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Tiger’s Masters absence gives PGA a chance to show young stars

Published 10:49am Friday, April 11, 2014

With the announcement that Tiger Woods will miss this weekend’s Masters Tournament, the sky might as well be falling in the world of professional golf.

Or so goes the narrative that ESPN talking heads and golf enthusiasts will be regurgitating for the duration of the annual “tradition unlike any other” in Augusta, Georgia.

This “Masters without Tiger” narrative might be one of those lines promulgated simply because people need something to talk about, but there are some genuine reasons to be concerned by his absence.

Tiger has the charisma that makes the game appeal to non-golf enthusiasts, and his presence has helped to catapult the sport up the entertainment food chain since he broke on to the scene in the mid-1990s.

For instance, resale ticket prices on marketplaces such as StubHub plummeted after his announcement. Television ratings figure to be lower than usual due to the lack of casual fans who might tune in just to watch Tiger. In an ESPN Poll (though hardly a representative sample), 20 percent of respondents said that they would not watch the tournament because of Tiger’s absence.

But a Tiger-less Masters isn’t all doom and gloom for professional golf. His absence will create a news vacuum that will allow for a fresh narrative to emerge, which will be good for the sport especially considering how its fortunes have been hinged to Tiger for almost two decades now.

So in the unlikely, but not impossible, event that some movers and shakers within the PGA happen to read the sports pages of the Daily Journal, here’s my two cents: seize this year’s Masters as a chance to rebrand and diversify. We get that Tiger Woods is inherently interesting and that people who normally don’t care about golf will tune in just to see him play, but professional golf needs something novel, something fresh. It needs an injection of youth and new faces into what has traditionally been an old boys’ club.

The fortunes of no other sport in modern memory, with the possible exception of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and NASCAR, have been so closely tied to one athlete than golf is to Tiger Woods. The sport’s popularity and fame has peaked and valley-ed in conjunction with his on the course performances and marital issues.

That’s not to deny the positive influence he has had on the modern day game, but the sport would be well served to reduce its reliance on the fortunes of one man and better embrace up and coming talent. In addition, the sport’s other star power consists of ancients like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who have been around since before I was born. Even though these guys are good, it’s hard to get excited about them because they’ve been around forever and don’t compete at the same level they once had.

The good news is that almost a quarter of the 97 Masters participants this weekend will be making their debuts on the course. Maybe one or two of these guys will seize the opportunity created by Tiger’s absence and put themselves on the map.

So I’ll probably check out the Masters this weekend for a segment or two, but I’m likely change the channel should I hear the announcer talk about what a bummer it is that Tiger is missing.

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