Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Without Woods, The Sport Of Golf Is In The Rough

Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker during a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open in La Jolla, Calif. i i

Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker during a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open in La Jolla, Calif., captivating the gallery. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker during a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open in La Jolla, Calif.

Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker during a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open in La Jolla, Calif., captivating the gallery.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Are you enjoying the new PGA 2009 tour?

Oh, you didn't realize there was a PGA tour anymore.

I can certainly understand that. Please don't be embarrassed. It's easy to misplace something so suddenly insignificant.

I mean, let's be honest. At some point, the PGA tour became a wholly subsumed subsidiary of Tiger Woods, and without him there simply doesn't appear to be any there there. The PGA: Professional Golfers Anonymous.

It isn't just that Tiger is away recovering from knee surgery. His magical exit, winning the U.S. Open in a playoff last June while manifestly in pain from playing on a rotten leg, was so exquisite that it's as if he then left for the heavens, not for rehabilitation.

And slim pickings remain behind. It isn't Woods' fault; it's just a very fallow field that he has plowed under. Consider the talent Jack Nicklaus had to battle: Palmer, Player, Trevino, Watson. All four of them were far superior to any of the Lilliputians who have been in Woods' thrall.

It's all the more understandable, then, that the tour and its sponsors and television producers came to depend more and more on Woods. Just think how many times the cameras would stay on him as he merely strolled down a fairway, while other players presumably actually hit a golf ball.

In that sense, golf let Woods become the very face of the whole sport, and no one stopped to consider that as he blocked out the sun, no other golfer could grow an identity.

Never forget that — notwithstanding what Cassius told Brutus — in individual sports, the fault is with their stars, not their underlings.

Woods has been such a phenomenon that when he won that playoff over Rocco Mediate, he even brought commerce to a halt. Trading that day on Wall Street fell by 71 million shares, almost 10 percent. TV ratings used to regularly double in tournaments when he played. And perhaps more than any statistical measure, Woods gave golf buzz. Without him, the sport seems to have pretty much dropped out of the cultural conversation.

It does not help, of course, that golf has been losing participants in the past few years. Moreover, it is especially vulnerable to the economic downturn because the sport was so heavily supported by two especially cursed groups of sponsors: automobiles and financial institutions. Live by the sword ...

Woods is hoping to return to the tour in time for the Masters, early in April. Golf's plight now is reminiscent of the situation the country just went through, with a lame duck administration technically in charge as we awaited the arrival of the anointed. But we knew for sure we'd have a new president on Jan. 20.

Not to be a Cassandra, but the left leg is a vital cog in the golfer machine. There's hardly any guarantee with Woods' health, so it'll be even more agonizing if the sport has to keep running in place, waiting, without really knowing when its meal ticket may finally return.

Or worse: Suppose the Tiger Woods who finally does come back is not the deity who left? Not even Tiger Woods may be able to come off serious surgery and wish himself back to the power and glory he once knew.

Commentator Frank Deford reports from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford