Golf Needs Tiger’s Roar

The obituaries were being penned the minute Tiger let go of his club in disgust. Cutting a forlorn figure at Turnberry Tiger Woods huffed, puffed and ultimately slumped to a missed cut.

Suddenly the press were circling like sharks. The subtext is clearly that great sections of the golfing media feel excluded from Tiger’s inner circle. Chastened by off guard remarks in the past he raises a shield in press conferences and those that don’t have privileged access resent it.

The chance that they one day might be granted the patronage of the king of golf means that they resist the urge to criticise when he is in the ascendancy. But when he shows the weakness of a mere mortal the pens are sharpened like knives.

Not all of this is simply down to his personality and jealously guarded public persona. For all that the media is now a modernised global business the press corps continues to be a haven for the contrary and the misanthropic. They might not publicly state that they want him to lose but they know, in their hearts, that after 12 golden years of charting his genius it might not be that bad for them professionally to spend a couple of year chronicling his decline.

It is, after all, about nothing more than the quality of the copy and for that you need good stories. Narratives wouldn’t come much better than a struggling Tiger failing to reach Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major haul.

Some of the journalists would privately admit to a hero worship of the Golden Bear in their youth that leads them to resent Tiger’s assault on his preeminence. They forget, however, how long the media and the golfing public took to warm to the apparently brash Nicklaus when he first began to tear down the fortress built by the old king, Arnold Palmer.

For those of us slightly removed from the heat of the action the truth about Turnberry seemed less dramatic. Tiger struggled certainly but had he not been the prophet of his own travails when he announced that the Ailsa course was no place to fake it? The journalists that say he gives nothing away missed the point: faking it was what his form had demanded and what he had been doing for a couple of tournaments in America.

As the columnists continued to chart the course of his downfall Tiger did what he always does. He went away, kept a low profile and then came back and won the Buick.

He may be surly, he may be guarded but he’s also immensely resilient. He knows that golf is about slings and arrows and he knows that setbacks must make you stronger. That’s what defines him as not just arguably the greatest golfer of all time but also as one the most remarkable sportsmen of his or any other generation.

The Buick might not mark the return of the Tiger to his pre-injury brilliance in the majors but it might just mark a watershed in golf.

For all the spine tingling wonder of those four days in Ayrshire golf must concede that it got lucky. Lucky that medical science has made replacing hips such a straightforward procedure. Lucky that Tom Watson’s genius has survived almost intact down the years, perhaps lying dormant but always lurking to take the opportunity of being centre stage once again.< Because come Sunday evening the Open had a worthy and dedicated champion in the amiable form of Stewart Cink. But we must concede that it was Tom Watson not the champion who made the week. Just as both the Masters and the US Open had their own moments before producing champions who, with the greatest of respect, caused very few ripples of excitement amongst the sporting public at large. And Tiger's sixth Buick last Sunday will be his last. The company has withdrawn its sponsorship on the PGA Tour meaning the future of two big events are in doubt. The chill wind of recession is blowing and golf is catching a heavy cold. Which means that now, more than ever before, golf needs Tiger Woods as surely as fire needs oxygen. The golfing story of every journalist's life will not be a couple of years of Tiger in decline before he walks away from the game. Golf needs him to get to Jack's 18 major titles or the professional game will be in serious trouble. Where are the challengers to Tiger? Nicklaus' major winning career spanned Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Tony Jacklin and others all winning multiple major titles. The drama was provided by the seemingly never ending stream of young princes coming through and challenging for Jack's crown. The reign of Tiger has seen “the next Tiger” proclaimed at least every other season. Tiger's not had to fight them off because none of them have delivered on their potential. The tension between Tiger and Phil Mickelson can provide drama as we saw for a few glorious, if ultimately meaningless, holes at Augusta. But the stats don't lie: Tiger's 14 majors knock Phil's into insignificance. Golf's crucial narrative, the story it needs to keep sponsors, television and the armchair fan hooked, is the battle between Tiger and Jack. Padraig Harrington winning back to back majors. Tom Watson turning back the clock and making us all feel young again. They are wonderful stories that warm the heart. But they are mere distractions. Tiger is the only show in town. The FedEx Cup has failed to grab the imagination. Few but the golfing anoraks of Europe could begin to explain the Race to Dubai far less the appeal it is supposed to bring to the European Tour. Other sponsors will drift away. Audiences will continue to seep towards other sports that demand less of a commitment. Tiger can stop all this. Few can turn down the chance to see a talent that comes along maybe once in a century in full flow. Corporate bosses will salivate at the chance of seeing Tiger in front of their company livery on a Sunday afternoon. Surly, rude and lacking the deportment of a champion. He might be all these things and more. But his is a rare talent that can singlehandedly guide golf through the lean times. I might be wrong. Perhaps Turnberry was the start of a decline that will prove irreversible. Perhaps, perhaps not. But those writers that seemed to revel in the possibility struck me as being like so many turkeys voting for Christmas. Tiger is their box office. What he's realised, and what they resent, is that they, and golf, need him a whole lot more than he needs them.

5 Responses to “Golf Needs Tiger’s Roar”

  1. richard patterson says:

    Andy thanks for the wonderful insight.

    Tiger set goals for his career. I hope he is able to reach all of the goals that he has set for the benefit of golf and future champions. I am only grateful that I have had the opportunity to witness some of greatest golf of my time. I agree that talent like this only come around once in a lifetime.

    Andy thanks, the true golfers and SPORTWRITERS needed to hear this.

    richard (georgia)

  2. Great artical Andy,
    Sometimes even the greatest have to go back to
    the drawing board…..we’ve all been there.

    Thanks for all the wonderful E-MAILS

    Jerry (Wisconsin)

  3. Raman says:

    This is a wonderful article and i strongly believe what you say… Tiger doesn’t need them; they and golf need him more..’

  4. j metcalf says:

    I was at turnberry for the whole week, and I must agree with the comment about tiger being surly and very introvert, having said that it didnt seem to matter to the spectators that tiger wouldn’t be playing at the weekend, they still appeared in droves and gave their support to the rest of the golfers, especially Tom watson, it was a very enjoyable week watching good golf even without tiger. To me it was more interesting watching the top players having to play a proper links course than watching the following week at the Buick, but again some people like seeing heaps of birdies and eagles all the time. Joe.

  5. Gene Nebelung says:

    Tiger will dominate for many years to come, but I would like to see him mellow with age and win the OPEN at 59.

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