Is Tiger Woods Healthy for Golf?

Michael BellCorrespondent IMay 4, 2006

You're probably asking yourself, You're kidding, right? Where would golf be had Tiger not burst onto the scene in the mid-1990's Nike would barely have a share in the golf market, Elin Nordegren would be an unknown name and face (blasphemy!), and kids everywhere wouldn't be bouncing golf balls off the face of their clubs, in hopes of making it big one day. You probably would not have taken such an interest in the game. There's no doubt the impact that one man has had on the entire sport. But popularity and profitability do not necessarily equate to health.

I stumbled upon this notion after watching (or trying to watch) the FBR Open the other month. The what Open you ask? Exactly. I'm an avid golf fan and I had barely heard of it myself. It must have been up against a non-PGA WGC event right? Erroneous. It probably came on the heels of a major where many of the players take the week off. Not unless the Buick Invitational has been added as the 5th major. Well, it probably couldn't draw the big names for some reason.; Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, David Toms, Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia, and fan-favorite John Daly were only a few of the big names involved. 22 golfers representing 32 major victories is an outstanding field actually. Except for the fact that it wasn't 23 golfers representing 42 major victories.

There's no denying the fact that the appeal of a golf tournament drops through the basement cellar when Tiger Woods decides not to partake. I don't watch. I don't even care. I barely consider it a tour victory. And I don't even feel bad for saying it. That one man has transformed an entire game to center almost solely around himself is remarkable. And I'm not even placing blame upon anyone. Considering Tiger's accomplishments over the past 10 years and the way in which he achieved them, is night and day. I don't even blame the other players. Who else has seen anything like the past 10 years before?

But is this healthy for the game of golf? It's hard to argue that it is. Remember, popularity and profitability do not necessarily amount to a healthy tour. Consider if something occurred where Tiger could never play the game again. Heck, consider if Tiger didn't play for the rest of this year. It'd almost be like calling the year a wash post-Masters. You can root for or against him at all costs, but you at least acknowledge that you care.Would the game revert back to the late 1980 where Wayne Grady, Jeff Sluman, and Scott Simpson were winning majors? With no disrespect to Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, this isn't Jack battling Arnie, Player, or Trevino (And don't get me wrong, I hope that Phil and Tiger will have head-to-head duels a la those guys in years to come). Who was marketable and popular among players 20 years ago, does not translate to the present day. Tiger's dominance, along with the extensive access to players that the media provides, has raised the bar on popularity amongst fans.

The PGA tour was struggling before Tiger came along. Tennis had become more fashionable, building its popularity on the backs of its own two players, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. They're success died down as Tiger and golf was on the rise. Is the sport of golf in for a similar fate? One difference is the length of careers of golfers. Whereas tennis is home to some of the shortest athletic careers, golf may have the longest. So maybe it wasn't as large of a risk to put the entire sport on one man. It's helped to build up the sport and even helped benefit the other golfers on the tour. But is golf an injury or a scandal away from regressing 15 years?