Saying Tiger’s self-imposed exile from the PGA Tour is good for golf is blasphemous, I know.
Let me explain.
First, I think his temporary absence not his permanent departure will help the game.
The PGA Tour and the golf industry in general have been riding the Tiger Woods gravy train far too long. Let’s face it, everybody in the golf business has gotten a bit lazy as Tiger literally carried the Tour, television and the media and Nike Golf on his broad shoulders.
The Tiger Woods gravy train has rewarded the PGA Tour with purses that have increased nearly 300 percent since Tiger’s arrival in the late 1990s. Say what you will about Tiger’s personal failures, but nobody can criticize the impact he has had on the golf business.
Tiger’s gone for now and oh how reality bites. The PGA Tour will suffer much the same way the NBA did after Michael Jordan retired. During Jordan’s heyday, he and the Chicago Bulls were relentlessly promoted to the detriment of other teams. If the Bulls and Jordan weren’t playing, rest assured, NBA fans weren’t going to tune in to see a Sacramento Kings vs. Washington Wizards game. Jordan had set the standard for performance and celebrity much higher than any other player or team could reach. Today’s NBA has expanded to include a galaxy of stars like Lebron, Kobe, Shaq, Dirk and Carmelo. Now, a Cavaliers vs. Mavericks game is a tough ticket.
Tiger had a similar impact on the PGA Tour. If Woods was not teeing up, tournaments didn’t lose some luster they almost lost legitimacy. Tournaments like the Reno-Tahoe Open or Turning Stone Resort Championship were relegated to afterthought status. Not because they weren’t good tournaments but because Tiger wasn’t playing and, consequently, they lacked validation from the game’s greatest player.
The preoccupation with Tiger will subside temporarily with the PGA Tour, sponsors and the media. Surprisingly, Nike, the company more closely associated with Tiger than any other, is leading the way. In many of their current marketing materials promoting their equipment they’re using other members of their tour staff like major champions Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Justin Leonard and players like Anthony Kim and Trevor Immelman.
I believe this period of “tough love” will help the PGA Tour become more diversified and less reliant on one overwhelming personality. It’ll force the Tour to promote young players. When Tiger does return, the Tour will be stronger and more interesting because fans will have more to cheer about.
The Tiger Woods gravy train has pulled into the station. Hopefully the Tour will respond with a great year in 2010 and players like Anthony Kim, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Nick Watney will establish themselves as the next galaxy of stars.
If these youngsters deliver this year, who knows, we might even start looking forward to the Reno-Tahoe Open.
I hope so.