The return of Tiger Woods to this week’s Accenture Match Play Championship has been dissected more than the injured knee that caused him to miss action since his win last June at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Media scrutiny goes with the territory when it comes to the world’s No. 1 player, who makes news with every step he takes, whether it’s on a sore joint or not. This week’s media coverage has reached amazing proportions.
The buzz surrounding Tiger’s return provides a badly-needed injection of adrenalin to a game that, in some people’s minds, has been lethargic since his departure.
Those of us in the golf industry and hardcore golfers may have taken great interest in Padraig Harrington’s wins at the British Open and PGA Championship, an exciting Ryder Cup that ended a streak of futility for the Americans and the emergence of young stars such as Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas and Dustin Johnson.
Core golfers are always the foundation of golf if you read any of the participation studies that have been done over the years, but turning casual fans into hardcore golfers is the big challenge and Woods has done his part by delivering those casual fans big time. Can the game take advantage?
As his absence and corresponding plummeting TV ratings showed, the casual fans lost interest in Tiger-less golf, which should have been a wake-up call to both the PGA Tour and the golf industry as a whole at a time when the economy is getting the lion’s share of attention.
The neon is cranked to the max with Tiger back to brighten that gloomy economic picture. Behind the glare of this good news story, the golf industry can breathe easier, but shouldn’t be content because Woods’ absence highlighted concerns that can’t be ignored.
At age 33, Woods will have put the exclamation mark on his legendary career in about seven years, barring unforeseen circumstances.
Whether he plays regularly after the age of 40 would only be speculation at this point. What happens if he gets injured again?
These very real possibilities should be enough for the industry to consider life without Tiger, at least on the golf course full-time.
While it still has its foundation of core golfers, the game needs to find a way to shatter the perception of casual fans that golf is boring when Tiger isn’t around.
While trumpeting the return of the big guy, it also needs to promote players such as Kim, Villegas and Johnson and find out what’s on the minds of youngsters these days in order to grow the game.
In its own mind, golf is aware of that, but those who run the game now are of different eras and can’t make assumptions on that subject. Instead, the game needs to find out from the actual source because teenagers now will be potential core golfers when Woods is starting to wind it down.
For that reason, I think that Callaway’s signing of Justin Timberlake was a great move, as I mentioned in a previous blog. More young stars may help the cause in the way Bill Murray and Kevin Costner have done in the past.
Golf can breathe easier now that Tiger is back, but it shouldn’t get too comfortable. As his absence proved, golf needs him badly, but shouldn’t be overly dependent on the greatest player ever.
Woods brought more to the game than remarkable skills. It would be a shame to waste his remarkable popularity. To do so would be a lost opportunity.
Imagining the game without Tiger may be a nightmare, but it’s one that will come true one day. Instead if waiting for that day, the golf industry needs to do something now to take the edge off that nightmare.