Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tiger doesn't need golf anymore, to its own misfortune

A great many professional athletes have refused to participate in this year’s Rio Olympics, supposedly because of the Zika virus “scare,” but more likely because there is no money in it, and the chances of winning a medal are slim to none anyways. This is no more true than in the newly-reinstated event called golf, which like basketball and tennis no longer feature amateur players thanks to the long-time fraud by eastern-block countries that their participants were factory workers, and just “amateur” athletes as a hobby.

Since many of the top name golfers decided not to participate, it is natural to expect that the level of competition wasn’t the best, either. Golf is a sport where good fortune can be just as important as skill,especially if you are not that good; it isn’t a legitimate Olympic sport where the “cream” naturally rises to the top—and I’m not referring to what the white country club set believes.  Justin Rose might be one of the better golfers today, even ranking #9 in the world, but there are eight other golfers who were technically “better” than he is, but he just happened to play just better enough, on one particular course over one particular period, than the rest of the field to win a gold medal. 

One golfer for whom the sport’s Olympic re-instatement came too late for was, of course, one of the greatest in the game, Tiger Woods. What is Tiger up to these days? Will he ever come back? Will it matter? The golf world certainly wants you to believe that it doesn’t, although those who broadcast golf on television would beg to differ.

Woods is said to be spending most of his time at his $60 million compound in Florida; according to his own admission playing video games to pass the time, or hanging out with his children. According to a recent story on Golf.com, Woods seems to have little interest in being Tiger Woods anymore, let alone continuing to pursue a professional golf career. He has made a few mountains of money over a nearly two decade professional career, mostly from product endorsements. Although that source of income has mostly dried up since 2014, he is definitely not hurting for cash. Now he has time to be a proper father to his two children, attend to his charities, or make a surprise appearance at some function once in a while. One thing he hasn’t done is remain in touch with former friends on the golf tour. 

Will Woods be back? Or better yet, does he even want to be? The Golf.com story revealed that Woods shocked some fellow golfers and journalists as far back as 2007 by privately confessing that breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories was not a priority of his, and that he was satisfied with what he had accomplished up to that point. He seemed to want to prove it by bulking-up his lean frame to fulfill his “real” dream, to become a Navy Seal. This wasn’t widely reported in the media, and the idea was eventually quashed by his agent, Mark Steinberg. But the damage had been done. Woods’ weight increased well beyond normal for his frame, and he ignored doctors’ advice to lose weight to take pressure off the parts of body that were most susceptible to strain playing golf: : his back,  knees, neck and Achilles tendons. Most notable was the double-fracture of his shinbone during the 2008 U.S. Open, which Woods miraculously won despite being in obvious pain throughout the 19-hole playoff. 

But then again, it is probable that the physical problems Woods endured only made his ultimate decision easier to make. He was “tired” being this famous person, and just wanted to be left alone. We can surmise that the infidelity scandal of 2009-2010 probably soured him immensely on how fickle media adulation could quickly turn to revilement. Perhaps to Woods, “harmless” dalliances with show girls, call girls and porn actresses were a “private” matter, but he discovered that being a public figure carried the responsibility of setting an “example” for the “kids.” But then again, as we see in the case of Hillary Clinton, almost anything is forgettable if it doesn’t have anything to do with sex. Of course, Clinton was guilty of marital infidelity just as much as her husband (with women as well as with other men), but that kind of thing doesn’t seem to matter when we are electing a new president. 

That leaves us with the question of whether the absence of Woods, probably for good, matters to the future of golf. There are those who insist that new up-and-comers like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are the guiding lights that will replace Woods in the hearts and minds of golf fans. The reality is that although these pretenders to the throne have already proven to be questionable commodities, it doesn’t really matter anyways. Woods-haters were legion within the golf fan base, looking for any Great White Hope to knock this black guy off his mantle. This country club gentleman sport is almost exclusively the domain of whites, and many people hated that someone like Woods was dominating a sport that only white people were supposed to be good at. They grasped at any strawman who they could cling to as “proof” that Woods wasn’t that great. The truth is that if Woods was still healthy and could play at close to his former efficiency—and desire—McIlroy and Spieth would still be second bananas.

And the golf world has suffered dramatically since Woods’ departure from the scene. Woods did what no one else could: He put into the minds of average folks who were not previously golf fans that golf was “cool.” He could be vicariously-connected with, because he stuck out like a sore thumb among a sea of white faces. If he could break the bold, so could they, at least in their dreams out on the public links. But no more. The number of people who call themselves “golfers,” the number of rounds played and the number golf courses have been in freefall since Woods’ peak years. Worse, Nielsen ratings show that the 35-and-under audience has largely lost interest in televised golf, the “youth” movement no longer finding someone to connect with. Coaches on college golf teams report that they have trouble filling their rosters with anyone who is above the novice level these days. 

Tiger probably couldn’t care less about that these days, living the private life. But the golf world knows that it lost something, even if it doesn’t want to admit it. Woods’ success made money for everyone involved professionally in the game, with higher purses aided by higher attendance at events, and higher revenue from television broadcasts. But both of those sources have taken a major hit in recent years, and there simply isn’t anyone out there with the charisma and easy recognition of a Tiger Woods at his peak. Golf is back to what it always was before: A “clubby” pastime closed off to most of us, and we couldn’t care less.

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