Unless you’ve been under a rock in the sports world, you’ll know Tiger Woods hasn’t been winning golf tournaments lately. You may not know why (a microdiscectomy last month) or for how long (apparently the US Open is in serious jeopardy), but you’ve noticed his absence of countless mentions on Sportscenter during PGA Tour highlights.
With that, media people have begun taking a reflective look at a potentially “Tiger-less” game. What could the eternal absence of golf’s biggest draw mean for the future of sport? What would the ensuing financial impact be?
Golf.com’s Josh Sens wrote this week about what “Tiger-less” golf could look like. He dove into the financial implications and the impact Tiger’s injury has already had on the sport. Sens pointed out the projections are pointing to the $15 billion (with a b) range. The Sports Fan Journal’s Jason Clinkscales takes note of the article and offers viewpoints of his own on golf without Tiger Woods.
I encourage you to read both pieces, but I have some thoughts too– Golf without Tiger Woods is being misinterpreted.
The PGA Tour has been criticized by some for its lack of minority growth in the game. I don’t find this argument to be an all-encompassing truth, especially when looking at the efforts put in place by First Tee programs nationwide. This program has strived to bring golf to all kids of all situations, with focuses on inner cities. Even though Tiger is of color, he wasn’t an inner city product. Maybe PGA Tour outreach to minorities needs to reach them in more creative ways, but all things being said, it comes down to the individuals. They need to choose to golf. Golf can only do so much.
I will get to China here in a moment, but ancient Chinese war leader Sun Tzu who was quoted as saying, “know your enemy the way you know yourself.” Golf knows its enemy. In fact, it has three major enemies: pace of play, cost to play and difficultly of play.
Pace of play has been a popular subject on the PGA Tour as well as within amateur golf circles for years now. With people living busier lives, golf needs to move at a brisk pace. Not a snail crawl.
Golf’s steep cost has become one of its major hurdles as of late. There will always be the elitist group within golf and certain courses will remain completely inaccessible, but golf needs to find a way to be cheaper to play. Shall I say, the “barrier to entry” is too high. Clubs, balls, gloves, shoes, attire, greens fees and potentially lessons dips deep into the pockets of even the comfortable middle-class. These expenses make golf unrealistic for low-income people. Programs of all-inclusive golf are beginning to sprout nationwide, which could help alleviate some of this pressure.
The final enemy– golf is too difficult– is an issue which should have seemed to solve itself by now. Equipment is unequivocally better today than it was even 15 years ago. Custom equipment helps aid golfers with noticeable imperfections in their swings. Bigger driver heads, better balls and more advanced shafts with all clubs should make golf easier, but the average USGA handicap has remained the same for some time. And all of these improvements make golf more expensive, spilling back into the second enemy.
Golf knows its enemies and they are working to conquer each one. The battles will be tough, but they know the enemy soundly.
Part of the misinterpretation of Tiger-less golf starts here: the Tiger-era might need to be viewed as steroid era in baseball. Absurdly high viewing statistics were experienced during Tiger’s big run of 1999-2008– something which could have never been predicted or foreseen. Even though Jack, Arnie and Norman were all kings of the sport during their eras, none of the three moved the needle like Tiger Woods. A massive dip in the game’s revenue would only reflect the colossal growth golf experienced since Tiger’s initial inception. It works two-fold. Arnie might be history’s most popular guy, but golf’s reach was never bigger than it was when Tiger was blowing out fields.
Looking ahead to 2016, how can 2016 Olympic golf not be considered an initiative to grow the game? Golf will be played worldwide with the biggest stars of the game congregating for national pride. The next Tiger Woods is likely to come from a country not named the United States.
I read an article the other day about the rise in beef prices. Be patient with me, I have a point to make here. The rise in beef prices is due in large part to the growing hunger for beef in China, the nation of 2.2 billion— all because of exponential growth experienced by the middle class. With more middle-class members of society in China, golf’s participation in the Olympics and success on the world stage of 14-year old phenom Tianlang Guan at the 2013 Masters, golf in China could boom. That leads to dollars pouring back into golf.
Finally, look at the talent pool of golfers we have coming through today. History has never seen crop of players in their 20s this talented. Golf may not need to be carried by a singular pillar, but by an array of talents all taking turns winning majors. Look at the multiple winners under-25 (Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Harris English and Russell Henley). Look at 20-year old American Jordan Spieth and his performance at the Masters. Jordan whooped up on Tiger earlier this year.
What about golf’s other spark-plugs– Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Jonas Blixt? All these players are fashionable, marketable, young and of different nationalities across the world. One won’t carry the game along. But all of them squaring off in the world’s biggest events for 25-years might. That’s a comprehensive list, all without names like Dustin Johnson, Matteo Manassero, Peter Uihlein and Ryo Ishikawa, all extreme talents well under the age of 30.
There are some big names in golf today without the potential arrival of the next generation’s superstar. With some marketing, the PGA Tour can market some of these players into the next level of stardom.
At the end of the day, losing Tiger Woods will hurt golf. There is no way to argue that. But golf is doing all it can be expected to do to help grow the game outside of the Tiger Woods umbrella.
After all, golf never planned for a Tiger Woods in the first place. We’re simply blessed to have had him.