On Sunday, Sahalee Country Club hosted one of the most compelling duels 2016 will produce. But did you watch? Did you care?
SAMMAMISH — Did you see it? Did you care?
The answer to both questions is probably “no.”
There’s a reason for that, though. It’s because Tiger Woods is no longer good at golf.
Not following? You will in a second.
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On Sunday, Sahalee Country Club hosted one of the most compelling duels 2016 will produce. It featured 18-year-old Brooke Henderson outlasting 19-year-old Lydia Ko to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in a playoff.
The putts were clutch. The approaches were stiff. The recoveries were downright sorcerous.
But did you watch? Did you care?
Before the tournament began, USA Today columnist Christine Brennan penned a piece lamenting the public’s indifference toward the LPGA Tour. She mentioned names such as Ko — who fell just shy of winning her third consecutive major — along with seven-time major winner Inbee Park and potential Olympic gold medalist Lexi Thompson.
But after praising the Tour’s allure, she offered an explanation for the lack of mainstream interest: Woods has spent the past 20 years bogarting golf’s spotlight.
Au contraire, Christine.
I agreed with Brennan’s stance regarding the appeal of the LPGA. I agree with it even more after watching Sunday’s Tony-worthy theatrics between Henderson and Ko.
But the reality is, Woods didn’t dull the LPGA flame during the height of his power. He brightened it.
Spend an hour asking casual sports fans to name notable female golfers from the past two decades. I can almost guarantee that Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Se Ri Pak, and Lorena Ochoa would round out the top four.
You might get a Paula Creamer or Morgan Pressel in there, but that would only accentuate the point: Their breakouts were all concurrent with Tiger’s brilliance.
For the first 12 years of his professional career, Woods’ magic wand touched every corner of the golf universe. It turned a haughty sport into a hip one and spiked interest among both sexes.
A colleague of mine once joked that the five major American sports leagues were the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and Tiger Woods. My only discrepancy was whether hockey belonged on that list.
Yes, birdies and pars were at the forefront of the U.S. sports scene at the time, and anyone on the periphery benefitted. Think of it as though golf was Broadway and Tiger was “Hamilton.” When a musical attracts millions of people from an entirely new demographic, surely some will take note of the other shows, too, right?
Sorenstam was superb on Tour, but the fact that her achievements mirrored Tiger’s escalated her fame exponentially. Wie was as precocious as they come, but comparisons with Woods added about a million watts to her limelight. Pak was a trendsetter, but it didn’t hurt that she won a major at 20 the year after Tiger won one at 21.
Woods in his prime was like a creatine shake. You would have been big without him — but with him, you’d be huge.
This isn’t a male/female thing, by the way. This is a Tiger Woods/everybody else thing. He took also-rans such as Bob May, Chris DiMarco and Rocco Mediate and made them celebrities. But these days? Not so much.
It’s easy to forget how big of a phenomenon Woods really was. Arguing that his was the most recognizable face on the planet would not have been hyperbole. Golf is better off because he played it, but to expect it to ever be as popular is wishful thinking.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity here, though.
The show Henderson and Ko put on Sunday was worthy of a mainstream audience’s time. And if these two stay on top of their games, there is potential for sequel upon sequel upon sequel.
If you want to know why more people aren’t watching, Tiger might be the reason. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a reason to watch.