I certainly hope that this does not come across as trite or insensitive. People are coming at the whole “Tiger Woods” topic from one angle… I thought I’d come from another.
When Tiger Woods had to sit out the second half of the golf season last year, the PGA Tour suffered. Attendance at tournaments decreased and TV ratings were off 47%. Say that out loud… almost half as many people watched golf when Tiger was out! That will impact advertising.
The golf tour didn’t think they would have to deal with “life without Tiger” for several decades, but thanks to his off-the-course extracurricular activities, the PGA will be starting this golf season without the #1 player in the world, their most marketable and recognizable player.
As my good friend Paul Strong can attest, my long-time criticism of the tour has been that they have hitched their wagon so exclusively to Tiger Woods. My criticism is not that they have hitched their wagon at all, just that it is most often at the expense and in spite of any other golfer. They have not built other golfers along with Tiger, they have used each and every one as a building block to his greatness. We all knew that the day would come when they wouldn’t have him. Now that the day has come (albeit 30 years early), they aren’t quite sure what to do. They fear. They trepadate. They bemoan.
However, the tour must forage ahead, trying desperately to find a way to attract people to the game. I say this somewhat tounge-in-cheek… in my opinion there are many reasons to watch/play/follow golf. There are dozens of players that are “world class,” beautiful courses, tradition, and character amongst the players (see belt buckles as an example).
It’s going to be an incredibly long golf season listening to Johnny Miller wonder aloud and mindlessly as to when Tiger might come back. When a golfer wins, he will most likely speculate whether or not that golfer may have won if Tiger had been in the field. When a golfer hits a great shot or scrambles from an improbable situation, Tiger Woods and his greatness will, no doubt, be mentioned. The tour and their announcers will continue to remind people that their favorite player is not around and will point to him, even as he’s away from the course, rather than pointing toward the great players actually on the course.
If current trends hold (Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, etc), Tiger would most likely stop playing competitive golf at around age 65; maybe sooner, but for the sake of this conversation that’s the number we’ll use. The PGA Tour has a unique opportunity right now to build their tour without the world #1 and show people all their other great golfers. This stretch of golf sans Tiger will come to an end sooner than later I suppose. I hope the tour will take advantage of this time to put together a plan for the day when Tiger disappears from competitive golf permanently.