This weekend, I, like many of you, watched the “highlights” of Tiger Woods at the 2015 U.S. Open. To me, the dissolution of his talent reminds me of watching Willie Mays as a New York Met in 1973 when he knew it was time to “Say Goodbye to America” to the last days of Johnny Unitas as a San Diego Charger. For people who remember just a few years ago how great Tiger was, their best hope is Tiger pulls an Andre Agassi type of comeback and ends him competitive career with a roar. But no matter what occurs, the athletic collapse, and I will presume the card and memorabilia collapse, may actually provide a good buying opportunity for collectors no less. More on that later.
You see, 15 years ago on Father’s Day weekend, Tiger was beginning the absolute pinnacle of his career and won that U.S. Open by 15 strokes which still stands as the biggest margin of victory at any Open. In fact, the line Bobby Jones used about Jack Nicklaus when he won the 1965 Masters was this: “Jack Nicklaus is playing an entirely different game—a game I’m not even familiar with.”
I suppose you could say 35 later, Tiger was playing a game of golf no one was familiar with. This run of greatness which began with that 2000 U.S. Open, which also validated all the hype surrounding Tiger helped to validate all we believed Tiger would be. Among those companies ready and willing to take advantage of Tiger’s greatness was Upper Deck. Once they had Tiger under contract, then why not make card sets and UDA items featuring Tiger and the other great golfers of yesterday and today. Most of the other players who participated were happy to make some extra bucks for being part of those products and realizing cashing in the new golf boom.
I was working at Beckett during that time period and once Upper Deck began making those card sets, including some really expensive releases laden with autographs, we also realized there was an opportunity to make some money by producing a Golf magazine in the style of our other sports specific publications. And no, we would not have done those magazines without having significant advertising support from Upper Deck. Either way, the magazine was very well done and the keystone was Tiger. That partnership with Upper Deck went so well that at the 2001 National, the company gave party attendees a special framed UDA item.
We all need to understand that the future for Tiger seemed limitless. After all, there was little doubt he was going to shatter Jack Nicklaus record for majors and leave every golfer in the dust. And through 2008, that possibility sure looked possible. Every event could be billed as “Tiger versus the field.” And with that, the party never seemed as if it was going to end. The cards, the autographs and the other memorabilia was never going to go down in value. As we now know, what happened in 2009 changed his history—and golf’s—permanently.
While I don’t follow the golf market much, it’s not hard to figure the current market is nowhere near where we were six years ago. Some autographed Tiger cards from the last couple of years have been selling for under $250. While a PSA 10 1996 SI For Kids Tiger ‘rookie card’ sold for $9,763 in May and that sounds like a lot, PSA reported one of them had sold for $125,000 during Tiger’s reign as king of golf in 2001. That’s an extreme example, of course. Most BGS 9.5 or PSA 9 cards don’t trade at anywhere near such high levels.
What’s happened with Tiger does show the perils of ‘investing’ in a current athlete. Sometimes you do well. Other times, not so much.
As for Upper Deck. while we are not privy to their current autograph contract arrangement with Tiger. there is little doubt the benefits they had for the first ten years are not the same as today. Would I have kept Tiger under contract? I think Upper Deck realizes at some point we will look back on his 14 majors and that amazing run and buy his items as a type of nostalgia. We talk about buying at the dip and no matter if you believe in Tiger’s future or think we will look back at his salad days, then this is the ultimate buy at the dip. It certainly can’t get much worse for him from a competitive standpoint.
Therefore, I’m not as pessimistic about Tiger’s future in the card market as some collectors or investors would be and if you feel the same way, this may be your best chance to buy his cards, autographs and memorabilia. Even if he doesn’t win another major, he’ll still go down one of the game’s all-time great players. Some of the off the course issues will fade a bit with time.
And if he ever does win a big one—heck, even a semi-big one at this point– that comeback will be remembered fondly in sports history. And don’t we all like to see stories of return and redemption.