Walking the course of the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, the first thing I was struck by is how big and long it is. The longest U.S. Open course in history, at 7,693 yards, Erin Hills is one of only a few public courses to have ever hosted the U.S. Open. I was there as a guest of Rolex, to understand the brand’s special relationship with the sport. I was also wearing the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II while enjoying this amazing competition, but more on that later.
The entire week, the weather forecast was for storms that would delay play, but the rains never came during the day. What we had instead was beautiful clear weather and some of the greatest golf I have ever seen played.
Two U.S. Open records were tied, for lowest single round score, by Rolex Testimonee Justin Thomas at 63, also setting a Championship record for lowest ever score in-relation-to-par at nine-under, and for most strokes under par for the tournament, -16, by 2017 U.S. Open champion and Rolex Testimonee Brooks Koepka.
The U.S. Open, hosted by the United States Golf Association and sponsored by Rolex, is, unlike the PGA TOUR, an open tournament, so both professionals and amateurs who qualified duked it out on the Erin Hills course, on land that used to be a dairy farm.
The size of the crowds made the event truly thrilling. There were people everywhere, golf lovers and enthusiasts, taking this opportunity to get up close to their golfing heroes.
And up close we got. At certain parts along the course, especially at the tee boxes, I was only about ten feet from the golfers while they hit their shots. It was amazing to see, hear and feel the grace and power as they competed for one of the most coveted titles in golf.
The History of Rolex and Golf
Rolex’s enduring 50-year relationship with the game of golf began in 1967 with Arnold Palmer, joined by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Known together as the Big Three, these legendary players changed the face of golf forever, and their partnership with Rolex as the first golf Testimonees marked the beginning of a relationship based on a quest for perfection, excellence and sportsmanship.
Then came the governing bodies of golf: the USGA, the LPGA and the R&A. Rolex supporting golf really helped the sport develop, going global and capturing the hearts and minds of people everywhere.
“First of all, we have to thank Arnold Palmer every single day, and secondly, having such a strong company as Rolex being involved in our sport for that long, and hopefully ongoing, is huge,” says Martin Kaymer, 2014 U.S. Open winner and Rolex Testimonee. “Rolex stands for very similar values as golf, namely quality, precision, dedication and passion.”
As an example, Rolex truly partners with the USGA, the governing body of the sport of golf in the USA.
“Rolex has been an integral part of the sport of golf, and it’s impressive to have that kind of commitment over time,” says Sarah Hirshland, senior managing director of business affairs and a member of the executive team, USGA. “We share values and a vision for the game of golf. We have grown together with Rolex. The people who play the game at the highest level understand and recognize how important Rolex has been. Their values align with the values of Rolex.
“We think of Rolex as part of our family and they treat us as part of theirs,” she continues. “Rolex is part of our events, part of our championships, the brand is a huge supporter of the players and helps bring young players into the game. The reason we all do it is that we know there are people out on the course now, during the U.S. Open, where golf will be a part of their lives forever. Rolex’s support of the game we love across the board, whether it’s with the USGA or the European Tour, helps move golf forward. Right now, we are rewriting the rules and we are going to dramatically change and innovate the game of golf, and Rolex is a huge partner in this effort. In the rule book, Rolex is very evident as a big supporter.”
Though golf is essentially an untimed sport, time still matters. Tournaments are organized by tee times, and players have a certain window to appear and if they don’t, they are penalized and then disqualified.
“Time in golf is essential,” says Hirshland. “You will see Rolex clocks everywhere around the course, because timing is an integral part of the rules. Golf is a very prompt sport, because the fundamental nature of putting 150 players onto the golf course and through 18 holes is very well orchestrated through time. You can’t let it get out of sync. Rolex sends experts with very high-quality products to make sure we are 100% accurate with our timing. There is a five-minute window of time, then you get a two-stroke penalty, and then you will get disqualified. That’s why you see clocks everywhere the players have to be, so they will know the time.”
Great Rolex Moments in Golf History
When winners host their trophies, chances are they have a Rolex on their wrists. Here are top moments in golf, with Rolex bearing witness:
1. There are feats that make golfers stand out as the game’s greatest champions, and winning all four Majors is one of them. There are only five players in the entire history of golf who have won all four modern Majors (the Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open and the PGA Championship), and three Rolex Testimonees are in that pantheon: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods. In fact, Woods and Nicklaus have won each of the four Majors at least three times.
2. Dueling Testimonees: Tom Watson vs. Jack Nicklaus at The Open. Nicknamed “The Duel in the Sun,” Watson took Nicklaus head-on at Turnberry in 1977, coming out with a one stroke win and the second of his five Open titles.
