“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.“
– Charles Mackay
What a pleasant surprise I got this morning while drinking my coffee and reading the morning news. Yet another sports writer has left the herd: Simon Briggs of The Telegraph in London has written a brilliant takedown of the recent Tiger Woods puff piece by Jake Simpson at The Atlantic.
Particularly heartening to me was the fact that Briggs refuted a piece for which I myself had already begun writing a rebuttal. More and more of us are shaking our heads and rolling our eyes at the offal writers like Simpson are shoveling out. I smiled when I saw one of Briggs’s counterexamples is near-identical to one of mine: he references the prize money growth at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, whereas I referenced the prize money growth at the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
There are dissimilarities, of course. For example, Briggs calls his piece, “Tiger Woods’ absence leaves golf in great shape,” whereas I titled mine the more direct, “Did Jake Simpson Really Get Paid For This Tripe?”
Did Jake Simpson Really Get Paid For This Tripe?
My first question: Did Jake Simpson really get paid for writing this article? My second question: Does The Atlantic no longer employ editors and fact checkers?
Five-second article summary: Simpson is upset that golf is moving beyond Tiger Woods (who fell well short of Gandhi, not to mention Jack Nicklaus), so he’s going to kick and cry and say golf will suck and die without Woods.
Simpson should win a prize because, by my count, his is the 1,000,000th such article written since Thanksgiving 2009.
Let’s take a look, starting with this:
Golf pundits can debate whether Woods or Jack Nicklaus was the better golfer for the next 100 years, but there’s no debating who was the most influential golfer of all time. When Woods turned pro in 1996, the total purse at the Masters was $2.5 million and the winner got $450,000. The purse for this year’s Masters was $9 million, and Watson’s winning prize was $1.62 million.
Okay, that’s eighteen years. In those eighteen years, have we not seen across-the-board corporatization of sports with attendant monetary inflation? Let’s take a look at a comparable event in another sport, the Wimbledon tennis tournament. First prize in 1996? £392,500. First prize in 2013? £1.6 million. Well, gosh, that means tennis’s premier tournament increased more than golf’s premier tournament during the Tiger Era. Why, that doesn’t fit the Tiger Woods Made Golfers Rich narrative at all.
Then consider this: In the 16 years prior to Woods, the Masters first prize grew from $45,000 to $450,000. Pretty easy to do that math, right? It grew 10x, or 900 percent in those 16 years before Woods. Got that? In the 18 years since, it grew 3.56x, or 246 percent. Adjust for inflation and prize money rose 425 in the 16 years before Woods, only 140 percent in the 18 years after Woods arrived.
Then there’s the offhand remark — it must be true, or Simpson wouldn’t have mentioned it so casually, right? — that Woods has been more influential than Arnold Palmer. Well, we just showed Tour prize money increased more following Palmer’s arrival than Woods. And participation rates? Forget about it! Palmer caused millions of Americans to buy clubs and head to their local munis. Woods? Not so much. In fact, participation rates have actually dropped during the Woods Era.
Which brings us to this:
And other than Woods, no non-white U.S. golfer has become a global star—a definite impediment to spreading the historically lily-white game among minorities.
With an obvious intent to be inflammatory, the writer links to a five-year-old USA Today article that states no African American golfer has made the tour since Woods joined it. Which, while true in 2009, is no longer true, as, in 2011, Joseph Bramlett earned his Tour card. As for women’s golf, Cheyenne Woods gets more media attention than almost any other professional golfer. Interestingly, this USA Today article Simpson uses to call golf “historically lily-white” points out that in 1975, the year Tiger Woods was born, there were eight — yes, eight — black golfers on tour. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound at all “historically lily-white” to me. (Not to mention one of golf’s biggest stars at that time, Lee Trevino, is Hispanic.)
Note that the author who incites with “lily-white” sees nothing wrong with the xenophobic “no non-white U.S. golfer has become a global star.” Not knowing what he means by “non-white” — does he? — I can only wonder if he thinks Hispanics like Sergio Garcia, Fijians like Vijay Singh, and Asians like Ryo Ishikawa are somehow not legitimate global stars because they are not “U.S.” enough for him. Xenophobia on parade.
There’s more. Try to follow this logic. First Simpson tells us:
For starters, [Woods has] brought in younger fans through his sheer cult of personality on the golf course.
The cohort of people playing golf, too, is aging, and none of Woods’s potential successors as Undisputed Best Golfer in the World has ever matched—or even remotely approached—Woods’s appeal to younger fans.
From a Wall Street Journal article Simpson references, we learn:
According to the National Golf Foundation’s most recent participation report, the number of golfers age 6-17 dropped 24% to 2.9 million from 3.8 million between 2005 and 2008.
During those years, 2005 through 2008, Woods won six majors, and an astonishing 25 of 55 PGA Tour events. Yet, golf participation rates dropped among those aged 6-17 by 24 percent. So, Mr. Simpson, can tell me again how Woods is bringing young people into the game?
Much has been made of the lower television ratings for the Masters this year. We are told over and over the reason is that Tiger Woods didn’t play. But, contrary to that claim, some of the highest-rated golf events of all-time didn’t have Tiger Woods playing in them, so maybe there’s more to the story than that. Maybe a not particularly popular player ran away from the rest of the Masters field. Nah, it couldn’t be that, could it?
Simpson also repeats another talking point making the rounds when he tells us it was the “smallest Masters audience” since 1993 — oh, what a coincidence, right before Woods started playing! Of course, he conveniently neglects to mention that there were 70 million fewer people in the United States in 1993. (Credit Simpson with at least distinguishing between rating and audience size terminology; Darren Rovell doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the distinction. He tells us, “Masters ratings worst since ’93.” You’d think a television man like Rovell would understand that rating and audience size are not at all the same thing, but he writes, “All are potential reasons the television ratings for Saturday and Sunday of this year’s Masters were the worst in more than two decades.”)
Then Simpson gives us this, a fine example the modern sportswriter’s ability to wed creative fiction with illogic:
Perhaps learning from Woods’s overly candid interviews early in his career, Spieth and his team have already crafted a public persona designed to keep his private life very private.
They have? Forgive me, but I thought the lengthy television segment about Spieth’s relationship to his younger sister was about as revealing and open and intimate as it gets. To support his strange contention, Simpson equates Spieth apologizing via Twitter for some pouty on-course behavior with tight control of his private life. Huh? Does anyone have any idea how to connect those two dots? I sure don’t. What’s more, I looked back through Spieth’s tweets and found this one: “That was a terrible, self-centered interview by Calipari after the game. Anyone else agree?” Sounds openly opinionated to me. Hard to imagine “Steinie” tweeting that one out from Woods’ Twitter account. Like I said, fiction and illogic.
So, there you have it. That was my offering. Read Briggs’s and compare it to mine. I think mine’s better, but it’s possible I’m biased. Whose is more important? Briggs’s wins hands-down. He shows those at the very top of the sports journalism hierarchy are no longer automatically putting the Approved Tiger Woods Narrative above the truth.
Let’s hope some of our prominent sportswriters on this side of the Atlantic will follow suit and reacquaint themselves with the truth. The truth would be a welcome element in American golf journalism, don’t you think?