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A Tiger-less world?

Note: This story appeared in the May 31 issue of Golfweek.

Tiger Woods stormed off the 16th green at Augusta National. He had just missed another short putt and felt his bid for a 14th major championship slipping away. So he barked to caddie Steve Williams, “Dammit, Stevie, I wish I were never born.”

Suddenly an elderly man named Clarence Oddbody appeared from nowhere. An incredulous Woods wasn’t buying when Clarence identified himself as a guardian angel. “Yeah, right.” But Clarence kept talking.

“Each man’s life touches so many other lives,” Clarence said. “When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole. So let’s look at things if you got your wish and were never born.

“Since you joined the PGA Tour in 1996, prize money has rocketed from about $70 million to almost $280 million. But without you, purses crept up only $45 million, as they had in 1985-96, to a current $115M. Sure, players have won more tournaments but not more money. Some have applied for the federal tax rebate.

“Tim Finchem never made it to this millennium as commissioner. Frustrated with begging potential sponsors, he resigned to ‘pursue other interests’ and returned to politics. Now he’s an adviser to Barack Obama. So under new Tour boss Peter Jacobsen, there’s no odd mix of one old Democrat leading 200 young Republicans.

“And look at the players. Half the Tour smokes and drinks, not just two or three guys. All golf shirts have a front pocket. Need a place to store the smokes. The average weight is 250 pounds, because nobody except Vijay Singh works out. The Tour fitness trailer is an 8-by-10 U-Haul. Even the Swedes are fat and wear baggy clothes. It’s like the old days, when you’d see a pro at the course before 8 a.m. only if he slept there.

“You should hear Gary Player scream about this obesity. He says the Tour should ‘test for Twinkies and cigarettes, not drugs.’ Granted, Phil Mickelson has won 10 majors without hitting a practice ball, but a tabloid reported ‘Flabby Phil’ has ballooned to 287 pounds. A TV sportscaster mistook Hefty for John Daly or Tim Herron, I forget which.

“Players attend mandatory pro-am cocktail parties to lure corporate support from tobacco and hot dog manufacturers. And since only 10 pros own shares of private jets, you can imagine complaints about flying commercially in this era of security hassles.

“Mark O’Meara never won a major, much less two. Notah Begay III never got even one sponsor exemption. Trip Kuehne won a U.S. Amateur, turned pro, struggled with his putting and never made the millions he has as a businessman. Ed Fiori is still known as The Grip instead of the Tiger Tamer.

“Pops Earl never got his national stage. Your beloved Elin worked two more years as Jesper Parnevik’s nanny but tired of reading bedtime stories, joined the Swedish bikini team and married Richard S. Johnson or Johnson Wagner.

I always mix up those two. And look at Stevie. Money being tight, he ran out of gas in a car race, got clipped by another vehicle when distracted by a photographer and now rests
in a New Zealand hospital.

“The Tour signed a 15-year contract with MSNBC but couldn’t afford to build that opulent TPC Sawgrass clubhouse. Golf Channel airs 21 daily hours of infomercials and instruction. The World Golf Championships never took. Buick left golf for the ATP. And Nike didn’t get into the game until this year, unless you count those beginner sets for $89 at Kmart and Wal-Mart. The Nike Golf logo has been more question mark than swoosh. The game never became cool. Or diverse. Musicians and actors don’t play golf. It’s still a game for old rich guys. Golfers dress more like Rodney Dangerfield than you.

“Sure, while the game has suffered, some individuals have benefited by your absence. Pros don’t play for second. Fuzzy Zoeller is at peace. Ernie Els has won 11 majors and never had to see even one sports psychologist because you weren’t there to blow his mind over and over with those whippings in 1998-2000. Nobody bothers Jack Nicklaus about his records being in jeopardy.

“Ernie, Phil and Vijay travel worldwide for Big Three exhibitions. Tournament directors and sponsors don’t complain about ‘non-Tiger’ events. The Tour spends no money on security. And the public pays $68 for a Scotty Cameron putter instead of $400.

“Vijay feels he needs to practice only 14 hours per day. Curtis Strange is known more for U.S. Opens than ‘You’ll learn.’ David Duval remained No. 1 for six years because, without following your workout lead and getting hurt, he maintained the best golf butt ever next to early Nicklaus.

“Davis Love III is in the Hall of Fame. Chris DiMarco is announced as Masters and British Open champion and, if you can believe this, got even cockier. Bob May won that 2000 PGA in regulation. Colin Montgomerie finally got his major at the 2005 British Open. Shaun Micheel is a two-time PGA champion. Retief Goosen clinched a Hall berth as Masters champion in 2002, the year after Duval won there. Tom Kite won the 1997 Masters at 47 as Ryder Cup captain. Woody Austin is known as 2007 PGA champ, not Aquaman.

“There was no ‘Hello, world’ in Milwaukee. Instead there was ‘Hola, mundo’ when Sergio Garcia won the 1999 PGA. He never developed a stone-hands putting touch, never whined and won five more majors.

“And Phil is the hottest thing going. Nike made its splash into big-time golf this year and signed him as its poster boy. Masters officials say they plan to ‘Phil-proof’ Augusta National to 7,080 yards.”

With that, a jolted Woods finally spoke.

“OK, Clarence, I’ve heard enough. Please stop. I want to live. You’re right. I have had a wonderful life.

“Stevie, hand me the driver.”

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