Justin Rose won the FedExCup bonus of $10 million on points though his three over par effort on Sunday at the Tour Championship put him in a fourth-place tie for the tournament behind Tiger Woods. Continue reading
Justin Rose won the FedExCup bonus of $10 million on points though his three over par effort on Sunday at the Tour Championship put him in a fourth-place tie for the tournament behind Tiger Woods. Continue reading
Brooks Koepka beating Tiger Woods for the Wanamaker Trophy and the 100th PGA Championship gave us some great golf and wonderful competition on a demanding course, but it is increasingly apparent the fourth major needs something to distinguish it from not only the other majors but the week to week traveling circus a.k.a. the PGA Tour. Continue reading
Truth time. My favorite majors are the Masters and the British Open and that’s not saying anything against the PGA Championship or the U.S. Open, just my view. This past week at Carnoustie, the most northern course on the Open rota, we got to see the 147th playing of the world’s oldest major and Francesco Molinari was certainly a worthy Champion Golfer of the Year.
We also had the chance for a few observations, hopefully cogent and worth reading.
The R&A found the time to test the face rebound of 30 drivers used by contestants and all of them passed muster…not too much trampoline effect. They were able to engage in this equipment certification exercise because they didn’t spend endless hours attempting to trick up the layout, trick the players or otherwise mess around with an already immensely difficult course. On Wednesday Carnoustie’s fairways were tested by the Golf Channel and had a Stimpmeter reading of 9.2; less than the greens but not by a lot which probably averaged 10 for the week.
The British Open is played au naturel and unlike our national golf association the R&A doesn’t seem to have an agenda to “preserve par” or push the greens to the edge of extinction. Even Tiger Woods agrees the R&A has the right idea saying after his round on Thursday, “…this is how the game should be played. It should be creative.”
Difficult for sure and unfair at times applies to every Open and especially the 2018 Car-nasty event. But who cares. It is compelling to watch.
If you are Woods fan his performance for the week was encouraging and if you’re not it was confirmation his struggles to close out a tournament once in position to win. Since his return from back surgery and other personal problems his pattern has been reasonable play in the first two rounds then almost lights out in the third round where he has the best scoring average on the PGA Tour. We saw this clearly at Carnoustie and to win on Tour, much less another major, he must relearn how to close.
Woods T-6 performance in Scotland did achieve one thing. He advanced from 71st in world to 50th giving him a spot in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational starting on Aug. 2nd which is played over Firestone CC (South) in Akron where he has won eight times.
Molinari’s win should again point out the fallacy of the argument the golf ball goes too far. The Champion Golfer of the Year is ranks 53rd in driving distance on Tour and 79th in driving accuracy. It’s likely however advocates of “rolling back the ball” will either ignore these facts or put it down to a never to be repeated Carnoustie fluke.
How anybody could have serious complaints about the 50 hours of live Golf Channel/NBC Sports coverage says reams about the critic’s lack of knowledge about the massive effort televising an outdoor sports event requires. And while we are on the subject, special kudos goes to the producers. For the third year at least one shot of each of the 156 players was shown on television. “If you’re good enough to qualify for The Open, you deserve to be seen on TV.”
In 2004, the last time our national open was played at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club at the extreme eastern end of Long Island, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by players could be heard 90 miles away in Manhattan. At issue was the course setup and particularly the par-3 7th hole where in the final round the first four contestants made a triple bogey, a triple bogey, a triple bogey and a bogey. The putting surface was so fast the ball would not stop much less stop anywhere near the hole.
On that Sunday fourteen years ago, the USGA rather than suffer further embarrassment, opted to water the 7th and a few other greens allowing the leaders including champion Retief Goosen to be able to play the hole without undue mishap.
Now that the 118th U.S. Open is in the record books with Brooks Koepka putting on a memorable performance for in second Championship in as many years here are five takeaways.
Course setup – Thursday proved that wind, 4-inch rough and thigh-high fescue can make any course into an extremely tough test even though fairway widths were generous averaging 41 yards compared with less than 30 yards in some recent Opens. The course Thursday and Friday was extremely difficult but playable. Moderate green speeds and shaved false fronts along with shaved false sides and shaved false backs meant controlling approaches was diabolically critical. Saturday afternoon however the course was unplayable to even well struck approaches and putts. A non-apology from the USGA did nothing to mitigate the fact they really messed up. They compensated by putting lots of water on the course in preparation for Sunday so that fourth round scores averaged an astonishing 3.2 strokes lower than Saturday. The USGA continues to believe they should push course setups to the point that when weather conditions don’t match weather predictions the result is a disaster.
