Even before the great Tiger Woods scandal, I had already marked down 2009 as a contender for Worst Golf Year Ever. I don’t want to sound negative, but the fall of Tiger has effectively sewn up that award.
This year was scary bad. Every golf tour in the world is downsizing, some at alarming rates, along with advertising and sponsorship dollars. More courses are closing than are being built in America. Golf equipment makers have been forced to cut jobs. Golf real estate values, like most real estate values, have plunged. Golf hasn’t seen a dip like this since the Great Depression, not counting Charles Barkley’s swing. In fact, that’s how bad 2009 was — a show featuring Barkley trying to fix his spastic Mr. Roboto swing was one of the year’s guilty pleasures. We could all relate to Sir Charles.
The men’s major championships, while thrilling to watch, were ultimately bastions of buzzkill. If Kenny Perry, Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson had won the first three majors, and if Woods had finished off the PGA Championship, we might be talking about one of golf’s all-time storybook seasons. With no disrespect to the champs — Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Y.E. Yang — the winners we had were less compelling than the stories of the nearly men.
Tiger’s seven wins after knee surgery might have made for a feel-good comeback story, but the post-Thanksgiving revelations about his personal life turned Tiger into the feel-bad story of 2009.
Golf got back into the Olympics for 2016. That’s probably good for international golf, but is it good for the U.S.? It’s a given that the PGA Tour will soon be exporting events, just like the Nationwide Tour has shipped off tournaments to Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Panama, Canada and Colombia. That’s good for golf in those countries, but not so good for low-paid American Nationwide pros who probably won’t be able to win back their upsized travel expenses.
What else? Well, we’ll start 2010 with two sets of rules. Amateurs can continue to play clubs with U-shaped grooves while tour pros must use modified V-shaped grooves. Good or bad, it’s definitely confusing. And one PGA Tour player tested positive for drugs this year, which is likely to become another controversial and lengthy court case.
As for women’s golf, buy yourself a drink if you can name any winner of a women’s major in the last two seasons. (OK, I’ll help you out with this year’s under-appreciated champs — Brittany Lincicome, Eun-Hee Ji, Catriona Matthew and Anna Nordqvist.) This a tour badly in need of better TV exposure. Still, there’s room for hope. Michelle Wie finally won a regular LPGA event, and the tour has a new commissioner whose mission isn’t to alienate media and run off long-time sponsors, a smart step forward.
But mainly it was a downer of a year. It couldn’t get worse in 2010, right? Not unless Tiger’s indefinite leave is longer than we fear, and those PGA Tour sponsors whose contracts are up after 2010 opt to bail, and the TV networks smell panic and decide golf is a money-losing proposition. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Like I said, I don’t want to sound negative.
Let’s go ahead and call 2009 the Worst Golf Year Ever. That way we’re guaranteed that 2010 will be better.