Golf is in trouble. Tiger Woods could be part of the solution.

The PGA Tour and Saudi-funded LIV Golf continue to throw money around to try to ensure the presence of top players in their events. PGA Tour sponsors are not at all happy with the watered-down fields they are paying for each week.

 

 

 

The television networks are equally unhappy. Other than the four major championships, there’s no Phil Mickelson or Dustin Johnson, no Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia or Bryson DeChambeau playing in any week-to-week PGA Tour events.

 

On the flip side, LIV still has no TV contract with a major network. It always will have the fact that it is a blatant example of sportswashing hanging over its head. And it’s tough to take seriously, with its 54-hole tournaments that have no cut and announcers trying to sell the notion of team play.

 

 

Easy. It needs a new commissioner. This is not meant to be an attack on the current commissioner, Jay Monahan, who is charming and smart and a great salesman. In normal times, he would be a perfectly adequate commissioner. But these haven’t been normal times for several years now.

 

Monahan was slow to react to the looming threat of LIV. He tried to play the morality card, not understanding most of his players and most golf fans and sponsors could not care less if the Saudi money is blood money as long as the checks cash.

 

Monahan also attempted to play the money card, starting with the ludicrous “Player Impact Program,” which paid players based on their popularity. The first winner was Tiger Woods, who played in zero tournaments in 2021 but was still the most popular golfer by leaps and bounds. The runner-up was Mickelson, who was so impressed with his $6 million bonus that he was the first important player to jump to LIV.

 

 

Throwing good money after bad, the tour upped the PIP bonus pool to $100 million in 2022. Woods, after playing in three official events, won again — and if truth be told, he would keep winning until 2122 if the measurements were taken properly. Mickelson wasn’t in the top 20 that year because he ceased to exist after signing with LIV.

 

Finally, after Woods and Rory McIlroy had been the tour’s biggest defenders, Monahan went behind their backs and cut a deal with the Saudis, although the details still have not been finalized eight months later.

 

That should have been the last straw for the tour’s policy board. As one player put it, “Jay’s been playing checkers; the Saudis have been playing chess.”

 

 

Firing Monahan because of his mistakes might feel satisfying to some, but it would do nothing to solve golf’s problems. And hiring another businessman, politician or corporate CEO wouldn’t change much, if anything.

 

The tour must think out of the box — way out of the box — and hire someone who really knows golf, who has been a successful businessman and who has the clout to look the Saudis in the eye across the negotiating table.

 

 

There is one person who fits that description: Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.

 

Has Woods made mistakes in his personal life? Absolutely. Can he treat people badly? Yes. Is he about as transparent as a concrete wall? Yes.

 

But is he as bright as the sun on a perfect summer day? You bet. Will he get up to speed on the issues the tour is facing at lightning speed? Yes, that too.

 

 

Perhaps as important is his name because even if you know nothing about golf, you know Tiger Woods. There are very few athletes in any sport who transcend the game they play. Woods clearly does.

 

If you surround him with people who understand how to break down the financials, he will close the best deals possible — and he won’t run for cover at the first sign of trouble. Woods is many things, but one thing he is more than anything is a competitor. He won’t see managing the tour and dealing with all the crises ahead as anything more than another pressure cooker competition.

 

There’s another reason to put Woods in the commissioner’s office: It will give him something to do away from the golf course. He has made more comebacks than Michael Jordan — by a wide margin — his most remarkable being the one that culminated with his victory at the 2019 Masters.

 

 

 

He was 43 at the time and had gone nearly 11 years without winning a major after winning 14 in his first 12 years on tour. Injuries, the 2009 car crash that led to the revelations about his personal life and the wear-and-tear of age on his golf swing sent his career off course.

 

But because he was still Tiger Woods, he managed to come back again to win one more green jacket. It appeared he would be an occasional factor in majors until he was 50.

 

And then, three years ago Friday, came the car accident outside Los Angeles that shattered his right leg. According to police, he was going between 84 and 87 mph in a 45-mph zone when he lost control of his car and flipped it and was lucky to survive.

 

 

 

He has played in six official tournaments since then — withdrawing from three of them, including last week in Los Angeles, where he made it through 24 holes.

 

No one is saying he should stop playing when he feels healthy enough to make it through 72 holes. But it says here both he and golf would be much better off if his focus was trying to fix the game rather than hoping his body will miraculously heal to the point that his presence in a tournament is more than a pretournament sales pitch.

 

Woods has accomplished things through his ability to play golf that no one — not even Jack Nicklaus — has matched. Those who know the game, including Nicklaus, will tell you Woods was also able to do things on the course no one had done before.

 

Nothing going forward will change his legacy as a golfer. But Woods could enhance his legacy off the course if he so chooses. His body will never be 25 again. But his mind has plenty left to offer to the game he loves — and to those who love the game.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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