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Is Golf Imploding?

Golf took another hit to its star power last week as Dustin Johnson withdrew from the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational due to certain ‘indiscretions’. The rash of top players not competing week in and week out is negatively affecting the viewership of golf. Is it possible that golf is on a steady and unstoppable decline?

Tiger Woods’ medical absence has definitely hurt the viewership. Like him or loathe him, he is still the number one draw in golf. His return has helped increase the ratings, but not to pre-injury levels.

Dustin Johnson is taking a leave of absence citing personal reasons. However, it has subsequently transpired that he has been battling drug addiction and may have been banned from golf by the PGA for six months. It is his third drug offence.

Phil Mickelson is fighting many physical issues this year, most likely associated with being a 43-year-old, which is hampering his play. His intent to stop the fist pump with the crowd due to medical concerns will not help matters.

These are just three examples of golf’s top draws facing real-life challenges that are having an immediate impact on the popularity of golf. Unfortunately, this plight is nothing new. It does however; help accentuate the fickle nature of golfing fans.

Today’s access to instant news, social media and the willingness of the younger players to share almost anything, does add fuel to any spark of excitement or controversy. Depending on the mood of the fans and the top news of the day, golf is in either great shape or withering away.

A more troubling indicator is the ratings for the 2014 Major tournaments. All three are significantly down in interest; Sports Media Watch indicates that viewership is down as much as 25% from previous years. This significant drop is alarming, but expected!

The great players like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson were the standard bearers of golf for 20 years. As they transitioned out, players such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Payne Stewart cycled in. Golf hit some lows regarding viewership, but actually maintained a steady path to sustainability. The reason for steady growth was linked to the emergence of great personalities time after time that golfing fans could rally around!

Another interesting aspect of the transition from the old to new guard was the other players around the big names. Personalities such as Chi Chi Rodriguez, Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd, and Hale Irwin entertained the fans and were always in the mix. They were as important to golf as the fan favourites!

In 2014, the golfing landscape has changed significantly. The past greats are not as great! The younger players are showing no fear…of anyone! There are many good players, but very few great players. The likes of Adam Scott, Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler, or Jordan Spieth show sparks of greatness. But, there are no great players that jockey for the top of the leaderboard week after week.

The top 25 of the golfing world are all strong focused players! However, where is the man to beat? Who is going to dominate the golfing world that everyone loves to love and loves to hate, all at the same time? Except for the odd player, there are no real characters either.

They are young, focused and somewhat subdued. The fact that these professionals are in fact professional, may not be in the best interest of golf. It is quite possible that a change is happening. Players like Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, and Bubba Watson have the game and the flair to replace Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, but they are going to have to show their dominance over time. The lack of a dominant player to judge all others by, is the current issue facing the top of the golfing world.

Before demonizing all the top-25, it is possible that the new face of golf is not one player; it is a field of players where someone different rises to the top of the golfing world each week. If the 2014 trend of first-time champions continues, it might be that no one player can dominate over the long run. If this is the case, it will be interesting to see how the fans, media, and pundits adjust to professional golf!

Golf is not imploding, but evolving. The constant change of players within the top-25 is great for golf! By vying to be the best of the golfing world, the élite golfing professional have a chance to show off their skills and entertain the fans with ‘miracle shots’ each week. And entertaining the fans is really what will keep golf strong in the long run!

The Grateful Golfer, Pundit Arena.

Featured Image By Jeffrey Gordon (thegordons @ Flickr) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/flash716/2579081534/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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