“While I continue to work hard on getting healthy, I’m not physically ready to play in this year’s U.S. Open…” so said Tiger Woods on June 8th, 2016 referring to the national championship he has won three times. Woods is recovering from two back surgeries and hasn’t played competitive golf since last August when he finished in the top 10 at The Wyndham Championship. Some opined and many hoped Tiger would tee it up at Jack’s tournament in Dublin, Ohio in preparation for Oakmont, but he didn’t. Predictor’s penned that he would certainly play in his own tournament, The Quicken Loans National, which benefits The Tiger Woods Foundation starting the road back which would include The British Open in July. Tiger’s announcement on Wednesday included the news that he would be skipping Congressional too. Tiger’s recovery, or lack thereof, continues to fuel the narrative that he is done for good, his career as a professional athlete is over.
I saw him in the booth during the telecast of the Quicken Loans National on Sunday. He looked good, sounded moderately hopeful but still said he couldn’t say whether or not he would play again this year. He said he wanted to, hoped to, but left doubt as to whether or not he would ever again compete at the game’s highest level. If it is indeed the end for Tiger Woods as a competitive professional golfer (and I don’t believe for a minute that it is) then I say simply, Thank You Tiger.
Tiger Woods made golf cool and great and interesting and must see sports TV for more than one generation of fans. He added to the coffers of several major companies which had never before had a presence in the golf space. He helped power the engine of, what at the time was, the only television channel dedicated to one single sport. Hell he WAS the engine and the transmission and the tires and the mirrors and you get the idea. Certainly The Golf Channel might have never gotten on the air without the great Arnold Palmer but it would have never stayed on the air without the great Tiger Woods.
Because of Joe Gibbs, Bob Greenway, Gary Stevenson, Mike Whelan, David Graham, Paul Farnsworth, Jeff Gershengorn and maybe a couple others I was awarded the honor of being the channel’s first and for many years only live domestic tournament producer in October of 1994. The network famously flipped the switch and hit the cable airwaves on January 17th, 1995. Tiger Woods was a tropical storm in the amateur golf ocean. He had won three straight United States Junior Amateur Championship in 1991,’92, and ’93 and then he won the U.S. Amateur in 1994. Seven months after Brian Hammons spoke the first words on The Golf Channel’s air Tiger captured his second straight United States Amateur Championship.
NBC had just wrestled the USGA television contract away from ABC, ESPN was still broadcasting golf (and a lot of it), we, at The Golf Channel, were just finding our footing. Crawling before we could walk, teetering on unsteady legs trying to run. Despite that we showed a lot of golf too, The European Tour, The PGA TOUR, The LPGA Tour and the Nike Tour. And we talked. We talked a ton. In fact, probably the most popular show on the channel had “talk” in its title, Peter Kessler’s GOLF TALK LIVE. I say “probably” because nobody had concrete numbers back then to tell us who and how many were tuning in and what they were tuning in to see. When The Golf Channel was showing tournaments, and we televised more than 50 in that first year, we talked. When The Golf Channel wasn’t showing tournaments, we talked. We talked to and about the players, we talked about instruction, we talked about travel and leisure and we talked about equipment. We all worked our tails off, had a ball, survived more than a few bumps in the road, and made it through year one and into year two. Tiger Woods was still churning away in the amateur golf ocean, gaining steam. In 1996, he won his sixth straight National Championship and third consecutive United States Amateur then on August 28th he turned pro in Milwaukee with four simple words, “I guess, hello, world.” A few days later, playing his first Sunday as a pro he made a hole in one. The tropical storm would become a Category 10 hurricane swelling and swirling and strengthening and sweeping the land for the next two decades. It gave everybody on the air and around the water cooler at The Golf Channel something more substantive to talk about for twenty years. And if he is really and truly finished collecting PGA TOUR trophies (he managed to grab 79 of them as well as 14 professional major championships) they’ll be talking about what he accomplished for at least twenty more.
I say Thank You Tiger because he helped make it possible for me to make a difference during a career in TV golf for more than 15 years. He made it possible for me to make lifelong friends, identify formidable foes, visit places I never would have been lucky enough to see and learn about the game, the business and myself. I want to say thank you Tiger because in large part he helped feed my curiosity and my family. Because of his popularity and his genius, I collected a healthy paycheck performing a job in all honesty I would have done for free as part of an industry I loved. Those paychecks put my kids through private school, sent them to college. I’m sure I could have/would have found work somewhere else doing something different but because of Tiger Woods I didn’t have to. He was that rarest of sports figures both magnetic and polarizing, hero and villain, admired and admonished. But love him or loathe him you had to appreciate his greatness. You had to acknowledge his impact. Like Arnold Palmer had 40 years before him, he made the game exciting to the fans who loved golf and compelling to the ones who knew little or nothing about it. He took a niche sport and made it front page news from the mid 1990’s until now.
I hope we haven’t seen the last of Tiger Woods at or near the top of a leaderboard. I’d bet more than a dollar we’ll see that again. But if we have, if we don’t, I’ll say what I hope millions more are thinking… Thank You Tiger.