Woods Performance – It’s 10 years since Tiger Woods last won a major and before start of play Thursday some who should know better announced he was ready to win his 15th major. From the first hole however, it was plain Woods game is not ready to take on a course of U.S. Open difficulty. Poor iron play paired with mediocre driving put too much pressure on his short game. His scrambling was passable, but he just didn’t hit enough greens and combined with a bottom third of the field in putting he had no chance to make the cut much less contend. U.S. Open’s aren’t won with three double bogeys and a triple bogey. Put another way, the 42-year old Woods has a long way to go before we see the Tiger of old not simply an old Tiger.
Traffic Was Awful – Before the Championship began USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said Shinnecock Hills would be in the consideration for another Open in years to come. Let’s face it, one of the biggest reasons old traditional courses are not played by the Tour any longer is the lack of acreage to hold thousands of fans, parking, concessions, the TV compound and multiple corporate hospitality locations. Should an efficient way to get players and fans to the course be part of the consideration or is this another case where the USGA does what they want because they can? And besides did anyone notice Shinnecock Hills is at the end of an island with one main road? Oh well, at least the Open won’t be back here until 2026.
Lefty’s Brain Cramp: Rarely do you see a professional do something as inane as Phil Mickelson hitting a moving ball on the 13th hole during Saturday’s third round. The whole episode was ridiculous regardless of his excuse, rationalization, justification or reasoning if indeed any reasoning even existed at the time. Phil called USGA Executive Director Davis offering to withdraw if he had crossed the line of acceptable behavior but the USGA had already ruled he would not be disqualified. This however didn’t stop the postings on social media and Olympian pronouncements by certain analysts. Might Lefty’s real problem been his frustration trying to win his career grand slam U.S. Open on a course that had become unplayable…we’ll probably never know.
Two-hole Playoff: Thanks to Koepka we didn’t have to experience the new two-hole playoff which hardly anyone has a good word about. The USGA made the decision to drop the 18-hole format citing, “…everyone wanted to see a Sunday finish.” Would it be unreasonable to suggest that Fox, who have the broadcast rights, heads the list of “everyone?”
The buildup to September’s Ryder Cup has begun and over the summer as it always does will grow in intensity. However, in news of the other international competition between touring professionals a few changes have been instituted in an attempt to achieve at least a semblance of competitiveness. The Presidents Cup has been not so much a battle between the International Team and Team USA as a glorified exhibition lacking both the intensity and excitement of the biannual Ryder Cup.
It’s not the Internationals haven’t tried just that strong U.S. teams have dominated the matches which began in 1994 under then PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. The record shows 10 wins, one loss and one tie for Team USA and last September Captain Steve Stricker’s Americans beat up on Nick Price’s Internationals 19-11. After the first two days the margin was so lopsided all the Americans needed for the win in the Sunday singles matches was one-half point.
At the time I wrote, “…continued U.S. dominance has made it essentially an exhibition masquerading as a real competition. This needs to be fixed before the Presidents Cup becomes totally irrelevant to players and fans, if it hasn’t already.”
The runup to 2019 started with naming two media-attractive captains, Tiger Woods for the United State and Ernie Els for the Internationals. Who the captains are by itself won’t make the Presidents Cup more competitive nor more exciting for fans, but with Woods involvement it does attract media attention.
Secondly, the rules now say every team member must have played at least once on Friday or Saturday before the Sunday singles matches. We will just have to wait and see if this helps the Internationals which of course is the reason rules are being modified at all.
More significantly, captain’s picks will be made closer to when matches begin and each captain will have four selections rather than two as at present. This could be a big deal allowing selection of “hot” players just before the start of matches. But again, presuming the rule was put in place to help the Internationals the question arises if it will at all. Presidents Cup play starts December 13, 2019 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. This is well after the finish of the 2018-2019 PGA Tour season where the best of the Internationals play and if the 2019-2020 schedule has similar timing three weeks into the holiday hiatus.
How “hot” a player can be with these gaps is open to question, so it is another instance of “wait and see.” Best guess is there will be no impact except serving to perhaps mollify the perennial naysayers criticizing the picks by any captain.
The real issue, competitive parity, needs something drastic to keep fans, the players and the media interested. Another U.S. rout in Melbourne could just about finish the Presidents Cup…”an exhibition masquerading as a real competition,” and it’s a shame since there is the potential for it to be a real “guns blazing in the middle of main street” confrontation.
Until 1979 the Ryder Cup had a similar problem when the European team was solely players from Great Britain and Ireland, but after the continental European competitors were added the Americans have had their hands full to say the least.
What then could be done to enliven and invigorate the endangered Presidents Cup?
Following last fall’s debacle, I suggested teams should be expanded to include female professionals which in the case of the International Team’s roster would include the LPGA Tour’s Asian superstars. Imagine pairings like Dustin Johnson and Lexi Thompson teeing it up against Jason Day and Lydia Ko. Or how about Jordan Spieth and Michelle Wie fighting it out with Adam Scott and Ariya Jutanugarn?
