Jordan Spieth proved he has what it takes to become a superstar when he won his second major championship of the year at the U.S. Open on Sunday.
As a promising young player with a chance, albeit a slim one, to complete a Grand Slam in 2015, the 21-year-old’s emergence is reminiscent of Tiger Woods’ rise on the PGA Tour in the late 1990s.
It’s obviously too early to expect Spieth to match Woods’ career accomplishments, but he could possibly replicate something else from Tiger’s heyday: making the game more popular.
According to a yearly study by the National Golf Foundation, the number of golfers in the country last year was 24.7 million, the same as in 1995. Woods played in his first PGA major as an amateur that year at the age of 19. He turned pro in 1996 and won his first major tournament in 1997.
By 2005, the number of golfers in the country rose to a peak of 30 million. Woods won his fourth Masters as well as the British Open that year.
The decline in the number of golfers between 2005 and 2015 coincides with the back end of Woods’ career, marked by a personal scandal and a decline in his tournament performances.
Now with Woods playing poorly, the industry is worried about its future. Dennis Boudreau, owner of DiscountGolfWorld.com, told ESPN that his company is doing one-tenth of the business it did when Tiger was at the peak of his career.
Woods doesn’t deserve all the blame. Other factors have played a role. The recession cut into casual players’ discretionary income, and major corporations cut back or eliminated the golf club memberships that were once a favorite perk.
Also, the time it takes to complete 18 holes, and even nine holes, is proving too cumbersome (and dull) for some people with hectic schedules and an obsession with electronic devices.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Millennials just aren’t attracted to the game, which is one of the biggest reasons for a recent drop in business at pro shops and retailers.
Could Spieth, himself a Millennial, be the one to turn it around?
The sports merchandise company Under Armour thinks so, according to an article by The New York Times earlier this month. It certainly has reasons for the optimism.
Under Armour signed Spieth to an endorsement deal very early in his career. When he won the Masters in April, tying the tournament scoring record held by Woods, the company saw just what kind of star power he had. From the Times article:
“Since Mr. Spieth won the Masters with a record-tying score of 18 under par, online sales of golf apparel have been up nearly 100 percent. Many of the styles he wore during the tournament, including the navy shirt he wore with white pants in the final round, sold out. On Wall Street, the immediate increase to Under Armour’s stock price got its own name: the “Spieth bump.”
Wins often translate into popularity, especially in an individual sport like golf. If he keeps winning tournaments, the “Spieth bump” could turn golf’s fortune around.
Woods’ career showed what a dominant figure could do. His time as the best player in the world brought a lot of attention to the game and made Nike, the company he’s kept an endorsement deal with since, a dominant brand in golf.
Spieth has already replicated Tiger in one way: Woods was the last golfer to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year, which he did in 2002. Looking forward, there’s no doubt the young Texan would love to match and even exceed Tiger’s 14 majors.
From the looks of it, the rest of the golf industry wouldn’t mind either.
For story ideas, find out what merchandise is hot right now at local pro shops. Have Nike sales dropped with Tiger’s lackluster performances? Has Under Armour become the most popular brand now that Spieth is making headlines?
Make sure to find out how busy the courses are as well. Do they see an increase in tee times after a young player like Spieth wins a big tournament? Are more young people giving the game a try?