JOHN MCHENRY: With Tiger Woods out of the hunt, golf needs new superstar

As sports fans, we are automatically programmed to fixate our attention to the major championships because they bring clarity and definition. 

For example, nearly every fan could identify with the men’s Olympic 100 metre champion or tell you who won the last World Cup or this year’s Premier League title but true status only comes through sustained dominance.

Dominant teams like Barcelona, Manchester United, and the New England Patriots. Dominant individuals like Usain Bolt, Roger Federer, and in the case of golf, Tiger Woods — all of whom transformed their sports, through their achievements and their popularity.

Everyone wants to be associated with the charisma and colour of a superstar whose greatness is measured by the players or teams who came before.

Golf for its part, is and always will be a name game. The names of Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, and Woods, flow easily off the tongue but they are forever ingrained into our memory bank only because they dominated the era in which they played.

If Hogan was most famed for his striking ability and Palmer for his aggression and popularity, Nicklaus for his dominance, then Tiger Woods is the man who has forever changed the commercial landscape for those professionals not just playing in his era but those also following behind.

21 years on from when he first turned professional, he still remains the golfer by which every other up and coming star is now compared and while the names of the next potential superstars, the likes of Spieth, McIlroy, Johnson, Day spring to mind, it’s probably best to remember that Brooks Koepka’s victory in June’s US Open actually made him the seventh straight first-time winner of a major championship — with Jordan Spieth breaking that sequence when winning last month’s Open Championship.

Of even more interest is the fact that they have still only won 51 PGA Tour titles including 10 majors between them as compared to Tiger’s current total of 79 PGA Tour titles and 14 major championships. In all Tiger Woods averaged 4.6 wins for 17 years, despite missing half the season in 2008. In 10 different years, he posted five or more wins, topping out at nine in 2000.

I say this because at the time of writing this article, the top 20 positions on the leaderboard at this week’s USPGA have only four players who have experienced a major championship victory before and while some may consider this kind of parity great for the game of golf, I find it boring.

As a golfing enthusiast, I enjoyed watching Tiger Woods dominate. I enjoyed watching him put his reputation on the line time and again against all newcomers and dominating. I enjoyed watching him achieve an all-time record 142 tournaments without a missed cut and a total of 623 weeks as the number one ranked player in the world.

I enjoyed it because, he was value for money. Here was an athlete who prepared meticulously for tournaments and cared about his performances. Here was an athlete, who in his prime, was more than worth all of the sponsorship money he earned. When Tiger Woods played in any event you backed him against the field. Apart from Jordan Spieth, is there a player out there
nowadays that anybody would even consider wagering on against the field?

With so much money on offer, week in and week out, nowadays on the Tour’s worldwide and even more to be earned from off course sponsorship, you have to question the levels of motivation of some of the players, capable of being more dominant. In fact, right now you could argue that there are no dominant players, just exceptionally good players rolling the dice, waiting for good form to come around.

In 1983, Jack Nicklaus came out with a famous quote when the PGA Tour adopted a plan proposed by Gary McCord, to increase the number of exempt players qualified from the previous year’s Tour from 60 to 125. “There`s a welfare feeling out here. Mediocrity excels.” And while true superstars don’t come around every day, I long once more for the player who prioritises winning every tournament they enter as the true barometer towards defining their career. At this moment in time, Jordan Spieth is the only man I can honestly identify as having that level of determination.

Given the decline in golf’s popularity which coincided with Woods’ 2009-2010 infidelity and divorce, coupled with his recent physical ailments, can the PGA Tour and the professional game as a whole continue to grow without a true superstar?

Yes, but it helps to have a Tiger Woods or a Jack Nicklaus coming along every other decade to dominate the game because it is their dominance which fuels the imagination and inspires the crowds, their dominance which leaves fans on the edge of their seats and their dominance which will help to grow the game more.


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