Whew! You think anyone would watch?
The Presidents Cup has the potential to be the golf world’s premier international competition and from many aspects bigger than the Olympics. Bringing women and men together would be good for its future and golf’s future.
Anyone have the PGA Tour commissioner’s phone number?
A five-over 76 in the second round put Tiger Woods comfortably outside the cutline Friday at the Genesis Open by four shots at Riviera Country Club after Thursday’s round of 72.
This is his 25th missed cut since turning professional in 1996 and 330 career starts.
There are two takeaways, both important for Woods, the PGA Tour and golf fans.
First, his game needs lots of work starting off the tee. Over an admittedly difficult driving course Woods managed just 13 of 28 fairways or 46 percent while the leaders were hitting two-thirds or better. Less than half the fairways would be fine on some layouts but at Riviera the kikuyu rough makes it often impossible to control the line of a shot much less the distance.
So, for two rounds he hit just 16 of 36 greens and was 10 for 18 scrambling…not exactly numbers that bring fear into the eyes of a fellow competitor.
Then there’s his putting which was mediocre at best. Fifty-seven putts for the two rounds put him almost exactly in the middle of the pack and not nearly good enough to compensate for his driving problems.
For any other 42-year old who hadn’t played a full schedule since 2103 this could be expected but its Tiger Woods and normal expectations don’t apply.
Afterwards he said, “I haven’t played golf in years and I’m just starting to come back so it’s going to take a little time. I am progressing, I’m starting to get a feel for tournament golf again. I just need to clean up my rounds.”
“I’m both pleased and also not very happy with some parts of it. It’s nice to be back competing again and to be able to go out there and play, practice after each round. That’s been nice, something I haven’t done in years. So, you know, keep building.”
Optimistically these words aren’t another example of the Woods answering questions with non-answers but truly a reflection of his thoughts and feelings.
Next week is the Honda Classic near his home in South Florida and we will see if he can be competitive at the highest level. The PGA Tour and golf fans need him to be and most of all Woods for himself needs to be.
Woods Comeback…Again: A WD in Dubai in February. Another back surgery in April. A DUI arrest in May with a follow-up treatment program. Tiger Woods’ came back to golf in December for an 18-man exhibition that had some in the media and some of his fans in a frenzy of expectation and speculation. The facts are Woods looked physically fit, seemed to have positive attitude and played fairly well though his short game obviously needs some work if he is to achieve his goal of besting Jack Nicklaus’ major record.
Rollback or Bifurcation: Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson say it’s true. Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis agree. The golf ball goes too far. Woods certainly never said this when his prodigious length was blowing away fields and Johnson, whose is even longer, admitted a restricted flight ball would be to his advantage. But as savvy, knowledgeable and vested in the game as these gentlemen are there’s a problem. Neither the available data nor a logical appraisal of the facts support their contention. This however hasn’t stopped them from proselytizing a rollback of ball performance or the creation of the equally objectionable alternative, separate equipment regulations for professionals, i.e., bifurcating the rules.
TMaG Sold: It took a year but Adidas AG (OTCMKTS: ADDYY) was finally able to find a buyer for TaylorMade Golf, Adams Golf and apparel-maker Ashworth. Purchaser KPS Capital Partners, a private investment group, payed $425 million, less than half of the 2016 sales figure and it could turn out to be a bargain. If KPS does as expected and applies the classic turnaround remedies–cutting costs, growing sales and refocusing management– they could recoup their investment by selling the company or taking it public in maybe as few as three years,
Lexi Thompson: Lexi Thompson, the best American player on the LPGA Tour, was penalized four strokes costing her the ANA Inspiration after a television viewer sent an email about a possible infraction the day before. There was lots of official mumbling, something about fair application of the Rules of Golf, but in December the USGA announced effective Jan. 1, no more viewer call-ins or emails about possible rules infractions will be allowed. Many think this reasonable application of common sense is long overdue. Golf now is in line with other sports where the official’s job is to officiate, and the viewer’s job is to view.
Presidents Cup Rout: The U.S. President’s Cup team captained by Steve Stricker beat up on Nick Price’s Internationals by such a lopsided margin the U.S. actually was one-half point from clinching the win before the final day singles matches. Two takeaways—first those who criticized Striker for picking Phil Mickelson were wrong…again. Lefty earned 3 ½ points and, as he has done in the past, was an inspirational leader for the team. Second and more importantly for the future of the Presidents Cup, continued U.S. dominance has made it essentially an exhibition masquerading as a real competition. This needs to be fixed before the Presidents Cup becomes totally irrelevant to players and fans, if it hasn’t already.
