What will happen to golf when Tiger Woods retires?

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Congratulations, Tiger Woods! You've just been named as one of Team USA's vice-captains for the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. 

"Once I'm fully healthy, I'd like to try to make the team too," says Woods, battling to recover from a back injury that has plagued him for years. "Either way, I'm very excited to work with Davis [Love III], the other vice-captains and the players to get a US victory."

Woods, who turns 40 next month and is currently ranked 384th in the world, will need a miraculous turnaround in 2016 if he is to make the team. Sadly, his selection as a vice-captain may be further evidence that his best playing days are behind him. 

It left us pondering: what happens when Tiger Woods retires from golf?

How big a loss will Tiger be?

When Tiger turned pro in 1996, his dad Earl said: "Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity. He is the Chosen One." Whilst Woods hasn't quite lived up to that billing – and who could?! – he has been a once-in-a-lifetime gift to golf. 

The number of people calling themselves golfers rose 20 per cent in the seven years after Tiger turned pro. The number of golf courses being built rose 25 per cent from 1990 to 2005. The number of black golfers rose by 67% from 1999 to 2003. And on average, attendances went up by 40,000 at every PGA Tour event in the three years after Tiger turned pro. 

"When Tiger leaves golf, it will be comparable to Muhammad Ali retiring from boxing," says Professor Simon Shibli, Director of Sheffield Hallam University's Sport Industry Reserach Centre. 

What impact will it have on golf? 

Boxing spent 20 years in the doldrums after Ali's retirement. Golf should weather the storm far better, but there's no doubt that TV ratings will plummet initially. When Tiger won the Masters in 1997, viewing figures were up by more than 50 per cent. Conversely, the viewing figures for 2014's Tiger-free Masters were horrendous, with final round ratings down 24 per cent year-on-year and ratings for the whole weekend dropping to their lowest level since 1993. And it's not just the Majors. A 2009 study by market research company Nielsen showed that ratings dropped by nearly 50 per cent when Tiger missed a regular tour event. 

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Will the golf industry's value drop? 

Quite simply, yes. Fewer TV viewers means a drop in TV revenue, fewer spectators means a drop in ticket revenues, and less casual interest in golf means a drop in equipment and green fee sales. Some analysts suggest Tiger's retirement could see golf's value decrease by 25-30 per cent, equating to a loss of around £8.9 billion. Yes, BILLION.

What will it do to prize money? 

During Tiger's first season on tour in 1997, the players competed for a total of £47.5 million. This season they competed for just over £200 million. 

"Tiger has propelled and driven the bus and we have all benefited," admits Phil Mickelson. The good news for Phil and co is that they will continue to benefit even if Tiger does hang up his clubs. 

"Sponsorship revenues rarely go down in sport," explains Shibli. "Also, Tiger commands huge appearance fees. When he retires, it will allow Mickelson, McIlroy et al to demand a slice of the cash."

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Can another player fill the void? 

It might actually be better if they didn't. "Professional sport is exciting when the outcome is uncertain," says Shibli. "Look at tennis. Roger Federer dominated for a time, and people lost interest. Now, several players can win, so people are tuning in."

The big question: when is Tiger Woods going to retire? 

At the start of 2014, Tiger said, "I'm not done yet", and his agent insists Tiger is planning for the next 10-15 years on tour. But nonetheless, next season is key. Tiger will never be content to make up the numbers. As soon as he decides he can't compete at the top end, he'll be done.

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OUR VERDICT

Tiger is a once-in-a-lifetime talent who simply cannot be replaced, but there is no reason to listen to the doom merchants who say golf will die without him. Golf flourished for hundreds of years before Tiger came along, and will continue to do so after he's gone. 

With exciting talent like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler waiting in the wings, the game's future is an exciting one, with numerous stars ready to create a highly competitive and entertaining experience for fans old and new. 

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