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Why child golfer 'SimTiger' could revolutionise Africa's sport business

Professional golfer Tiger Woods
Professional golfer Tiger Woods (left) listens while US President Donald Trump speaks during a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House May 6, 2019, in Washington, DC. PHOTO | AFP  

South Africa's seven-year-old golfing phenom, Simthandile Tshabalala, idolises Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Dustin Johnson (DJ) and Sergio Garcia.

But most of all, he idolises the man who is the source of his nickname “SimTiger”: Tiger Woods.

SimTiger’s trophy collection more than triples his age, and he’s ranked 14th in the world in his age category.

In a country that’s already produced a large number of world-class golfers like Gary Player, Ernie Els, and Louis, SimTiger could grow up to surpass them all and revolutionise the sport in Africa.

“The Tiger Effect” is a well-known phenomenon in the golf world.

When Tiger Woods plays in a golf tournament, viewership automatically skyrockets. And when he’s competing for a victory, the ratings go off the charts.

Despite an odd early-morning start, the 2019 Masters boasted incredible ratings for a golf telecast, especially at that hour. When Tiger won, the whole world paid attention. He’s a player who transcends the game.

The arrival of Tiger Woods and his resulting worldwide popularity resulted in an explosion of money flowing into golf.

PGA Tour prize purses grew exponentially, becoming much higher than they would have if he had not shown up and dominated. And he brought even more money to golf via endorsements.

SimTiger's potential

Simthandile Tshabalala has the potential to do the same thing for golf in Africa.

While he’s blessed with an astonishing amount of natural talent, he’s a hard worker. He truly loves the game, so when it gets dark or time for school, his parents have to drag him off the practice green.

Just like Tiger would ask his father to pull over so he could “practice grinding,” SimTiger wants nothing more than to ignore his newfound fame and just focus on playing golf and getting better.

Tiger Woods has made more than $1.5 billion dollars since turning pro in 1996, but over 90 percent of that money has come outside of golf prize money. That means a huge portion of his income is purely sponsorship money.

Try to think of Tiger Woods without picturing that distinctive Nike Swoosh. It’s hard, isn’t it? His first contract in 1996 paid him $40 million over five years.

In 2001, he re-signed for $100 million over five years, and then in 2006 signed for $20-40 million per year over the next eight years.

International superstar

SimTiger has the potential to sign these types of contracts and become an international superstar like Tiger Woods or Lionel Messi - boosting golf club sales in the country.

He could be a player who leads the International Team to President’s Cup victories over the US.

While Gary Player has been an electric figure for many years, other South African golf stars have not been world-changers.

Ernie Els is very laid back, and Louis Oosthuizen would rather be farming than playing golf.

SimTiger has only been playing competitive golf for 10 months. At age seven, he is already becoming a news darling, being photographed surrounded by his numerous trophies.

His coach, Tumo Motaung, describes him as an incredibly hard worker and a charming young personality. His father proudly caddies for him, relishing his supportive role on the golf course.

All the pieces are in place for a young superstar in the making. Tiger’s legend was inextricably intertwined with his father Earl and his quest to break Jack’s major championship record.

Local hero

SimTiger, with his father on his bag, proudly declares that he would like to be on tour one day. He has got a great support system at his home course, The Club at Steyn City.

He has been embraced as a local hero by the membership there, and seems poised to be embraced as a national hero when his trophy collection grows so big that it won’t be able to go unnoticed.

At this level, a good support system that helps keep SimTiger grounded and hardworking is essential. Fortunately, that’s in place for SimTiger.

Golf in South Africa is surprisingly popular and widespread already, with over 500 courses spotting the countryside. Right now, mainly seniors are playing golf. But the sport has yet to spread north to other demographics and other parts of the continent.

With a dominant golfer of colour like SimTiger leading the charge, golf is perched on the verge of exploding.

Africa has such a wide variety of terrain and climates just begging for golf architecture to dot its landscapes.

With more worldwide exposure than ever, now that golf’s an Olympic sport once again, a player like SimTiger winning on a major stage could be the catalyst that turns Africa into a world-class golf tourism destination.

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Jordan Fuller is a golf enthusiast, who has been on the golf course for 25 years. He regularly follows golf business news and loves to write about it. He summarises all of his thoughts about golf on his website, Golf Influence.

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