A Decade of the Tiger Economy

By Adam BarrAugust 28, 2006, 4:00 pm
He has roared. No question about that.
Everything Tiger Woods has done in the decade since he turned professional ' from winning majors to wearing clothes to marrying the model to buying the yacht to setting up charities and foundations ' has been heard in nearly every corner of modern culture. His actions resonate as loudly as the growl of the proud feline for whom he is named.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has brought more money to the game by bringing in more fans.
But one of the loudest echoes has reverberated from the halls of finance. Simply put, Tiger Woods has been a money-maker of extraordinary proportions for himself and his endorsement partners. Outside of that elite circle, the return on the worlds investment of attention in Woods is not always so clear or so profitable ' some have prospered, others have not. But few can argue that his mere presence in golf, sports, and our media-driven, celebrity-obsessed world has resounded as forcefully as the roar of the Top Cat.
Tiger was too well-mannered to say it at the time, but when he said Hello, world just before the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1996, his next sentence could easily have been, Can anyone break a hundred? Thousand? Before he struck a shot as a working man, Woods had endorsement deals with Titleist, to endorse its golf balls, for $3 million over three years, and Nike, to wear its golf clothing, for $40 million over five years. There was some grumbling among journeyman pros about how quickly Woods had hit pay dirt, but it was lost among the oohs and aahs of the golf, sports and advertising communities.
If Tiger Woods were a start-up company, he would be the most-hyped stock to hit the market in years, said The Washington Post on August 31, 1996, a few days after Woods greeted the globe. And the predictions werent limited to dollars.
Golf has been long perceived to be a white, elitist sport, but Tiger could change that, said Bob Williams, president of Chicago-based talent agency Burns Sports Celebrity Inc. in an August 28, 1996 story in the St. Petersburg Times. I believe he will bring minorities and middle-class Americans into the game.
There was indeed a notion throughout the media world, and especially in the golf industry, that an immense rising tide was coming, and that all boats would float happily. But for that moment, before Tiger launched his quest to surpass his idol, Jack Nicklaus, in major championships, there was a giddy rush to put Woods economic accomplishments in perspective.
His $9 million in initial annual endorsements, which included the million-dollar-per-year Titleist deal, a record at the time for a rookie golfer, blew by the $3 million deal Phil Mickelson reportedly struck with Yonex when he turned pro in 1992. And the deals just kept on coming: over the years, International Management Group, the beragency founded by Cleveland lawyer Mark McCormack to handle the careers of Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Gary Player and many others, has gotten Woods contracts with American Express, Tag Heuer, Wheaties, Electronic Arts, Warner Books, Disney, Buick, Japanese beverage maker Asahi, and others.
Woods economic thrust clearly transcended golf, rocketing him into the orbit tracked by precious few stars: Michael Jordan, Formula One race driver Michael Schumacher, and a small galaxy of others.
Tiger got into the top 10 rapidly. For the 1997-98 NBA season, Jordan was scheduled to receive salary, bonuses and endorsement income amounting to about $78 million, reported Forbes at the time; private business interests not tracked by the magazine may have pushed Jordan past $100 million, making him far and away the worlds highest-paid athlete. NBA labor troubles in 1998 cut into Jordans then-record $33 million salary, perhaps reducing his take to as little as $70 million, Forbes said in another story. But His Airness was still the 1998 sports income leader.
Schumacher was second with about $38 million ' and then came the new guy. By 1998, Tiger Woods was already third on Forbes highest-paid athlete list with a winnings-and-endorsements total of $26.8 million. And, Forbes said, the deals were paying off: Nikes golf-related sales were said to have doubled between the time they signed Woods and the end of 1997.
That now-classic Masters win in 1997 had to have helped. Clearly, Woods was delivering. And his value went up into regions no one but his agents thought possible at the time. By 1997, Titleist had renegotiated Tigers deal into a five-year, $20 million package. In 1999, Buick came on for between $10 million and $15 million over two years (and that deal has been extended; Tiger now carries a Buick golf bag). In 2000, Tiger and Nike rewrote their deal into a 10-year, $100 million dollar club, ball and apparel contract that has become the upper benchmark of golf and sports branding. Like Jordan, Woods has his own Nike sub-brand; like Jordan, he transcends his sport even within Nike, where he is seen as an ambassador of the fundamental goodness of all sports and all athletes.
