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Golf Life: Ford's Steve Lyons

The president of Ford Division, Steve Lyons, engineered Ford's recent shift into becoming a title sponsor for several events on the PGA Tour and was instrumental in signing Phil Mickelson in 2002 to represent the company. Here Lyons talks about his goals for the game and why he thinks golf is a winning proposition for businesses.

Is it just us, or does Ford seem to have its name all over the PGA Tour these days?
In the last twelve to eighteen months, we've really stepped it up. We now sponsor two tournaments and we're also sponsoring Mark Rolfing's Golf Hawaii TV program [on the Golf Channel]. And we're buying a fair amount of time during tournament broadcasts.

What's this all about?
The timing just seems to be right. Ten years ago this wouldn't have been a good fit because the type of vehicles we sold, like pickup trucks, weren't what golfers drove. Golf was more about incentive travel for our dealers instead of about actually growing our business. But now go into any country-club parking lot on a Saturday and count the number of Explorers and Expeditions and you'll know why it's a good fit today.

Is that why you've signed Phil Mickelson?
Right. Getting Phil was a by-product of our relationship with his swing coach, Rick Smith. We'd been working with Rick for years. At one event he told me how Phil was ending his relationship with one advertiser, and that got us thinking. Phil's personality as a risk taker and his appeal to fans—you saw at Bethpage the way the fans feel about him—and his family values are the perfect match for our brand.

Have you gotten to know him?
Yeah. Even before we signed him we flew out to Cypress Point. It's the prettiest golf course on the face of the earth. We had lunch together. He seemed very interested in what we do and had read a lot about our company and had a lot of questions. We still talk quite often.

Does it matter that he's still major-less?
Not at all. He's got twenty or so wins and he's proved his worth. In some ways it's good for us, because every time there's a major he gets a lot of attention.

Does having exposure to the Tour help your game?
You bet. I've gotten to play with a lot of pros. I just finished a round with Jack Nicklaus. We talked about football, and he changed my grip. He got me to go from a baseball grip to the overlap. I'm a lot more consistent now. I should write him a note to tell him thanks. Companies spend millions of dollars sponsoring tournaments. How do you measure its effectiveness?
First, we look at the ratings. But it's also the notoriety we gain from the players and the fans. The Ford Championship at Doral has a big following in the Miami area and a big following on Tour. We've got to do more of that with the Ford Seniors Player Championship. In general, the Champions Tour is more of a challenge for all sponsors. But I think there is some gold to be mined there.

Does golf help you in your job?
A lot more than being a basketball player, which I was in high school and college. The first place I ever played golf was Pebble Beach. I was speaking to one of our dealer groups. After the meeting, they invited me to play. I got a rental set, wore my tennis shoes and didn't finish fourth in the foursome. And right away, I learned that a lot of business gets transacted on the golf course. It's a huge part of our relationship with dealers. And it's much easier to get comfortable and talk about hard things. You can build friendships that carry over once you leave the golf course. I don't know if I could have ever been as effective without it.

Scorecard STEVE LYONS
AGE 55
HANDICAP 13
FAVORITE COURSES Royal Dornoch (Scotland), Royal County Down (Ireland), Pine Valley (New Jersey), Merion (Pennsylvania)
MEMBERSHIPS Detroit Golf Club, Hammock Dunes (Florida), Quintero (Arizona)
CLUBS Titleist driver, woods, irons, wedges; Odyssey 2-Ball putter
BEST SCORE 78 at Indian Creek, Florida

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