For the price of one four day pass to the Master’s golf tournament this weekend, you could get a) a year’s tuition at a New York State University, b) a trip for two to Paris c) a motorcycle. This isn’t a multiple choice question. I’m saying you can get all of these for the price of one ticket, which right now is averaging over $13,000 on the secondary market. Of course, the list price is only $200, but you have to have been born into that, since an actual ticket hasn’t been up for sale for decades. So if you want in to Augusta National, you have to scalp your passes like everyone else that isn’t a corporate sponsor.
That $13,000 figure is way, way up from a mere $3000 last year and over double recent heights. Why? Two words. Tiger Woods. After a five year drought of winning a major, Tiger seems poised to make a run at his 15th and put himself back on track in becoming the most decorated golfer of all time, a title Jack Nicholas still holds. Tiger’s won three of his five starts this year, and he’s again the number one ranked golfer in the world. This is a pretty remarkable upswing for someone we considered both physically and emotionally ruined a couple of years back. And now at 37, he’s starting a second life in a sport that can be more forgiving of age than, say, football.
Beyond those trying to get into the event, there are many people who are very pleased with Tiger’s comeback. For example, CBS, NBC, the Golf Channel, and pretty much every other American network that had remarkable difficulty selling the sport in the semi-post Tiger era. Americans are a fairly patriotic, if not xenophobic lot. So cheering for the upstart Rory McElroy felt largely unappealing. And besides, no other golfer played with Tiger’s power and flair. It was like watching Grant Hill and convincing yourself it was actually Michael Jordan, or watching Echo and the Bunneymen in the post-Ian McCullough era. It’s just not the same.
A whole lot of golf fans are happy as well. They like watching Tiger for the same reasons they like Peter Lugar’s and first class air travel. It’s just better. And they don’t care about what he might have done while taking Ambien in his driveway. Or how he treated his wife or the countless other women that clearly weren’t. They can even ignore the ill-conceived Nike commercial that played like a Woody Allen film in West Texas. They just want to see the best golfer in our lifetimes do what he does better than anyone else.
That may not be true for other folks, people who believe that athletes are supposed to be role models, or at least not awful. They want Tiger to go away and suffer at least some sort of consequence, at least more than the public disgrace and divorce settlement that probably looked a lot like the budget of some European nations, especially now.
And as much as I’d like to agree, the reality is, it’s hard to. In the end, when I watch the Master’s, and admittedly it’s probably the only golf event I’ll watch all year that doesn’t involve windmills, I want to see Tiger. I want to see the long drive, and the arrogance, and all the other things that make him a hero and a heel. I want to be amazed by his athleticism and curse his victories. And as guilty as that might make me feel in a world of logic and reason, sports aren’t about logic. They’re about physical specimens doing things we couldn’t dream of doing ourselves. And with Tiger, I’m talking about the golf part.
I think the American public agrees. They’ll speak with their eyeballs on Sunday, especially when the numbers shoot higher than an amateur on Augusta’s back nine. They’re speaking with their pocket book as well, assuming they’ve got the $13,000 to do so. I won’t go that far. For my money, I think I’ll take the motorcycle instead.
Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.
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