Proof Tiger Hype was Obsessive, and other Wednesday Thoughts

Obsessive Tiger Woods Hype: I watched the replay of the 1978 British Open last night.  Jack Nicklaus was in the process of winning his fifteenth major when the announcers had this conversation (paraphrased):

McKay:  Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus, the best two players in golf history.

Other Guy: Well, now, saying that is going to cause a fight.  A lot of people say Hogan.

McKay:  Well, let’s just say Jack is one of the top five.

Note the respect for past players.  Jack had fifteen majors and they settled on “one of the top five.”  Think about it:  Jack had four more majors than his nearest competitor, and they agreed on top five.  (One can only laugh at the thought of today’s announcers broadcasting a Woods win putting him four ahead of Jack.)

Contrast to the hype surrounding Tiger Woods his entire career.  The media started with the Greatest Of All Time hype when Woods had half-a-dozen majors.  I don’t need to rehash the past fifteen years; you know how hysterical the golf media was.

So, here’s my point.  When reasonable voices expressed the sentiment that enough was enough, that the golf media needed to stop covering a 10-shots-back Woods as if he were the leader, the response was often: “That’s natural.  When Jack was playing, he was covered the same way.”

I certainly didn’t remember it that way.  No one claimed, after a timely chip-in or precise approach shot, that Jack “hit shots no one else could.”  Jack was the best player of his day, but there was no obsession, no deification.  He was the focus of attention only when he was in contention.

Well, the 1978 British Open replay put the lie to the theory that Jack was obsessed over the way Woods has been.  He wasn’t, and last night proved it.  Winning his fifteenth major, the announcers managed only a gentlemanly “one of the top five.”

Yeah, that’s exactly how Woods would have been covered had he won four more than Jack.  Right?

Oberholser with a Dose of Reality:  Arron Oberholser said on Golf Central that the biggest difference between Woods now and when he was playing well two years ago is… <drumroll> …back surgery.  Wow, I thought Golf Channel was under orders to blame it on a minor flaw in his swing (that Butch Harmon could fix in ten minutes).

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19 Responses to Proof Tiger Hype was Obsessive, and other Wednesday Thoughts

  1. Ken says:

    I started following golf in the late 1970s when Nicklaus was still great, though by then Watson was the dominant player in the game. We all knew that Jack was the all-time leader in majors, but few people just unequivocally declared him the best ever. That whole “greatest ever” conversation rarely even came up. If it did, the names Hogan, Snead, Jones, Nicklaus, and Palmer (and probably others) were all thrown out there, with all of them having a support. For Woods’ whole career, the media has been obsessed with that topic.

    The media has just changed. I don’t know what drove that. Was it just the phenomenon of having a minority golf champion? Or have sports fans and media just generally changed. We live in an instant gratification society. Everything must be immediate. Maybe in the golf “greatest ever” discussion, people can’t be content anymore with letting that play out over the years and a greatest-ever player must be declared immediately.

    Playing devil’s advocate, is it perhaps the level of competition that drove the media to this obsession with Woods being the “best ever”? Questions of PEDs and juiced balls aside, Woods was by far and away the best player of his era based on results. There were always strong challengers to Nicklaus. Woods’ 14 majors came in an 11-year stretch while Jack’s were stretched out over 24 years. Jack won pretty steadily over that time, while Woods’ 11-year stretch was pretty spectacular. Jack always had high-profile challengers who pushed him and contended for majors; they won significant numbers of majors and regular tournaments. You know the list of course, but Jack had to contend with Palmer, Player, Casper, Trevino, Watson. Even some of the other players who weren’t at that level still racked up a lot of career wins, guys like Irwin, Miller, Floyd, Weiskopf. There were very few big winners during Woods’ career. You have Mickelson, Singh, Els and not many others who won multiple majors and also racked up significant number of regular wins.