Callaway Surges: During the past three years Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) took over TaylorMade’s dominant sales position in woods and irons with products such as the technically innovative Epic driver. Callaway’s irons have been first in sales for over two years and for the past four years they have been the fastest growing major golf ball company. Company sales for 2017 are expected to be approximately $1.035 billion up substantially from the $871 million in 2016.
PXG Success: Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG) may not be a major factor in the equipment business but owner Bob Parsons has a real success story he can boast about for this new and somewhat edgy club company with really expensive equipment (the basic driver costs $700). PXG rang up $38 million in sales for 2016, its first year in business, which was great but 2017 looks spectacular. Parsons told Dave Dusek of Golfweek, PXG will have sales of $100 million for the year but more astonishing, make a profit which may be a record for an upstart club company.
PGA Tour Shake Up: Ever mindful of the futility competing for fans attention with the NFL, the PGA Tour has some big changes coming in the 2018-2019 season. The PGA Championship will be played in May rather than August and The Players Championship now in May moves to March. The shakeup includes reducing the FedExCup Playoffs from four to three events allowing the Tour to finish before the NFL season kicks off plus provides some room for schedule tweaks in Olympic years.
Major Winners: Sergio Garcia finally won a major and appropriately it was the Masters. Long-hitting Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, also his first major, doing it in fine style and Jordan Spieth had another multiple win year capped off with the Open at Royal Birkdale. Then there was Play of the Year Justin Thomas who began the year with a 59 in the Sony Open and finished with five wins including the PGA Championship. Each of these players has his own compelling story and next season it should be even more exciting with the return of Tiger Woods.
LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan had quite a year: In the Solheim Cup, the American squad beat up on Team Europe and subsequently Whan offered to aid the financially struggling Ladies European Tour. He had to cancel the Alisport Shanghai tournament from a lack of proper permits and then had to shorten the Evian Championship major to 54 holes from a lack of dry weather but caused an eruption of controversy. Hall of Famer Juli Inkster then rattled some cages with her outspoken contention corporations are unfairly depriving the LPGA of a fair share of monetary support. But when the player’s dress code was modified social media and some conventional media were exposed at their mean and bitchy worst.
Having a few days pass since Tiger Wood’s competitive comeback at the Hero World Challenge, a few comments seem appropriate.
First a little critique of the telecast. Those looking to break into broadcasting should listen to the gushing commentary by some of the Golf Channel and NBC personalities as an object lesson of what not to do. At time it sounded as if the Hero was a major championship rather than a silly season affair with marginally more significance than your Saturday morning four ball.
Just because Woods is playing again doesn’t mean he is going to contend much less win, but a good deal of the on-air commentary would have you believe that was the case.
Most of the story for the event was about Woods, his return and the state of his game. Understandable of course but it meant there was scant airtime for others in a field that included not only world number one Dustin Johnson, 8 of the top 10 and 16 of the top 30 in the world rankings. Too bad for winner Rickie Fowler’s fans but the TV camera has always had a “Tiger bias” even when he was out of contention, which wasn’t often.
And speaking of the Official World Golf Rankings; that an 18-man exhibition warrants the awarding of ranking points doesn’t make sense and by doing so exposes a systemic weakness. Woods, who started the week at number 1,199, finished in tie for ninth place which earned enough points to move him into a tie for 668 with Mackenzie Tour player Rico Hoey.
Now with that out of the way, what did we see and what can we reasonably surmise from the 72 holes in the Bahamas?
Woods looked healthy, fit and in interviews seemed to have a good attitude about his game saying the majors are his focus. There’s no doubt he wants to pass Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18, but he needs five more majors to do that…the same number as career-long rival Phil Mickelson and that’s a Hall of Fame career all by itself.
Next season, as a 42-year-old with a history of multiple injuries and surgeries, we will be waiting to see if his body holds up. His schedule must be a balance of building up to the four major championships and the “reps” necessary to hone his mental skills after such a long layoff.
His full swing looks good enough to win on Tour but of course majors are another thing altogether. Bobby Jones said it best, “There’s golf and then there is tournament golf.” That can be extended to the majors being at an entire other level of intensity than week-to-week tournament play.
Even detractors and skeptics of Woods must concede this first outing was positive showing at times flashes of the winning form we have seen for 20 years. Woods short game had its moments of adequacy but is not yet at the level he needs to win and specially to win majors against high quality dedicated, skilled competitors on courses so difficult the average scratch amateur wouldn’t shoot within 15 shots of par.
Putting this in perspective, it is good he is back. The game needs him if for no other reason to test the mettle of D.J., Jordan, Justin, Rickie and Rory. Let’s not get carried away but let’s hope he can do it, which leaves the most relevant but unanswered question.
Will he be the Tiger Woods of old or just an old Tiger Woods?
The golf world is all aflutter with the impending return of Tiger Woods and that’s a good thing.
