Time does two things. It erodes memories and it expands memories.
Lots of guys I went to school with who played Junior A or B hockey have somehow had tryouts with NHL teams. I don’t remember that happening, but then I’m a candidate for an eroded memory.
Remembering numbers, dates and times, I’ll still compete with anyone, but with names of people, places or streets, I have no chance. My point is that certain people can remember some things, but they are extremely lucky if they can remember everything.
When it comes to remembering the level of ability exhibited by our sports heroes, a lot depends on how favorably one regards the person.
For example, consider the great Muhammad Ali. Despite losing four years at the peak of his career, he won the world heavyweight championship three times. Some might say he was the greatest boxer of all-time, while others claim he didn’t have a lot of opposition.
Those on the side of great have forgotten Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano and Jack Dempsey.
Two interesting things about boxing compared to other sports is that there is little difference in the equipment from era to era and there are no scoring records. Film helps, but truly the only method of evaluation is what we remember.
Good luck with that.
Major League Baseball is made for looking back.There are batting averages, RBIs, stolen bases, ERA, innings pitched, strikes vs. balls, home runs, walks, slugging percentages, on base percentages, saves, etc. etc.
In fact, there are so many stats it’s easy to determine the greatest baseball player of all-time has to be either Willie Mays or Babe Ruth and once again equipment has seen little change.
Considering the greatness of Ali, what was his actual impact on the growth of boxing as a sport? As golfers we have this insatiable need to grow the game and protect its future. Did Muhammad Ali concern himself with attracting juniors into the ring?
I don’t recall him operating junior boxing camps on a large scale. He wasn’t known as a prolific source of autographs. He didn’t invite people into the ring in a pro-am format to teach boxing skills.
So other than his own tremendous speed, strength, endurance and mental capacity, he didn’t do much to grow his game. Youth didn’t flock to the gym. Adults admired him, but didn’t buy a pair of gloves or even begin skipping rope. However, every person who was alive during his career will recall “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
A century ago, the world was at war. Life wasn’t easy and baseball was in dire straits. Suddenly out of the shadows of dark times the Bambino arrived with a thud.
Babe Ruth had been bounced around in orphanages, lived in the streets and survived some rough times, but he had talents. He could throw a baseball, hit a baseball and had a personality larger than life.
Not only did he find major league baseball, it was waiting for him to enter the scene and enter he did. He set records, some of which still exist today and he had a personality bigger than life. He loved life, kids, adults, people, dogs, and baseball.
His antics were unheard of in times that were just coming out of the Victorian Age, but he brought the masses out to the ball park. Media were crazed and starry-eyed with the Babe’s quotes, his predictions and his ability to laugh and enjoy the world around him.
He told crass jokes, made fun of celebrities and played ball better than anyone before or after. He signed thousands of autographs, visited sick children in hospitals and made hundreds of public appearances.
Baseball arose out of the doldrums and onto the front pages where it has stayed ever since. With a few minor blips, baseball has had a wonderful existence since.
His legacy is not only the huge financial success of baseball, but the fact that every kid born in the U.S. has at one time or another played some form of the game. Baseball became the national sport and pasttime.
It is the legacy of Babe Ruth.
What will be the legacy of Tiger Woods? Will it be good or bad? Did the game grow due to his career? What influence has he had?
According to most media and reports made by major golf organizations, golf has lost popularity over the past 15 or 20 years. Claims are that the game is too expensive, takes too long to play, is too difficult and has a selective environment.
Tiger’s immense public attractiveness was supposed to draw interest from groups not quite taken by golf prior to his days. Minorities were going to feel more welcome, as were juniors. Some of that happened, but not nearly to the extent expected.
Minorities did begin to play but the social barriers that limited their access didn’t vanish over night. More doors opened, but many remained closed. This is not an exclusive trait known only in golf, but golf has a reputation for elitism, which is changing but will take generations to dissolve completely.
Tiger’s appeal to youth is well documented but as far as impacting this demographic enough to provide steady growth, it didn’t. Some is the result of golf administrators who developed an attitude of riding the Tiger train and not only failed to capitalize, but actually reduced their efforts.
