The thing about Heather Deranek is not that she’s a woman. Or that she’s an attorney. Or that she has boundless energy. Or even that she has enthusiasm that’s downright contagious.
The thing about Deranek is that she’s all those things. Breaking into professional golf as a player agent – and competing in her rookie year – she’s going to need everything that makes her stand out to survive the shark tank into which she has plunged headfirst. Plus, a great deal of good luck couldn’t hurt one bit.
But you’re not telling her anything she doesn’t already know. And that makes her resolve even more steely.
“There’s nothing I love more than to prove people wrong,” says Deranek. “And being able to be successful when people think it couldn’t be done. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh, you’re really cute. You should be in sales but you shouldn’t be an agent.’
“I’ve had people tell me that I wouldn’t be successful if I didn’t work for a big agency first. It just makes me want to work that much harder. The more people tell me that I can’t, the more I want to prove that I can.”
And therein lies a big part of the mission statement of Hi-Def Rep, Deranek’s newborn agency, based in Seattle, about a half hour from where she grew up. Her road to the golf business has been circuitous. But in her mind, she kept her cart on the path that led from where she was to where she wanted to be.
A graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in communications, she is also a graduate of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. “Doing your homework on the beach is not a bad way to go,” she says.
In 2010, there were two professional golf events in the Seattle area – the U.S. Senior Open and the Boeing Classic, both on the Champions Tour. Through a friend, she was introduced to Phil Stambaugh, a media official on the Champions Tour. She told Stambaugh at the Senior Open that she wanted to learn everything there was to know about his job.
The two connected two weeks later and Deranek started her journey, getting her post-graduate education about how the media center works at a professional event. For the next few weeks, she flew on her own dime on the weekends, volunteering in each media center and becoming immersed in the background of golf.
Now that she knew more about how the media works, she set out to find out how players are represented.
“I started on a fact-finding mission and I met with a number of agents, all the way from the guys at IMG down to the guys who were one-man shops, and I just picked their brains,” Deranek said. “What did they like about the job, what they didn’t like, what was their background.
“When it comes to agents in golf, I found out there weren’t very many lawyers. What would it take for me to get a job here? I didn’t really find an agency I loved. So I decided that if I couldn’t find an agency who did it the way I wanted, I’d just do it on my own.”
And Hi-Def Rep was born. Deranek started her agency with a couple of aspiring golfers and a cyclist from the Northwest. But they weren’t going to make much money, which meant that Deranek wasn’t going to make much money. So, she set out on the road to make her case.
“I started going to Nationwide Tour events to see who was available. I’m not in the business of poaching guys who had agents. So I had a list of guys who didn’t have agents. Once you get to the point where people see you on Tour and know you by name, you know you’ve made an impact. The only way I was going to do that was to be out there. I wasn’t going to accomplish much sitting on my couch.”
A friend of a friend got her in touch with Gary Christian, who, at age 39, will be a rookie on the PGA Tour next year by virtue of finishing in the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour in 2011, and before long, a deal was struck.
“It’s a tough business for her to break into,” said Christian, an Englishman who lives in Alabama. “But she’s not high-pressure and she came across as extremely intelligent and keen to go the extra mile.”
Cleveland Golf was not willing to extend Christian a deal for 2012, even though he had been using the company’s equipment for several years. But Deranek negotiated a contract for Christian with Adams Golf, done in an environment where club and ball deals are shrinking, especially for players without a big name.
One of Deranek’s clients is Tommy Bahama and she brokered a deal for Ken Duke to wear the company’s clothing and logo while he won the Nationwide Tour Championship. It’s not huge, but it’s a place to start.
“Gary likes to say that we both have a little underdog in us,” Deranek says.
And, who doesn’t love an underdog?