Heaven knows golf needs all the interest and enthusiasm it can get if only to stimulate more participation, more rounds, more equipment sales…well, you get the idea.
What is not needed is another big star complaining how far the ball goes and Woods during a recent podcast joined Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin among others saying golf is in trouble.
Quoting Woods, “We need to do something with the golf ball. I think it’s going too far because we’re having to build golf course[s], if they want to have a championship venue, they’ve got to be 7,400 to 7,800 yards long.”
As if this weren’t indictment enough he continued, “And if the game keeps progressing the way it is with technology, I think the 8,000-yard golf course is not too far away. And that’s pretty scary because we don’t have enough property to start designing these type of golf courses and it just makes it so much more complicated.”
Really? Complicated for who? Not fans nor ordinary golfers who hit 200-yard tee shots. Not when courses are closing left and right and the number of players continues to shrink.
The reason comments from Woods or Nicklaus or Player are a concern is they are among the most respected men in the game and their opinions may eventually push the USGA into “rolling back” ball performance. Rather than being a solution such a retrenchment would be a disaster for equipment makers, recreational players and golf fans.
Some say that ball performance is not a problem and isn’t supported by facts so let’s take a look.
There’s no arguing professionals and other elite players are hitting the ball farther, much farther, and as a result the courses they play have been made longer. That makes sense and similar solutions to mitigate equipment advances have been going on for at least 150 years. Scoring however has not benefited from all this added distance. In 2017 PGA Tour scoring leader Jordan Spieth averaged 68.846 strokes and in 1980 Lee Trevino led all players with 69.73, less than 0.9 stroke improvement in 37 years.
Not exactly a case for manning the barricades to repel the bad guys. Statisticians call that level of difference “noise.”
So if scoring doesn’t support these concerns does an analysis of driving distance?
In 1968 with persimmon heads, 150 gram steel shafts and balata-covered wound balls the average driving distance on Tour was 264 yards. By 1995 it was just about the same–262.7 yards. That year Callaway Golf introduced the “huge” 265cc lightweight titanium head Great Big Bertha driver and longer, lighter graphite shafts soon followed. Predictably because drivers now weighed less swing speeds went up and by 2003 average distance was 285.9 yards—a jump of 23 yards in just eight years.
At the same time the ball also was being improved and the added distance from the new low spinning, solid core balls was readily apparent. In 1996 the 3-layer urethane cover Top Flite Strata came out but the real game-changer was Titleist’s introduction of the Pro V1 in October 2000. Within weeks it became the most played ball on Tour and quickly took over the top spot in retail sales.
From 2003 through 2017 average driving distance increased to 292.5 yards equating to about 17 inches per year in part due to development of even lighter shafts and clubfaces with higher rebound across a larger area. However, a major portion of the gain can be accounted for by course agronomy allowing drier, more closely mown fairways so the ball to rolls much farther. Additionally players are taller and stronger and have intensive physical training regimens. During the same time a huge leap forward in instruction took place as coaches used launch monitors to refine players’ swings to an extent never before possible.
The real proof though is tee ball distance is a lousy predictor of success on the PGA Tour and as might be imagined the best correlation to money won is average score. Driving distance and driving accuracy have the lowest correlation.
The conclusion is plain. Since 1964 average driving distance is 30 yards greater but after 2003 distance enhancing design improvements have been incremental…not revolutionary. Nothing goes up forever.
Finally, though Woods didn’t mention it, there’s another other oft voiced complaint. Something like, “fine old courses have been made obsolete and championships can’t be held there because they don’t have the acreage to add yardage.” Not only has that not true since many of the “fine old courses” have already been lengthened but a lot of them can’t hold professional events for reasons other than the length of the holes. There may be no room for 50,000 fans to park or for the corporate hospitality tents which are a primary source of tournament revenue or perhaps the driving range is not big enough to accommodate more than a fraction of the field.
These facts are rarely mentioned by those decrying golf ball distance gains and have nothing to do with the fact Rory McIlroy and 42 others averaged over 300 yards last season.
Golf does has problems but the distance elite players are hitting the ball is not one of them. Fans want to see the long ball from Rory, Dustin and Bubba and aren’t interested seeing their 120 mph swing send the ball the same distance it went in 1995.
The whole idea of rollback is ridiculous. It’s hard to comprehend how any lessening of ball or driver performance will help sell more tournament tickets, sponsor advertising, merchandise or equipment. The PGA Tour obviously has figured that out and hasn’t joined in with the wailing and gnashing of teeth.
It also true recreational players are not complaining and it can be argued anything making the game more fun and even a little easier benefits participation. Those who make the assumption length equates to difficulty are also making a mistake. Course design and setup for professional tournaments requires intelligence, creativity and imagination without gimmicks. Maybe something simple such as cutting the rough and fairways higher or installing bunkers on either side of a landing area are possibilities.
