Jimmy Yang basically was just trying to help out the son of an acquaintance when he signed up American Kenda Industrial Corp. as the lone sponsor of Ben Curtis when the young golfer turned professional in 2000.
But American Kenda, which does business as Kenda USA, now will receive a much bigger bang for its buck since Mr. Curtis shocked the sports world with his July 20 triumph in the British Open.
``There's no doubt this will put the Kenda name on the map,'' said Mr. Yang, Kenda USA president and vice chairman of Taiwanese parent Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. ``I've had e-mails and phone calls from all over the world. Kenda has been his sponsor since Day One when he turned pro.''
Mr. Yang first came into contact with the Curtis family in 1999, after originally reading newspaper articles about the golfer winning the Ohio Amateur tournament.
The Kenda executive then happened to play the Mill Creek Golf Club course in Ostrander, Ohio, not far from Kenda USA's headquarters in Reynoldsburg. He talked to who he thought was the course superintendent, explaining how Kenda made and marketed the tires used on the club's golf cart.
Kenda has original equipment contracts with such cart makers as Club Cart Inc. and Yamaha Golf Cars USA.
The company also makes other specialty lines such as bicycle and motorcycle tires, as well as some automotive tires.
Afterward, Mr. Yang noticed all the newspaper clippings in the clubhouse about Mr. Curtis' golfing accomplishments. He asked the man he talked with earlier, and Bob Curtis replied, ``That's my son.'' Mr. Yang then discovered the family ran the course, which had been designed and built by Ben Curtis' grandfather.
Mr. Yang played the course three more times and became acquainted with the family.
``They are a good family; very polite, very honest,'' he said. ``I had a good impression of the family.''
So when Ben was a junior at Kent State University, had won the Ohio Amateur for a second time and was a semifinalist in the U.S. Amateur in 1999, Mr. Yang told Bob Curtis that when his son eventually turned pro, ``if he needs help, let me know.''
Kenda had sponsored a number of bicycle and motorcycle riders over the years, where it was clear there would be a direct impact on several core tire product lines, but never a professional golfer. Mr. Yang later received a telephone call from Ben's agent when the golfer turned pro in 2000, asking if the company still was interested in supporting the fledgling pro.
``That's when the contract was signed,'' Mr. Yang said, though he didn't reveal how much the company provides in financial support annually. ``The idea really was to help a decent young man with his career. I liked the family, I enjoyed playing the course and I figured he needed help. I had no idea this would occur.''
As it turned out, Kenda was Mr. Curtis' only sponsor when the golfer-ranked 396th in the world before the British Open-accomplished the improbable. And the tire firm has seized on the opportunity and held a news conference at the Cleveland airport when Mr. Curtis returned to the U.S. from England.
Plans also include placing large congratulatory ads in newspapers such as USA Today, the New York Times and the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Kenda also will reproduce the orange shirt with the company logo on it that Mr. Curtis wore in the final round for use as a promotional item. It also may try to get the golfer to make an appearance this fall at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association/International Tire Exo show in Las Vegas, if Mr. Curtis' schedule allows.
Mr. Yang, in fact, was at Mill Creek on July 20 with Mr. Curtis' family and friends watching the final round coverage of the British Open in the clubhouse.
He had brought along Richard Stephens, president of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s tire group, with which Kenda has a close relationship, making tires for the Findlay, Ohio-headquartered firm.
``It was fantastic,'' Mr. Yang said.
Afterward, Messrs. Yang, Stephens and their two sons played a round of golf at Mill Creek, during which Mr. Yang received confirmation that his faith in Mr. Curtis was not misplaced.
It was on the 16th hole that Mr. Yang noticed he had a message on his cell phone.
``I could barely hear, but it was Ben. He said, `Mr. Yang, this is Ben Curtis. In case you weren't watching, I wanted you to know I won the British Open today.' What a decent boy.''
Kenda is contracted as a sponsor through 2004 and has right of refusal after that, though Mr. Yang acknowledged, ``I'm sure the price will be different.''