Tiger Woods: 10 Ways in Which the Game of Golf Has Changed Since the Car Crash
It was a year ago that the strange Tiger Woods car crash story crept across the news wires. Little could anyone have guessed the change in the game of golf that this story would signify.
Of course, it wasn't just the car crashing into the tree that changed the game, but it was that story that started the odd chain of events that would ultimately follow.
To some of us, it was and still is one of the biggest non-stories in sports history, But of course, the media, and those that would like to consider themselves the media, are quite skilled at making a non-story like this the biggest thing since the Lindbergh kidnapping.
So regardless of your feelings about the validity of making the private life of Tiger Woods the number one news story of the year, it was a story that ended up changing the game of golf; if not forever, at least for the year of 2010.
It is surely a twelve month period Tiger Woods would like to forget, but short of finding a genie in a bottle, it is something he will have to learn from, not forget.
Tiger's ability to move on from the loss of his wife, his family and, of course, his image, are, in the end, not our business, and matter nothing to those of us who are not close personal friends of his; no matter how much some may pretend it is their business. But what does matter to us is the way these things have affected the culture around the game of golf itself.
The number one player in the world is no longer the number one player in the world. The most dominating figure in all of sports is no longer that dominant figure. These are things that should matter to us. Nothing else.
The game, for the time being at any rate, has changed. Here are ten ways in which golf, and the image of golf, has been altered, either directly or indirectly, since Tiger's SUV hit that tree one year ago.
10. Woods' Loss Of Control Shifts to Others
One thing that has certainly changed in the game of golf is Tiger's loss of control, both on the course and in the media room.
No one can rise to the top of the game like Tiger did and not have a great sense of control. It is inevitable. To witness his loss of control was, frankly, somewhat amazing. To see this man have to literally change before our eyes was truly astounding.
Tiger's loss of control has, of course, given more control to others. Those 'others' include his opponents on the golf course as well as those asking him questions in the media room.
This shift of control has, if ever-so subtly, changed the game in 2010.
9. Media Coverage For Golf Turns Into Nightly Scandal Updates
The quality of golf journalism took a nose dive at the end of November last year, and it has yet to recover.
We went from getting actual golf coverage to getting daily scandal updates. The hit the sport has taken from this scandal will take a long while to recover from.
The media coverage seems to improve during majors and some of the top-notch events (like the Ryder Cup), but quickly returns to the garbage heap any time there is a lull in the sport.
It's going to be a very long winter for the sport once again.
8. Golf's Future Rushed Prematurely
With the troubles of Tiger Woods on and off the course in the last year, we have been bombarded with the heir to the Woods' throne almost at every turn.
Names like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer, among others, have been flung at us as in rapid fire as Tiger's newest replacement.
The problem is, no one on this planet is ready to step into the shoes of Tiger Woods quite yet. Perhaps the only one that could is Woods himself.
Although I don't want to sell the future of golf short, because surely it is bright and promising with so many talented youngsters, let's try not to get ahead of ourselves. It isn't fair to the game, and it certainly isn't fair to these young golfers who don't need this kind of pressure quite yet
7. Golf's Fans Are Forced to Choose a Side
Before the scandal there was a definite Tiger versus Phil mentality among the close followers of American golf.
Strangely, though, the Woods scandal has not so much enhanced this as much as it has created a brand new question:
It's no longer so much are you a "Phil" guy or a "Tiger" guy, but more, are you behind the game of golf with Tiger Woods still in it, or can you not get yourself to follow the game because of him?
Mickelson has taken on that holier than though image among the fans who find they can't (or don't want to) embrace the game with Tiger still in it. I think many of them were hoping Tiger would curl up in a ball after all this and just go away.
Clearly he has no intention of doing this. Mickelson having perhaps his worst professional year in his last ten or eleven (despite the win at Augusta) didn't help those who wanted to jump on his back and ride him to the gates of golf immortality.
Golf fans find themselves more separated than perhaps they have been in many years.
I suppose the question that begs asking is: Is this such a bad thing?
6. European Golf Has Their Best Year In Decades
Call it a conincidence, but European golf and European golfers have had perhaps their best year, collectively, in the last 20 or so.
2010 saw several wins on the PGA Tour by Europeans, as well as a strong year for the Euros on their own tour. Also, Europe boasts the number one player in the world right now in Lee Westwood. This is the first time since Nick Faldo held the honor in 1994 that Europe has been able to make this claim.
