Tour Confidential: Is Tiger Woods, the Businessman, on the Right Path?

October 24, 2016
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Tiger Woods last week unveiled his new brand, TGR, which unites all his businesses–philanthropy, design, events, etc.–under one umbrella. From what you’ve seen thus far in Woods’s commercial pursuits, how would you assess his business acumen?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Tiger has been a businessman for as long as he’s been a pro golfer — starting with his first endorsement deal with Nike. His foundation, now 20 years in, has unquestionably made an impact, and his new course outside Houston is a stunner. His ventures may not all turn into hits (reviews on his restaurant are mixed, for example) but it’s clear Woods is going to follow the path laid out by Arnold, Jack, Player and Norman. I expect like these other golf-business titans, Tiger will do extremely well.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): To borrow from Jerry Maguire: Show me the money! Tiger is 12th on the Forbes 2016 ranking of richest athletes, with $45 million in earnings, a mere $274,000 of which came from his play on the golf course. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t won a major in eight years and hasn’t teed it up in almost 15 months.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Clearly he was a powerhouse endorser in his prime but I’ve been disappointed in Tiger’s business choice, particularly through his course design work. Instead of chasing money with ill-fated projects in the desert of Dubai and an exclusive enclave on the Mexican coast, I wish Tiger would devote himself to redoing muni and military courses. The best way to grow the game is to have interesting, cheap places for the public to play. Donating his services in this way would be a wonderful way for Woods to give back to a game that has given him so much.

Josh Sens, contributer, GOLF (@JoshSens): As Alan says, an endorsement machine at his peak. But when you’ve got the kind of star power Tiger had in his prime, how much business acumen does it really require to cash in on it? His otherworldly dominance sold itself. Where Tiger gets low marks is in his personal brand management. Of course, the scandal hurt. But so did the protective cocoon he built around himself for decades. Even Michael Jordan, another star of mega-wattage with an aloof aura, cultivated a persona that people could latch on to. Given Tiger’s personality type, maybe a robotic kind of isolationism was the only way he could have survived the glare of celebrity. But purely from a business standpoint, keeping the world at such a willfully long reach hasn’t done him many favors.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF (@joepassov): Good point, Josh. Business success and business acumen aren’t quite the same. Just the fact that he accomplished what he did on the playing field seemed to spill right into business success. As far as acumen, no, I wouldn’t equate him with what Arnold Palmer accomplished. Then again, maybe Tiger has those abilities but chose to subordinate them to focus on winning golf tournaments.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): I’m still wondering how Tiger or Nike failed to bring Tiger Woods Junior Clubs to the marketplace, missing a huge sales spike in the ’90s. Of course, neither Arnie nor Jack ever stood behind a signature line of equipment that succeeded, either. Tiger has top people building his empire for him, while Norman was more of a self-builder. Who’s behind Tiger? As they say at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie — “Top people!”

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2. On a media tour to promote his new brand and the 20th anniversary of his foundation, Woods sat down with Charlie Rose and discussed everything from his biggest regret to how he killed time during his most recent injury rehab (eight hours a day of Call of Duty). What was the biggest takeaway from that interview?

GODICH: Tiger tells us his biggest regret was that he left Stanford a year early. Seriously? Not the scandal and the failed marriage? I was so hoping he’d show a little more candor there. And yet all we got was that he tells his kids, “Daddy made a mistake.” By the way, I thought Rose was masterly.

RITTER: His comments about winning majors drew the headlines (“More” than Jack, or “more majors” than 14? Who knows?), but Godich nailed it. Why not show a little more of a softer side with that perfect setup from Rose?

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SHIPNUCK: The notion that Tiger will win five more majors is fanciful at best, wildly delusional at worst. That’s the *career* total boasted by Seve Ballesteros, Byron Nelson and Phil Mickelson. Is Woods gonna fit their entire careers into his 40s, with a broken body, diminishing skills and a mountain of scar tissue? I wonder if he believes this stuff or just feels compelled to keep spouting the party line.

