PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Bill Veeck was a promoter. He also owned different baseball teams, the St. Louis Browns (who were to become the Baltimore Orioles), the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox. He understood sports and the public’s acceptance or rejection.
“If you had to depend on baseball fans for your support,” said Veeck, whose name rhymed with wreck, “you’d be out of business by Mother’s Day.”
Baseball at least has home fans, who don’t necessarily need stars — although they are beneficial — as much as success and loyalty.
If you were raised a Red Sox fan, you stayed a Red Sox fan, long after the departure of a Ted Williams or later Carl Yastrzemski, long after your departure from New England, if that be the case.
Golf and tennis are different. They are dependent on individuals, on recognition value. In those sports, anonymity is a curse.
ESPN understands full well. Golf coverage seems restricted to Tiger Woods, with a smattering of Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson. It’s “Who’s who?” and never “Who’s he?”
Truth tell, that’s the ESPN format for virtually everything. Basketball is mostly LeBron James, the NFL is 90 percent Tom Brady, tennis is mostly Serena Williams — champions all but, no less importantly, superstars all. It’s an idea the movie business developed a hundred years ago. Fame sells.
The most famous man in the Genesis Invitational, certainly, is Tiger Woods, also serving as co-host of the tournament. He didn’t play very well Friday in the second round, not a surprise given his other duties, shooting a 1-over-par 72 at Riviera for a total of 142, even par for 36 holes.
That left him nine shots behind the halfway leader, Matt Kuchar, at 64-69—133. Once again, after his 14th appearance (13 at Riviera) Woods will remain without a victory in the tournament once called the Los Angeles Open, his hometown Tour event. But to the joy of CBS-TV, which televises the final two rounds, Tiger will be present and accounted for in rounds four and five. Oh yes, those Nielsen ratings.
From a purist’s standpoint, the leaderboard is intriguing if not thrilling. Kuchar has won a few key events including the World Match Play and The Players — and gained a place in the pantheon of cringe by failing to pay a caddy properly in Mexico. Also in contention are Adam Scott, who has a Masters; world No. 1, Rory McIlroy; and Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion.
Yet, Tiger, although technically in it — no danger of missing the cut — realistically is not in it, behind more than three dozen others. After starting Thursday’s first round with an eagle 3, Woods wobbled considerably.
“I made some pretty bad mistakes with balls out there in the fairways,” said Woods. As opposed to good mistakes? Sorry, Tiger didn’t need that. What he needed was a victory in the Genesis to break the tie with Sam Snead at a record 82 career wins.
“I wasn’t as sharp as I have been,” said Woods, almost apologetically. “This has been a busy week. But this is not the first tournament I hosted.”
The others were smaller events, 18-player fields in the fall. This is the real thing, and on TV it’s opposite the NBA All-Star Game. Then there’s been the Houston Astros cheating scandal. The golf becomes less compelling, especially with Tiger less competitive.
Woods was done early on Friday, around noon, having teed off at 7:45 a.m. Pacific time. That left him plenty of time to avoid telling the media whether he was going to play next week in Mexico City.
Again the Tiger Factor. He plays, the media, ESPN, the golf magazines, cover. He doesn’t, they don’t. Now that’s leverage. Now that’s golf.
One person has such an effect. That person once was Arnold Palmer. Tour people would tell me, “Write about some of the other guys, then the people will care about them.”
Not really. Stars develop. They’re not invented. Bill Veeck learned that. He once had a midget batting for the St. Louis Browns. What we need is someone as popular as Tiger Woods swinging away.