What is watching golf like without Tiger Woods?
It’s like having sweet tea without the sugar; like watching Training Day without Denzel; like a Beyonce video that’s too dark to see.
It does not matter the event or the depth of the field. If Tiger Woods is not playing, the panache is absent.
It once was considered an overstatement to say that golf lived and died with Tiger Woods. Not anymore. Golf is dying—professionally and recreationally—as Woods makes his descent.
Watching Woods play badly is more interesting than seeing world No. 1 Rory McIlroy shoot 62.
Who would have thought that a Black man would dominate the sport so significantly that at one point people wondered if it was good for the game that he won so much? Here’s the thing: Everyone won when Woods was at his apex.
TV ratings were sky high. Prize money exponentially increased to induce Woods to play and because sponsors were at a premium, knowing Woods was going to fill the course with patrons in record numbers and generate unprecedented TV ratings. Many who never considered the game recreationally began playing, especially in the Black community.
Woods made a lot of people a lot of money as a Black man reigning over a traditionally white sport, and doing it with flair.
You had to watch. And you began to think you should at least try to play. Even if you weren’t very good—which describes everybody in the beginning.
But the worst case scenario happened to the game: Tiger Woods is not playing as he tries to locate a game that has been missing for some time now. His absence and the decline of golf viewership run parallel. It is not a coincidence.
Phil Mickelson’s a great American player who does not have the zest of Tiger. McIlroy is as interesting as Irish coffee. A host of young, talented players have no drawing power to the casual, would-be viewer.
Television ratings have dipped to levels of the absurd without Woods. The final round of the 2014 Masters lured only 7.8 percent of television viewers. That weekend produced the unique major championship’s smallest TV audience since 1993.
Sunday when Tiger does not probably could have been tallied by head count by Neilson.
Unless Woods’ game has deteriorated to the point where he wouldn’t want to embarrass himself, he will tee it up next month in Augusta at the Masters. Watch the ratings skyrocket, whether he plays well or not.
If, by some amazing reversal, Wood is in contention on Sunday, golf executives around the country would be kissing his spikes. He moves the interest meter like no one in sports has since Michael Jordan.
Outside the PGA Tour, golf is losing, too. TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, the world’s biggest maker of golf clubs and clothes, had sales plummet 28 percent last year, its parent company Adidas said to The Washington Post.
More stats: Sports & Fitness Industry Association data show those who said they played golf at least once last year has fallen to one of its lowest point in years. Young people—that coveted 18-to-30 demographic—playing golf has fallen an incredible 35 percent over the last decade.
And more stats: More golf courses closed than opened in 2013 for the eighth straight year, according to the National Golf Foundation. And the number of course closures has sped up, averaging 137 closings every year since 2011, data from golf-industry researcher Pellucid show—right around the time Woods began to fall apart.
“There’s nobody out there who’s going to save us,” Pellucid’s president Jim Koppenhaver said at a Professional Golfers Association of America gathering in January. “We have to save ourselves.”
Tiger Woods gave golf a great gift. An identity. A reason to watch. Inspiration to play. All that’s fading now, and the numbers say the descent is in full throttle. As he works to get back to form, the game continues to diminish in stature and interest. Now, you can bet all those who were rooting against Woods are now praying for him to save the sport.