SENS: Unfortunately, that has been something of a Woods trademark throughout his career. Is he being honest or just delusional? It’s often hard to tell. And either way, it does not reflect well on him. His optimism about his prospects in the majors is somewhat understandable (he’s a proud athlete, and you have to believe in yourself to compete). But for him to say that not graduating is his biggest regret makes him sound either woefully out of touch, or terribly stage-managed. I suspect the latter. Deep down, it’s hard to imagine he honestly feels that way.

PASSOV: I’m a pretty reliable Tiger defender but all I can say here is that 20 years after he turned pro, he still refuses to show vulnerability or to reveal too much, the result of being burned early. Yes, we want more, crave more introspection from Tiger, but I don’t know why we’d be surprised or even disappointed when it’s not forthcoming.

VAN SICKLE: Tiger isn’t delusional, he’s utterly competitive. What’s delusional is that he regrets leaving Stanford, where he was mugged at knifepoint on campus by someone who knew his name, and that he could’ve possibly remained eligible for NCAA or amateur golf after his first two years and all that went on. Other than that, it was close to the vest and, to be honest, kind of a snooze despite Rose’s best efforts.

3. For the first time since the World Golf Hall of Fame toughened its criteria for admittance, its 16-member selection committee voted in a new class of inductees: Ian Woosnam (one major, 29 European tour wins), Davis Love III (one major, 21 PGA Tour wins), Meg Mallon (three majors, 18 LPGA wins), Lorena Ochoa (two majors, 27 LPGA wins) and the late golf writer Henry Longhurst. Are all of these candidates HOF worthy, and were any worthy candidates omitted?

GODICH: No issues here. I’m especially happy for Woosie, who was long overdue for this honor.

RITTER: Nothing you could call a snub — Monty getting in over Woosnam a couple years ago was a strange call, and it’s nice to see Woosnam now have his moment. More interesting is, who’s next? Corey Pavin’s career is similar to Fred Couples (15 wins, one major); Fuzzy Zoeller won 10 titles and a couple of majors; Jan Stephenson won 16 LPGA events and three majors. The Hall shifted its ceremony to every other year to avoid watering down the product, but unless I’m missing something (and there’s an excellent chance that I am) I don’t see many stone-cold locks for the next class.

SENS: Jeff, what about our man John Daly? Two majors. And just think of all the colorful videos they would screen around his plaque. For the sake of variety alone, the Hall could use some footage of a guy blasting tee shots out of other people’s mouths.

SHIPNUCK: It’s a strong, likeable class; Longhurst is a particularly welcome addition. I, for one, would like to see the Hall not be so player-centric. Among the quirkier choices I would enshrine: Eddie Lowery, Butch Harmon, Bruce Edwards, Ely Callaway…

PASSOV: I’m in complete agreement with Alan that the Hall shouldn’t be so player-centric. Golf is really different than classic team sports in that way. Yet, as long as it is player-intensive, I’m pushing for Tom Weiskopf. At his peak, he was phenomenal even as his demons (since conquered) partially short-circuited his career. Throw in his candor, golf swing, broadcaster skills and course design career and he’s my pick for most notable omission.

VAN SICKLE: John Daly? You can’t be serious! Champagne Tony Lema remains the best player who’s not in. Before his death, he was the No. 3 drawing card in golf and he could play. The PGA Tour enshrined far too many players—five or six a year for a dozen straight years—in order to put together an induction ceremony TV show. The bar has been lowered and now, really, everyone who should be in is in. Except Lema.

4. Justin Thomas, 23, shot a final-round 64 in Malaysia to win his second consecutive CIMB Classic–and second career PGA Tour title. Half a world away, in Portugal, Padraig Harrington, 45, won his first European tour title in eight years – and 15th overall, three of which are majors. When all is said and done, will Thomas have a better career than Harrington?

GODICH: I’d say that winning 15 times on the European tour is quite the accomplishment. And three majors? I love Thomas’s game. I also loved how he grinded in the third round — closing with five birdies after falling six back while fighting his swing most of the day. But if he can win a dozen times and bag a couple of majors along the way, it would be one heck of a career.

