Marino Speaks - The Tiger Effect on Golf

By: Marino Parascenzo

At Tiger Woods' victory in the recent World Golf Championships-Cadillac Champion, I was reminded of those wonderfully hokey old horse movies on late-night TV.

The story line holds that a the kid - maybe Elizabeth Taylor - through sheer love and devotion, nurses a spindly colt through various dangers, and when it's all grown up and sleek and strong, the loving family enters it in the big race, where it's unknown and received with contempt. And then the much-loved ex-spindly colt pounds down the backstretch to a great victory, justifying all that faith, and the railbirds who just knew things would be good are banging on the rails and cheering and waving their tickets, and the kid and the family are all aglow.

Gosh-darn and golly ned, the Good Lord did the right thing, and now everything's going to be all right.

No, this is not to liken Tiger Woods to a horse. In this parable, it's the railbirds we're looking at. Woods has won the Cadillac, his second title of the year already, and so for the first time in five years he has two victories heading into the Masters. The cry has gone throughout the land - Tiger is back!

These particular railbirds are all the rest of golf - above all, the TV people, beseeching the heavens for ratings, and manufacturers of clubs and balls and other equipment, and also golf courses, country clubs and the like.

Tiger Woods, so low all these years since the Fire Hydrant Episode in 2009, has risen, and now he will save golf.

That's the romantic version. This is the pragmatic question: Assuming Woods will even approach being the dominant force he used to be, what effect will that have on golf?

The answer is - none.

OK, let's look on the bright side. Very little, at best.

As to his personal fortune, this recent success will have a pretty hefty effect what with endorsements and appearance money being what they are (the tournament earnings are side money). But as to the sagging game itself, the return of Woods will have the impact of getting hit in a pillow fight.

About as much impact as he had back when he was the original Tiger Woods.

I realize there will be cries of outrage and heresy at these statements. There will be screams that I am desecrating Tiger Woods. These will come from people who really can't read, and who see only what they want to see.

Let me note, by way of self-defense, that I've covered Woods since he first came out and I am second to no one in my admiration of his abilities. Let me sum him up by saying that he has long since exhausted the known supply of adjectives. When he was on his game, one simply ran out of words to describe his play.

But we're not talking about Woods' game here, but about his impact on the game itself.

True, he sent TV ratings into uncharted thin air (for golf, that is), and he inspired bulging live galleries wherever he played.

This means that Woods' great impact has been on the watching of golf.

As to the playing of the game by others - think of the revolution Arnold Palmer triggered - he hasn't caused a ripple.

Play in general fell over the years, even when Woods was at his best. The industry was wringing its hands. Play increased in 2012, but there was no indication that anyone credited the stirring of Woods. The stirring, however, was noted by TV people. The ratings rocketed when he played.

When Woods came out in 1996, it was believed he would inspire great play by blacks. There was a flurry in the late 1990s, but it quickly died out. According to figures from the National Golf Foundation, which tracks such material, play by blacks actually declined. Woods' success did nothing to attract other blacks into the pro ranks, and he remains the only one on the PGA Tour. And as to the rise of Asian golf - one needs only to look at the purses on the tours, the growth of tourism, the rise of relocated industrialism, and other social and commercial factors to understand what's fueling the game there.

The picture continues to be dreary in the United States. Even a slight increase in play in 2012 hasn't brightened the scene materially. Some broad-brush information: The NGF reported that in 2012, 13 new courses opened, but that 154 closed. The drop in courses grinds on. The number of golfers has shrunk steadily, from a high of some 30 million in 2005 to 25.7 million in 2011. To manufacturers, course owners and resorts, these numbers have punch.

The game is still the greatest ever, but it does not go untouched by the forces that surround it. If there are any general answers to the decline, these two might do for openers: Time was when corporations could take memberships in country clubs and use them as entertainment vehicles, among other things. A change in the federal tax laws stopped that in the early 1990s (before Woods arrived). Clubs have been in decline ever since.

The recession that hit in 2007 speaks for itself. People change: golfing dads become soccer dads, joining soccer moms, and who has all day to devote to a round of golf?

And equipment? Got to have marquee names. So, drivers go for $300 to $600, irons $1,000 a set, a dozen balls in the $40-$50 range. We can put you on the first tee to for, oh, say, 2 thou. Enjoy - if you can put that tuition payment and the mortgage out of your mind.

So we approach the Masters: Tiger Woods going for his 15th major, hasn't won one since 2008 U.S. Open, chasing Jack Nicklaus' all-time record of 18. Maybe going for a Grand Slam.

And so the railbirds - the TV people, and the manufacturers, resorts, public courses, etc., etc. - are leaping up and down, rooting Tiger Woods home.

The old Tiger Woods is back. He will save the game.

Don't bet on it.

Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.