    • Ken says:

      And for the record, I don’t think that the lack of big winners during Woods’ career is, as many believe, because the tour is so deep now that it’s more difficult to win. I don’t think today’s players are as driven as the players in Nicklaus’ day. The money has reached a level where a player leads a very comfortable life, even a quite wealthy life, just by having a decent finish once in a while. It’s made them soft. Most just don’t have that drive, the killer instinct, to contend week in, week out.

      For most of Nicklaus’ career, and certainly for the players in the Palmer era and certainly in the Hogan/Snead era, players had to play consistently well. The money was nowhere near what it is today. To have the lifestyle that even journeyman pros today have, you had to play well and contend regularly. You had to win. The desire to live well, to be rich, drove those guys. The competition was cutthroat. It’s really almost handed to players now. Back in the 50s and 60s, golfers were like baseball players. If you were a journeyman pro like a Jerry Kelly, Ken Duke or Kyle Stanley, if you didn’t have a good year that meant you were out selling insurance or cars in the offseason. Of maybe working construction. Wanting to avoid that drove players to greatness.

      Also because of money, the players didn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which tournaments to play. They played every week because they needed the money. The mid-level players rarely saw home during the season. The John Deere and Greater Greensboro didn’t struggle to get good fields, nearly all of the top players played every week. I think those huge win totals that Palmer, Nicklaus, Casper, Hogan and other racked up are really impressive in that they were facing a field of major-quality depth most of the time.

      • lannyh says:

        Great point. Most of the “lesser” tournaments today draw maybe six or eight of the top 30. The PGA Tour used to be like the LPGA is now: very rarely do the women skip an event because there are too many weeks without an event.

  2. HennyB says:

    I also watched a replay of the 1978 Open and that is the way a tournament needs to be broadcast. Nicklaus and John Schroeder were pretty much slugging it out among themselves for the title yet the amount of coverage, and respect, they afforded to such players as: Simon Owen, Isao Aoki, Peter Oosterhuis, Ben Crenshaw, and a young Nick Faldo was unbelievable. These guys didn’t necessarily have a chance to win but the network still showed them. They would show Jack hit a shot, cut away to another player, come back to John Schroeder, go to another group, and meet up with the co-leaders on the green. That’s how it needs to be done. We didn’t see a camera on Nicklaus 24/7 filling airtime with meaningless nonsense.

    • Ken says:

      Couldn’t agree more. That was my biggest complaint during the Fox US Open coverage. They were showing mostly leaders and featured groups even in the first two rounds. I didn’t see Cameron Smith until the 18th hole Saturday, and yet he was a great story, a 21-year old kid three shots off the lead.

      They should do quick cuts and show more players. Why delay between shots?

    • lannyh says:

      I agree 100 percent. Copy that broadcast using today’s HD cameras and I’d be very happy.

      I also thought the opening was fantastic. So well done. (And not overdone!)

  3. Fiddlers Elbow says:

    Question. Do you think Woods was forced to play this week? Exposure and publicity is what sponsors want. I doubt Nike are happy paying Woods to be a hermit in Florida. The require their brand to get exposure. Do you think they demanded he play? A bit like couples forced him to play the Frys a few years ago?

  4. Fiddlers Elbow says:

    That’s a possibility. But I think Nike could be behind this. They aren’t getting much of a return from Woods these days. I can’t recall any new adverts. Woods is a loner off the course. They must require some exposure? Couples demanded he play Frys. Perhaps Nike have demanded he plays this event? He sure as hell isn’t their by choice.

    • lannyh says:

      I agree Nike is causing him to play some events, perhaps this one, too. They pay him too much money to sit at home, which is why the suggestions from the golf media people saying he should take a year off are not realistic. Which reminds me… Stephen A. Smith was vehement that Woods should retire. I need to transcribe that and write it up.

  5. Fiddlers Elbow says:

    Latest headline is Woods was with Amanda Dufner!!

  6. Fiddlers Elbow says:

    No great surprise if it’s true.

  7. DanishDude says:

    Well, they deserve each other.

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