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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why Doesn't Tiger Bring Out the Best in His Competitors?

The following is a guest article by Jack Hession of Arlington, VA. The views and opinions expressed by Mr. Hession are not necessarily endorsed by the management of Networked Golfer or its affiliates.

Spending much of the past weekend horizontal on the couch watching the 88th PGA, I was blown away with the stats CBS kept posting on the screen chronicling Tiger’s Sunday competitors wilting under the pressure of being paired in the final group with His Eminence. Other than Chris DiMarco and Bob May, nobody had shot better than Tiger on Sunday and of the 11 majors (now 12) only DiMarco and May broke 70! Tigers’ Sunday scoring average in the Majors: 69.25, his challengers: 72.91. If not for DiMarco and May, it would be even worse!

Recently, I read Mark Frost’s Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America and the Story of Golf, a history of golf during the Bobby Jones era (1923-1930). During this span Jones collected thirteen national titles: five United States amateurs; four United States Opens; three British Opens; and one British Amateur. In the last nine years of his career he competed in twelve national championships and finished first or second in eleven of them, a feat Jones considered to be greater than his winning of the Grand Slam in 1930. Relying heavily on newspapers’ accounts of Jones’s feats and defeats, Frost highlighted more than once comments made by Jones’s coach and companions and sports-writers alike that Jones was losing titles to obviously less talented golfers simply because players elevated their game when paired against him. Even when winning, Jones was competing against challengers that in their own words were having career days.

Let’s jump into the DeLorean and head back to the future – to Thursday’s press conference at the Bridgestone Invitational where we meet up with Jason Gore, who’s known Tiger since their junior days in SoCal, discussing his day’s round paired with Tiger: “I watched him a lot today,” Gore said. “It’s kind of hard not to watch him. He’s amazing. I think it kind of bled a little bit into my game, and I was able to focus on my shots a little bit more and it turned out pretty good.”

“ . . .it kind of bled a little bit into my game . . .” I read that and fell out of my chair! I guarantee Geoff Ogilvy could say the same thing after his Thursday/Friday pairing at the PGA with Phil and Tiger. And the same was probably said from Jones’s competitors. But playing with Tiger on Thursday/Friday is a whole lot different than playing with him on Saturday and most definitely on Sunday. Tiger has been beaten, just not in a Major when he’s last off the tee come Sunday. He’s now 12-0, undefeated, practically unchallenged in the Majors. The differences in Sunday scoring averages say a lot about competitiveness on today’s Tour – it’s non-existent. So the question is: Why doesn’t Tiger bring out the best in his competitors?

Three reasons why I think the Tour can’t compete with Tiger: Tiger’s goals; Tour players’ lack of goals; and today’s tournament purses:

1) Tiger is NOT playing against today’s field. He’s playing to match and then surpass Jack’s Major record of 18 victories. He has said so himself -- he plays to win Majors. The best thing going for Tiger in this regard is that he doesn’t have to compete against Jack; however, the tour has to compete against Tiger.

2) With that said, Tour players have become reactionary to Tiger’s goals. Really, they’re hoping for a stroke of luck to come their way, and maybe they’ll beat him head-to-head in a Major. Nobody else on Tour has a goal as ambitious as Tiger’s, and he has set this goal since childhood. Only one, Vijay Singh, thought outside the box and made it a goal to be the world’s number one ranked golfer, and albeit briefly, he managed to place himself on top.

3) Remember in 1989 when Curtis Strange was the first to break the $1 million mark in earning in a single season? And that was by winning the U.S. Open and the season ending Nabisco Championship at Pebble Beach. By winning the FBR, J.B. Holmes took home $936,000 to put him over the million-dollar-mark after only three events, four weeks into the season. I’m using J.B. as an example because as a rookie he’s won an event and has earned $1,378,720 as of the PGA (and yes, this is pre-tax), but look at his record. Not the most dominant on tour but he’s made a million-plus in 2006. How about Ryan Palmer with three top 10 finishes, second to Holmes at the FBR? He’s banked $1,972,781.

Yes, this goes to show that there is a slew of talent on today’s tour. However, back in the day (1989) you had to win the BIG events to make serious money on Tour. Yes, there have always been jobbers on the tour who make a decent living playing golf, but there weren’t the television contracts, endorsements and corporate outings like today. I personally feel that nobody can compete with Tiger because they’re complacent. Chris Riley has said as much to this effect; golf isn’t as important to him as his family. Same with Phil, until winning his first Major; however, he still plays up how much more important his family is to him than golf. Why is that? How can that be? If it weren’t for golf, in the words of Henry Hill of GoodFellas fame, “Can't even get decent food. Right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I'm an average nobody . . . get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”

It’s been said, “All the professionals should say a silent thanks to Walter Hagen each time they stretch a check between their fingers. It was Walter who made professional golf what it is.” The same can be said of Tiger Woods today. He’s taken what Hagen made possible and has made the lucrative contract and endorsement deal the norm for many of today’s professional golfers (i.e. Michelle Wie, who has won only one event, 2003 US Woman’s Amateur Public Links). Unfortunately, all this corporate cash has made the Tour fat and happy. Wie has proven potential alone can net you more money than actually playing well. Heck, lead any Tour in driving distance and you’re set for life.

However, soon there will be a new breed of golfer. The new soon-to-be touring pro will have grown up watching Tiger decimate the field and emulating his game and achievements as Tiger emulated Jack’s career. And where do you think that will leave many of today’s professionals?

Most likely on the outside looking in.


Anonymous jay said...

I would like to see the players put up some of their own money to create the purse ... and then watch them pucker on Sunday over THAT 4-footer ... that would bring some intensity and passion back to the game.

4:43 PM  
Blogger John Gorman said...

Good idea. I have trouble with those when a 50 cent skin is on the line on a Tuesday morning.

6:35 PM  

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