Human beings can be very fickle creatures. That fickleness is quite evident when it comes to television ratings for professional golf, where we as a sporting public are much more interested in the few golfers that reach celebrity status than the game itself.
When Tiger Woods was running roughshod over the US Open at Pebble Beach in and won by 15 strokes, it was hailed as one of the great all-time performances in the history of sports. The tournament garnered an impressive 8.24 rating to watch what amounted to a Woods exhibition in a complete blowout. You couldn’t escape the gravity of Woods’ performance whether it was television or online or anywhere.
The US Open got another dominant performance this weekend at Pinehurst as Martin Kaymer won by 8 strokes. And yet, because it was Martin Kaymer and not Tiger Woods, it didn’t make a peep. In fact, it might produce historically low television ratings for the tournament.
Kaymer isn’t an unknown. He’s a previous major champion, a former #1 player in the world, sank the winning putt at the last Ryder Cup, and he just won The Players last month. Alas, he is far from a ratings draw for the sport. And a non-competitive Tigerless major is ratings death for televised golf.
According to SBD, the Final Round of the US Open drew a 3.3 overnight rating, which “could likely end up being the lowest figure for a Sunday at the U.S. Open on record.” Furthermore, the tournament was down 46% compared to Justin Rose’s victory last year and down 35% versus Rory McIlroy’s 8 shot victory 3 years ago. Yikes.
Here’s AA contributor Ed Sherman with more thoughts on what the cratering ratings mean for golf in the big picture over at The Sherman Report. It’s another warning shot to golf’s higher-ups that the sport needs to desperately create some new stars beyond Woods, McIlry, and Mickelson that might generate interest with casual fans. It’s the paradox of focusing so much attention on Woods over the last 15-20 years. Now that Tiger is on the downside of his career, golf is left with a group of athletes that don’t have any relationship with the American sporting public:
Clearly, American golf fans weren’t captivated by Kaymer the same way they were for Woods and McIlroy when they scored their big wins. The big German still is relatively unknown in the states despite being a former No. 1 player in the world. It also doesn’t help that he barely displays any emotion on the course. That’s why U.S. viewers always loved Seve Ballesteros.
Kaymer, though, could be the best player from Europe (outside of Great Britain) since Ballesteros. He only is 29, and Players Championship and U.S. Open titles in recent weeks show he might have figured it out. He definitely will be the favorite going into next month’s British Open and has the talent to be the dominant player in golf.
That’s likely a sobering thought for golf’s governing bodies. Kaymer probably could have had dinner last night in a Pinehurst restaurant without getting recognized. Unless he is going for the Grand Slam, he isn’t going to move the needle.
Once again, the U.S. Open showed how much the game misses Woods. Here’s why: Even though he hasn’t won a major since 2008, more often than not, he usually is on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday. The networks can count on him being in contention, which is considerable.
NBC could not have scripted a worse tournament for their final run with the US Open – a blowout victory from a golfer that doesn’t move the needle. It’s unfortunate because Kaymer’s performance was brilliant. It deserves all the plaudits being given to the likes of Woods and McIlroy when they similarly lapped the field. But because Kaymer isn’t the biggest celebrity golf has seen, or the next best thing, people tuned out instead of tuning in to watch his crowning performance. It’s just another example that golf on television is all about “who” and not “what” is happening.