At some point in golf’s most trying year, the man whose personal dominance triggered the game’s fiscal prominence had become, like almost everyone else, a curious bystander. Tiger Woods’ preparation for the British Open coincided with LIV’s London launch (June 9) and its follow-up event in Portland three weeks later. Between a disappointing T47 at the Masters and what would become a missed cut at St. Andrews, Woods had plenty of time to mull the Life of Tiger.
Extensive medical history.
Obvious physical limitations.
Forty-six years old.
More net worth than most suburban neighborhoods.
A Saudi-funded upstart with tones of swagger.
Big-name players ditching the PGA Tour for gigantic, up-front cash.
Perhaps this would explain why Woods flew to Delaware last month in advance of the second FedEx Cup playoff event, taking the initiative to get involved in discussions with his fellow tour pros about how to stanch the bleeding caused by defections to the rival league. By all accounts, the meeting was well-attended and highly productive—commissioner Jay Monahan announced significant changes to the 2024 schedule the following week.
Everybody knows about the influx of prize money and hearty boost to the Player Impact Program (PIP) by now. It’s old news, although the emergence of Woods as a good-of-the-game pitchman and proactive ambassador certainly is not. The Delaware trip was a story that went largely overlooked, more of a photo op than an occurrence that necessitated heavy reporting. At the time, the focus was rightfully on the mission itself, and that was certainly covered adequately. Little was made of the actual man on the mission.
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Twenty years ago, Tiger wouldn’t have walked 50 yards to a Ryder Cup team meeting unless it was mandatory. He ducked all legislative issues and wouldn’t have served on the PGA Tour policy board if you held every session in his basement. He was a superstar with tunnel vision, and nobody in a tunnel does politics. Yes, he had some gripes, and if he trusted you, he’d express them in a mix of sarcasm and fake anger, the cannon always loaded with F-bombs.
This summer, however, Woods surely felt the hand of competitive mortality come to rest on his shoulder. He worked so hard to sharpen his game for the British Open and didn’t come close to pulling it off. His body doesn’t listen to his mind anymore, leaving him to publicly acknowledge that his career is just about over.
Along comes the LIV invasion, and just like that, the Tour needs him. Badly. Without notice or anything even vaguely resembling a transition, Woods springs back into action, recognizing the purpose of his presence and his effect on all the young players who grew up hoping to be half as good as the One and Only. For all the people who considered him selfish and uncaring in his younger years—for all the words written about how his lousy Ryder Cup record is an apt reflection of that apathy—it’s rather easy to wave off his contributions in Delaware as a one-time deal.
Don’t bet a nickel on it. Age has a way of helping us all see the light, and when you’ve dealt with as much darkness as Tiger has brought upon himself since the infamous collapse of his marriage in late 2009, you don’t need a weatherman to tell you the sun is shining.
He’s still the most important person in the game. If Woods ever has any designs on becoming the next commissioner, it wouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to get that done, but let’s not get carried away. Icons don’t sit on thrones, nor do they sit behind a desk. The job isn’t worth the time or the headache that comes with it, and besides, Woods is of greater value to the Tour in an unofficial capacity. Communicating with the players. Acting as a liaison between church and state. Handling stuff only a few people on Earth could handle while imparting a positive impact on the Camp Ponte Vedra’s overall health.
It all comes down to how big a slice of the cake Tiger wants in his competitive afterlife. He is an asset that cannot be replicated or purchased. He’s also the father of two teenagers and famous enough to make a half-million bucks just for showing up at a department store, which is another way of saying that hanging out on the practice range and chatting with the fellas would get old in a hurry . He’s not wired for motionless small talk, but if you need him to fly 1,100 miles and sit in a hotel banquet room to talk about chopping up Greg Norman, there’s nobody in this universe more suited for the task.
For what it’s worth to the greater good, a rosy relationship with Woods is essential to the Tour’s future. His representation is beyond measure, particularly as it relates to any additional raids of the product down the road. Any avid sports fan with five or six decades of memory is aware of the internal uprising that eventually turned professional tennis into a mess. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, track and field generated sizable television audiences through its association with ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Its spotlight and relevance have since been reduced to a two-week window every four years.
Anyone remember boxing? No athletic contest was more popular for a longer period of time, but when ego and greed began chewing into the very fabric of the product, several variations of the sport emerged. Nowadays, the business of beating people up is a completely disparate industry, unrecognizable to the mainstream, struggling to survive as specialty programming on HBO and ESPN.
Woods obviously can’t do anything about the guys who have already fled the Tour, although he could play a crucial role in brokering their return if the LIV project crawls to a halt. His assistance in legislating this latest financial windfall was probably going to happen, anyway, but his willingness to hit the road and hear what had to be said provided a sense of unification not only for the players themselves, but the significant percentage of the public concerned about the game’s current state.
Nobody in golf knows more about fractures than Tiger Woods. That’s for sure.
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