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 RICHARD GILLIS
 The Golf Business

Tiger missed his concession moment

The Friday of the 2013 Masters should have been the beginning of the third act of Tiger Woods’ career.

Turns out it wasn’t. History will show Tiger scored two 70s over the weekend to tie for fourth place behind eventual winner Adam Scott.

But if Woods had taken the opportunity offered on Saturday morning to disqualify himself for an illegal drop (the ‘manly thing to do’ according to Nick Faldo), it would have made a statement far louder than even another green jacket.

This could have been a defining moment – the equivalent of Jack Nicklaus conceding Tony Jacklin’s putt on the 18th at Birkdale in 1969, to tie the Ryder Cup.

It’s an analogy worth pursuing a little further. Before the 1969 Ryder Cup, Jack Nicklaus’ public image was not far off that of Woods’ today. He was a winner, recognised as a brilliant player but not loved. He suffered in terms of likeability when set against his great rival, Arnold Palmer.

Like Tiger now, the concession at Birkdale came during just about the only ‘slump’ in Nicklaus’ career. He went major-less between the 1967 US Open at Baltusrol and the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews.

After 1969, Nicklaus’ reputation changed for the better. He became more attractive, both physically – he lost weight, grew his hair – and in terms of the personality he allowed the public to see. He seemed warmer somehow, less machine-like. He moved from being admired to being liked.

Put another way, the Nicklaus who won his 18th major – the Masters in 1986 – was not the same man who won his first green jacket in 1963. Nicklaus winning the Masters at the age of 46 was a piece of golfing history. “Some things cannot possibly happen, because they are both too improbable and too perfect,” wrote columnist Thomas Boswell at the time. If you get a chance, watch that final nine holes again on YouTube. Watch the people in the crowd. Look at their faces. They are almost tearful, willing on their hero. That look in their eyes is not admiration for golfing skill, it’s something closer to love.

Nicklaus was 29 years of age when he conceded that putt to Jacklin in 1969. It was the turning point in the way he presented himself. To use that over-worked word, it was the start of ‘Brand Nicklaus’ as we now know it.

Tiger is 37. He still has time to break Jack’s record, the pursuit of which has been a central part of the Tiger narrative for over a decade. If he gets there it will be an enormous achievement. The bigger question is, will we care? Will we be cheering with the same unconditional emotion as those people behind Nicklaus in ’86?

Nike ran an advert to celebrate Tiger becoming world number one. The strapline said: ‘Winning takes care of everything.’ I’m not sure they’re right.

THE REAL STORY BEHIND BUBBA’S HOVER STUNT

There was quite a catfight between two of golf’s biggest brands in the run up to the Masters.

At the start of the year, Rory McIlroy and his advisers ended the player’s contract with Oakley to make way for Nike. A few weeks later, Oakley signed Bubba Watson. In the run-up to Augusta, Oakley released a great viral featuring Bubba on a hovercraft, cavorting across the fairways.

Bubba then gave an interview to CNBC business channel. He told the interviewer: “I want to be associated with fun companies, exciting companies, and so I teamed with Oakley to wear their clothes and for me it was what can we do to grow the game [and] change the game.

“The game of golf when you look at it as a whole, it’s outdated, it’s boring, it’s slow. For our brand, for the game of golf …we want to show excitement”

Cue much Twitter and YouTube love for both the player and the brand as Oakley’s name dominated the pre-Masters publicity. Then, Bubba nailed it with the killer line: “I’ve been with Ping since I was eight years old.” Wonder who that was aimed at?

Meanwhile, Rory spent the week fielding questions about whether he can hit his new Nikes straight.

IMG FOR SALE

Scratch below the surface of the Open Championship, the european Tour and many of the world’s best players and you’ll find the letters IMG. The company has been synonymous with golf since it was founded on a handshake between Mark McCormack and Arnold Palmer in the late 1950s. When McCormack died in 2004, it was bought by Ted Forstmann, a pioneer of private equity, for $750million. Forstmann himself died in 2011 and this month IMG went on sale again.

The year Forstmann bought it, IMG made revenues of $42 million. It is expected to turnover close to $200 million in 2013. That growth has little to do with golf. Today IMG plays a bigger game, buying and selling media rights, running sports training academies and selling media content. Rumour has it that the company will be bought and broken up. If you fancy your luck, the bidding starts at $2billion.

June 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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