Golf’s search for its next savior continues. Who or what that is remains to be determined—but the obsession over Tiger Woods and any should-he-play-or-should-he-forego remains the ultimate tip of the hand that the game remains super-reliant on the return of its generation’s greatest player.
Three back surgeries over the past 20 months, no competitive golf in over year and a 786th world ranking; yet The Big Cat was still the toast of Napa regarding the under-the-radar, fall series Safeway Open and its lesser field.
While Woods committed to the event (to guarantee a spot), he never formally pledged his allegiance to the event at Silverado; saying nothing other than that he “hoped” to play. Citing that his game isn’t where he wants it to be, the 14-time major champion announced days back that his return to competitive golf will remain on hold for the foreseeable future.
Despite a lack of El Tigre in Northern California, it hasn’t changed the media’s narrative one bit—countless outlets chiming in on the subject matter from every angle. As of Tuesday afternoon, GolfDigest.com’s homepage was almost Brangelina-like in its weighing-in on all things Woods. The headlines all had a common theme; “Can Tiger Be Saved?”, “The Grind: Tiger Plays With Our Emotions”, “Tiger Woods Withdraws From Safeway Open” and “Tiger’s Agent Explains Why Woods Withdrew”.
Also nestled in there, “Dustin Johnson Named Player Of The Year”—and deservedly so with Johnson winning three events this season, once a runner-up and two third place finishes; as well as cool 15 events where he was Top 10 in 22 tries.
A compelling storyline with Johnson, cleaning up his off-the-course situation years back en route to a monster comeback this season and finishing second in the final FedExCup rankings—yet it still wasn’t enough to move the needle with the golf media and those tied to the sport in search of something more polarizing.
Despite playing his part on Team USA and helping America take the Ryder Cup trophy back from the Europeans, the most-newsworthy Johnson-related bit of information that weekend? His fiancé Paulina Gretzky—daughter of The Great One—taking a selfie with Captain Woods at the afterparty. Seriously.
None of that is intended to be knock; it’s merely an honest assessment of what the sport of golf is dealing with after Woods set the bar so high in the late nineties—heights that will never again be reached by way of traditional standards or an attempt at duplicating the past.
Between 1990 and 1996, total purses on the PGA Tour increased from $82-million to just over $100-million—an increase of a respectable 3.4%-per-year. By 2008, purses totaled $292-million; an increase of 9.3%-per-year since Woods joined the tour.
What many associated with the sport refer to as “The Tiger Effect”, roughly doubled the prize money—while Woods himself raked in over $110-million on-the-course over that same period.
Fast-forward to 2009 and Woods’ domestic-related matters and the numbers show purses decreasing by 2.3%-per-year since.
For the true numbers geek desiring to go down the Woods-inlfunence rabbit hole, Golf Digest delved deeper into the subject back in August and it’s a fascinating read.
For those who simply want to know what’s next, the problem doesn’t have to be all that complex—hit “reset” and look outward-in, opposed to inward-out.
The NBA faced a similar situation at the turn of the century when the Michael Jordan era was coming to a close—those around the league dubbing every up-and-comer “the next MJ”, yet no one ever measured up.
Golf is essentially doing the same thing; narrow-minded in its focus and search for “the next Tiger”, seemingly afraid to evolve and grow into the game’s next phase—which starts with accepting that there are some once-in-a-lifetime eras that will simply never be recreated.
Aside from his style of play, No. 23 also did it with a signature shoe; the Air Jordan changing everything apparel-wise in a sport that was at one time dominated by Chuck Taylors and short-shorts—while Woods elevated golf by bringing a Jordanesque attitude, approach and swag to a game that had none of that in the era prior to his arrival.
Regarding both Jordan and Woods, the diehards of each respective sport tuned for those must-see-TV eras—but the bigger impact of those two greats was their ability to pique the casual observer’s attention, resulting in universal appeal and tremendous viewership.
Chicago down a dozen on the road to Utah with five minutes left in the fourth quarter? Please. MJ’s got this—and His Airness would deliver. Tiger four back at the turn on a Sunday? Big deal. Woods and his red shirt would climb that leaderboard and win by three. It was a close to any guarantee you’d ever see in sports.
The NBA has enough storylines present day for the casual fan to tune in and get on board, while golf is still looking for the answer to that riddle.
This year’s energetic Ryder Cup certainly offered up a workable blueprint for future events—while the annual Phoenix Open has brought just enough rowdiness and off-course entertainment week-of to make it an irreverent spectacle, opposed to a typical tournament.
That doesn’t mean every Tour stop needs stadium-style seating, a gladiator-type colosseum and a full bar every hundred paces—but it does prove that if you deliver an entertaining experience, they will come.
On some level, that buzz already started last year—the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach and golf media noticing the growing galleries around veteran PGA Tour player Pat Perez on a weekly basis. A longtime fan of humor website theCHIVE, Perez began adoring his staff bag with winks and nods to the site’s loyalists—which spread like wildfire on social media and grew his already-loyal fanbase.
Questions were asked regarding the relationship; with icon Bill Murray immediately mentioned in the conversation due to his ties to theCHIVE, but no one was talking—that is, until earlier this year.
In February it was announced that William Murray Golf would soon launch; the Murray brothers joining forces with theCHIVE to launch a lifestyle brand and Perez on board as the brand’s first PGA Tour ambassador. Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella was soon Austin-bound, ready to break the story.
“The William Murray line of golf; this is not as big as the Internet, but it’s close,” Ginella shared, while taking a first-look at the new apparel line, months back.
Coming full circle back to inside-out versus outside in and a question like, “Who is the next Tiger Woods?” There is no answer because that’s not the riddle anyone should be working to solve.
Figuring out how to put less precedence on selling the competitive aspect of Tour events and more emphasis on a better user experience—that should be the multi-million dollar query on the minds of today’s golf decision-makers; the answers potentially hiding in plain sight.
William Murray Golf’s Fall 2016 apparel line launches on October 20th, 2016. For more information, please visit WilliamMurrayGolf.com.