'The guy is like Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan in that he's changed his sport in numerous ways, in terms of his ability, his effect on his peers, the economics...and much more,' said Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf. 'Michael Jordan was always thinking ahead and moving ahead. He started practicing his baseline game three years before he needed it. Tiger is like that now. Back in 2000, that was raw power and talent just overwheming people. He's a much more subtle player now.'
For Nike, the turning point came in May 2000, when Tiger switched to the Tour Accuracy golf ball, then Nike's top tour ball (Woods now plays a Nike One Platinum, the latest leading ball in Nike's line).
'It's hard to imagine, sitting there in 2000, that we would be where we are today without him,' Wood said.
After Tiger switched, he won the 2000 Memorial and the U.S. Open, his first, by 15 strokes. Other people had won with a solid-core ball before, Wood said, but the rush to make those balls the dominant tour model didn't start until Tiger won with them.
'He changed the industry,' Wood said. 'Now the industry had to respond to him.'
Wood points out smaller ways in which Tiger influences buying habits -- for example, mock turtlenecks. He wasn't the first to wear them, but when he did, people clamored for them so loudly that many clubs dropped their collared-shirts-only rules and allowed mocks to be worn on club grounds.
The competition to brand Woods ' and have him enrich a brand ' has at times boiled over into conflict. In 1999, Nike ran a popular television commercial showing Woods bouncing a ball on a wedge as only he can. He was wearing Nike clothes, of course, but golf ball leader Titleist thought the ad implied that Woods played a Nike ball instead of a Titleist (Tiger was still playing a Titleist ball at the time). Lawyers got involved, although the issue never reached a judge in any substantial way. But the corporate head-butting may have led Titleist, whose endorsement approach has always favored a group of top athletes over the identification of a dominant star, to eventually back away from its relationship with Woods. That left Camp Tiger free to align itself with Nike.
Titleist, whose roster of star players continues to be strong, remains the chief power in the golf ball world, even without Woods. Nikes golf ball business has grown, thanks in no small part to Woods use of its top tour model, as well as fortuitous TV shots made in endorsement heaven: remember Tigers chip-in on the 16th hole in the final round of the 2005 Masters? The ball paused on the lip of the cup, as if it were saying, Hey! Check out my Nike swoosh!
More recently, the company that made Tigers yacht, Privacy, got sued for unauthorized use of Woods image in advertising ' ironically, the lawsuit is based on an invasion-of-privacy claim. The suit points out the intense and enduring efforts to keep Woods image from being diluted in any way ' a signal that IMG is nurturing that image for long-term use. Tiger is here to stay. Its his jungle.
Beyond the raw dollars, Woods economic impact is varied and broad. The tide certainly rose, but not all boats floated ' indeed, in the equipment industry, a few sank. Still, the over-cocktails consensus among golf industry people is that Tigers advent has helped in many ways.
Begin with television, the grand stage on which it all plays out. It has become an axiom in golf TV now: Tiger in, ratings up; Tiger out, ratings down. The math rarely changes. Even though his recent PGA Championship win looked like a foregone conclusion by mid-round Sunday, viewers stayed. CBS got a 7.2 rating with a 16 share for the final round (thats about 7 million households and 16 percent of the people watching television at the time), up 22 percent from the 5.9/13 that Mickelsons 2005 win earned on that Sunday (Mickelson won the delayed event on Monday). The 2006 rating was the highest since 2002 for the PGA, when Tigers Sunday pursuit of one-stroke winner Rich Beem got an 8.0/17.
When Woods is not playing, TV feels it. Apparently feeling the effects of the recent death of his father, Earl, Tiger missed the cut at the 2006 U.S. Open. Ratings for the final day dropped 16 percent versus 2005.
The never-fail correlation between Tigers presence and ratings spikes has undoubtedly helped the PGA TOUR in its campaign to make the sport as popular as the National Football League by 2020. But the TOURs business model depends on players being independent contractors, not employees, so there is no way to command Woods to play more in an effort to boost ratings. Fortunately, Woods youth and his natural competitiveness give us plenty of chances to see him, so that even if we ' and TV ' cant get enough, we still get a substantial dose of The Striped One.
Recreational participation, for which the golf industry anticipated a so-called Tiger Effect in his first years as a pro, may not have seen the magnitude of effect it was looking for. Between 1997 and 2000, when Tigers novelty as a pro was still fresh, the total number of golfers in the United States increased from about 24 million to 26 million, according to the National Golf Foundation. There were about 28 million golfers in 2005, the NGF said.
