You have to wonder if somewhere in the back of PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem's head, he isn't happy about the fact that Tiger Woods was outed as a serial philanderer. Because Woods has made the Masters a must-see for millions of people who would never otherwise watch a golf tournament.
Outside of the Obama election and inauguration, it's hard to think of a story that has captivated a larger share of the United States since Bill Clinton's impeachment. From The New York Times to ESPN, CNBC and the National Enquirer, people have spent the last five months reading, watching and learning about Woods. For the first time, not knowing the difference between a sand wedge and sandwich won't be an obstacle to tuning in to The Masters.
And that's how supposed filthy text messages to porn stars exposes a sport that prides itself on rules, tradition, integrity and decorum to its largest audience to date.
Finchem and his cohorts know they have to capitalize on this interest over the long term. The PGA has struggled to find a steady stream of revenue for their tournaments in the wake of the failure of the auto industry and a new, more humble, culture surrounding financial services. Golf execs need all the eyes they can get.
The interesting thing will be how the PGA walks this new line. They can't alienate their core audience, nor can they do much to tweak the realities of the sport. The LPGA has dealt with a similar issue by doing more to highlight how attractive some of their players are via swimsuit calenders and other modeling gigs. The PGA could go this route, but they're really better served by keeping their athletes covered as much as possible.
They can sell personality, though. That doesn't have to be the personality of Woods, but it probably will involve personalities who aren't always a fit for golf's country club atmosphere.
John Daly, who has been shunned by the PGA mainstream from the moment he hit the scene, comes to mind as the type of personality that the PGA could spotlight, but he's well past his prime. They could sit and wait for another Annika Sorenstam to bust gender barriers, but that's a novelty act that will wear off quickly. There are a couple of younger players with personalities as winning as their games that could help the PGA navigate the brave new world, however.
Anthony Kim wears large, garish belt buckles with his initials as part of his playing uniform and drew European ire for playing to the crowd during the last Ryder Cup. Those two things stand out from the staid norms of golf and are appealing to the large swaths of the audience who confuse most golfers for their accountant.
Then there's the 20-year-old Irishman Rory McIlroy. He's on the cover of the latest version of Tiger Woods Golf, a good sign that people are paying attention to the need to develop other personalities, and has hair that's more X-Games than Augusta clubhouse. Younger fans, those the game needs to cultivate, are pretty fond of video games and people who look and sound like them which makes pushing McIlroy a no-brainer. If he breaks through, the tour will have its hottest commodity since Tiger.
Surely there are other players as gregarious as they are talented, and who are willing to do more to tap public's likely focus on golf over the next few months. It wouldn't hurt the PGA to spend a little more time promoting those players so their future becomes a little less reliant on Tiger making a fool of himself again.