Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were never great friends while they jostled during the prime of their careers. Contrary to what they say for public consumption, they didn’t like each other much at all, especially in the early going. They have become very good friends as time has passed and their careers have wound down.
It looks as though the two best players of the current era have decided to skip all that early not liking each other stuff and have moved right to the bromance stage. And when Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy strike up a bromance, that’s news. Not just golf news, but entertainment news. As in move over celebrity lightning rod of the week!
Much is being made of the impending move to Nike by McIlroy and what that means for golf. And that, indeed, will change the world of golf marketing like Woods did when he signed his mega-million dollar deal with the Swoosh folks.
But even more important is this new friendship, one that is unlike anything previously seen in professional golf. This is a great thing for golf, and I know what you’re going to say. There are plenty of guys who are friends out on the PGA Tour, plenty of guys who laugh and smile during a round of golf with each other.
What we’re seeing, however, is that sort of relationship at the highest level in the game. How many smiles, other than grudgingly forced ones, did you see between Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh or Phil Mickelson when they were the best players in the world?
The correct answer is few, if any. Those guys didn’t like each other and quietly probably didn’t respect each other either.
To this point in the bromance, the 36-year-old Woods and 23-year-old McIlroy seem to be having no problem with either of those things. They generally appear to get a kick out of each other, and for McIlroy, getting to play with Woods early on as a professional was something of a dream come true.
"Watching him do so many great things on TV…and then, you know, getting the chance to…compete against him is something that I always dreamed of," McIlroy said in an interview he and Woods taped together for CNN’s Living Golf. "To get to know him and hang around with him is something that I find pretty cool."
Woods, speaking as the veteran in the relationship, said in the same interview that friendships like this one aren’t all that uncommon, even among the elite players in the game.
"I think we had that feeling; we just didn’t share it with the public," Woods said. "I got along pretty good with the guys in my era, but it was more just in the locker room and obviously down the fairways. For some reason Rory and I have become really good friends and will continue to be that way.
"I talked to Jack about it and Jack and Arnold didn’t like each other at the very get go, they just didn’t see eye to eye, but now they’re the best of friends, so obviously that does happen—mutual respect over time and getting to know someone.”
All of that sounds great on the public consumption level, but skepticism being a big part of sports today leads to a question as to how sincere the bromance is and how much of all this is part of marketing specialists at Nike. Think about it: If McIlroy signs with Nike as expected, the company has the two biggest names in golf under its umbrella.
Those two working together, smiling, laughing, enjoying life is, at the very least, great for business. At the most, it’s unbelievably good.
In a story written by Randall Mell on golfchannel.com, an economics professor who specializes in sports, gave a nod to the possibility.
“Nike has laid this out and thought it over very intelligently,” says Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College in Northampton, Mass. “There’s a synergy between these two players. At this point, they help each other. I’m sure their handlers have very carefully figured this out. It’s not by accident that this is going on. I’m sure a lot of time was spent figuring out exactly how to do this.”
That’s not to say the two don’t genuinely like each other. It’s pretty obvious they do. But Woods certainly knows the benefits of doing business properly, and that certainly doesn’t hurt the relationship at all.
I keep thinking about a line I heard a long time ago: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Nah, Tiger would never do something like that.