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Friday, Jun 23, 2017
Sports

The truth about golf's longing for the next Tiger Woods

Did you see? One of "our'' guys won golf's U.S. Open.

Brooks Koepka grew up in Palm Beach County. He won a Florida high school state golf title. He played at Florida State. His brother played at USF.

Good for him. Yay for us.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, here's what else happened over the weekend at the U.S. Open.

A whole lot of nothing.

We've seen the future of golf without Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. And I have one word.

Boo.

Actually, boo invokes anger, a little passion, a little interest. Maybe the reaction should be more like: zzzzzz.

Golf is in trouble and the U.S. Open is a prime example.

It's true that this year's U.S. Open was blown to bits by a Molotov cocktail of issues.

The leaderboard was full of no-names. The tournament was played at a course that was much too easy for a typical U.S. Open. And the tournament was on Fox, which many viewers didn't like.

But there's a deeper issue here.

Interest in golf, even among golf fans, is declining.

Golf television ratings have fallen off the cliff. Sunday's final round had the second-worst overnight ratings ever for a final round at the U.S. Open. The Masters had its lowest ratings in 13 years. At one point earlier this year, there were 12 consecutive tournaments when the final round had lower ratings than the final round of those tournaments in 2016.

It's not hard to figure out why.

There's simply no one to hold our interest. We keep waiting for the next Tiger. We keep asking who the next Tiger is going to be.

Time to face reality: There is no next Tiger.

Just look at this past weekend. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day — candidates to be the Next One — all missed the cut at a U.S. Open that practically played like a pitch-and-putt with 31 players finishing below par and seven players shooting at least 10-under. Jordan Spieth, another Next One candidate, was not among those. He finished 1-over.

Okay, so it was just one tournament. We can't write off Rory and Dustin and Jordan over one tournament.

At the same time, you don't get the sense any of those has what it takes to dominate the sport, and that's what golf needs, someone to dominate the sport. As much as we sometimes complain about UConn women's basketball and the Golden State Warriors, it's dynasties and rivalries that make sports great.

Golf was never better than when Tiger was roaring. We long for the days of Jack vs. Arnie, Jack vs. Watson. The window of Tiger vs. Phil is gone with injury wiping out Tiger and age catching up to Phil.

Golf has no dynasty and it has no rivalry and it doesn't even appear to have the makings of either.

McIlroy has now missed the cut in three in the past five majors.

After a fiery start to his career, Spieth has now failed to reach the top 10 in his past five majors.

For all the Dustin Johnson talk, he has won only one major in his career. Same as Jason Day.

In 24 individual PGA events since the start of 2017, we've had 21 different winners. Only Johnson, who has three wins, and Justin Thomas, with two, have won multiple times.

But there's more to it than just winning majors and stringing together top-five finishes.

Does anyone excite you? Does anyone get you to stop and watch when you're channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon? Do you ever see a leaderboard that makes you put off mowing the lawn until Monday?

Forget rooting for a particular golfer, is there any golfer who stirs enough emotion to root against?

Other than Rory, who had a nice little Twitter war with Champions golfer Steve Elkington last week, does anyone have the personality to get fans riled up?

Spieth doesn't. Johnson doesn't. Day doesn't. They're all nice guys, and there's nothing wrong with being a nice guy. But that doesn't excite sports fans.

Here's the problem: Tiger spoiled us.

He gave us incredible golf. He gave us fist pumps. He gave us thrown clubs. He gave us curse words. He gave us intensity. He gave us personality.

He gave some something to love. Or hate.

The fact is that before Tiger came along, golf was a little stiff. And it has gone back to that now that he is gone.

Maybe it's not fair to ask Rory or Jordan or Dustin to be the next Tiger. No one can be Tiger again. Not even Tiger.

But someone needs to step up and take control of a sport that is quickly losing its grip among fans.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones

 
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