Despite lofty predictions, Woods’s real impact on the game was almost zero.
EA Sports replaced Tiger Woods on its video game cover, and the Tiger Is Golf crowd are up in arms about it. Despite their expressed outrage, such a development can hardly be surprising. More and more, the shelf life of Tiger Woods looks to be limited.
His sex scandal, his links to PEDs, his surly demeanor — none of these are things that maintain popularity after a player’s performance drops off. Probably the most instructive move came at the end of 2009 when Accenture almost immediately dumped Tiger Woods as an endorser after the sex scandal became public. A multi-national management consultant company does not want its image sullied.
Some of those complaining about EA Sports point to Woods’s fame as a reason to stick with him. The problem for Woods is that there’s good fame and bad fame. Bad fame doesn’t move product.
As I thought about this, I remembered something I came across a while back: A list of Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year going back several decades. One of the many promises made at the time of Woods’s early fame on the PGA Tour was that he was going to make golf “cool.” People were supposedly going to take up the game in record numbers; the game was going to explode. The opposite has in fact happened, with participation rates steadily dropping during the Woods era.
While he has brought some additional television viewers, golf remains a niche sport. That’s fine by me, but there was a lot of hype about Woods and how he would impact the game which never came to fruition. I, for one, am extremely tired of hearing how Woods took golf to new levels of popularity — among many other claims constantly made about Woods — when the reality is that those projections never panned out.
So, back to the SI Sportsmen of the Year. As I looked at the list that day, I noticed something rather interesting. Here are the golfers who made SI Sportsman of the Year in past years:
- 1960 Arnold Palmer
- 1964 Ken Venturi
- 1971 Lee Trevinio
- 1978 Jack Nicklaus
- 1987 Patty Sheehan
- 1996 Tiger Woods
- 2000 Tiger Woods
In the 20 years after Arnie burst onto the scene, four (different) golfers won SI‘s Sportsman of the Year award.
In the 20 years after Woods burst onto the scene, Woods has won it twice, and that’s it. The most recent one was nearly 15 years ago.
If there’s any better anecdotal evidence that Woods has done little for the game, I don’t know what it would be.
Woods may have made himself “cool,” in the way a Kim Kardashian is “cool” (i.e., a household name), but he did nothing for golf.
Arnold, on the other hand, truly did make golf “cool.” The game was taken up by millions, became popular on television, and other golfers started regularly winning the SI Sportsman of the Year award, showing the sport was part of American popular culture. (During that period, more golfers won the award than NFL players!)
Woods has had a very successful career, but he might still be the top selection in a poll to pick the most over-hyped athlete in history. Despite the 1997 hype, there are fewer people playing golf than when he gained fame. There is no new demographic taking up the game. Woods fell well short of being having a bigger impact than Gandhi.
It’s ironic the people who insisted Woods would make golf cool are now saying golf will certainly die without Woods. Whatever Woods did, it decidedly was not to make golf cool.
Such contradictions scream out to be discussed, but the golf media is silent, too busy telling the world how Tiger “moves the needle.”