Some are concerned about land and water usage which is certainly a legitimate question, not one resulting from how far the ball is being hit, but of the proper use of finite resources. Course architects and maintenance experts are already finding solutions such as drought resistant grasses, course topography and hole routing. What is needed most of all is a change in the mindset of developers who specify an over-the-top expensive “championship” course to aid residential real estate sells or for a resort to put heads in beds.
Here are a couple of simple requests for Tiger. Please come back to the Tour healthy and competitive. Secondly, because of your prominence people listen to your opinion please check out the facts and perhaps your opinion will reflect a new view point…one that is less harmful to golfers and the golf industry.
For a lot of reasons besides the thrill of watching him play this madding game we need a healthy Tiger Woods back on Tour.
He draws attention regardless of his score. TV ratings take a big bump whenever he tees it up not to mention how much they increase when he is in contention. Companies get more “eyeballs” on their advertisements resulting in more sales and more return on their investment. In the case of the golf equipment OEMs such as TaylorMade Golf and Bridgestone Golf who pay Woods to endorse their products that can be significant.
Then, let’s not forget tournament ticket sales, merchandise sales, refreshments and pro-am fees. The more money raised the more can go to charity. Plus, though his turning professional in 1996 may not have resulted in a permanent increase in the number of golfers, there’s no denying a healthy Tiger attracts attention and bolsters the sport’s image which doesn’t hurt participation.
Whether Woods is the greatest player of all time or not, the truth is he still brings an interest and excitement to any event he enters. Insiders would say, “He moves the needle.” Is his career over? Who knows and it seems that even he doesn’t know.
Maligned, sometimes unfairly, and praised, sometimes undeservedly, but whatever the circumstances he has been the face of professional golf and for the past two decades has been the most talked about and written about golfer on Tour.
Dealing with just the facts, rather than what sometimes passes for news and is actually opinion, Woods is a forty-something athlete who has a bad back and there’s always a big question mark with that type of injury. Three surgeries put him on the sidelines beginning in August 2015. The layoff ended with his ballyhooed return in early December 2016 at a 17-player charity exhibition and no cut. He finished 15th.
Next in late January this year he teed it up at Torrey Pines Golf Club less than an hour from where he grew up. His rounds of 76 and 72 missed the cut by four strokes. Then he flew commercially to Dubai (Really? It’s hard to believe he would go commercial) where, after smoothing it around for a 77, Woods was hit by back spasms forcing his withdrawal.
Though had planned to, he did not play at Riviera (his charity is a primary beneficiary) nor the Honda near his home in South Florida revealing on TigerWoods.com his doctors had ordered no activity to let his “back calm down.”
And those are the facts. With the Masters five weeks away and his often voiced determination to win more major championships it will be interesting to see if he is able to play. Or even if his back is OK Woods may feel his game isn’t ready for prime time, that he can’t be competitive and decide against going to Augusta.
It’s important to not get carried away with speculation, guessing and wishful thinking. Woods doesn’t need the money but does, from all reports, still want to win more majors, i.e., continue chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record.
Besides, there’s one other salient fact about the former world number one who held that spot for a total of over 13 years. In less than nine years Woods will be eligible for the Champions Tour.
The last time Tiger Woods played a competitive event was the 2015 Wyndham Championship 14 months ago. He finished in a tie for 10th place. His last win was two years and two months ago at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. His last major victory was the 2008 U.S. Open. He will be 41-years old in December.
But when he announced his plans to play in the Tour’s Safeway Open this week fans were excited and the media seemed to talk about nothing else.
Everyone asked the same question. Could he recapture the magical game that resulted in 79 Tour victories with 14 majors?
Those not able to be at Silverado Resort’s North Course were making plans to watch the first two rounds on the Golf Channel when the dream pairing for his comeback was to be with longtime rival Phil Mickelson. Crowds on the course would have been multiple layers deep on every hole since, according to a report on GolfChannel.com, ticket sales for the Napa Valley event had doubled compared to last year.
However, fans, tournament sponsors and advertisers had to face the fact of Woods’ withdrawal on Monday when he posted a statement on TigerWoods.com saying his body was fine but his game wasn’t ready to compete against the best in the world…yet.
Speculation raged. Woods wasn’t pleased with his long game, unsure of his short game, struggling with his putter, etc. But of course that’s all it was, speculation. It’s intriguing to ask though if during his recent intensive preparation chips and pitches were exhibiting the chunks and blades of late 2014 and part of 2015.
In any event, regardless of the uninformed guessing one thing is for sure the 15th club he always had carried would no longer be there.
That club was intimidation, the same as Jack Nicklaus carried in his prime. It has been said of Nicklaus, “He knew he was going to beat you. You knew he was going to beat you and he knew that you knew he was going to beat you.”
