When a certain Eldrick “Tiger” Woods turned professional in 1996 the world of professional golf changed too. Fitter, more athletic and arguably simply better than his peers, Tiger dominated the game. On the back of his success and inevitable rise to number one in the rankings, prize money increased, sponsorship and advertising revenues shot up as everyone wanted a piece of the action.
It was predicted that the way Woods had become a global brand would lead to a significant increase, not only in other black American golfers coming onto the PGA tour but of a worldwide explosion in golf popularity as children all over the world took up the game to emulate the new hero.
All that has now changed, certainly for the time being. His off course behaviour has been well documented and the legacy fully felt financially and emotionally. There has been a continuing battle with injury and a bitter split with long-term caddie Steve Williams. Despite working with several coaches there is a swing that for now betrays him as his ignominious missed cut at the USPGA showed. It is a cause for concern for all involved in the Woods camp as he enters free fall in the world rankings. His pursuit of a record number of Major victories seems certain to fall short. So, what of the predicted revolution? Did Tiger really change the game, professionally and for the amateur that much and will others follow in his footsteps?
Pictures gallery: Tiger Woods and Steve Williams split
Perhaps one man did predict the future. At the end of the 1960s, Joe Dey, the first commissioner of the PGA Tour, forecast that the number of coloured golf pros would enter a long-term decline, saying: “By the turn of the century, there may not be one black playing the Tour.” Apart from Tiger Woods, Dey turned out to be more accurate than all those pundits who predicted that with Woods as a role model, numerous black stars would quickly emerge. Woods is now the only black American on the Tour (and he’s as Asian as he is black). This is fewer than at any time since the PGA revoked its “Caucasian-only” policy in 1961.
There have been five other black winners on tour since Charlie Sifford gained his PGA playing rights in 1961. Pete Brown became the first in 1964, followed by Sifford himself, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe. Apart from Woods where is the next up and coming torch bearer. Is it just the professional ranks that have failed to see anyone follow the mercurial Pied Piper? What about the amateur game, particularly at grass roots level?
Whilst I still see youngsters at the local driving range and municipal courses, has there really been a long-term change in the number of newcomers to the game. Are we not more likely to see a McIlroy factor for a change in people playing now the young man has bagged his first Major and being a home grown winner to boot? From my casual observations over the last few years, there are still people getting into the game but again, the number of black players, indeed from any diverse ethnicities still seems shamefully low.
Do the casual golfer and armchair fan even relate to Woods anymore with the emergence of a new crop of young stars like McIlroy and Fowler? Perhaps I’m being naïve in thinking Tiger’s dominance would really lead to a great take up in the game here in Britain where despite the admiral and persistent work of the Golf Foundation and other similar organisations, it seems that for many the sport of golf holds an elitist tag and still remains inaccessible to many. With tougher economic times, I’m sure a lot of kids today are being pushed into football or even street sports like basketball where income, race and background aren’t questioned.
I’m sure a lot of casual players and indeed some of the new crop of professional were inspired by Tiger and there is no doubt that he has to have had some positive impact, globally when he was in full pomp. I suggest however that the predicted revolution may never arrive and that for all that he has achieved, and may go onto do, Woods will not be remembered as the man who changed the face of the golfing world as so many once predicted. For me he is a Pied Piper without followers.