Is the Tour . . . and golf . . . OK without Tiger?

[ I wrote this article on February 5, 2010, when we didn’t know how Tiger Woods would do when he returned to competition.  In many ways, this is just as relevant today as it was back then.  What’s your take?]

 So, grooves notwithstanding, the big story in professional golf this year is Tiger’s return to competition.  No one really knows when he’ll come back to play, and speculation abounds.  Heck, Vegas bookies are even working this one, with odds on when he’ll play again.

So, the big question seems to be, not whether Tiger’s absence hurts the tour, but how much?

Well, my take is that maybe the PGA Tour and competitive golf in general might actually benefit from Tiger’s absence.  I find professional golf to be pretty darn boring to be honest.  It’s a way to make a great living . . . no, A FORTUNE . . . if you can just keep your card.  But entertainment?  Not to me anyway.

In 2009, Tiger topped the money list with over $10 million, and you have to go all the way down to number 91 on the list to find the last “millionaire”, Kevin Streelman.  Now, this is not to knock this player, because I know nothing about him, so I’m speaking metaphorically here.  Did Mr. Streelman provide us with a million dollars worth of entertainment?  Did he provide his pro-am partners with $3-4,000 of fun and enjoyment for their few hours with him?  Is he really adding anything to the product of professional golf?

In 2009, Will Mackenzie finished 126 on the money list, so he lost his playing privileges.  Darn . . . but he also made $650,000, so that might have eased the pain a bit, ya think?  Not bad pay for a guy who “got fired” because he wasn’t good enough, huh?

Compare that to 1995, before Tiger hit the scene.  The top money winner was Greg Norman, with $1.6 million (compared to Tiger’s $10 million last year).  Only eight other guys topped a million in earnings, and the last guy to keep his card at number 125 was John Wilson with just under $150,000.  Norman certainly wasn’t suffering financially, and Mr. Wilson might have had to consider that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t his life’s work.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Now, do you think the “product” that the PGA Tour offers today is as good as the one that Norman, Jacobsen, Pavin, Duval, Singh, O’Meara, Love III, Stewart, Janzen, Elkington et al, gave us in 1995?

I certainly don’t.  We felt like we “knew” those guys, didn’t we?  They all acted like they were really grateful that they had a chance to play golf for a living.  They played to WIN.  And they showed no sense of “entitlement” that I sense on the Tour today.

So, what would be so bad if purses went back to those levels or near them?  What would be so bad if a company could sponsor a local event to help raise money for charity without being “held up” by the PGA Tour for millions of dollars?  What would be so bad if guys who didn’t keep their card had to go find a “real job”, and clear the way for another young gun who wanted to test his mettle against the best?

So, that’s my $0.02 worth.  It will never happen because the PGA Tour exists for the pensions of its players, and its main “product” is television ratings — that’s what they sell to the sponsors.  But I would love to see a rule where you either have to win at least once in three years or you go home.  Or even better, you have to place in the top ten in at least 10% of your events every year or your spot is given to a new face, a new personality.

Of course, I’m living in a dream world, but it’s fun to think that way.  As long as the PGA Tour designs its “product” for the TV audiences, we’ll never see that.  Oh, and by the way, do you realize that over half the viewing audience doesn’t even play golf?  And that non-golfer percentage is much higher when Tiger is playing.   Those non-golfers love bomb and gouge, throwing darts into soft greens and winning scores of 20-25 under.

I don’t.

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