Woods brought that same confident aura to the first tee in every tournament and though he might not win competitors always wanted to know “What’s Tiger doing?”
Often it meant he had won the contest of wills before a ball was struck.
So whenever he manages to bring his surgically repaired body to the course pursuing resurrection, rejuvenation, Sam Snead’s record 82 Tour wins and Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships it won’t be the same.
There’s no doubt the young players at the top of the game today are not “afraid” of the Tiger.
All we can hope is this isn’t the end and he will be back…sometime.
He hasn’t put his game on display for over a year and his last PGA Tour win was in August of 2013 but the soon to be 41-year old has created lots of attention by saying he will play in a charity event October 10-11 followed by the Safeway Open October 13-16.
And the company whose clubs he has played since 2002 is getting out, out of the club, bag and ball business to concentrate on shoes and apparel.
Tiger Woods and Nike, inseparable in the minds of many, have had an amazing run together. Woods currently has 79 Tour wins with 14 majors (not all using Nike equipment) ranking second all-time in both categories. Nike though, was never able to come up with a category-defining club in spite of having on the payroll Tom Stites, one of the most respected club designers in the business. What they did however, with Woods under the most lucrative contract in golf, was become the number one golf apparel brand.
It’s no wonder, with the equipment business having at best a minimal-growth future, the decision to leave that arena was made.
Woods and other staff members, most notably Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie, will continue to wear Nike Swoosh apparel so they will still have a huge presence in the minds of consumers. Golfers just won’t be able to purchase Nike clubs.
The effect the Nike withdrawal from selling equipment is uncertain but a good estimate is it probably won’t be very large. The golf division never had more than $800 million (last year $706 million) in sales but since the breakdown between hard goods and soft goods was not reported, actual club sales are unknown. They never approached a 10% market share in hard goods.
Some in the media are saying Nike’s problems are because Woods hasn’t been playing and that’s incorrect. Nike didn’t have market leadership or even contend for leadership when Woods was at his best, winning multiple times in a season. His presence on Tour alone never could generate the amount of business Nike wanted to dominant the golf hard goods sector but did help push soft goods to the number one spot.
Golf for Nike was a tiny part of their overall business, less than two percent, and several factors virtually preordained their decision. The small market share plus an industry where product lifecycles are measured often in months with relatively large development costs meant staying just didn’t make sense. It was obvious golf equipment had to go.
With Nike paying more attention to golf performance and lifestyle soft goods, the biggest impact could be seen by competing shoe and apparel brands Acushnet’s FootJoy, adidas and Under Armour. Adidas is also leaving equipment and selling its golf brands TaylorMade Golf and Adams. The other major player Acushnet, owner of Titleist, is in the process of going public which typically can create uncertainly in corporate decision making.
This could mean Callaway picks up the major portion of Nike club sales however large it was and undeniably Callaway has been on an upwards trend since Chip Brewer took over as CEO. Privately-owned Ping and others potentially could see a bump in sales as well.
With all that in mind, which clubs will Woods switch to now that he plans to compete and again chase Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors?
Well, it’s not clear he will switch at all and for sure not right away though Woods has said companies are sending lots of clubs to try out. He hasn’t played a Tour event since August 2015 and it’s unlikely he will make a club change soon. Additionally any equipment company paying the amount of money Woods can demand will want their logo prominently display on his cap and shirt so there’s an immediate conflict with his Nike apparel contract. Nike is worth several millions each year to Woods and the contract doesn’t renew until the end of 2018 so he’s not going to put it in jeopardy.
One thing is for sure, fan interest will continue as will the speculation about Woods as he tries to get back to being top of the Tour.
The golf equipment industry is evaluating the potential effects of Nike Golf announcing Aug. 3 it would getting out of the club, ball and bag business to concentrate on its golf apparel lines including ones under the Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie brand names. Club manufacturers have spent the last several years trying to find ways to increase sales and now the slice of the pie that belonged to Nike is up for grabs.
The question is what the remaining club companies will do to take over Nike’s share of the market and if the strategy involves reduction in the prices of clubs to attract sales the golf consumer could benefit.
Nike is the smallest of the big four by a significant margin with sales of $706 million this past fiscal year trailing Callaway Golf ($844 million sales in 2015), TaylorMade-adidas Golf ($989 million) and Acushnet ($1.5 billion).
However the scrum for the sales that had been going to Nike will take place in a muddy field.
There is uncertainty surrounding the two largest companies. Acushnet, the parent of Titleist and FootJoy, has registered with the Security and Exchange Commission to make an offering of stock to the public. Adidas has put its TaylorMade Golf division with the Adams Golf and Ashworth brands up for sale though details of any potential deal are unknown.
