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Monday, 12 January 2015

Has Tiger Been Good for Golf?

Tiger Woods stormed the golf world as a professional in 1997 after an amateur career the likes of which we hadn't seen since Bobby Jones. His impact was immediate and stunned both the fans and the players. His abilities as a player have never been in question, although the current major drought, injuries, and ongoing swing changes leave everyone speculating on whether he will ever again dominate the golf world.

The golf scene has never been the same. It has changed radically, with purses soaring, sponsors lining up, and, at least when Tiger is playing, television ratings through the roof. Tiger has become incredibly rich and his mere presence has enriched the rest of the players, as they take advantage of the larger purses. But, the question is, has Tiger really been good for the game?

Has Tiger's presence made golf more exciting? Undoubtedly, it has for many. But, his incredible dominance was not necessarily a blessing for those looking for excitement in the form of close finishes and a heavyweight rivalry. Run away victories at the Masters, the U.S. And British Opens were incredible for their sheer golfing brilliance, but they were anything but exciting to watch. There was no drama involved. Of course, there were exciting tournaments to watch, but there was almost an inevitability to Tiger winning once he had secured the lead that left me, for one, heading for the golf course and not bothering to record the Sunday result.

Tiger has been brilliant. There is no other word for it. If he is not the greatest player ever, he ranks with only Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus as one of the best three men to ever play the game. But, has he been good for the game?

What has Tiger's behaviour on and off the golf course done for the game? He arrived with the attitude that you must win; because second place sucks. He displayed no grace when losing, and no humility when winning. I recall his last US amateur win, when he rallied from a large deficit to beat the hapless young man, Steve Scott, who had played his heart out with his little girlfriend on the bag. I watched as Tiger fist-pumped and celebrated his victory with his entourage, while Scott stood waiting to shake his hand. That display caused me to believe that Tiger had no class. Nothing he has done since has altered that opinion.

Golf is not about winning at all cost, including having the patrons move boulders for you after you've hit a poor shot. The greats of old all wanted to win just as much as Tiger, but few of them, if any, resorted to the kind of displays of temper and bad sportsmanship that have become almost the norm when he isn't winning. Contrast that with Jack Nicklaus, who was not only the greatest champion the game has ever known, but also the best loser, if finishing in second place in majors is really to be considered losing. What sort of example has that sort of behaviour from Tiger set for future generations of golfers?

There was the hope among many, including myself, that Tiger's dominance would lead to an opening of the floodgates, as far as attracting African Americans to the game. As far as I can see, it hasn't. I suspect that this is partly because the majority of African Americans do not relate or identify with Tiger any more than they have identified with the game. In fact, I wonder if anyone identifies with, or relates to Tiger. His aloofness with the fans and the media is almost legendary. Arnold Palmer he is not.

I had sort of hoped that age, disappointment, and public embarrassment would have produced a more humble, likeable and approachable Tiger Woods. If it has, I've not seen it. Tiger could have done so much for this sport, besides lining people's pockets. He has proven to be a major disappointment to me. But then, who am I? Just another golf fan with an opinion.