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Tiger, Tiger, Tiger ... it's Tiger time
A real-life Happy Gilmore and playing for big bucks in the minors
It’s that time again.
Tiger Time. As in, All-Tiger-All-The-Time Time.
I’ve lost count of Tiger Woods’ comebacks. Let’s just round up and call this one Tiger 7.0. It will start in early January. That’s when TGL, a simulator-based team golf league founded by the Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy empires, begins play. TGL will be a weekly two-hour team golf competition featuring 24 players, including Tiger and Rory, using a mix of golf simulators and real greens that will be broadcast on ESPN.
I’ve already seen a lot of blowback online from serious golfers who vow they aren’t going to watch, the same folks who aren’t interested in LIV Golf. A golf writer from the Northeast that I know told me that everything Tiger touches turns to gold but this one is going to be a giant dud.
He should have ended that sentence after the word “gold.” This show is probably going to be big, just maybe with a different audience than the regular golf viewers who dote on Jim Nantz’s reverential tones. I’m talking about casual golf fans and Tiger fans, especially the latter.
Is this golf going to be important? No. But it will get big attention. For starters, it has Tiger Woods. He still makes news when he shows up and plays, which he barely did in 2023. Never underestimate Tiger’s drawing power. At least, not until another superstar comes along to replace him
Then there is the ESPN aspect. No entity in television history has promoted its content better than ESPN, a network that can simply ordain anyone as an expert and — poof! — he or she is an instant expert of national importance. And think about the prime-time competition? Tiger and friends playing a fast-pace golf competition or a lame sitcom about ghosts or geeks or another cop drama?
Plus, simulators are hot. Americans are just now discovering them and golf simulator facilities and chains, including X Golf, are popping up everywhere. Last year for the first time, more people played golf at off-course golf properties like TopGolf or simulator places than played golf on grass at a real course.
I’m a simulator fan. You don’t care about them? You probably haven’t tried them. They’re fun. The only question here is whether the team angle will catch on. Tiger is part-owner of his team, Jupiter Links. The six teams have geographic names but they’re meaningless since all matches will be played at a specially designed field with a giant viewing screen with 60 yards of fairway and greens, where players finish each hole.
The last reason TGL will score big is the same as the first reason — Tiger. This may well be the last playing field you’ll see him on given his assorted ankle and leg surgeries. If he was a basketball player, he’d be a guy who could still kill you in a game of H-O-R-S-E but can’t run the court. Walking the golf course is his biggest problem. The man hasn’t forgotten how to hit an iron.
We don’t know if he’s going to play in more major championships and we don’t know if he can contend. We don’t even have enough information to guess. Some Internet brain predicted that Woods has multiple major championship victories left in him after watching Tiger walk without a noticeable limp while caddying for his son, Charlie.
That’s a nice fantasy. Thinking Tiger can win the Masters in April is a big ask.
But delivering big ratings for ESPN with a unique golf show seems like it is right in his wheelhouse.
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You don’t have to thank me now but I found you your new second-most-favorite golfer. His name is Happy Gilmore.
He is a high school senior in Bloomington, Indiana, and he just signed a letter of intent to play college golf at Ball State University.
This is almost too good to be true. His given first name is actually Landon but he promptly became known as Happy, in honor of Adam Sandler’s famed movie character, as soon as he took up junior golf when he was 6. So he’s already the most famous golfer in Ball State history and he’s a year away from arriving.
If only Bob Barker had lived long enough to see this.
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The PGA Tour isn’t the only game in town, you know. I was in Sebring, Florida, last weekend and played in the Citrus Golf Trail Open’s pro-am for the second year. The tournament is considered one of the majors on the Minor League Golf Tour.
We were short on amateurs so my group featured two mini-tour pros, plus a woman who was a member at host site Sun ‘N Lakes Golf Club and who got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning telling her the pro-am needed four players. She made it to the tee (in her own customized golf cart) by 8.
It’s always fun watching good players play golf. I mean the pros, obviously, not me. They each made an eagle and one of them was 7-under par through 15 holes and challenging for the $400 pro-am win. Then he doubled a par 5 from a hazard and that was that.
These guys can really play. Last year in this event, one pro made the rarest of aces — a hole-in-one on his first swing of the day, made possible by a shotgun start.
The Citrus Golf Trail Open guaranteed a first prize of $15,000 if it drew a field of 90 pros or more for the 54-hole event. It came up short, around 84 players, so it was reduced to $10k. That’s still serious dough at this level. I tip my cap to these guys who are chasing the dream.
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MORE FROM GARY VAN SICKLE
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Editor’s note: Every other Wednesday — in addition to your regular Saturday edition — Gary Van Sickle will share his stories and opinions about golf as a regular contributor to The First Call. Van Sickle has covered more than 200 majors for golf publications such as Golf World and Sports Illustrated, so he knows a little something about the game.
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