depth that probably not too many people in the golf business have. And that is we’re a part of Bridgestone Tire & Rubber; it’s a huge, huge company that provides us with resources both from a financial perspective as well as a product development and R&D perspective.
So we’ve got great products, great people and we’ve got sustainability and a parent company that wants to see us succeed and understands the benefits we can bring back to them. I’m really excited about it.
At the end of the day, why was the change leadership made?
We had some success back in the day, so perhaps I had a lot of relationships that were pretty easily restored, I think — with the players, with the employees, with our Japanese parent company, with our tire company in Nashville. So to some degree, I was a logical choice in that regard.
The reason for the change I can’t really go into. I prefer to look forward and focus on what we can do rather than what’s transpired.
You went outside the golf industry for a bit, but I know you have a true passion for the game. What has your experience been like working in golf?
I love the game. I think all of us who have spent the majority of our careers in the game, love it. You have to because whether you play it or it’s a business, if you don’t love it you’re going to be in trouble. I play, I brought my kids up in the game and I’ve been around the game and enjoyed the many benefits of it.
I think I have somewhat of a unique perspective having stepped outside of the golf business. And having taken a little bit of time away, a little bit of a sabbatical in a way, I came back with a renewed energy that’s really fueled by the fact that it’s a unique business. Golf is its own niche. It’s its own club in the way that golfers talk to each other or the way equipment companies talk to golfers. It takes somebody who’s spent time in the business, who understand the nuances of that communication and that interchange between the consumer and an equipment company. From that perspective, I’m very excited to get back into that seat.
What do you see that didn’t necessarily work for Bridgestone the past few years, where things possibly went astray or weren’t given the appropriate focus as in the past?
I am still digging into that. But one of the things we’re going to do in the future is refocus our energy on the better player. We may have broadened our target market a little too much. The better player can really appreciate Bridgestone’s quality and technology. They get it, they can discern differences between golf balls from a performance perspective. The second reason we’re focusing on the better players is that we believe in the “pyramid of audience.” If we have the club champion playing our ball, that influences the more recreational guy. They’re the key to the market, kind of the same reason all of us in the equipment market use the PGA Tour. That extends to the better player as well.
Ball-fitting was a big part of Bridgestone’s identity in the past. How important a component will fitting be going forward?
Consumers still recognize Bridgestone as a leader in ball fitting. Customization, it did fuel a lot of our growth through the high-growth years from 2006 to 2014, so I think customization as a point of difference from the market leader makes a lot of sense.
We don’t necessarily believe that one ball fits all – in the same manner that we don’t believe we all wear a size medium shirt or size 12 shoe. Nor do we all play an extra stiff shaft. That same logic can be extended to the golf ball, and finding a golf ball that fits your game and your individual needs make a lot of sense. From an enjoyment of the game perspective, it gives us a feeling we can really help people. And then from a marketing perspective, it gives us a significant point of difference from the market leader. So yes, there are some really cool new ideas, new technologies, new ways to make ball fittings more scale-able to reach more people. We’re really excited about the opportunity.
Where do things stand with the club side of the business at Bridgestone? Is it something you plan to devote considerable time, money and research in?
We have tour validation for our clubs, we make great products and will continue to market that aggressively in the U.S. and globally. We do a very good job in Japan. We will continue to market our clubs and expect growth there. But we do understand the golf ball is where we live and breathe. We’ll put more focus on that than probably the clubs going forward.
There is clearly a lot of talk about data in golf. How important is it to the Bridgestone ethos and what the company is doing?
It’s huge. We’ve all seen what’s happened with the equipment companies on tour. If you go to any practice day on the range, you see it first-hand. What we’ve done that’s different is collecting massive amounts of data on recreational players and amateurs and used that as well. Both of those feed in to our development process, R&D and new technologies. The R&D side of our business has been in overdrive. It’s a competitive business out there and I’m super pumped at what we have coming up from a ball perspective. New technologies both in the middle of the market and top of the market. A lot of that innovation is fueled by data, derived from the pros, but also the 350,000 live ball fittings we’ve done over the past 10 years or so. So that data base of understanding what really happens with an amateur informs our R&D process.
Tiger Woods has been a part of the R&D process since teaming with Bridgestone; where does he fit in the company’s plans going forward?
He’s super important. We are a challenger brand, we’re not the biggest guy on the block. I think our challenger situation is somewhat similar to Tiger’s return — he’s coming back, he’s establishing himself, he’s challenging the field yet again. He’s regaining his stature and rank, if you will, so I think there are a lot of parallels. As a company guy, I couldn’t be prouder and more pleased that we have got Tiger Woods as one of our assets and players. Not only is he a great R&D resource, but bigger benefit is obvious: that Tiger gets attention. We can use that ability to ‘stop cars’ and make people look. That’s a great opportunity for us.
Are you optimistic about the trajectory of the industry overall?
Absolutely. Golf is a great game. We have some challenges ahead of us, but the values and the greatness of our game will see us through. The people who are playing golf are dedicated to it. Given time, we’ll continue through with a lot of the efforts out there that will attract new players. From an aggregate perspective, I’m optimistic that golf will be just fine. Is it going to be growing at 10% a year? Probably not. But we have a steady business. We need to continue to be smart about it and find ways to make the game more accessible and more welcoming to a more diverse group of people. We’ll do our part there. From a Bridgestone perspective, it is a tough business and if we intend to grow, we probably have to take share. So it’s 100% our intent to take some share.
Erik is the Editorial Director for the NGF. Before joining the National Golf Foundation, he spent more than two decades with Bloomberg News, both as a writer and editor, with a focus on sports business and the golf industry. The New Jersey resident has also written about golf for outlets that include Forbes, LINKS and the Met Golfer.