Is golf better off with the No. 1 ranking up for grabs or with one shining star dominating at the top?
I once asked “the father of televised golf” that question and it seems relevant to revisit today with Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Martin Kaymer all playing the WGC-HSBC Champions with the No. 1 world ranking up for grabs.
Frank Chirkinian, who produced 38 straight Masters’ telecasts for CBS before retiring, never liked the idea of parity in golf.
“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, is it’s always looking for a star,” Chirkinian said. “It’s the only sport where fans will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”
Of course, Mickelson, Westwood and Kaymer are hardly unknowns. The question today is whether golf is star building. If Westwood’s and Kaymer’s stars are rising, if Rory McIlroy wins a major next year, this could be a case of 'the more stars the better' for golf. For the sport’s devoted base, I suspect that’s the case. For the average fan who tunes in for the big events – and now we’re talking about the masses who can make golf more than a niche sport – I suspect the game will never be more watched than when Woods was winning everything.
But if Woods makes his comeback, if he’s regularly contending again, the game’s in a good place with more familiar stars regularly challenging him and heightening Sunday drama. Nicklaus may have been the most dominant player ever but there was room for Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd and Johnny Miller. They made the Nicklaus era more interesting.