Keeping Score

Why Nike’s New Tiger Woods Ad Is Terribly Confusing

Tiger Woods tells his Twitter followers, in a new Nike ad, that golf is a sport. Why would we think otherwise? Hmmmm...

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Tiger Woods, like many superstar athletes, has a pretty banal Twitter feed. It’s full of the usual product propaganda, carefully crafted responses to media firestorms and prom pictures with an Olympic gold medalist. So I was caught a bit off guard when Woods fired off this missive to his nearly 3.4 million Twitter followers on Monday, just three days before the start of this year’s U.S. Open:

Whoa. So golf is a sport? I wasn’t aware of some pressing debate that it wasn’t. Sure, people are still quick to point out that chubby chain smokers like John Daly and Ángel Cabrera can win major championships. But a younger generation of golfers have followed Woods into the weight room: this year’s Masters champ, Aussie Adam Scott, looks like he’d rather smash a slice of pizza with a 9-iron than actually eat it. Golfers have worked hard to break the fat-guy-in-bad-pants stereotype.

Still, here was Woods, vouching for golf’s bona fides in a new Nike ad. And I couldn’t help but think that it backfired.

(MORE: Great Scott. An Australian Finally Wins the Masters)

I found the ad oh so confusing. At about the nine-second mark, Woods tees off, as dramatic music plays in the background. But in this “golf is a sport” world, a race starter stands beside the tee, says “on your marks,” then fires a gun before Woods swings. So this ad seems to be implying that if golf were an actual sport, not just a figment of Nike and Woods’ imagination, a starter would fire a gun. But since there is no “on your marks,” is the ad actually implying golf isn’t a sport? Is the ad making a subtle pitch to the PGA Tour? Hey, guys, start firing guns at the first tee. Such a move, by the way, would make golf way more fun and exciting.

In the next part of the clip, Woods barely misses a putt, and falls to the ground in agony. A boxing ref then shows up on the green, and starts counting — one, two. O.K., this one works as a metaphor: the game can feel like a knockout blow. (The starter gun can’t imply that golf is some sort of race, right? Has Nike seen how slow some of these guys play?)

The next part is the most maddening. Woods lines up a putt, with a throng of fans shouting in his face on the other side of the hole. Such crowd behavior would make golf a more legitimate sport. How come Woods gets to putt in silence, while foul shooters, kickers, baseball players and other athletes must execute their delicate tasks with maniacs screaming into their ears?

This scenario doesn’t need to be part of a fantasy ad. Golf, want to be a more legit sport? Let the gallery get into it! Even at Augusta! Patrons gone wild!

The next part is drivel: Woods takes another tee shot, this time with a catcher and umpire behind him. What does this mean, exactly? Last I checked, golf balls sit on a tee, waiting to be smacked. Baseballs sometimes scream at the heads of hitters, at 90 miles per hour.

Mercifully, the ad closes with Woods sinking what looks like a tournament-clinching putt. We see a closeup of his Nike shoes, and that’s it. All of which says … heck, I have no idea. Anyway, I’m certainly looking forward to the U.S. Open this week. Because golf is indeed a compelling sport — even without the catcher.

MORE: The Tiger Woods–Sergio Garcia Spat Takes a Racist Turn

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