3. In 1997, Rolex Testimonee Tiger Woods won the Masters, his first Major, making him the tournament’s youngest winner ever and the first Major winner of African descent – a game-changing moment in golf history.
4. In 2003, Rolex Testimonee Annika Sörenstam was invited to and teed off in a PGA TOUR event, and she remains the only woman to ever do so.
5. In 2015, Rolex Testimonee Lydia Ko became the youngest golfer to be a two-time Major winner and the world’s number one player.
6. This year, two Rolex Testimonees made golf history by winning tournaments in dramatic fashion. First, it was Brooks Koepka winning at the U.S. Open, followed up right after by Jordan Spieth becoming the youngest American ever to win The Open with a tremendous final round.
And don’t forget that for most of his playing career, golf’s favorite son and most beloved champion, Arnold Palmer, was a Rolex Testimonee. More part of the Rolex family than a Testimonee, Palmer was ever present at Rolex golf events around the world, always gracious and willing to help in any way he could. Arnold Palmer was one of a kind and, having passed away in 2016, will certainly be sorely missed.
The Greatest Golf Events
Think of the leading golf events around the world, and Rolex is there as the main sponsor and timekeeper.
The Masters –Rolex has been an International Partner of the Masters since 1999, held annually at Augusta National Golf Club as the first men’s Major championship of the year. The Masters is a prestigious classic, known for its traditional values, and the only invitational tournament among golf’s Majors, where the best players from around the world vie to win the coveted Green Jacket. In addition to this prestigious Tournament, Rolex also contributes to the advancement of the game through its support of the Masters Tournament Foundation – a charitable extension of the Tournament designed to invest annually in development programs worldwide.
The U.S. Open – dubbed “golf’s ultimate test,” and organized by the USGA – has had the support of Rolex since 1980. The Tournament is open to both professional and amateur golfers, however the extensive qualification process is unsurpassed. Traditionally, U.S. Open venues are set up to reward accuracy and precision, which are paramount for competitors. Moving every year, the Tournament has circulated through acclaimed US golf courses in thus far 19 states, and the widespread TV and internet coverage ensures international live footage during the four days of competition.
The Open – For over 30 years, Rolex has been the partner and Official Timekeeper of The Open, the sport’s oldest professional tournament and one of the emblematic Majors. At this third Major of the year, founded in 1860, golfers compete for one of the oldest prizes in sport, the Claret Jug. This prestigious Tournament is organized by the R&A, golf’s governing body responsible for monitoring the official Rules of Golf, and like the U.S. Open, The Open is held at different courses every year, including Royal Birkdale, Carnoustie, Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal Portrush, Prestwick, Royal St George’s, Royal Troon, as well as at the “home of golf,” St Andrews.
Rolex is the official timekeeper of the PGA TOUR, the European Tour (which debuts the Rolex Series, a premium series of eight tournaments around Europe this year) and the Asian Tour. Rolex also sponsors team competitions including the Ryder Cup (when it is held in Europe), the Presidents Cup, the World Cup of Golf and the Solheim Cup.
Rolex supports all five Majors of the LPGA, the women’s pro tour, showcasing the incredible talent the brand has nurtured and helped to develop. Rolex Testimonees include Annika Sörenstam, Lydia Ko and Alexis “Lexi” Thompson.
For 50 years, the brand has been working with the leaders in the golfing world, and Rolex is continuing to forge closer and stronger ties to the movers and shakers as golf grows, expanding its influence around the world.
Rolex aligns itself with the best of the best, and the best of the best want to wear Rolex.
“Over 50 years, Rolex has become endemic to the sport of golf,” acknowledges the USGA’s Hirshland. “Rolex touches every aspect of the game and their people understand every aspect of the game, and they can bridge their brand with the stories of the game.”
Rolex Golf Testimonees
Unlike other companies, who are content to sign the hottest stars in sports, Rolex works with people across the spectrum of the world of golf, taking a wholistic approach to the sport and truly making it a family affair. Rolex doesn’t just sign the marquee players, the brand works with up and comers as well, and the people who have and will continue to shape the game for years to come. These include the organizations (the USGA, the LPGA, The R & A and more), golf coaches like Butch Harmon, golf course designers like Robert Trent Jones Jr. and more.
Gary Player, Professional Golfer
“I’ve worked with a lot of different companies over my lifetime. Everything in business is negotiable except quality. That exemplifies Rolex- quality.
