Is Golf More or Less Interesting Than it was 5 Years Ago?
I recently read an interesting article: ‘Why Parity is Bad For Golf’ on www.thesandtrap.com. In short, it argued that golf nowadays is suffering because there is a multitude of above average, faceless golfers, instead of one (or more) global superstar who is responsible for the vast majority of viewership. It argued that with no Tiger dominance, interest in golf is relapsing, and that it will continue to do so unless he, or someone with his reincarnate skill or iconic status, makes golf interesting again.
This is a view that has also been touted elsewhere, and I have to say that I am baffled that so many people share this nonsensical opinion. Those that do have clearly failed to understand that Tiger Woods in an anomaly, and that his absence has allowed some extremely promising youngsters to come onto the scene and establish themselves; that some of these youngsters have the potential to be the next Tiger Woods; that it takes more than one golfer to make a tournament exciting; that golf is in a transitional period. Yes, Woods is the most talented golfer of all time, and as such, a joy to watch. It is no surprise that viewership has decreased dramatically since the start of his physical and mental torment. Does decreased viewership suggest that golf has become less interesting, or that a number of casual spectators drawn in by Woods’ genius have subsequently stopped following the sport? There is an enormous wealth of relatively new talent on Tour, and many players within that category have the potential to turn into all time greats, but we have to accept that it is going to take some time. At least, without Tiger, the coverage is focused on those new, exciting players, and those in contention. Surely a true golf fan would agree that showing Tiger’s every shot on a Sunday when he is nowhere near the lead is ridiculous, and that it helps facilitate the view that one man is bigger than the sport he plays. Those that will only tune in to watch Tiger are truly ignorant, and perhaps if they took the time to look around, they would see that the next decade has the potential to be the most exciting in the history of golf.
Part of the problem is that there are so many great players around that, by extension, it is extremely hard to stand out from the crowd. This is further emphasised by technical and physical developments. New equipment, coupled with increased athleticism and strength of golfers, means that ball is travelling further than ever before. This clearly makes for more exciting golf, by either setting up more birdie opportunities or more escape shots from the rough, but isn’t viewed as such. Why? Because being able to hit the ball a mile is a common trait. It’s a psychological issue. Lots have the capacity to drive the ball 350 yards, so it isn’t that exciting, even though it would be if only one, or a select few, were able to hit it that far. Woods burst on to the scene and stood out from the crowd, not only in driving distance but in his mastery of all aspects of the game. In 2005, for example, he was second in driving distance, sixth in GIR and eighth in strokes gained – putting: a recipe for low scoring. This made for fantastic viewing, but is it not also fantastic to watch Mickleson taking on ridiculous shots, as he did at the 13th in the 2010 Masters, or to see Jason Day scrambling for his life at, seemingly, every big tournament?
‘Why Parity is Bad for Golf’ also suggests that what we need to see is someone like Woods, who completely dominates most aspects of the game. Is that person not Luke Donald? Granted, Donald hasn’t won a major, but his rise to number one is arguably as impressive as Woods’, given the gap in natural talent between the two. Thus far this season, Donald is first in top 10s, first in scoring average, second in strokes gained – putting, eighth in scrambling and fourth in birdie average. Donald is a joy to watch, but for a different reason. Perhaps Donald’s remarkable achievement doesn’t receive as much press because he isn’t from the US, and perhaps the Americans are having difficulty accepting that they are no longer the dominant force in world golf. Do pride and bitterness come into the equation, and help account for a decreased interest? Fewer Americans may be watching the PGA Tour, but think about future prospects and viewing figures from places such as Venezuela and Columbia, as golfers such as Camilo Villegas and Jhonnatan Vegas fly the flag for the promotion of the sport.
Either way, PGA Tour viewing figures are down: “without a handful of bonafide stars heading up the marketing, the PGA Tour’s product looks incomplete.” What a load of nonsense. I would argue that it is stronger than ever. Woods is still very much in the picture, and it would take an extremely brave person to claim that he will never be back to his best. The young guns are rising in stature every week. Imagine the excitement of Woods, McIlroy and Fowler battling it out down the stretch at the 2012 Masters, a scenario that is entirely possible. Woods and Mickleson are arguably the only superstars in world golf, but there is a group of easily ten golfers that could elevate themselves to that status in the near future. Who wants to see Tiger dominate every event? I certainly don’t. I want to see people like Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel winning majors. I want to see the likes of Johnson and Ishikawa putting themselves in contention. Jason Dufner in a battle with Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA may not be what the neutral wanted, but it can’t be denied that it was a thrilling finish. Excitement has been, and will always continue to be, intrinsically linked with golf. The general public just have to want to see it, and have to accept that Woods isn’t the only shining beacon coming out of an otherwise dull sport. Officials have to realise that there is plentiful material for new marketing campaigns and features. The golfing world of today, where players (Bubba Watson) can reach the 16th at Firestone with a driver and an iron, is one that is extraordinarily promotable, and if some people still can’t see past golf without Tiger Woods, then they are the type of people that we don’t want following this wonderful sport.