Smaller companies are also making moves that add to the list of possible outcomes such as Srixon’s Cleveland brand changing focus to wedges and putters while Srixon and their upscale XXIO lines market woods and irons. Tour Edge Golf has increased efforts to further penetrate the market for irons with well received new models.
Undecided for now is the fate of Tour players who endorse the Swoosh clubs and the list starts with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie but also includes veteran Paul Casey and rising stars Tony Finau and Bruce Koepka. Woods has said he is actively looking for a new relationship with a club company with the mostly likely candidate could be Acushnet-Titleist since longtime rival Phil Mickelson is the chief spokesman for Callaway and the question marks surrounding the sale of TaylorMade.
Jordan Spieth endorses Titleist clubs and golf balls but is contracted with Under Armour for apparel.
Additionally, money paid to endorse a given club line has been put under close scrutiny by every manufacturer as profits have shrunk. The huge sums Nike has paid in the past for marquee stars are most likely not part of the equation. It has been reported Woods earns $50 million annually from Upper Deck, Rolex and Nike endorsements even though he has not played a single event in the past year. Woods’ Nike deal includes both equipment and apparel.
Three years ago McIlroy signed a 10-year deal for between $200 and $250 million according to published stories including apparel as well as equipment.
Let’s be realistic. The game of golf and the PGA Tour need Tiger Woods. Even with the travails of his private life reported on and viewed on every television and computer screen, we still need him.
Call it charisma, cache or whatever but the excitement Woods generates moves the needle unlike anyone in our sport since the heady days of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Sure today’s young guns (described by somebody as a “golf’s boy band”) draw attention but Woods was and is a winner and a unparalleled cultural phenomenon. Just ask Phil Mickelson who has a record matched by few with the ninth most wins all-time but he’s 9 majors and 37 wins behind Tiger. And in case you don’t think this separates Tiger and Lefty from the rest of the pack, the next highest winning total by players under the age of 50 is Ernie Els with 19.
The expectations of the so-called “Tiger Bubble,” where millions of new participants would take of the game because Woods made golf “cool,” didn’t result in a large number of committed players. For all the optimism of how a non-Caucasian star would “change the face of golf,” it didn’t happen.
Golf today reflects our society, its strengths and weakness and on the whole is a positive for the roughly 25 million who play, at least occasionally. Of that number an estimated 20 million tee it up several times per year making golf a significant part of their lives.
Having said that, we know the number of rounds of golf played is the primary determinant for course revenues, equipment sales, travel and all the other parts of the industry.
A healthy, competing Woods draws attention like no other athlete and that encourages players to play more and possibly even attracts new participants. There probably is no other single event that would trigger as much interest in the game as his return and golf industry companies would have to capitalize on it.
It could be a big deal. Say if somehow a Tiger return leveraged by smart course management (not simply price cuts but creating real value for customers) could translate into rounds played going up a modest ten percent. That’s about 40 million rounds and a simple multiplication assuming a $40 average greens fee and the result is $1.6 billion which doesn’t include the sales of equipment and apparel, travel, food and beverage…Well, you get the idea.
The industry needs a catalyst such as a healthy Tiger Woods.
From a fan’s perspective how great would it be to have Tiger tee it up this week at Oakmont against Day and Spieth and McIlroy and Scott and the other younger players. Or as long as we are dreaming.
Can you image the TV ratings if Lefty and Tiger were tied going in to the final round, battling it out on Father’s Day? The companies funding the telecast with their advertising would have a bonanza of viewership for their products and services.
Yes, golf needs Tiger and let’s hope all the speculation of “if he will return” becomes meaningless when he does.
Part of the lament about golf on television is, without Tiger Woods on the tube viewership is a way down and advertisers aren’t getting the exposure they are paying for.
Well, it’s anecdotal of course, but according to a statement from the Golf Channel “THE PLAYERS Sunday overnight rating on NBC up 60 percent over 2014” and the cause obviously was the edge-of-the-chair excitement of the three man playoff. Ricky Fowler won the “almost a major” PLAYERS by eliminating Sergio Garcia after the three hole playoff and then Kevin Kisner in sudden death on the island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
It was the third most watched Sunday of the past year topped only by last month’s blowout at the Masters by Jordan Spieth and the battle between Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship in August with world number one McIlroy winning.
More data will be coming to expand on the how much good golf from appealing players is just what viewers crave.
Perhaps as heartening as any fact concerning how many of us were watching the thrilling finish is victory is a solid validation of Fowler. He is not the most overrated player on Tour as supposedly was the case after an anonymous poll of fellow pros conducted by Sports Illustrated.
Can anyone say nattering nabobs of negativity?
Oh, and Tiger? He made the cut on the number and ended up T69 so the man that “moves the needle” like no other in our game was finished before the cameras went