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Has Tiger Tainted Golf? The Tiger Scandal has been at the forefront of general media reporting since the story broke in November. But what impact has the saga had on the sport itself? OPINIONS OVERLEAF…

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HK Golfer・FEB/MAR 2010

HKGOLFER.COM

HKGOLFER.COM

HK Golfer・FEB/MAR 2010

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“Golf invested heavily in Woods and his astonishing performances over the years have brought unprecedented popularity, progress and riches to the game. But for all that brilliance, the public, the galleries, was asked to pay a price too.”

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o what does the game of golf do now? I n t hat ea rly November morning, Tiger Woods’ ha lo did more than just slip, it went clattering down his driveway along with his credibility. Golf fans around the world have every single reason to feel betrayed, too, a sense that has continued to grow as time – and Woods’ silence – have worn on. Collectively, you see, we have been sold a pup. Or a dog, as Woods’ wife Elin is no doubt thinking every spare minute or so. It might be a small mercy in the face of private tears and public humiliation but at least she’ll get a massive payout to ease the pain. We are just left to feel embarrassed and slightly soiled by the whole sordid affair. Golf invested heavily in Woods and his astonishing performances over the years have brought unprecedented popularity, progress and riches to the game. But for all that brilliance, the public, the galleries, was asked to pay a price too. We had to turn a blind eye to Woods’ tantrums while playing, the swearing and the spitting. And the poor press pack – bellies buffet-binge-full thanks to that extra money around the game – had to grin and nod along through interview session after interview session as Woods turned the monotone up to full bore. In turn we not only believed the hype fuelled by Woods’ army of advisors, it made us go weak at the knees. It had started of course with the childhood appearances on TV and it was nurtured willingly thanks to Woods’ father Earl, who famously once claimed his son would “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.’’ As the titles came, along with a dominance of the game never seen before, Woods retreated into his own world, to emerge only when his time absolutely suited and – let’s not forget here – was handsomely compensated. Burned by a GQ article in 1997, when the reporter had the gall to present the then 21-yearold as the fratboy he still was, Woods and his advisers obviously decided the best way to deal with the prying public was to keep it as far away as possible. Thus Privacy is the name of his yacht and we’ve never really been given a chance to get a glimpse of what makes the man tick. Didn’t stop us investing though. You paid top dollar to watch the man play, even more if you wanted to wear the same watches he did, drive the same cars – in some small way get close to living the same life. We believed what golf – and Woods – wanted us to believe. This was a man beyond reproach,

HK Golfer・FEB/MAR 2010

Tainted BY MATHEW SCOTT untouchable to mere mortals as he proved unplayable to his opponents. Woods gave golf credibility when the world’s other major events – from baseball, through athletics and everywhere in between – were tainted by scandals and by lies. Or so it seemed. And therein lies the crunch. Woods was of course never ever anything more than human – but that’s the last thing he and golf wanted the world to believe. Golf put him above everyone else – and Woods willingly allowed it. And, in the end, that is exactly what has hurt the game. It was during the bar-room banter that inevitably followed all the sordid allegations that I saw first-hand the effect of Woods fall from grace has had on golf itself. We were laughing – all but one. “I feel like a fool as I actually believed he was somehow above all the other s—,’’ he said. Woods still believes he is, too. Not a word to the millions of fans that followed him. Religiously. He has only ever given begrudgingly and now he gives nothing at all. His former coach Butch Harmon agrees that this is where the most damage is being done. The fans – the people who make the game happen – have found out just what they mean in the whole scheme of things. Nothing. “The golfing public would like to see Tiger Woods do a press conference,’’ Harmon told The Guardian. “To stand there in front of everybody, take his medicine, be humble, be embarrassed, be humiliated, and answer the questions. But where the hell is he? We could find Osama bin Laden easier than we can find Tiger Woods. How long can you spend on a yacht in the middle of the ocean?’’ We don’t know the final price golf will pay – but pay it will. Woods will return and the fans will no doubt want their pound of flesh. Just how he deals with it – and what the golfing authorities do to protect him, or support him when the hecklers come – remains to be seen. But that nasty taste won’t go away soon. Woods wasn’t in the end the Messiah at all. Just a very naughty boy. Mathew Scott is a Hong Kong-based sports writer HKGOLFER.COM

