For the Gazette
I guess you could call me a hardcore golf fan. My eyes were glued to the British Open last week and I sort of ignored by real estate business so I could watch the conclusion to the 144th Open won by Zach Johnson.
But in watching a tournament that had more plot twists and turns than a M. Night Shyamalan film, I was somewhat amused to hear an ESPN announcer crown Jordan Spieth as the “Next Tiger Woods.”
The young Texas is immensely talented.
He has all the shots.
He has displayed composure on the course, winning two majors this year and coming up one shot short in the playoffs at the Open.
He’s tall, good looking, incredibly polite and well-liked by fans and fellow pros alike.
Still, it is not fair and hardly accurate to label him as the “Next Tiger Woods.”
For starters, if I am not mistaken, wasn’t everyone sticking the same label on Rory McElroy just three years ago?
What happened to Rory?
The simple fact of the matter is that playing great golf and winning multiple majors and other tournaments is simply not enough to label Spieth or McElroy as the next Tiger Woods.
The reason is simple.
Neither player – at least to date – has had the impact that Woods has had on the game.
Tiger burst on the professional scene in August of 1996. After announcing he was turning pro, both NIKE and Titlelist signed the untested rookie to the most lucrative endorsement contracts in golf history at that time. He would go on to win two tournaments on sponsor exemptions and launch his career with a PGA Rookie of the Year Award. And he never looked back.
With 14 majors wins, 79 PGA tournament wins and $109 million in official earnings, Woods transcended the game and that’s where the real comparison should be between he and Spieth.
Like all icons, Woods was different. He didn’t look like any other golfer on the tour, he didn’t train like any other golfer on the tour and he was head and shoulders better than any other golfer.
But more than that, everyone wanted to stop and watch what he did. He not only brought casual fans to the television set, he brought eyeballs of non-golfing fans to the screen. In marketing terms, he moved the needle.
He still does.
In 2013, five years after he won his last major, Woods was in contention in the Master’s.
More than 8.5 million viewers watched Saturday’s round that year, while 14.7 million tuned in for the last round Sunday.
One year later, Bubba Watson held off Spieth, McElroy and a host of other young stars, but Masters ratings plummeted to their lowest point in 40 years.
Although Spieth won the tournament in 2015, it was Woods who was credited for the overall ratings increase, including an astronomical leap on Saturday afternoon.
“If there’s somebody who can get up on that leaderboard and affect everybody else, it’s certainly Tiger Woods,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said.
But, times are changing. Tiger Woods is approaching the 16th teebox of his storied career and there’s no promise that he will contend in a major again.
It’s easy to understand why PGA Tour Officials, broadcasters and fans are desperate to anoint the “Next Tiger Woods.”
But the truth of the matter is that Woods was and still remains a once in a generation athlete who can’t be defined simply by on the course accomplishments.
Like Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Pele, Woods not only changed the way the game was played and viewed, but he became a must-see celebrity who was bigger than the game itself.
It has been called the “Curse of Tiger.”
He set expectations so high that there are more talented golfers than ever out there and it makes dominance for any one player hard to achieve. Whether Spieth or McElroy or any of the young stars can ever ascend to that level remains to be seen.
But don’t count on it.