Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
JOHNS CREEK -- Eight months from now, the next major golf championship will take place -- in the springtime at Augusta -- which means we have a long winter to debate the health of the PGA Tour and the future of the game as it relates to the status of Tiger Woods.
There is the view that the Tour can only survive if Tiger returns to dominance, but you can find plenty of dissent about that among those who are familiar with pro golf.
When Tiger was dominating, there is no question about the effect he had on television ratings and fan interest, but it is hard to succumb to the view that the Tour will roll over and die if the best of Tiger is in the past. While I am sure he will win again, I don't see the Tour going out of business if he doesn't return to dominance.
Take horseracing for example. There have been no Triple Crown winners since Affirmed in 1978. Many in the racing industry would suggest that a horse winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in a single year would bring a big boost to interest in horseracing.
However, if you keep abreast of the Triple Crown events from year to year, you would have to conclude that thoroughbred racing, like all sports, has experienced change but its people are still showing up at the track in Louisville, Baltimore and New York. Baseball may be more popular now that the steroid era seems to be behind us. The game will always be more important than a single performer.
Having Tiger contend would be positive for the Tour, but until he regains his old form, there are a lot of young players out there who will soon become seasoned veterans who are winning and giving back, like rookie Keegan Bradley, who won the 93rd PGA Championship on Sunday at the Atlanta Athletic Club. It is fun seeing fresh faces in the winner's circle and to learn about them and their backgrounds.
The alluring appeal with Tiger has been that fans believe they are witnessing history. There was the possibility that he might break Jack Nicklaus' record for career major victories (18). It is easy to appreciate the fixation on watching Tiger compete for that reason.
Having come along in the Nicklaus era and having had an opportunity to see most of his major championship victories, there is the historical appreciation for his overwhelming success as a championship golfer. It is understood why Tiger fans have the same rooting interest.
There are those who don't feel Nicklaus was the greatest player, but nobody can deny that he was the greatest champion. The record proves that.
Two questions that will always remain in the forefront, however, are: What would Nicklaus have accomplished if he hadn't competed against Tom Watson, who won eight majors, and Lee Trevino, who won six? And what would Nicklaus have won, playing with Tiger's equipment?
That prompts a third: What would Tiger have won using Jack's equipment?
The debates will go on, but in the meantime, let's enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the many fine young players on the tour.
Like Bradley, whose name in itself carries great appeal. Sounds like it might have come from central casting.