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What we need from Tiger 2.0

Do you remember, in those innocent days of pre-crashgate Tigermania, we used to talk a lot about how good Tiger Woods was for golf. We don’t to that much anymore, but maybe, now 2012 is shaping up to be the year of the Second Coming, we should.

The odds on Woods winning his 15th major during the course of 2012 halved after a promising start to the season. A third place in Abu Dhabi was greeted with a few hopeful ‘Is he back?’ headlines.

Tiger 1.0 was mostly about money. The size of the cheque was never far away from the coverage. Forbes, the magazine and website devoted to making us all feel unhappy, created an industry based on how much money he had. They routinely told the world that Tiger was the first ‘billion dollar sportsman’, topping its nauseating Rich List of made up financial numbers.

The money talk meant Tiger was not so much a human being as a red-shirted ATM machine, capable of turning anything he touched in to gold. Cars, bank accounts, watches, even management consultancy: Whatever you were selling, if it was endorsed by Tiger Woods you were in the magic circle.

That’s all over now. Whatever happens over the next decade, even if Tiger were to beat Jack Nicklaus’ all time major record, it won’t be the same, we won’t get fooled again.

Even Forbes has turned against him. The magazine recently put out a poll claiming Tiger is the second most disliked athlete in America. He is ranked just behind Michael Vick, a convicted dogfighting criminal.

But the Tiger bashing now is as wrong headed as his deification was in the early noughties. Golf needs Tiger Woods more than ever. But just not in the same way. Remember that excruciating, stage-managed press conference where Tiger cried and said he was sorry and promised to try harder to atone for his mistakes. He made a statement then about his relationship with the game that is worth revisiting. He said, ‘When I do return, I need to make my behaviour more respectful of the game.’

So, now he is back. Maybe we should judge him in the way he wanted to be judged. Golf is in danger of becoming a high priced irrelevance at a time when most of the people who watch it are worried about money and their jobs. Meanwhile, the professional tours are living on a different planet and are in danger of becoming the bankers of the sporting world, poster boys for the undeserving rich. If Tiger wants to be ‘more respectful of the game of golf’, here’s how he could help: Be honest with us. Stop being about money and be about the golf. Take the game in to a new era of transparency. Here are three things Tiger could do for starters that would make a real statement that things have changed.

1) Don’t Accept Appearance money

Appearance money is one of the dark arts of the Tour. It cheats the viewer because it skews the golfing calendar in favour of the event promoter with the deepest pockets at the expense of more deserving courses, events and countries. Why did Tiger play Abu Dhabi? Was it because of he wanted to test himself against an exceptional course? Did he want to gauge his comeback against Europe’s young bucks McIlroy, Donald and Kaymer? Or was it because he was paid to go by HSBC, the event sponsor?

2) Play the clubs you want to, not the ones you’re paid to play

Imagine a world where the best golfers chose which clubs were best suited to their game and, like us, paid the company to play with them. That way we get to see what they really think of the equipment. What ball really is the longest, or has the most control? Which driver is genuinely innovative and which are just puffed by marketing claptrap? Hopefully, the market for golf clubs would change, with previously unheralded brands getting more attention and the few mega brands forced to up their game. The clubs would also be cheaper, because the companies wouldn’t need to spend so much money on player endorsements. Win-win for the punter.

3) Play where you want to play, not where your sponsors tell you to

Will Phil Mickelson play the Scottish Open this year, now that Barclays is not the sponsor? Barclays sponsors Mickelson, who then became a regular at the Loch Lomond event, talking about how great the course is and how the parkland course its such fantastic preparation for The Open the following week.

Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington spent the week playing links golf at the Irish PGA on courses he genuinely believed to be a proper preparation for the real thing. Which strategy worked? Harrington won two Opens, Mickelson none.

These are just three examples of the casual dishonesty in the way golf treats its fans. But if the game is to change it requires a leader, someone the others will follow. Instead of being remembered as a sleazy cash machine, the legacy of one of the greatest players ever to walk the fairways could be that he helped give the game its soul back.

Make no mistake, golf needs Tiger more than ever. But is he up to it?

March 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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