If they increased their efforts, not only would they have added to Tiger’s influence, but they would be better prepared for his inevitable retirement.
The arrival of our golf savior in 1997 came in like a door-crasher special. Nobody in golf had ever been paid multi millions of dollars in endorsements to extent of Woods and nobody had ever received such enormous sums without hitting one ball as a professional.
Very quickly, we learned that nobody had ever played golf in the same style. He drove the ball monstrous distances, hit incredible iron shots and when these two failed, his short game was his saviour. In a brief time, he began setting records thought to be well protected by history – nobody won by these margins.
Over the next decade, he performed at dizzying heights awakening senses in babies and small children who were yet to hold a club for the first time. When they did take a little swing they were already influenced by the pixie dusk sprinkled by Woods.
Gone were the days of swinging the club in a rhythmic, fluid manner, lovely soft floating irons shots, deft bump and run-up shots and smoothly rolling putts. Enter weightlifting, physical training, smashing drives into the next county, whaling irons further than tee shots used to go, sensational recoveries and marvelous putting.
uAdd to the caldron a golf ball that flew straighter and longer than any ball has ever flown before and graphite shafts for the recreational player that produced increased club head speeds. The combination delivered longer, straighter shots. With constantly improving course conditions we arrive at a perfect storm to change the game forever.
But is it for the better?
In the 1930s, Bobby Jones contributed the growth golf by his dominance and gentlemanly elegance. In the 1940s and 50s. Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson established a standard of skill that reverberates today. Arnie and Jack shepherded us into the age of TV.
Then, came Tiger.
I believe he set the bar so high that only the most gifted youngsters pursued golf as a pastime. The masses simply realized he was exceptional and once they found he was, they quit trying to emulate him.
Furthermore, his style of bombing huge drives eliminated the need for the same kind of ground game strategies required over the past 400 years. Once players used the modern equipment and adopted a smash-every-shot attitude, they no longer played creative shots.
How could they? Most of their shots into the green were with short irons and with a ball that doesn’t draw or fade. The part of the game requiring thinking, strategy, shot selection and positioning were replaced by blasting, smashing, gouging and putting. Quite frankly, it’s boring and lacks a test for intelligent people.
The challenge of identifying the most effective way to attack a pin is located in the golf museum. In its place are video replicas of someone’s perception of golf in what is called a video game. It isn’t even close and doesn’t come close to the thrill provided when hours of practice produce a deft little chip around a bunker or a crisply struck iron shot that draws toward the pin.
In my opinion, the Tiger legacy isn’t good.
Combined with the extreme changes to the distance the golf ball travels, the lessening of spin that provides straighter shots and the technological changes to golf clubs, Tiger’s style has had a definite impact on the game.
His brute force applied during a tee shot and similarly to his iron play has taken the game to a place where, if you don’t have his physical attributes, you cannot play the game at its higher levels.
The top players have all adopted and adapted to the Tiger way encouraged by innovations in equipment but the minute skills, the maneuvering of the ball, the flight of the ball and the delicate considerations/choices required for shotmaking are gone and so is the fun.
The game belongs to a limited few and the masses identified this problem years ago. The average person simply cannot play the new game and if they could, it’s boring. Golf administrators failed to identify this result and curtail it and now the genie is out of the bottle.
I don’t believe there is fault on the shoulders of Tiger Woods. I believe there was a perfect storm. Tiger’s incredible ability to decimate long-standing records and intimidate the best players in the world with a style integrated with massive changes to equipment led people to believe they could buy modern equipment and suddenly become better turned out to be wrong.
The way he over powered courses, eliminating many of the long standing skills required to get around a course, allowed the average player to dream they were Tiger, even if they didn’t possess the strength or the skills, so in frustration they quit and played more video games.
In the end, golf administrators missed the opportunity provided by Tiger Woods, technology made golf a new game and his legacy will be his record. Nothing more, nothing less.
The bottom line in the case of Ali and Tiger Woods is the same. Their popularity did not transfer to their respective sports.
People did not flock to box, spurred on by their admiration for Ali. New golfers may have dabbled in golf, attracted by Tiger, but they didn’t stay. Both were a sports a marketer’s dream come true, but neither helped provide sustained growth.