Another Stroke Closer to the Grave

Keegan Bradley celebrating his PGA Championship victory

The PGA Championship was played this past weekend, featuring nail biting dramatics, and ending with a riveting three-hole playoff that vaulted winner Keegan Bradley, a tour rookie making his first major appearance of his career, over 100 spots in the world golf rankings. There was only one problem, the fact that no one cared enough to watch.

It is no secret that over the last 13 years golf has seen a historic rise in popularity in terms of television ratings, tournament purses, and golfer’s marketability. What is the reason for such growth? Tiger Woods, and, to a smaller degree, Phil Mickelson. When either of these players’ names appear on the leaderboard over the weekend of any tournament the ratings skyrocket. The viewing public wants to see someone dominate, the way Tiger had for over a decade, or they want to see the lovable loser finally try to succeed in Phil Mickelson. It was a forgone conclusion over the last 10 years that the first page of the world golf rankings would feature these two players next to number 1 and number 2 respectively. It is not that way anymore, and golf is dying because of it.

With his 4th missed cut of his career, Tiger's search for his game continues

Over the last 13 majors the PGA has seen 13 different winners, one of which was the aforementioned Mickelson. This is not to say that the golf being played is less impressive, it simply features an even playing field. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, a tournament where any player has the chance to win is not as enticing to casual golf fans as it is for the players swinging the clubs, and therefore the fans refuse to tune in. CBS, NBC, ESPN, the Golf Channel, and various tournament sponsors are aware of this and have tried diligently to bill ‘the next great player’, but there doesn’t seem to be one particular golfer that wants to seize the vacant crown.

The final big draw for golf is the playoffs, also known as the FedEx Cup, which comes with a larger than life money offering. A collection of four tournaments in a row with a 10 million dollar first place purse, which sounds exciting until you remember these are a collection of four tournaments that Tiger Woods can’t even play in; he didn’t qualify and isn’t planning to try for a last ditch effort this week, therefore creating less buzz. To make matters worse, a quick glance at the top 20 players in the race for the Cup feature names like Watney, Bradley, Woodland, Wilson, Simpson, Day, Haas, Jacobson, Laird, etc. In other words, Who?

With golf seeing a steady decline in viewership and its most prolific golfer of all time losing more sponsorships over the last 12 months than most golfers could ever dream of having, the questions are abound regarding how to fix golf immediately, and how to assure the road in the future is not as bumpy. The easy way out for the PGA in the here and now is to continue to cross their fingers that one of the young and promising players will step up into the rarified spotlight by coupling his ability to dominate on the course with exciting charisma off of it. While the latter trait is not a requirement, given the realization that Tiger doesn’t have one, it would be a welcomed change.

For the future of golf to look brighter than the past, the idea that golf can survive with only one billed superstar needs to change. There are a number of promising players under 30-years-old on tour, including Rory McIroy, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Jason Day, and perhaps Keegan Bradley, but being promising and being a superstar are two adjectives that couldn’t be further apart. The hope that one player will break away from the pack to become “the next Tiger” is about as dim a thought as thinking that Lebron is the next Jordan. Being as good as Tiger Woods once was, for example, holding all four major titles at one time or winning nine straight starts, is not easy, and will most likely not be seen so soon again.

Rickie Fowler is known as much for his outfits as his golf game

True golf fans are going to continue to tune in, and they will grow to respect the young guns on tour while simultaneously hoping that Tiger finds his game; but nonchalant Sunday TV viewers won’t come back. While that may be a dim view as a whole it is probably the most logical. A future of smaller purses, decreased tournament endorsements, and less lucrative TV contracts may be where the PGA Tour is headed, and it doesn’t look like anyone can stop it.

It’s something that the professionals will have to adapt to. They can always look to professional hockey players for guidance with that.

  1. I think you’re right, unless Tiger can get himself back on track. But I enjoy seeing all the young guns get out there and work at it.

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