But the number of core golfers ' those who play eight or more rounds per year ' dropped 11 percent between 2000 and 2005. Much of that drop came after September 11, and the core golfer population, now between 12 million and 13 million players, has yet to challenge its late-1990s levels of about 15 million.
The number of occasional golfers, the one-to-seven-rounds-per-year players rose from 14.5 million in 2004 to 15.5 million in 2005, about 6.7 percent. But these golfers account for only 10 percent of rounds played, says the NGF, and their economic impact is limited.
Many factors outside Tigers influence ' September 11 and its depressing effect of all travel, including golf travel, among them ' may account for golfs participation challenges. The same obstacles have held down rounds played, which decreased 4.5 percent in the two years after September 11. Overall, rounds remain about 4 percent below 2000 levels.
As go rounds, so goes equipment. Sales of golf equipment overall have been flat for about four years, says the NGF. But broken out into categories, hard-goods sales ' clubs and the like ' have improved because of innovative technology, competition, and recreational golfers desire to upgrade to the newest (and often more expensive) gear. It may well be that Woods mastery, demonstrated again and again, has fueled that desire and kept it going.
The good news is that junior participation is up: 5.7 percent more 5-11-year-olds play golf now than did so five years ago, and 2.3 percent of 12-17-year-olds. It would be hard not to attribute this to Tigers almost hypnotic effect on children and teenagers, which can be seen in abundance at any tournament he plays.
That leads us to Woods direct effect on the lives of kids, something he and his father made a priority in the early planning of his career. The Tiger Woods Foundation declares its mission to be the empower[ment of] young people to reach their highest potential by initiating and supporting community-based programs that promote the health, education and welfare of all Americas children. Time and again, Woods has put his money where his heart is. When he signed his deal with American Express, part of the payout was $1 million straight to the Foundation, without a stop in Tigers or anyone elses wallet. In February, Woods opened the first Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif., and his demeanor while he did so showed that it was one of the most important days in his life. The focus is on helping kids be what they want to be, and that can have everything or nothing to do with golf, or even sports.
The same thinking seems to apply to Woods. Although his father irked some people by comparing Tiger to such titans as Gandhi, it has become increasingly difficult to seriously take issue with Earls central message, pumped up by confidence as it was: Tiger will transcend golf. In many ways, he already has. Even though he is 30, even though we have had him on the grandest professional stage for a solid decade, there is still a sense that he is just beginning. Any analysis of Tigers economic effect must admit the obvious ' his effect reaches far beyond the economic.
Unlike his good friend Michael Jordan, whose chosen sport does not allow the longevity golf does, Woods may have 30 years or more remaining in his career as a player ' and some time after that to influence golf, sports and life in non-playing ways.
In my occasional opportunities to interview Woods, I have asked a number of times where he sees himself in 20 years, or further out. What does he want to do? Design courses? Run tours? Teach? Invariably, he only smiles ' not meaning to disrespect my question, but more as if to say, You aint seen nothing yet.
Economically, athletically, sociologically, hes probably right. Just listen for the roar.
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
Getty Images

After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray

On the difference between this week and last week ...

There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard

On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

Getty Images

Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

“Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

Getty Images

Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

“Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

“I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

Getty Images

Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

On the other side was art.

Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts in Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

“His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

“Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

“I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

But regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

“Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

“The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”