RITTER: Harrington is a future Hall of Famer, and as talented as Thomas appears, he’s not on a HOF trajectory just yet. With his impressive win last weekend, JT does have a great shot at the Malaysian Golf Hall of Fame, if such a thing is ever created.

SHIPNUCK: Lol, he’ll probably make the Alabama Hall of Fame, too – quite a combo! I’m pretty sure JT would sell his soul to have Paddy’s career…of course, 99.99% of pro golfers would, too.

SENS: Agreed. It’s a bit premature for any Harrington/Thomas comparisons. But I’m sure Thomas would be flattered to know that we’re having the conversation.

PASSOV: With his length, attitude and on-course aggressiveness, JT has limitless potential. That’s mostly what it is right now, however–potential. Paddy is a sure-thing Hall-of-Famer, with totally different skills than what might catapult JT one day. Three majors in two years, and defending the Open? And all of those huge putts for so many years? Right now, there’s no comparison.

VAN SICKLE: You’d bet against almost anyone trying to match Harrington’s career. Jason Day? And he’s already got one major. An element of luck goes into winning majors. Harrington got some good breaks and he capitalized on them. For luck, see how Jordan Spieth won at Chambers Bay when he possibly shouldn’t have but lost a month later at St. Andrews when he probably should have won. I like Thomas, who doesn’t? But three majors is one more than either Greg Norman or Jose Maria Olazabal. Let’s get real here.

5. The PGA Tour announced plans for a new fall tournament in South Korea, meaning beginning next year the Tour will be stationed in Asia for three consecutive weeks. Is that a good thing?

GODICH: Can’t hurt. It certainly gives the better players more reason to make the trek.

RITTER: Absolutely. The game’s biggest opportunities for growth lie internationally. Another week in Asia each fall makes sense.

SHIPNUCK: I guess. But isn’t there already an Asian tour? I guess I’m just biased toward golf that ends in the afternoon in California, not the middle of the night.

SENS: Korea is a golf-mad country, with no shortage of eager corporate sponsors. Makes perfect sense to try to bring some of the game’s biggest names there.

PASSOV: Again, I’m with Alan. I don’t get it. Either let the guys rest, and give them (and us) some chance at an offseason, or let it be an Asian tour thing where they can accept appearance money. All three straight Asian events does–besides TV coverage for insomniacs only–is it dilutes the fields for west coast U.S. PGA Tour events because the guys are so exhausted (and wealthy) from the Asian swing, they can afford to skip Hawaii, Arizona and California.

VAN SICKLE: On the surface, this looks like a smart scheduling convenience. But it may signal a troubling trend that the Tour has to go international–Korea for this, Mexico for the former Trump-hosted WGC event–to find a willing sponsor. How’s that heavy overseas schedule working for the LPGA’s profile in the U.S.? That tour is successful but losing the battle for headlines here.

6. Last week on we featured the 11 strangest Tour pro swings. What’s the oddest swing you’ve seen from an elite player?

GODICH: Other than mine, I’d have to go with Jim Furyk’s move.

RITTER: Godich, your action is indeed a sight to behold — and I mean that with the utmost respect, since I can’t come anywhere close to hanging with you on the links. But for my first choice, I’m still entertained by every highlight of Arnold Palmer’s mighty lash at the ball.

SHIPNUCK: Furyk is such an obvious choice I’m gonna go in another direction and say Allen Doyle. He looks like a man trying to kill a mouse with a broom…while trapped inside a phone booth.

SENS: Before there was Furyk, there was Eamonn Darcy. I played behind him in a pro-am 12 or 13 years ago and am still dizzy from watching.

PASSOV: All good, weird selections. I guess since Charles Barkley just missed achieving “elite player” status, I might pick Jim Thorpe, whose churning power rotations reminded me more of log-cutting than actual golf. Throw in his unprintable exhortations to his ball while in flight and you have one for the ages.

VAN SICKLE: Arnie’s swing was a thing of off-balanced beauty. Doug Sanders could swing in a phone booth. I was always intrigued by the happy feet of Johnny Miller and Laura Davies. Lee Trevino had what looked like some kind of homemade swing… and was one of the three or four best ballstrikers of all time.