- Cape student sues, accuses school officials of slamming her to ground multiple times (04/28/16)44
- Bob Evans restaurant in Cape Girardeau among chain's 21 closings (04/26/16)9
- Missouri House votes to allow concealed weapons without permits (04/28/16)6
- Two hurt in motorcycle wreck on Interstate 55 (04/25/16)1
- Law firm requests information about Cape's traffic cameras (04/25/16)2
- Local lawmakers split over failed medical marijuana bill; voters may have a say (04/26/16)19
- Police report filed, but no charges in incident at Cape Central (04/29/16)35
- Tanker truck catches fire near Oak Ridge (04/24/16)7
- Local company makes eco-friendly kitty litter that cuts cat-box smell (04/25/16)
- Senator introduces bill for I-57 that would connect Sikeston with Little Rock (04/28/16)4
Golf is struggling much like Woods
It is a folly to figure out golf. One day a golfer can do no wrong, another day he can do no right. A ball at rest on a tee can seem imperious or inviting. Love and hate come and go with each swing.
There is something wonderfully satisfying in seeing even the most masterful player in the universe, Tiger Woods, hooking drives and misreading putts. For the briefest moment, he becomes one with the duffer, threatening mayhem with his clubs as he chops through the air.
Woods' woes in the majors this year opened the way for four men to leap from anonymity to the Grand Slam spotlight. Each was a good story, yet the TV ratings would suggest that the sport, even more than Woods, is in a slump. All four of the year's majors drew lower ratings than in 2002 -- Sunday's final round at the PGA Championship 41 percent lower than last year's.
When Woods was winning them all, there was some hand-wringing in golf circles that his dominance eventually would lead to indifference among fans. The golf boom he supposedly had sparked would collapse without rivals to challenge him.
That logic was flawed on two counts.
Fans tuned in to watch Woods win. The more he won and the larger his margin of victory, the more they watched.
As far as the golf boom, it was an overblown notion from the start, a concoction of wishful thinking by the tours, the golfing industry and greedy developers hoping to cash in by jazzing up tract homes with nine-hole courses. Millions took up the game and millions dropped it, finding it neither easy nor cheap to play.
In a sinking economy, with upper and middle management suffering along with everyone else, it suddenly wasn't too cool to brag about a new $500 titanium driver. Companies didn't hand out $20,000-a-year club memberships as perks quite so readily. Dot-com millionaires didn't stick around long enough to learn how to chip. Baby boom players on public courses found they could save a little discretionary money and enjoy their weekends just as much by going to their grandkids' soccer games.
Golf course construction has slowed, as has rounds played and balls sold.
In most sports, there is little correlation between those who play and those who watch. Tens of millions watch football, but relatively few play. Millions ride bicycles without going to bike races. In golf, as in tennis, there's a closer relationship between fans and participants, and the demographics of both are changing thanks to Woods and the Williams sisters.
In 1993, a study by the Sports Marketing Group found that golf was the third most-hated sport in the country after pro wrestling and boxing. In a recent telephone poll by the same group, conducted as a prelude to another in-depth study, not much had changed, with about 30 percent of the overall population saying they hate or dislike the pro golf tours.
Looked at another way, among those who love or like a sport a lot, golf showed a slight improvement, with the PGA Tour's approval numbers creeping up from 12.3 percent to 14.3. By comparison, team sport popularity fell almost across the board over the past decade, with the exception of collegiate sports.
Not surprisingly, the biggest gains in golf were seen among black fans and teenagers turned on by Woods' success. More than three times as many black fans -- 13.4 percent -- say they love or like the PGA now compared to 1993.
"Golf is increasing its cool because of one man -- Tiger Woods," Sports Marketing Group managing director Nye Lavalle said. "We see the same thing happening in women's tennis because of the Williams sisters. Women's tennis is twice as popular as men's tennis right now. Without question it's because of Venus and Serena Williams."
The NFL is still the country's most popular sport, though even its approval numbers slipped. The Winter and Summer Olympics remained popular, as did college football. Baseball's approval numbers softened. So, too, did the NBA's.
"All the rampant problems of pro sports -- crime, arrogant athletes, soaring salaries -- have created a big disconnect with fans," Lavalle said. "The pro team sports especially have been alienating their fan base."
Golf fans may seem fickle, turning off the tournaments when Woods isn't playing well, but in truth he's the reason many of them were turning it on in the first place. For a while at least, as Woods goes, so goes the PGA Tour.
"There's going to come a time when people get saturated with Tiger," Lavalle said. "They can see now that he's not a god, that he doesn't win every week. But when he gets close to records, they're going to watch. When he's winning two or three tournaments in a row, they're going to watch. When he's winning by a huge margin, they're going to watch. They want to see him run away with tournaments."
That, no doubt, will happen again. For true fans of the game, though, the time to watch Woods is also now when he's struggling and grimacing and flailing in frustration. It will make watching him later on all the more rewarding.
Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.