Has Rory McIlroy Saved the Game of Golf?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2014

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, celebrates after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Mike Groll/Associated Press

Has Rory McIlroy saved the game of golf?

Well, if television ratings are anything to go by, the answer to that question could be a resounding yes.

The 25-year-old Northern Irishman may very well have single-handedly turned the tide on the ratings death spiral into which the game of golf had fallen over the past 12 months.   

According to CBS Sports, television ratings for McIlroy’s PGA Championship victory were up 36 percent from last year and reached their highest level since Y.E. Yang took down Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship.

This is a dramatic turn of events with regard to the television ratings for golf’s major championships.

Earlier this year, CBS’ weekend television ratings for the Masters hit their lowest level since 1957, which was one year before Arnold Palmer won his first green jacket.

The ratings for the final round of the 2014 Players Championship, which many regard as golf’s fifth major, decreased by 54 percent from last year.

The ratings for NBC’s final-round coverage of the U.S. Open decreased by 46 percent from 2013 and were down 50 percent from the 2012 U.S. Open, which was broadcast during prime time from the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

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Ratings for the 2014 U.S. Open also hit their lowest level since 1996, although Sports Media Watch reported that the 2014 U.S. Open ratings may have been the lowest of all time, as ratings prior to 1997 were not immediately available.

McIlroy’s Open Championship victory last month also produced abysmal television ratings.

According to ShowbuzzDaily, the ratings for ESPN’s final-round coverage of The Open Championship were down 26 percent from last year’s final round, when Phil Mickelson won his first Claret Jug. The ratings actually reached their lowest level since ESPN took over the television rights back in 2009.

But that was before McIlroy had fully completed his transformation from a talented young star into the game’s next truly dominant force.

It is often easy to tell when a player has made it in the game of golf based on whether you can refer to the player by nothing more than his first name and have every golf fan on the face of the planet know exactly who you are talking about.





And over the course of the past month, Rory McIlroy has become known to all as simply Rory.

Golf fans tend to be eternally optimistic by nature. They have to be in order to enjoy a sport in which frustration and loss far outweigh glory and success.

So it came as no surprise when golf fans attempted to convince themselves that parity was good for the game or that the game didn't need a dominant force or that the nosedive in television ratings was meaningless.

In reality, parity is not good for the game; it never has been.

If you look at the greatest eras in golf over the past 100 years, each era will have one thing in common—it will have contained either a single dominant force or a small group of players that completely dominated the game.

Very few would look to the period of time between 1986 and 1997, when parity ruled the professional game, as a golden era for golf.

The plunge in television ratings throughout much of the 2014 season was also far from meaningless for the game of golf.

Ninety-nine percent of the audience for any golfing event will watch that event through their television sets. So, a dramatic decline in television ratings essentially equates to a dramatic decline in the level of interest in the game of golf.

The fact that the 2014 Masters drew fewer eyeballs than any other Masters tournament since 1957 was far more than a meaningless little hiccup; it was a sign of the times.

But as optimistic as many diehard golf fans attempted to portray themselves over the past 12 months, deep down they all knew that the game would not thrive until a new dominant force emerged onto the scene.

Enter Rory McIlroy.

Three wins, including two majors, in his last three events is about as dominant as any player could expect to be.

And it is no coincidence that the sports world woke from its slumber last weekend and tune in to watch McIlroy’s attempt to capture his fourth major championship title at the young age of 25.

People didn’t focus their attention on Valhalla on Sunday evening because they had finally warmed to the idea of parity in the game of golf.

They were drawn to the 2014 PGA Championship because they knew greatness was once again going to be on display, and they were interested in witnessing it.  

McIlroy is exactly what the game of golf needed, and he could not have arrived at a more crucial time.

The eyeballs of the world have once again become fixated on golf, and there is one man to thank for thatthe man who is now known simply as Rory.


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