Gerrit van Rooyen
A golf legend rises again
Tiger Woods victory of the 2019 Masters tournament was one of the greatest comeback stories in the sport’s history. Woods came back to win his fifth Masters, second only to Jack Nicklaus, at the age of 43 after a decade long slump.
That in itself is an impressive feat. But it’s what transpired in those ten years that really makes the story. Of course, none of us will have forgotten all the personal scandals that saturated the news ten years ago. Then the conviction for drunk driving came. Tiger’s pristine image of the bright-eyed 20-year-old golf prodigy took a hit. A big one. This is perhaps what leads to his decade long slump. Injuries and surgeries had come again and again. Two years ago, it seems unlikely that he would be able to return to the game after withdrawing from the Masters due to a major back surgery which fused his spine. There was even a point where he could barely move without pain. To be golfing again after that amount of time is incredible. To win the Masters tournament? Monumental.
Despite his torrid history fans of the game rejoiced at Tiger’s victory. The fact of it is, he has changed the image of golf during his successful run which started in the late 90s. Once a sport with an elitist, white-washed image, was forever altered when a 21-year-old Tiger won his first Masters in 1997. It got a wider range of people excited about the game, turning them into avid fans or getting them on the greens.
Many of the ways golf has changed in the last decades have been attributed to Tiger’s going pro. The first is the athleticism and youth of its players. Today, most pro golfers are truly considered to be athletes. Not only do they practice their technique, but spend hours at the gym getting their bodies to peak performance. This wasn’t always considered so important to be a golfer but Tiger made a rigorous exercise regime the norm.
The second is opening the door to players going pro earlier. By leaving uni to go pro at the age of 20, it encouraged young golfers to go pro earlier. Before this, it was the norm to at least finish uni first if not wait even longer before going pro, but once Tiger did it many followed suit by only going a year or two or even forgoing uni all together to start their golfing career.
The third change is the layout and length of the courses. This was because the way Tiger played was so different and new he could too easily dominate the traditional course. Courses needed to “tiger-proof” by lengthening the courses, narrowing the fairways and increasing the roughs.
Lastly, due to the popularity that Tiger brought to the sport, prize funds got larger, TV coverage got better and fans grew in numbers. These are not small increases either. We’re talking 4 times the prize pool and with better TV coverage means better endorsements. Playing golf is more of a cash cow than it once more.
So what’s next after Tiger’s latest win? Maybe it won’t be as dramatic changes as his first win but I’m sure there is a new surge of interest. Most non-golfers wouldn’t have heard about the results of the 2019 Masters if it wasn’t Tiger that won. More importantly, though, it’s a lesson of hope for anyone out there but a miraculous comeback, against all odds and hardships, is always possible only if you are determined enough.