The PGA Tour was probably hoping Tiger Woods would be in contention when he announced his intent to play in the PGA Championship at Valhalla. After all, a portion of golf’s financial success is tied to Woods. With ratings for this year’s majors taking a dip, the notion that golf needs Tiger to succeed remains strong. Yet buoyed by a dramatic finish, great competition and another Rory McIlroy win, this year’s PGA Championship bucked the downward ratings trend by registering a 6.0 rating, up 36 percent from last year.
The ratings bump can likely be attributed to a packed leaderboard featuring some of golf’s most successful players challenging McIlroy, including Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott. Many of the golfers in contention were 35 and older, but the real benefit for the PGA could be the budding young stars that made their presence known over the weekend.
McIlroy is only 25, as is Fowler, who notably finished in the top five at every major this year. Saturday saw the cameras following Australian Jason Day, 26, who played a solid round, which provided one of the more memorable shots of the weekend, saving par after wading through a creek to find his ball. Even the surprising Bernd Wiesberger, 28, received media coverage while he crept up the leaderboard Saturday. Add in players like Jordan Spieth, and golf may be able to focus on Rory and the younger generation to generate the drama necessary for increased ratings.
There is no single cure-all for the lack of Tiger’s recent success. His presence generated ratings even when he was running away from the field. We know that hasn’t happened with Rory, look at the Open Championship ratings this year, but if the younger players can create a consistent rivalry, it could slow the proverbial bleeding down. Golf was always more fun when Tiger was going up against a contemporary challenger such as David Duval, Ernie Els or Phil Michelson. Can golf capture that same magic with Rory?
One answer could be something similar to the Tiger Woods Challenge, a tournament run by the Tiger Woods Foundation with 18 of the world’s top golfers competing. A Tour sponsor, apparel company or club maker could sponsor a similar tournament with golfers under age 30. The goal would be to expose the rising stars to the general public and continue to build on what could be a rivalry in the making with Rory (McIlroy) and Rickie (Fowler). Sure, it’s no Dan versus Dave, but if Tiger is going to continue to struggle, golf will have to move on.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.