Friday, March 13
After Tiger, Then What?
For commish Tim Finchem, it’s all smiles when Tiger is on Tour.
By Robert Bruce
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
ON JUNE 15, 2008, THE DAY TIGER WOODS will-powered his way to his 14th major title on a gimpy knee, he limped off the 18th hole at Torrey Pines and entered an eight month injury-induced exile.
From that day until the Accenture Match Play two weeks ago, the golf world — outside of a fabulous few days in Louisville in September — was static. Not much drama. Not much excitement. For the casual fan, not much reason to watch.
Tiger’s recent return reinvigorated the sport and gave the Tour a much needed shot in the arm. But it also gave the Tour suits an unfortunate glimpse of the future.
Simply put: When Tiger ain’t playing, ain’t nobody watchin’.
In the past eight months, golf was off the radar — even while major notables like Mickelson, Kim, Singh, Villegas and Garcia played every week. During that same period, ratings sucked.
Though many immensely talented players are making an impact at an early age, they aren’t Tiger Woods. And much like many an NBA player has failed the Michael Jordan litmus test, it’s safe to assume another Tiger Woods is not around the bend.
This begs the questions: Will there ever be a player comparable to Tiger Woods? Is the PGA Tour in its prime? And, if so, what happens in 15 years or so when El Tigre decides to hang up the Nikes?
Hopefully, these are questions Tim Finchem and his peeps are asking themselves. With all of their youth programs and clinics, I’m sure the Tour believes another mini-Tiger is out there somewhere.
If you think it’s too early to worry about such things, consider this: Woods has already been on the Tour for 12 years. Wasn’t it just yesterday when he tapped in that three-footer at Augusta and bear hugged Earl on the 18th green? In 12 years, Tiger will be 45 — just five years from the Champions Tour.
While Woods’ run of success has brought millions of players to the game, and millions of dollars into the pockets of networks and advertisers, his success could — in some sort of twisted way — lead to the Tour’s downfall. NBC, CBS and the Golf Channel rely on Woods for ratings and profits, so when he’s injured, they’re injured.
Injuries aside, Tiger rarely plays many more tournaments than the required minimum. When he steps off the throne and out of his castle to make an appearance at a tournament, network executives and sponsors must feel as if an angel has descended from heaven to grace their golf course.
As Tiger ages, what if he decides he just wants to play the majors, and maybe a few other tournaments? Who’s going to stop him? Do you honestly think the Tour wouldn’t drop their minimum number of tournaments — if that’s what Tiger wanted?
As golf fans, let’s hope Tour officials can figure out a way to make the game more attractive sans Tiger. If not, we may be watching our beloved game on the Versus Network — not CBS — two decades from now. Now that’s a scary thought.
Robert Bruce is a full-time writer and part-time golf blogger in Nashville, Tennessee. Visit his golf blog at www.gameunderrepair.com.