“I must say that my favorite watches are the Rolex Day-Date in platinum as well as my GMT-Master watch in yellow gold. I think those are absolutely fantastic.”
Arnold Palmer, Professional Golfer
“My association with Rolex has been one of the most fulfilling and compatible relationships I have had the privilege of enjoying in my life. There’s far more to the relationship than I could ever tell you.
“I have had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of people at Rolex very well and to be able to count them among my friends, so I have great feelings for Rolex. Not only have I learned a lot from the company, but Rolex has done so many great things over≈the years that have been of tangible benefit to golf as a sport.”
Martin Kaymer, Professional Golfer
“I have never tried another watch brand because I don’t think there’s a reason to. For me there is only one watch company, otherwise we wouldn’t be working together. I think Rolex stands for very similar values to golf, namely, quality, precision, dedication and passion.
“Our time is even more valuable than we think sometimes, especially the time at home. We should never forget what is really important to us – because time flies by very quickly and we can get caught up in that world very easily.”
Lexi Thompson, Professional Golfer
“The Rolex brand is timeless – much like golf. It fits very well, as golf is a refined and classic sport played in beautiful settings around the world. Rolex is the same in that its timepieces have a classic look and style, and are enjoyed by those who recognize and love beauty. The support of Rolex to the entire LPGA is amazing. For a world-renowned company to be involved in women’s sport at such a high level allows us to chase our dreams each week. The individual support I have experienced has helped me in my career as I feel the support of the Rolex family in everything I do.”
Butch Harmon, Golf Coach
“Before I became a Rolex Testimonee, I was a Rolex client. I was a watch geek and I bought a lot of watches, and most of them were Rolex. Rolex is far and away the best; their company is the epitome of excellence.
“I went to work for the King of Morocco in 1971, and he gave me my first Rolex in 1972, and I still have it. I am so happy to be involved with a great brand like Rolex. The fact that they work with other people than just the stars says a lot about the company.”
Robert Trent Jones Jr., Golf Course Designer
“When Rolex first started talking to me, the brand had famous players, like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, but they didn’t have any architects. We have the same ethos, the same character traits – integrity, working with people, high quality products people can enjoy. I tend to be both a sportsman and an artist, so I like craftsmanship. Elegance is what I admire, and personal integrity.
I don’t think owning a Rolex makes the man, but it says something about their lifestyle and what they enjoy.”
Wearing the Rolex Explorer II
I have a confession to make – I’ve never worn a Rolex before. Sure, I’ve handled them and briefly tried them on, but I’ve never worn one on a daily basis, so it was a real treat when I arrived in Wisconsin and a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II, stainless steel on a steel bracelet, was delivered to my hotel room.
I immediately put it on and it felt…right. The Explorer II isn’t the flashiest of watches, its sober steel on steel look flies a bit under the radar, which is right up my street.
Even though it wasn’t mine, I felt a bit like I was part of the club, especially when watching the U.S. Open from the Rolex Hospitality Suite. The other VIP guests were mostly wearing Rolex and it was an immediate, nod-of-the-head bond. I was finally on the inside.
And I get it. The watch is really something remarkable. Robust, solid, simple yet very attractive, and I especially like the fact that it’s a watch that has been tested in extreme conditions. As I was visiting from my home in Switzerland, the GMT hand was an appreciated touch, so I could know when was the right time to call home to check in.
The Explorer II performed flawlessly during the five days I wore it, and when I took it off before bed and placed it on the nightstand, I missed it on my wrist.
When Rolex asked for the Explorer II back, my heart broke a little as I popped open the clasp and slipped it off my wrist. I considered never washing that wrist again, but then decided that it’s high time I got my own Rolex, and the Explorer II is at the top of the list (as is the GMT-Master II, the Submariner and the Deepsea, oh, and the Yacht-Master 40 on the black Oysterflex bracelet…).
The 19th Hole
Wearing the Explorer II and seeing first-hand how Rolex does golf really opened my eyes. I felt like part of the family and have come to understand that Rolex is intertwined with golf in a way that I have never seen before when it comes to brand partnerships.
I’ve known for a long time that excellence permeates everything that Rolex does from a watch standpoint, and now it’s evident to me that this is the brand’s approach with its partnerships.
Rolex, no doubt, owes a great deal of its success to its involvement with golf, but golf would not be where it is without Rolex.
Original Photography by: Munster
Fashion Stylist: Marie Lee
Photography Assistants: Dominic Tan and Peng Da
Hairstyling and Makeup: Violet Chan from The Style Atelier
Models: Jonathan H / Ave and Linde Stoel / Mannequin