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Today's Golfer Column July 2014

23-March-2015 9:27
in General
by Admin

My how time flies.

It’s over twenty twenty years since Sandy Lyle was asked what he thought of Tiger Woods and gave his famous answer “I don’t really know. I’ve never played there”.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that his own name is a minor tweak away from being the even better destination of Sandy Isle, I can easily forgive The Laird of Balquhidder because a) he is one of the greatest - and probably overlooked - golfers that our country has produced. And b) he was speaking in 1992 and nobody really knew what was about to hit the golfing world.

And my, what a storm hit.

Some know little else but golf with Tiger. Yes, many people who read this magazine have an interest in the sport that stretches back long before TW padded on to the scene, but for many others Tiger is part of golf and always has been.

But the point here is to imagine where golf will be in the post Tiger-dominated era, because that time might not be too far away.

The big man is, after all, currently moping around his Floridian palace. Or perhaps even bedridden like Joan Crawford in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ watching his great victories on a continuous spool while being tended to by a bitter and demented Mark O’Meara.

There is no doubt that Woods will be back. By the time you read this he may already be smashing drives hither and thither (mostly thither), plotting a successful assault on Hoylake once again.

This though - rather like the Mark O’Meara as Bette Davis scenario - is highly unlikely. In fact, there is a good chance that Woods will not only miss The Open, but will be absent from the great Gleneagles showdown in September.

Of course, this doesn’t really matter for the Ryder Cup - it is the one event where Woods becomes just another player.  Indeed, put 24 kittens in team colours and people would get excited about it (Mental note - must organise the Kitten Ryder Cup). And, in fact, the best performance by The USA in recent years was at Valhalla in 2008, when Tiger was again hobbling around elsewhere.

But this period is a shadow of things yet to come. Golf should prepare itself for life post-Tiger and that life does look slightly worrying.


Television viewing figures in The United States were down at The Masters this year - ESPN suffered a 30 percent slide on the first day. Since 1996 CBS has averaged about 1.2 million more on Sundays when Woods has been within five shots of the lead.

It’s a simple rule - more people are interested in golf when Tiger plays.

The thing is, golf is actually quite a niche market. Yes, worldwide it is the sport of big business, but its reach is not as far and wide as you might suppose.

If you sent Luke Donald, Justin Rose or Lee Westwood down Dunstable High Street, not many people would know who they were.

Andy Murray, by contrast, would turn most heads and Wayne Rooney would certainly get people talking. Not least to say “Isn’t he supposed to be in Brazil rather than picking up a steak bake from Greggs in Dunstable?”

Sport needs idols and figureheads and for nearly twenty years it has had one of the biggest of all.

So is there another one lying in wait?

The USA, the largest marketplace in golf, places great store in Jordan Spieth - who may go on to be a huge, shiny star. But American golf is littered with next-big-things, prodigies, or ‘phenoms’, as they like to call them there. Casey Wittenberg? Ty Tryon, anyone?

This is not a new search. Johnny Miller was the next Nicklaus in his day, likewise Hal Sutton in the early 80s. But neither could be a Nicklaus or a Palmer. Miller burned brightly for a short while. Hal Sutton won the Players and the USPGA but mostly now is remembered for wandering about the first tee in his role as Ryder Cup captain, wearing a Stetson and looking confused.

Precious few are the athletes who can rise above their sport and reach the parts of the population that others cannot.

I have no doubt that Rory McIlroy will win many times again and will continue to generate plenty of headlines. But good as he is, and as promising as Spieth may be, they will never be game-changers in the way that Tiger Woods was.

So we wait, for him to return. But we also know that all things must pass and simply wonder at what is to come.

Who knows, perhaps there is a young child out there now, called Woody Glen, who will take golf on in the same way that Tiger did.

And just perhaps Sandy Lyle is already planning a long weekend there.