Add to that the Ryder Cup victory in Wales in October, and you have one great year for European golf. Not only Westwood, but players like Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Paul Casey are dominating the game right now.
Coincidence? I don't think so.
5. Sports Reporting Shows Its Ugly Side
As much as I'd just as soon sweep this one under the rug and not mention it, I feel it has to be brought up.
The coverage that the Tiger Woods' off-course saga has gotten in the last twelve months has been nothing shy of astounding. Seldom important, relevant or compassionate (the first two are journalistically imperative, the last not so much; but every now and then you'd like to see compassion actually excercised), the tearing apart of this man could be compared to a lion ripping apart a caribou on the Nature Channel.
This media frenzy has hurt the credibility and pride, if you will, of the sport as much as anything Tiger did in his personal life.
The intense desire to make the coverage of Tiger Woods the story more so than the story itself, has been devastating to the true fans of the sport.
4. Timing of Scandal Doesn't Help
Almost anything can seem worse when it happens in poor economic times. This 'story' is no different,
Golf is a sport, perhaps more so than any other major sport, that relies on it's fans actually playing the game; if not all of them, at least a good percentage.
When a sport's most recognizable and marketable player takes a hit like Woods did, it can not help the popularity of the sport.
Golf's popularity translates to the private and public golf courses around the world, not just the golf on television week in and week out.
If people are not playing the game, they are less likely to sit and watch it on a regular basis. The long-term health of golf courses, especially in the United States, is a major concern right now. People do not have the money they did two or three years ago to spend it on recreational activities.
Golf had enough trouble without this barking dog.
3. New Number One
This one seems rather obvious, but perhaps the biggest change that occurred since the beginning of the scandal one year ago is the new fellow at the top of golf's world rankings.
Lee Westwood took the honor from Woods on the first of November. Tiger had held the spot for nearly 300 consecutive weeks.
Interestingly, it seemed as though several times throughout the year Phil Mickelson would take over the top spot. Phil has never held the number one position.
In fact, on 15 different occasions in 2010 Lefty had a chance to move ahead of Tiger and claim the number one spot. Each time he failed. In fairness, some of those tournaments Mickelson would have to have won and Woods finish in a certain low spot on the leader board for it to happen.
However, with several of the attempts, Phil had a very realistic chance to get to number one by simply playing well.
Kind of makes you wonder if he'll ever hold that spot?
2. Golf's Popularity and TV Ratings Plummet
It is no secret that Tiger Woods playing in a golf tournament equals better ratings. And, Tiger Woods playing well in a golf tournament and competing on the weekend equals even better golf ratings.
This, of course, for the last 13 or so years, has never been a problem for golf. Tiger was always there. People were watching at incredible, record numbers.
However, a small glimpse into life without Tiger on the PGA Tour was afforded to us in 2008 when Tiger missed a good chunk of the year with injury. That year golf ratings on TV suffered.
It happened again in 2010. Early in the year Woods wasn't playing at all, which hurt the ratings. When he returned ratings soared. But then something new happened. Woods was playing, but playing poorly and not competing on the weekends. The result was almost the same as if he were not in the tournament. Low ratings.
Golf will have to learn at some point how to market itself and survive without Tiger. But for the time being at any rate, it is a painful learning curve.
1. A Wide Open Field
The most obvious change to golf resulting from the whole Tiger ordeal is no doubt the wide open leader board that now exists every week on tour.
Players can now feel it. They have a renewed sense of actually being able to win a tournament when they begin it.
Tiger's domination on the golf course is gone. The confidence is gone. Although this has hurt golf's greatest player, it has helped everyone else on the PGA Tour.
Will this continue?
My guess is this: Golf has changed. The environment that surrounded the game the last dozen or so years has been replaced. Is what it has been replaced with going to last. I don't think so.
What we may ultimately be left with, once Woods starts winning a few tournaments, which will surely happen at some point, is maybe a better world of golf than we had before.
Golf, for the time being, needs Woods, and Woods, thankfully for the game, is not going away. He continues to work hard to get back to the top of the game. But, as he does this, others have stepped up and developed a sense of confidence that perhaps wasn't there before.
It's not just the Euros, either. Americans like Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and handfuls of others now have the confidence, to go along with the ability, to compete and win golf tournaments.
Combine this with an eventually new and improved Tiger and golf may be better than ever.
Let's all hope so.