Tiger Woods Effect on the Game of Golf
I’m not foolish enough to think I’m pointing out anything profound here in this piece, re: Tiger’s effect on the game of golf. You know it, I know it and Tiger knows it. But, I’ve always been a numbers guy and I thought it would be of at least a little interest to highlight some of the amazing changes around the great game since Tiger came a long and became a household name.
Let’s take a look at this from the analytical point of view, we’ll have a little fun and we’ll throw in a little feel as well. In my opinion Tiger has changed the game in 3 major categories Tour Money, Globalization and Talent Level.
Don’t forget to watch the Tiger Highlight Video at the end of the post. The US Open Shots with the Broken Leg and the unbelievable chip at the Masters! Just amazing!
Tiger turned pro in 1996 and immediately made a splash with massive endorsement deals with American Express and Nike Golf. Now, it may sound very normal to the younger golf fan that Nike is in the golf game. However, this wasn’t the case in 1995. In 1995 Nike was very much a newcomer to the game of golf, they pretty much bet the farm on Tiger when they made this move. From what I remember they gave him a $50 million deal. Needless to say this had a major effect on endorsements, the average tour player is not only cleaning up in prize money but, Million Dollar equipment deals are now small-time.
How Much Are Tour Players Earning
Let’s talk about tour money for a minute, I decided to break this chart into 5 year increments so you can see the drastic change over the specified time period 1985 – 2010:
In 1985 Curtis Strange was the top money leader on tour, he won 3 times and he earned a total of $542,321. In 1985 he was the only player on tour to earn in excess of $500,000. The Inflation calculator to the left would indicate that normal rates on inflation would have put Curtis Strange’s $500k at $1.013 million in todays terms. That is a 100% increase but the Tiger Effect has created GREATER THAN 1,000% inflation of winnings on Tour.
Take a look at this chart and you will see that drastic spike in winnings after 1995. This chart shows the number of players who earned greater than $500,000 and the number of players who earned over $1,000,000 in the given years. The pre-Tiger era between 1985 and 1995 was loaded with some of the greatest players of all time including Payne Stewart, Tom Watson, Ray Floyd, Mark O’Meara, Tom Kite, Paul Azinger and Greg Norman. I think it would be safe to say that in this Post Arnold and Nicklaus but pre-Tiger era Norman had the most profound effect on the game globally.
Now, I mentioned that Norman was a worldwide household name in golf land just prior to the Tiger Woods era. Aside from a couple well documented collapses at Augusta he was winning everything in sight. He was playing the US tour with just about the same frequency that Tiger was during his reign at the top. He was a very marketable face and name, he had a good nick-name “The Shark” and he was one of the first, other than Gary Player, to tout healthy living in the game of golf. So, worldwide presence, major victories, 20 wins on the US tour, 71 victories outside the US, good looking guy, great nick-name, why didn’t he do for golf what Tiger did?
I want to highlight Norman because he was the superstar and he was the pre-eminent name in golf just prior to Woods. Did he create the gateway for Tiger? Did he loosen up the wallets of equipment endorsements? Did he loosen up the corporate dollars? Maybe, but he didn’t create young golfers and he didn’t get non-golfers…golfing.
Most important to the almighty dollar discussion was the fact that he didn’t earn any MONEY! In 1996 Greg Norman became the first player on tour to win $10,000,000 in his career. Norman went on to earn over $14 million on tour but let’s take a look at that “First over $10 million” fact. Norman hit the 10 mill mark in 1996…in the year 2000 just 4 years later Tiger won $9,200,000 in a single year. This didn’t take 10 years or 20 years it only took 4 years for someone to make as much money in a single year as one of the greatest golfers of all time earned in his entire career!
Now, I wanted to share this graphic I created with you but I want to make a couple things clear. I don’t want anyone to think that I am diminishing Norman’s career at all and I specifically don’t want anyone to think that I am diminishing Brian Gay’s career at all. I am simply pointing out the amazing things that Tiger Woods has accomplished particularly pertaining to the effect he had on the ability for others to make massive amounts of money. You will see in this chart, 3 career totals next to each other, Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Brian Gay.
