Friday, March 13

After Tiger, Then What?


For commish Tim Finchem, it’s all smiles when Tiger is on Tour.
(Keith Allison/Flickr)

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.

6 comments :

Blair said...

Yeah, the tour is screwed when Tiger's done.

Bobbio said...

Woods has done very little to "bring" people to participating in the sport. The numbers have been relatively static during his reign and probably dropping in the current economic milieu. He has brought tons of casual viewers and propped up purses via TV. That's why his competitors love him.

Given the "run" I'm sure the Tour wouldn't trade a minute. What happens when Woods disappears? Easy, the Tour goes back to it's pre-Tiger stature. Golf will never be a participation sport for the masses. Too much time, money, and lack of access. It's a niche sport.

The Armchair Golfer said...

I think Bobbio pretty much nailed it.

Matt said...

It all depends on how long Tiger decides to stick around. Once he breaks Jack's record, he may begin to grow bored. On the other hand, maybe he will want to play until he is 65. Just imagine, when he is 50, he can play all the senior tour majors and regular majors. I think he would be motivated by 9 majors per year.

There are a lot of exciting younger players coming up like MciIroy, danny lee, and ryo ishikawa, but there will never be another Tiger.

www.the20thhole.blogspot.com

Robert Bruce said...

Good thoughts.

True, Bobbio, golf is a niche sport. But, in reality, there are only three sports that aren't niche sports these days--basketball, baseball, and football.

When Tiger is done, things will suck. But I think the sport will fare much better than its pre-Tiger stature. In the age of the internet, instant sports news and niche sports networks (e.g. The Golf Channel), I don't think the game will take that big a hit. But I guess you never know.

George Pennells said...

I believe that we must never say never. Through the ages there were the superstars that lit up the game and drew the crowds. There are lot of great young golfers around and maybe the next Tiger Woods must still be born, but rest assured the next supergolfer will come. What golf needs now is a rivalry like Tennis has Federer and Nadal or like the great rivalries of yesteryear between Nicklaus,Palmer and Gary Player.