The “bash Tiger” bandwagon must have been too full for Billy Payne to jump on five months ago.
Payne, the chairman of the Augusta National and Masters came out today and publicly scolded Tiger Woods for his well-publicized indiscretions. Never before had he or his predecessor, Hootie Johnson, commented on the behavior of a golfer outside the course.
Said Payne: “It's not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here, it is the fact he disappointed all of us and more importantly our kids and grandkids.”
Two days ago a very apologetic, humble, and normal Tiger Woods sat down in front of almost 200 reporters and answered every question thrown at him with a remorseful honesty. Gone was the image from February of a robotic and monotone Woods issuing a statement that nobody particularly knew what to do with. In its place we got the world’s number one golfer telling the public of how he missed his son’s first birthday as a result of his post-Christmas rehab stint.
This is when Payne decides to come out and bash his biggest and most marketable player?
Very few people have tried to justify Woods’ behavior. In fact, the golfer himself has come out on numerous occasions and apologized to his wife, his family, and his fellow golfers for the shame and embarrassment he has brought upon them. He has offered no excuses for his actions, admitting that he felt his celebrity status made him feel “entitled” to be above the rules the rest of the public abides by. He has lost endorsement deals, fans, and friends as a result of the ordeal.
The problem isn’t that the Masters chairman has decided to scold Woods, it’s that he is doing it now. Rather than pushing the “let’s stick to talking about golf” mantra, Payne is once again promoting outside distractions over the sport’s most recognizable tournament. Instead of allowing our last image of Woods before he tries to redeem himself on the golf course be that of a contrite and honest golfer, we will instead go into the Masters with the vilified Woods who let down our grandkids.
If the chairman felt this strongly regarding Woods’ actions, perhaps he should have not sent him an invitation to the Masters tournament. After all, actions speak louder than a much-too-late-to-matter statement.
The truth is, the Masters would never dream of not inviting the world’s number one golfer to their tournament. Whereas the participants of the tournament are chasing a green jacket, the powers that be behind the Masters are chasing a different kind of green. The ratings of golf tournaments that Woods missed as a result of his injury in 2008-2009 decreased by as much as 65% from years past. The Masters captured their biggest numbers in 2001, when 15 million viewers tuned in to watch Woods win his second of four such tournaments. He’s been the sport's number one draw since his arrival, and will continue to be the sport’s biggest draw until he hangs up his putter for good.
Said CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus: “I think the first tournament Tiger Woods plays again, wherever it is, will be the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years.”
Payne told reporters that he had a conversation with Woods at the Champions dinner on Tuesday night, but would not share the details with the media. The chairman would have been wise to be as tight-lipped when it came to offering on his own opinions on Woods’ troubles.