I’m not saying Brian Gay is a nobody, obviously he’s not, somehow he has been able to earn as much money in his career as Greg Norman did! I think you would have to admit that if most people, myself included, bumped into Brian Gay at the grocery store and started a conversation with him, they would have absolutely no clue they were speaking to someone who is on the verge of eclipsing Greg Norman’s career earnings mark.
I only pick Brian Gay out of the crowd here because, he got started on tour right around when Tiger did and when Norman was exiting. This combined with the fact he was on the career earnings list next to Norman makes him the subject of this demo. Sorry Brian!
Tiger Caused Globalization of Golf
I’m not going to spend too much time on this part of the Tiger Effect. I think it has been very well documented that golf is sky-rocketing in Asia, the Middle East, South and Central America and Australia. The most profound part of the world in terms of growth in specifically talent is the European Tour. As I write this the Top 4 players on earth and 6 of the Top 10 are Europeans. There is a simple and fundamental reason why this is the case. Their top players are better than ours right now. It is easy to banter about how the World Golf Rankings are skewed to International Play, maybe they are, maybe they aren’t I don’t care because when I look at the top players in the index they are by far the best!
Europe holds the Top 4, they hold 6 of the Top 10 and 11 of the Top 21. When I look at this list and see Phil Mickelson and Tiger in there hogging two spots in the top 10, I can’t help but feel that maybe the World Golf Rankings are skewed towards the US? You tell me?
Back on The Tiger Effect. I am well aware that Europe developed the game of golf to the game it is today. They have been playing golf in or near its current form in Scotland for the last 600 years. OK, then please explain why it took a GREAT US PLAYER named Tiger Woods to make their tour viable? The European Tour was nothing more than an afterthought when I started watching golf almost 20 years ago. The Asian and South African Tours were just as relevant as the European Tour was. The only reason European players were even known at all was because of the Ryder Cup. There were a few standouts Nick Faldo specifically but really that was pretty much it back prior to Woods?
With all these hundreds of years of golf history, only in the last 10 to 15 years has the European Tour gained relevance? Now that it is relevant and the courses they are playing don’t resemble local muni’s, suddenly these guys are waking up and dominating. Is this because of Tiger’s amazing effect on the globalization and popularity of golf? Was Tiger able to take 600 years of history and finally show them how to capitalize, in only 15 years? If so then I think that the world in general should all send this guy a Thank You card.
Tiger’s Effect on Scoring and Skill Level in Golf
This is the Tiger Effect that I feel has had the most profound effect on the game of golf. The fact is that the skill level around the world has sky-rocketed. Some if this is demonstrated in the graph a couple of paragraphs down and some of it is just plain feel. The feel part is this. In the early 1990’s when I started playing golf, it was absolutely impossible to find anyone my age to play with. I didn’t have any golf buddies under the age of 45, keep in mind that I was in my late teens and early 20’s. Not only could I not find anyone to play with but the people my age that I did see on the course and at the practice facility I worked at S*UCKED. Young talent at that point was very much a hard thing to find, it existed but it was rare.
Fast forward to today. Last summer I was at a local 9 hole course and I got paired with two kids of high school age, one was 17 and one was 18. They didn’t warm up, no range and no putts. The first hole is a short par 4 of approximately 290 yards. The wind is always in your face and when I pummel a driver I’m lucky to have a 30 or 40 yard pitch. The 17 year old put the ball over the green and the 18 year old put it on the fringe, off the tee. This course isn’t the toughest course on earth but it’s a decent little 9 hole par 36 challenge. These kids are casual players, it’s not like they were being recruited by Georgia Tech or anything. The younger of the two shot 37 and the 18 year old shot 39. THANK YOU TIGER.
This mockery of the game is not just exclusive to these two young kids, it has become the norm. I know what you’re thinking and I know that you will say it is because of equipment. Well, I’m not stupid and I know that equipment has absolutely positively changed the game forever. But, back in 1993 you could give the best high-school player I knew a 2011 R11, matching Taylor Made Irons, an Odyssey DART Putter and a sleeve of PROV1-X and they couldn’t shoot 50 on that course. MOST IMPORTANLTY that course would not have existed if Tiger Woods hadn’t.
