By Tim Richardson
In November, 2009, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the game itself were struck a major blow. Its top golfer, spokesman, face, draw on the tour and overall icon began his fall from grace. Golf’s golden boy and cash cow, was exposed for not being the squeaky-clean, guy next door that he had been built up to be his “camp,” the media and us, “Joe Public.”
As Tiger the golfer became Tiger the punch line, the game took its lumps as well... both from a PR perspective as well as in its popularity as its marquee player took time away from the game to focus on his personal issues (as he should have done).
Over the course of that time, the USGA and fans searched for that new player who would carry the flag…was it now Phil Mickelson’s turn to completely take over? Would Sergio Garcia finally live up to his potential? But while Woods’ personal life unraveled, so did the game of golf’s image and relevance. Without the dominant player who seemed like superman, golf’s attractiveness dipped. No longer was there that dominant player on the tour who struck fear in his opponents, drew immense galleries on the tour and was barreling down on breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record for most wins at a major. The signature black slacks and red shirt that Woods wore on final rounds were no longer symbolic of the world’s best player coming out to take yet another tournament.
The tide was turning. The last four majors have been won by players in their 20s who certainly are not household names: 27-year-old South African, Louis Oosthuizen, won the 2010 British Open; at 26-years of age, German Martin Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship. And then, there was the 2011 Masters, when 21-year old Irishman Rory McIlroy took a four-stroke lead into the final day of golf’s most heralded tournament, only to implode as the world watched him match the greatest collapse in Masters’ history. As a result, 26-year old South African Charl Schwartzel went on to win coveted green jacket.
Then came the U.S. Open. Woods, who had just fallen out of the top 10 in the world for the first time in 14 years, pulled out of the tournament at Congressional Country Club in D.C. because his left knee and Achilles were not fully healed. Not exactly great news for tournament organizers as Woods’s presence on the tour had again begun to help sell tickets. But who knew last Thursday morning (June 16) that the young lad from Northern Ireland was about to turn in one of the biggest rebound (and redemption) performances in sports. A showing that was vintage Tiger and great for golf’s popularity and ratings. Some say that his “wire to wire dominance” was bad for the game…I argue that it was great for the game, especially considering the events in April when McIlroy had a complete meltdown at Augusta
Now 22-years old, McIlroy shredded the field to become the 111th U.S. Open Champion. His total of 268 strokes, 16-under par, set a US Open record. While he put on a one-man show over the four days of the event, his margin of victory (eight strokes) was still less than Woods’ domination at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach when he recorded the largest margin of victory in history (15 strokes). So let’s not give the fresh-faced kid from Ireland the torch just yet as this was only his second tournament victory while Woods has won more than 70 PGA events.
But let’s do enjoy the performance, and the person. Even my wife (who could care less about golf) was interested in Sunday’s final round because of the many things it represented. Cheers of “Rory, Rory, Rory” could be heard as McIlroy walked the course to hit his next shot on that final day. When asked by Bob Costas if he’d play more in the U.S. now, the “kid” in McIlroy showed through as he uttered modestly, “I think I’m going to have to” – leading to a roar from the crowd. But not lost in this magical moment (which brought great PR for the USGA) was the fact that McIlRoy was about to make history in front of his dad on Father’s Day… hmm, remind you of anyone?
There’s an Irish toast that says “May you never forget what is worth remembering, or remember what is best forgotten.” At the U. S. Open, Rory McIlroy created a memory that he, fans and the USGA will never forget, while also showing wisdom beyond his years by not allowing his Masters implosion to rattle him.
Tim Richardson is Executive Vice President at Maroon PR. Contact him at Tim@MaroonPR.com.