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This year’s Ryder Cup, the golf event that pits America against Europe every two years, brought big ratings for NBC. Viewership was up all three days compared to 2014, the last time the Cup was in Europe; the final day on NBC was up an eye-popping 23% over 2014.
Most people will tell you this was the Tiger Effect. Tiger Woods returned to competitive form this golf season, and his presence was ratings gold for events like the Valspar Championship, The Masters, the British Open, and the PGA Championship. NBCUniversal on Thursday announced that Golf Channel just enjoyed its most-watched third quarter ever, “fueled by Tiger Woods’ return to the top echelon of the game.”
But golf legend Greg Norman says golf’s ratings bump this year isn’t just about fans wanting to watch Woods.
“TV ratings are up because of what Tiger Woods does to every other player,” Norman told Yahoo Finance on our Midday Movers show. “It’s not just about the one player, it’s about all the supporting cast who are equal if not better than him. He’s just pulling them along.”
This is an argument many in golf have made: that Woods being back in competition helps renew attention on golf’s other great young stars. But it’s also an optimistic angle—some might say overly optimistic.
‘I hope they don’t put all their eggs in one basket again’
Norman sees a lot of young stars to cheer for in pro golf today. On this week’s episode of the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast (listen at the bottom of this post), he rattles off Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood, and Francesco Molinari, in that order. And he says the important part is that “those guys today aren’t intimidated by Tiger. Because they didn’t grow up from 2000 to 2015 when Tiger was the dominant player. They never went toe-to-toe with him. So they respected him and watched him, but now they’re out there doing their thing, and they’re teeing up next to Tiger, and they’re not intimidated.”
Tiger’s comeback, Norman says, is “good for him, there’s no question; it’s good for the game of golf, there’s no question. But I hope they don’t put all their eggs in one basket again and just be all Tiger, and forget about all this other wonderful, fantastic talent. I’d hate to see them get lost again in that Tiger talk.”
Ryder Cup: U.S. team drama
Speaking of “talk” and today’s young stars, after the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s blowout loss to Europe, rumors swirled about infighting among the Americans. Patrick Reed claimed Jordan Spieth didn’t want to play with him; captain Jim Furyk took criticism for separating the two; media outlets reported that Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson had a vicious argument in the locker room and “almost came to blows.”
Norman, an Australian who was ranked No. 1 in the world multiple times, never played in a Ryder Cup, but believes the event is important; he doesn’t buy the argument some make that the Ryder Cup doesn’t matter much to the individual players. He also doesn’t buy the reports about infighting.
“When you’re overwhelming favorites you become a little too complacent,” Norman says. “So it all comes down to team spirit and who wants it the most. At the end of the day, the infighting, I think it’s an easy excuse. The infighting that I’m hearing about with two good friends of mine, Brooks and DJ, is totally fake news. I know that for a fact, because as I was walking into the studio I got up-to-date information from the sources, basically. So I don’t believe that there’s this internal fighting going on because at the end of the day, I don’t believe you should be looking for excuses. You should be looking for reasons why, go work on them, fix them, and win next time.”
How to get millennials to golf
Norman, who won the British Open in 1986 and 1993, also has strong views on how golf’s governing bodies can attract young people to the sport at the recreational level. He says it’s largely about technology, and that new steps like his own Shark Experience, which puts news screens in Club Car golf carts across the country, can make golfing more fun for millennials. (Some of Yahoo’s videos play in Shark Experience golf carts.)
“When I was the No. 1 player in the world, they would pay me per second I was on air,” Norman says. Sponsors, he recalls, would encourage him to soak up every bit of TV exposure he could. “Today, it’s about snackable content. Where’s the NFL going to go? It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the NFL… People can either sit at home on a Saturday to watch college football or on a Sunday to watch NFL. They couldn’t play golf with their kids and do both. Now [with Shark Experience] people can say, ‘Okay, there’s an NFL game on, I can go play golf with my son but I’m still going to be able to watch the NFL.’ Or PGA Tour.'”
Norman also credits Topgolf, a new live-experience business with six locations in the U.S., with making golf fun for young people. At Topgolf, groups drive balls, tech tracks how far their balls went, and waiters deliver food and drinks, all with music and a party atmosphere. “How do we get a percentage of those people to green-grass golf?” Norman asks. “That is the conversion you’ve got to work on. So from a millennial standpoint, what do you do? You give them connectivity. You give them what they carry around all day… I also think they should change the dress code. If you’re going to a resort place, I’ve been to them where I’ve played in just my swimsuit and barefoot. Having fun, drinking tequilas, walking around the golf course. It’s a cool experience. I’ve been to golf courses where, I won’t get into it, but other things are exposed… and people are loving it. Just let it go there, if it’s going to go there.”
You can listen to Greg Norman on this week’s Sportsbook podcast here:
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.