Did you register that last comment? That course would not have existed if Tiger hadn’t. The research information I could find on this topic stated that there were approximately 14,000 golf courses in America in 1995. In 100 years of golf course building in America we averaged about 140 courses a year. From 1995 through 2008 we added something in the range of 4,000 golf courses or 307 new courses each year. WOW! In Tiger’s first thirteen years, the United States added 29% of it’s all time golf course supply. That is pretty amazing.
This amazing demand for golf, the same demand that built all those courses, has driven the demand for BETTER EQUIPMENT! The equipment will only achieve what the market allows it to! Now, I’m not saying that Tiger Invented Titanium don’t get me wrong. But it is a fact that if there was no market to spend $400 on a driver and $900 on a set of Callaway Irons and $58 on a sleeve of golf balls then the very equipment that made everyone better wouldn’t have existed.
The market had to be there and it had to be a larger slice of the population than fat white guys. It also had to be a global market, not just a demographic market, in order to sustain the amount of R&D that goes into this equipment today.
Back on the talent thing, I don’t have to tell you that the world of young golf talent has benefited immensely from The Tiger Woods Effect. We have seen young players become active in a sport that for hundreds of years was dominated by fat white guys, this is great but; Tiger has actually created a much deeper talent base on tour as well.
Take a look at this graphic. This graphic demonstrates the total number of players on the PGA Tour who for any given year since 1991 had a season long scoring average under 71. Here is the important thing to point out. We just discussed Tiger’s effect on bringing golf to young golfers. What you will notice in this graphic is that the number of tour players who had a scoring average under 71 changed very little between 1991 and 2005.
I point this out because if the argument is going to be made that it’s all equipment then we should have seen a huge increase between 1991 and 2005. This was the era that brought Titanium and high-performance golf balls.
We didn’t see that huge increase in number of tour players with a lower scoring average during the equipment era? Why Not?
Well, we mentioned it earlier. The crop of young Tiger Worshippers had a gestation period. The 14 year old who watched Tiger win his first Green Jacket BY 12 STROKES and set an all-time Masters Record by going south of par by 18 SHOTS in 1997 was all grown up by 2005! That young, impressionable NON-GOLFER became a player.
When the young talent started to pop up on the secondary tours here in the US and around the world in 2005 everyone was forced to pick up the game. Suddenly everyone on tour is in shape, everyone’s eating right, fitness vans, swing coaches on the range, sports psychologists, I think you get it. When the Tiger Effect had a chance to set in everyone had to pick it up and this is demonstrated right here in this graph.
The number of players who achieved a season-long scoring average under 71 was mostly static from 1991 with 71, to 2005 with 78. Between 2005 and 2010 that number ballooned to 129 players with a scoring average under 71.
Further supporting the idea that Tiger made the scores better by demanding a higher level of competition and adding to the idea that it wasn’t just equpiment, I would ike to share this graphic with you. What we see here is that golfers have consistently been gaining distance on tour. This said it is easy to just pass it off as equipment is adding distance thus shortening golf courses and making it easier to shoot lower scores.
I would argue that distance hasn’t been the answer over the last 5 years. We discussed it earlier when I demonstarted the number of players with a Season Long Scoring Average under 71. Well, in the graphic below you will see that distance has been level over the last 5 years among the longest hitters and I showed you earlier that the number of players with a Scoring Average under 71 has sky-rocketed.
Tiger has given us a great gift, a gift that nobody else in history was quite able to give us. I am completely conscious of what Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan gave us, it doesn’t matter how long we keep going with this list. NOBODY and I mean NOBODY was able to add to their game quite the way TIGER DID! Tiger Woods single-handedly grew awareness for the game we love and that awareness lifted the entire Golf World. Thank You Tiger.
I’ll leave you with this, what if Tiger hadn’t existed? Where would US golf be? Where would World Golf be? Would the course you play at today still be filled with trees?
I am interested to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment below if you have any thoughts.