Props to Darren Clarke on a British Open victory, between Rory McIlroy’s US Open win and Clarke’s recent trophy it’s safe the say the Irish are proudly represented in one of its most passionate sports. However one of the greatest moments in Irish sports history is being overshadowed by another story: where is the direction of golf headed? ESPN & company argue that at this time, it’s hard to tell. However the REAL notion at hand that the PGA and its associates is that it’s hard to sell.
The PGA hasn’t always had the multi-millions dollar television deals and athletes that pack bigger endorsement contracts then some NBA players. There’s always been one or two around to keep national interest. Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. Each one brought a flame to the game that kept burning in the audience’s eye, enough to make headlines on Sportscenter. The popularity was nothing though until the arrival of Tiger Woods. This guy broke so many barriers it would have to be another blog entirely to cover half of them. Not since his downfall have we ‘needed’ to find somebody to claim golf and ‘return it to the glory days’.
If you’re looking to the likes of McIlroy or Clarke to fill the shoes of Tiger Woods, it’s going to take more than a stretch of majors to do so, no matter how much the PGA wants you to think otherwise. Looking to Twitter as an example, Europe was ablaze on Sunday. The British Open Final was settled earlier that day, and it was enough to break Twitter’s Top 10 Trends. This is great, yet not in perspective to the events later that day. The FIFA Women’s World Cup set a TPS (Tweets Per Second) record. Putting this in perspective: an International golf star wins an international golf tournament, and it’s overshadowed by an international soccer tournament. On the world stage, golf will never beat soccer. On the national stage, the PGA can’t invest all it’s hope in a group of Irishman in a country so swollen with nationalism it will never fully embrace them as the face of the sport. Might wanna look elsewhere…
This isn’t the first time in the last few years “who’s the next?” has come into conversation. Mickelson, Ricky Barnes, Adam Scott, the list goes on. But these players never truly lived up to the hype, no matter how much the media favored them. In terms of popularity, perhaps let’s turn to the greatest gauge of the times: Facebook. McIlroy is making a dent in social fandom with 72,000 (as of 7.19.11), while Clarke is emerging with 11,000 fans respectively (7.19.11) Yet if Facebook has taught us anything, it’s that fan pages with thousands of followers is the equivalent to quarters in US currency. Even Mickelson, that likeable teddy bear with his lefty swing and bright smile, has a modest albeit unimpressive 86,000 fans (7.19.11) For a professional athlete, true social stardom is measured in hundreds of thousands if not millions. LeBron James – 7 milliion, Derek Jeter – 1.5 million, Peyton Manning – 750,000 (7.19.11). Not to mention a guy named Tiger.
Face facts: McIlroy has potential and alongside Clarke Ireland should be proud, but they’re not going to save the PGA from its slow yet steady slide into mainstream mediocrity. There is only one person who can take golf to where is was only a few years ago, ironically enough it’s the same person who got them there in the first place: Tiger Woods. Can he come back from the injuries and rebuild his image to save the PGA? THAT’S the true story they want. It’s what people want to know. We cannot be so quick to anoint a savior when the old one isn’t beyond the brink of obscurity, although he’s flirting with the edge. It’s Tiger’s game to give, and while he’s not on the course, the torch cannot be passed (and it won’t be passed in a year’s time, no matter how much ESPN tries to push that story). People are familiar with Tiger (video games, clothing lines, unique name, SI covers & ESPY’s), they care about his story (whether they admit it or not he perks ears) and perhaps the most essential stat: the Big Guys upstairs in the PGA Office know this, and will sell this at first opportunity. Until Tiger is gone (BTW: 2 million), there will only be one Tiger.