Golf in the post-Tiger Woods era will be great but different
We had our first taste of a Tiger Woods-less golf tournament at the Masters since 1997. It was still pretty terrific.
You've been able to feel it for a few years now and never was it heavier than at the 2014 Masters. The post-Tiger Woods era isn't eons away like it was 20 years ago when he was setting the nation on fire.
It's just around the corner. It might be 10 years away. It might be less. But it's coming.
We got a taste of what major championship golf in the U.S. would be like without Woods last week for just the third time since 1997 and the first at the sport's pre-eminent locale -- Augusta.
It was good. I mean, the Masters was very, very good -- that first nine on Sunday is drama even Tiger hasn't produced in the last five years -- but I think it was only good inside the world of golf.
This Masters didn't bleed into the larger sports world the way Tiger's Masters usually do, or even Phil's Masters. It was GIF-able and sort of hot on social media for a minute or two, but it didn't take over.
It didn't glow.
I was asked on Monday in a radio interview if golf can survive without Tiger Woods. I'm going to guess something that's six centuries old will be fine without a person who has been playing it for 35 years.
But there's slack in the rope, for sure.
This mega-economy Woods has helped forge on the PGA Tour isn't pre-subprime mortage lending crisis unstable, but it's not going to be a financial golden era, either.
There just isn't the foot traffic or the eyeballs -- you can Google "2014 Masters ratings" -- to sustain the level of lucrativeness we've experienced with Tiger as the buoy.
And when I say "we" I mean tour pros, media members, tournament executives, everyone. Golf will go on and the majors will be fine but everything else could be very different after Tiger fades from the scene.
That doesn't mean it won't be fun to experience. If you look at the post-Jack Nicklaus era leading up to 1997 when Tiger won the Masters, that was a really terrific time for the sport.
It gave us, among other things, Norman and his collapses, the War by the Shore in 1991, John Daly, the Nick Faldo era (six majors), and the birth of the Big Easy.
But to go from Tiger back to something like that means that yes, there's slack in the rope.
There are other great golfing greats, that's not up for debate, but Woods is (and was) as one person on Twitter described over the weekend a "once-in-a-century" talent.
He was the perfect elixir for a sport that was dying for someone larger than life to take it to the next level.
There's nobody playing golf right now that's capable of doing that. Not Dustin Johnson, not Rickie Fowler, not Jordan Spieth, and not Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy is probably the closest thing we have, but his role is better played as a foil to Woods, the anti-Woods, than it is as Woods' fill-in.
Maybe those youngsters need Woods to bow out before people can really appreciate them for who they are as individuals and not just what role they play in the Tiger narrative. But I have my doubts.
There's just nothing like the man in red and black. As much as we lump Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in with Tiger, I don't think that comparison is totally fair.
Nicklaus and Palmer made rabid golf fans out of casual golf fans. Tiger made rabid golf fans out of casual sports fans.
I'm not sure there will ever be anything else like it again.
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