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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Two Superstars Are Dominating Pro Golf. Will Viewers Follow?

  • The pair are both on unprecedented hot streaks on the course.
  • Dominance can be a good or bad thing for mainstream interest.
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

In professional golf, a singular, dominant force can grow the game exponentially. Nobody has been able to match the unprecedented dominance of Tiger Woods on the course, and in turn no one figure has produced his level of off-course impact, either.

But less than four months into 2024, two young Americans are undeniably flying high above their peers and making history: Scottie Scheffler, 27, and Nelly Korda (above), 25. Scheffler just backed up his second Masters victory with a win at the RBC Heritage, a $20 million signature event on the PGA Tour, good for his fourth victory in his last five starts. On Sunday, Korda won the Chevron Championship, the first women’s major of the year, and her fifth tournament in a row, a feat not accomplished since Annika Sorenstam in 2005.

Scheffler is unsurprisingly soaring past Korda’s earnings so far on the LPGA, but the two-time women’s major champion is actually outpacing her competition at a more impressive rate. Scheffler’s $18.69 million in prize money this year is roughly double that of his closest foe, Wyndham Clark at $9.13 million. Korda’s $2.42 million is nearly triple the LPGA’s second-highest earner, Maja Stark with $815,380.

Birdies and Bogeys

Scheffler and Korda share not only clothing sponsor Nike and club partner TaylorMade, but also have similar personalities. Their composed characters are great for handling the pressure of the first tee or 18th green but make it more difficult, at least up until this point, for fans to connect and engage with the pair of superstars. After the Masters, which saw its final-round audience drop 20% to 9.589 million viewers, Front Office Sports media reporter Michael McCarthy wrote that golf may have a “Scottie Scheffler problem.”

To understand the negative impact of dominance in sports, look no further than Formula One, which saw its U.S. viewership drop 8% last year as champions Max Verstappen and Red Bull continually lapped the field after a record-setting average of 1.21 million viewers on ESPN platforms in 2022. Golf viewership from this weekend has yet to be released. A rain delay pushed the conclusion of the final round of the RBC Heritage to Monday morning, while the Chevron Championship dealt with rain Saturday but finished on time Sunday on NBC.

Can They Keep It Going?

Next up, Scheffler is taking a couple weeks off in anticipation of his wife giving birth to their first child. He’ll likely be back in action at the PGA Tour’s next signature event, the Wells Fargo Championship May 9–12, and most certainly at the following week’s PGA Championship, the second men’s major of the year that in 2023 drew its lowest final-round audience since ’08 as 4.517 million viewers tuned in to LIV golfer Brooks Koepka’s victory. Another Sunday with Scheffler in contention would be a strong measure of whether arguably the most dominant golfer since Woods will keep fans glued to the TV or not.

When Korda will look to keep her hot streak going is yet to be determined. On Monday, she withdrew from this week’s JM Eagle LA Championship, which is offering a $3.75 million purse—the second largest of any LPGA tournament outside of the majors this year. That would have been a great opportunity to test her starpower, as coverage on Golf Channel will air partially in primetime all four days, offering women’s golf a broadcast slot to itself after scheduled men’s coverage should be completed. The U.S. Women’s Open begins May 30 from Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania.

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