Not Tainted BY ALEX JENKINS

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hat Tiger Woods is the biggest draw in professional golf goes without saying. It’s no secret that when Woods plays, audiences – both at home and at the golf course – tune in and turn up. We knew this long before the words ‘fire hydrant’, ‘Ambien’ and ‘VIP hostess’ entered the golfing lexicon. But to suggest that golf itself has been tarred as a result of his (multiple) indiscretions is absurd. No one man is bigger than the game, even if that man happens to be the greatest player that ever lived. Make no mistake, Tiger’s reputation lies in tatters. Portrayed as the family guy who liked nothing more than to spend his off-course time in his Florida mansion with his beautiful wife, two gorgeous children and dogs, Taz and Yogie, Woods’ ‘holier than thou’ existence seemed, even by a professional golfer’s standards, so mundanely serene, so… well, so dreary. He himself claimed as much on his website a few weeks before that infamous Thanksgiving evening, saying, “I think Elin and I have avoided a lot of media attention because we're kind of boring. When we do go out, we like to go to the movies. When we go for dinner, it's usually at the same few restaurants. Mostly, people are very nice and just want to say hi. There are a lot of evenings we'll just rent a movie and stay at home.” This is why the whole sordid story has received the coverage it has. Woods is certainly not the first notable golfer to have committed infidelity – and, statistically speaking, he probably won’t be the last. But why should the fact that he – and his entourage – claimed to be someone he’s not in any way tarnish the reputation of the sport in which he excels? It’s true that there have been a lot of gloomy predictions about the impact the scandal and his self-imposed hiatus will have on the game – and impact there undoubtedly will be. But perhaps it won’t be as bad as one might imagine. TV ratings when Tiger doesn’t play – as we saw when he missed the second half of the 2008 season through injury – drop markedly, and as a result networks suffer through a reduction in the amount advertisers are willing to shell out. But that’s only TV – and the likely trickledown effects of that – and only if Tiger gives up the game entirely (an unlikely scenario) – would only impact upon the professional game. The more important questions HKGOLFER.COM

to ask are: will weekend hackers stop buying the latest equipment? Will chums stop going away for overseas golf trips? Will the other 99.6 percent of golfers who play as amateurs give up the game altogether? The answer, according to marketing experts, is a definite no. “Tiger doesn't affect rounds played,” says Tom Stine, a co-founder of Golf Datatech, a market research firm. “The average player doesn't care if Tiger's playing. They'll play golf no matter what.” Stine, whose company provides research to most equipment makers, also predicted that Tiger's absence won't have a major impact on the golf equipment industry as a whole. “People don't give up an obsession because of one person.” In fact, the case could be argued that Tiger’s offcourse shenanigans are less of a turn off to most lovers of the game than his actual on-course antics. Let’s face it, when he’s not firing on all cylinders, Tiger surely ranks up there among the most petulant players in history. The club-throwing, the cursing, the tongue-lashing he’s given photographers over the years – there’s little wonder why he’s purported to be the most-fined golfer on the PGA Tour. That, more than anything he’s done on his own time away from the course, makes him less than the ideal role model. The intriguing situation that we now face – and by ‘we’ I mean the media, the fans and indeed anyone associated with the game – is that Tiger, indirectly or directly, now has the ability to make golf more exciting than it has ever been. When Tiger was at the top of his game, winning majors left right and centre, it made for compelling viewing. But by the same token, there was always the feeling that his opponents – until YE Yang, that is – lacked the self belief to really look him in the eyes and take him on. It was if they really did think he was the Messiah, that he was unbeatable, that everyone other player was playing a supporting role in the golf show that was Tiger Woods. Well, the aura that he used so effectively has well and truly gone and you can bet that his closest pursuers – the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ror y Mc I l roy, A nt hony K i m a nd L ee Westwood – are relishing his return. Regardless of what happens in his personal life – and it would be wrong for this writer to voice any opinion – the hope is that he returns at the earliest opportunity, and if that means we have to endure a Tiger heart-to-heart with Oprah then so be it. With the Masters only two months away, what golf wants is a focused and refreshed – and dare I say it, a more humble – Woods gunning for Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 majors with the next generation of stars embracing the opportunity to usurp his number one status. You never know, we could be heading into the most interesting era championship golf has ever seen. Alex Jenkins is editor of HK Golfer

“The intriguing situation that we now face is that Tiger, indirectly or directly, now has the ability to make golf more exciting than it has ever been… you can bet that his closest pursuers are relishing his return.”

HK Golfer・FEB/MAR 2010

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