Tiger Woods’ Comeback – A Comeback for Golf?

As any of us know, golf has suffered in recent years.  Course closings, declining participation and the game’s seeming inability to attract millenials, minorities and women have all contributed to an industry experiencing some distress.  An unpopular president associated closely with golf hasn’t helped either, according to several high ranking golf industry executives.  Can the comeback of Tiger Woods and his dramatic victory turn golf around?

Just 2 years ago, I was giving an educational presentation at the PGA Show in Orlando when one of the attendees asked what I thought would help turn golf around.  My then college freshman son (Jack) was in the room so rather than instantly answer I asked Jack why none of his friends played golf.  His answer was quick and succinct.  “Because of all the suits upstairs”.  Basically, they don’t think golf is “cool”.  When Tiger Woods burst on the scene in 1997 with his first (record-setting) Masters win, golf became “cool”.  Kids were playing, women were playing and Tiger’s multi-cultural background brought out more players of color than ever before.  My longtime (since 4th grade) golfing partner Claude (an African-American) exhibited great satisfaction that finally one of his own had succeeded at our chosen game.  For golf to grow it needs to be inclusive.  Tiger Woods helped make that happen.

When Woods seemingly perfect life quickly crashed in 2009, it was followed by injuries that plagued him from 2013 to 2017. As late as 18 months ago, he didn’t even know if he would ever walk comfortably again, let alone play championship level golf.

I had been a big fan of Tiger Woods.  He was great for the game.  When his personal indiscretions were exposed in 2009, I remember my (then) 12 year old son in tears over how his idol could have such a dark side.  Then I heard some not so flattering stories about his personality, and was unable to root for him for all the obvious reasons.

During the past year, there seems to be a difference.  He seems to connect more with people now.  Has he changed?  We all deserve the chance to evolve and learn from our mistakes.  One thing is for sure.  Our society loves winners and it’s rare that those whose golf games we respect or even envy are ridiculed for their personality flaws as much as the rest of us.  How many of the best golfers at your club are not referred to as “good guys”?

The real question here is whether Tiger’s “greatest comeback in sports history” will spur interest in golf participation the way it did in the early part of his professional career.  As ClubCorp CEO David Pillsbury said in GolfWorld yesterday, “Tiger became human again, like all of us and went through the rollercoaster of life.”  Most of us have been there and if he can ignite a resurgence in golf, great.  Put so eloquently by golf course architect Tripp Davis: “Tiger is not a let’s “give” this guy a second chance right away. That’s too prevalent in our society at times today. Tiger earned his way back in the hearts and minds of the public – he took his time and did it with sincerity. Most don’t know how key that acceptance has been to his return as a player. Some players or even successful people in business are on a high for a short period of time because of arrogance and a sense rules don’t apply to them – cocky confidence. Tiger has found another level – being okay in his own skin, thankful for his believers, and gracious for his opportunities.”

To me, the question is sincerity.  If Tiger Woods is, in fact, a new Tiger Woods, accepts and properly carries his responsibilities as an iconic sportsman, in the truest sense of the word, I will be right there rooting him on again.  He’s already proven he can impact the game like nobody since Arnold Palmer.  Let’s hope he can ignite a new resurgence in golf that can ignite growth in the long term.